The news that two female backpackers were found dead near Ecuador’s Pacific Coast last month quickly triggered questions about whether women travelers (or more specifically, those traveling without men) are as safe as they think they are. After the bodies of Marina Menegazzo, 21, and María José Coni, 22, of Argentina, were discovered, social media erupted with a sad but familiar tactic: blaming the victims, who, in this case, dared to travel without male companions.
“There are parts of the world that aren’t ready for full freedom of women,” Argentinian psychiatrist Hugo Marietan tweeted after the news. “You are also responsible for your preservation.”
Women all over the world responded using #viajosola to proudly express why they travel alone. And I stand with them. Yes, the world can be dangerous, but that’s true anywhere. The answer to violence against female travelers shouldn’t be how to prevent women from exploring, but how to make destinations safer.
I started traveling alone almost four years ago. After years of feeling pulled toward a Southeast Asia adventure, I decided to stop waiting for someone to join me and go on my own terms. I did my research, and excitedly bought a ticket to Indonesia, where I planned to volunteer at a permaculture farm, harvesting coconut oil in exchange for room, board, and yoga.
Leading up to the trip, I wasn’t nervous about my solo adventure, but I did prepare differently than if I’d been traveling in a group: I packed a can of pepper spray in my checked suitcase, along with a Maglite flashlight that I found in the glove compartment of my dad’s truck. Just in case, I thought as I added the items in with my loose-fitting clothing and zipped my luggage shut.
It turns out my precautions—while they gave me peace of mind—were never really necessary. Just a few days after my arrival, I journeyed to northern Bali with a few of the other volunteers, and Agung, a friendly taxi driver who’d dropped me off at the farm after my flight, gave me a tour of his family’s rice fields in Ubud. I didn’t feel scared—I felt welcomed, and I’d like to think that this wasn’t because I was naïve, but rather, open to new experiences while still taking basic precautions, like staying alert and avoiding dark, unknown areas at night. These new friendships likely never would have occurred had I been traveling as part of a couple or with a close friend from home, but it was the solace that crept in while alone that remains most memorable. Whether it was standing in front of a burning pile of coconut shells at dusk, listening to the thunderstorms at night, or practicing yoga outside at sunrise, there was a comforting stillness that I found while traveling alone.
The trip changed the way I wish to move through the world. It allowed me to trust my intuition and be present, understand self-reliance, and have fun without requiring anyone else’s company.
Since that first solo trip to Indonesia, I’ve ventured on several other journeys by myself, including two month-long road trips across the U.S., a stint in Europe, and a second in Indonesia. I now revel in solo travel and typically prefer the freedom that comes with navigating the world untethered than with a companion. Despite the very real risks that women face and the precautions that are necessary, our “preservation” should not be to cow to the risk of violence, but to explore the world in spite of it. These women are with me:
So sad to see how, yet again, women are blamed for crimes committed against them. Two Argentine women were killed while backpacking through South America. Instead of sharing concern about who the men who killed them were, people questioned what they were wearing and what they were doing travelling without a man in the first place. I am a woman and I travel alone. It is not an invitation. #viajosola