Why aren’t there more female solo travelers? I have been asked this question on multiple occasions in the past few months, mostly by male travelers. While it seems innocuous enough, answering it becomes a bit problematic since it usually leads to over-generalizations and gender stereotypes. After discussing the issue with both male and female travelers, I find that there are three main reasons why the male-to-female ratio of solo travelers is heavily skewed.
1. Social pressure
Many women take pride in their independence, but there is still an undercurrent of pressure to conform to traditional societal norms. This is reflected in data about the living situations of today’s young adults. While males are more likely to live at home with their parents as young adults, women are more likely to be living as a couple. Young women who have internalized the social message to settle down, get married, and start having children are probably not going to quit their job, break up with their boyfriends, and spend 9 months traveling. The women I have met traveling are often with another friend or in a couple and using their vacation time from work or school. I think it’s awesome they are choosing to spend their vacation time traveling abroad, but they are still following prescribed gender norms to be responsible and not veer off-course.
2. Male privilege
This is one that men will often protest against, but this is possibly the the largest contributing factor for the rarity of solo female travelers. When you hear about a guy who traveled around using a hammock to sleep in public parks instead of paying for hostels, you think he is adventurous and fun. Switch it to a female and suddenly she is naive or putting herself in unnecessary danger. Women are conditioned from an early age to avoid precarious situations and avoid putting themselves in harm’s way. Traveling alone is very risky for anyone, but women might be less likely to take on the risks. Plenty of the guys I meet do not think twice about taking a night bus or train that will drop them off in a new city at 3 or 4 am and walk two kilometers searching for their hostel. I have not met one female, myself included, that would purposely put themselves in that situation if it could be avoided. Hostels themselves are off-putting to some females. While there are many that will offer all-female dorm rooms, they are often more expensive and sometimes difficult to find if not in a major tourist spot. Many of my female friends are often surprised to hear some of my stories and often ask me about my safety. Rape culture and the fear of sexual violence has become so steeped in the mind’s of today’s young women, that many probably would not feel comfortable staying in a 10-bed hostel dorm room full of men or being one of three girls staying at a party hostel with about 30 mostly twenty-something year old guys.
3. Lifestyle choices/priorities
Lifestyle values may also play a role in explaining the lack of female travelers. Women are the prime targets that consumerist cultures exploit, with young women being the most susceptible to the lure of materialism. Solo traveling for extended periods of time requires money and a practical approach to decipher between a want and a need. A person who is obsessed with having material possessions will have trouble with both of these requirements. If a young woman prioritizes designer handbags and shoes, she probably won’t be found slumming around Cambodia in flip-flops and unwashed clothes with holes. Even women who do not strut around in Chanel still might find it hard to resist a good Target sale. Some people like to spend $700 on a purse and some would rather spend it on a month in Thailand. Valuing possessions over experiences is not a trait that would be found in many travelers.
Traveling provides invaluable experiences that can be cherished long after a trip ends. Being solo enriches the experience even further and should not be something to be feared, especially by women. It takes courage to shun societal expectations, overcome fear of the unknown, and sacrifice wants, but it’s worth it.