How Rape Culture Effects Solo Travel

How Rape Culture Effects Solo Travel

Rape culture – the way sexual violence is normalized, women sexualized, and men essentially considered animals – pervades the female-bodied solo travel world. Let’s talk about it.
Me n’ Backpack on a layover in Tokyo

“You’re going to Indonesia? Oh. You’re definitely getting raped.”

Kid you not. This was said to me before embarking on my first ever solo trip. Three months of by-myself-backpacking through parts of Southeast Asia (mumbles a side rant on the mis-perception of solo travel).

This wasn’t the first nor last time a friend, acquaintance, or family member, implied that my female-bodied personage would come under physical assault if I went on such a trip.

Let me tell you why this didn’t stop me.

Rape is everywhere. Rape is universal. Rape can happen when I’m safe asleep in my very own bedroom.

If you haven’t yet educated yourself on statistics about survivors frequently knowing their rapist or about the prevailing rape culture of America, I suggest taking a moment to read up.

The number of amazing, intelligent, aware individuals whom I know personally that have survived assault is much higher than I allow myself to recognize. Each situation was different. Each was heartbreaking.

I carry the stories of my friends and acquaintances with me every day, not just when I’m carrying a backpack.

I have lived with the fear of rape for my entire life: scoldings for late-night walks in my hometown, futzing with mace through downtown Cape Town, dead-bolting my bedroom door after a lunge from a male houseguest. The awareness of this danger is always present.

Given that fact—given that a large percentage of the populace lives with this fear everyday—why let it stop you? Also, can we talk about the racism behind presuming certain demographics are more likely to be rapists?!

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As a woman practiced in the art of self-preservation—thanks to a socialized teaching that preventing rape in my responsibility and not that of the aggressor—I am used to using protective tools daily, whether traveling abroad or walking around the neighborhood.

Maybe you’re already familiar with what I am talking about. Keeping eyes peeled for signs of danger, walking with keys clutched in your fist, listening to your gut.

These are the same tools you will use abroad. Don’t fall into the trap of going to places deemed “safe for solo female travel” that imply solitude is the only solution. Solitary vacations are great for many reasons, but the implicit overtones in such guides can be xenophobic. The “others” aren’t rapists. Rapists are rapists.

Channel that anger


You can prepare as much as possible and still be attacked (IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT). You can be the most oblivious ditz to your surroundings and not be attacked. If preparing more for the possibility of an assault would make you feel more confident about traveling, then I’ll leave you with these suggestions:

  1. Be alert. Just a bit more than you are when in your own hometown. Mostly because you probably haven’t mentally mapped out escape routes.
  2. Carry mace. Or a sharp pen. Or your keys. Anything can be weaponized in a pinch.
  3. Meet locals. I never have more fun traveling than when I am hanging out with local couchsurfers. Treat it like an OkCupid date. Public, nearby, smart, and go from there. Arrange these meetups over accepting a home visit from some rando who approaches you on the street. Or take that random person along and have your new local friends vet them.
  4. Don’t drink. Wisconsin especially has an insane drinking culture. Americans on vacation have a terrible reputation for getting stupid drunk. Do you really need alcohol to have a good time? Ditch it.
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The world is a far, far safer place than our sensationalist media would like us to believe. Far safer, even, than many of our innate fears or those of our families and friends. Stop letting fear govern your life. Give the world a chance.