Sarai Sierra and the Safety of Solo Travel

I’ve been following the tragic story of Sarai Sierra, a 33 year old New Yorker, who’d caught notice with her photographs on Instagram, traveled to Istanbul to take photos, and never made her flight home.

Her body was found a few days ago, and when I read the news of her murder — on Facebook, where I learn about all death and mayhem — I immediately thought about the implications for women who travel alone.

In the broad scope of history, it’s only a relatively new idea that it’s acceptable for women to travel solo. In 1922, Emily Post’s classic guide to etiquette strongly advised against a lady traveling alone, for instance, and offered all sorts of ideas for mitigating the safety risk and potential associated scandals.

“This is understood to be a very fair attack on the want of courtesy in the gentlemen frequenters of Bond Street… some of whom shewed no hesitation in taking the wall, and even the pavement of the ladies, throwing them, as here represented, into the street. Wikipedia Commons.

Even as times have changed, these old ideas endure. In the past year, for instance, Salon ran an essay called Every Woman Should Travel Alone;  and Forbes ran A Crash Course in Solo Travel for the Single Girl. Now, these are both fine stories, but the fact that they’ve been prominently published shows that the solo female traveler is still not quite the norm.

Swap “solo travel” for “self-employment” and you’ll see what I mean. Would you have expected to read a story called  “Every Woman Should Work For Herself,” or “A Crash Course in Self Employment for the Single Girl” in the past twelve months?

Over at USA Today, Laura Bly addressed the issue of solo travel and the Sierra murder directly, making the point that millions of women travel safely and alone. I was very tempted to add my voice to that chorus, since I have also traveled safely and alone, and I want to keep doing it without undue anxiety.

But then I started to wonder whether I was having a response that was more emotional than logical.  Is it actually more dangerous for a woman to travel alone than with others?

And taking it further, I have long maintained that I face at least as much danger — from crime and terrorism — here at home than I do when I travel. But is that actually true? I’ve started to dig into the data and what I’m finding is pretty interesting. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share what I’ve learned.

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