Recently the death of American traveler, Sarai Sierra in Turkey made headlines and started a global conversation about whether or not women should travel solo. Many experienced globetrotting women chimed in engaging in dialogue from both sides of the debate. I was closely following these discussions and taking notes on latest safety tips given by travel pros. I am also a 33-year-old female who travels alone at least once a month, often to countries that are listed under U.S. travel alerts. I feel empowered to see the world, to travel alone, to meet new people, yet I am concerned for my safety.
Does a woman today have the freedom to go to Honduras, Turkey or South Korea by herself, have fun and not risk her life? Being empowered doesn't mean taking off anywhere, anytime, not having a companion, or being answerable to someone. It means building confidence, gaining insights, understanding yourself, and developing personal skills. Being empowered presumes you have some level of common sense and emotional maturity to make your own decisions, while ensuring your safety, and those of others around you.
When I was volunteer vacationing in Morocco in 2010, many of my friends had forewarned me against famous Moroccan con artists. While I met some really nice and very helpful people there, I kept the advice in the back of my head. While on a train journey from Rabat to Fez, a travel agent approached me offering local transportation and guide service during my visit. The medina (market) in Fez has 9,000 narrow streets without names or directions, and everyone, including locals is known to get lost there. It is highly recommended to go there with a tour guide, so I jumped on the offer. But as soon as I disembarked the train, I paused and gave my decision a second thought.
I considered the worst-case scenario of this situation. What if the agent was a con artist and his intention was to take me to the middle of dessert, rob or rape me, and leave me there? Was it worth risking my life, so as to not get lost in a colorful crowded market? I hurriedly walked past the guide at the train station, and took hailed for a taxi instead.
Last month, when I traveled to South Korea while Kim Jung Un broadcasted his nuclear attack threats on its neighbor, I stayed with a host at his home in Seoul. My host and I had only met online through a travel exchange website a few weeks before. We knew very little about each other and had communicated via email and texts. Although I was nervous about staying alone with a total stranger in a country where I knew no one, I looked for logic and instincts to help me make my decision. My host was a Senior Sargent at the U.S. Army base in South Korea. He lived by himself in a big house, but had a wife and two daughters back in Texas. I made sure this was accurate by doing some research on social media, which by no means qualifies as a thorough background check.
When I met my host at Seoul Station, I instantly knew he was genuine. He looked decent and spoke well, but most of all, I felt positive about his intentions. During the course of next five days, we got along extremely well, sharing several meals and lengthy conversations. He gave me a private room, took me sightseeing around Seoul, and even gave me the keys to his house. The experience is one I would cherish forever.
In both situations, I felt empowered to make the right decision and create unforgettable experiences for myself. By equipping myself with wisdom, good judgment and intuition, I am able to learn about different cultures, places and people.
As you find your own sense of empowerment, you will find there is always a moment when instincts take over reason and emotion. In our busy lives where our attention is challenged into several different directions, it is difficult to silence the mind and tap into our deep-rooted sense of sixth sense. This is the little voice in your head that says, "Don't do it." While practical knowledge and common sense are extremely important in decision-making, fall back on the voice. We all have it inside of us. You can use it in your relationships, work, and to travel to exotic places around the world, to in essence always be empowered.