How Female Travellers Can Fight Harassment on Their Adventures

Dear Female Travellers, You Don’t Need to Be Polite All the Time

Take this piece of advice because harassment is very, very real in the world we’re living in.


It’s one word with one syllable, yet sometimes it’s hard to say. It’s much easier to go “I would love to, but —” The words would then jumble up before stringing together to form a coherent lie.

I’ve done this countless times before.

For many years, I only knew how to be polite to strangers. When a strange man asks for my number (or even my hand in marriage), I’d say “have a boyfriend,” even if I was single. I thought that the kindest way to reject someone was to make me the problem, not them.

Even now, I still do.

There are some things, however, that I have stopped condoning after over 30 years of life experiences, including months spent traipsing around the globe alone. One of those is harassment.

My experiences with harassment as a solo female traveller

Image credit: Creative-Family via Canva Pro

I notice that when I travel alone, I tend to get more attention from locals. They are less shy to approach me on the streets and strike up a conversation — and this is something I absolutely love. Interacting with people is one of my main motivations for going solo and I’ve lost count of the number of heartwarming encounters I’ve had across the world.

But out of every 100 kind locals I meet, there’s bound to be one prick.

I remember an incident in Morocco where a faceless stranger passing by voiced into my ear, “Hello there, Chinese girl.” I barely had time to digest his words before he disappeared into the crowd behind me. The exchange was so pointless that I spent precious minutes pondering what compelled him to breathe down my ear canal in the first place. I had no answer. A harmless episode, yes, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A few weeks ago, a French guy repeatedly yelled “ni hao” to me in a mocking manner from across the street. I asked him to shut up. He responded by complimenting my female genitalia.

(I’m not even Chinese — but that’s a story for another day.)

I’ve faced many more incidents of harassment: I’ve been asked for sex in Iran (where I must say I was treated with utmost respect 99.99% of the time). I’ve met an opportunistic shopkeeper in Istanbul who went for a subtle fondle as he forced a scarf on me. Hell, I’ve ended up sleeping on the same bed, unwillingly, with a man in China.

But overall, like most female travellers, I’d still describe the harassment I faced as typically annoying and occasionally funny. In fact, I’ve forgotten about most of them since they were all seemingly… trivial (save for the few which were pretty serious).

I still remember, however, the feeling of discomfort from being touched a little bit too much by men who don’t know their boundaries; the disquiet I felt when I was alone and cornered; and the fear of being overpowered should I resist instead of playing along.

Most of the time, I remained polite. When it was appropriate (and safe), I asserted myself, voiced out or fought back. Because if I brush it off, I’d be contributing to the normalisation of such behaviours. Besides, it felt good and it felt right to grab harassment right in the balls.

I know I am not alone; the #MeToo movement has given a voice to women worldwide and perhaps it’s a turning point towards a positive change. In the meantime, I’d like to offer three tiny but powerful tips for female travellers out there:

1. Put yourself first

When you are travelling without a companion, you need to remind yourself to put you first. This is especially pertinent to matters of safety. Female travellers ought to keep this in mind: Nobody’s looking out for you, so you need to look out for yourself. Don’t feel compelled to take up someone’s invitation just because you feel bad to turn them down. If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Isn’t that one of the wonderful aspects of travelling alone, anyway?

2. Ditch the excuses

No, you don’t owe anyone, especially a stranger, an excuse when you reject them. I know a lot of women would do it anyway, sometimes out of reluctance to hurt the man’s feelings and at other times out of trepidation that the man will not react well to upfront rejection. However, just remember that the onus is not on you to give someone your time just because the person gave you his unsolicited attention.

3. Trust your instincts

Image credit: Fokke Baarssen via Canva Pro

I can’t emphasise this enough. Your gut instincts could be wrong. But it could be right — and you don’t want to be in the situation where you actually find out. Perhaps your subconscious picked up something that your conscious mind did not. So when your gut tells you that a person cannot be trusted, walk away. And when your gut tells you that you’re in a dangerous situation, run.

Also read: 9 Life-Saving Tips for Solo Female Travellers

With that, I wish all travellers harassment-free adventures around the globe… but I know that it’s unlikely, especially if you’re a female who’s on the road alone often. So, if you take away just one thing from this article, let this be it: You don’t need to be polite all the damn time.

Images credited to Dina Malyana, unless indicated otherwise.

Facebook image credit (L-R): Alena Ozerova via Canva Pro; Chris Murray | Unsplash 

About Author

Dina Malyana

Dina is one who is constantly dreaming of elsewhere. Her favourite days are those spent traversing across the globe with a backpack, chasing every sunset. Find her on Instagram @dinamalyana.


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