Anna-Liisa, Head of Risk Analysis for NGS writes about her travel experiences and why safety is important when she travels solo.
“May I please sit here” an elderly man smiles at me.
I nod and smile back briefly, still gazing out from the bus window to catch the last glimpses of breathtakingly beautiful Puerto Mogan.
“It is quite a walk back, isn’t it” he says. Perhaps not even expecting a reply.
“But isn’t it beautiful” I say to myself quietly as the hotel bus begins a journey towards Taurito, whizzing through dark tunnels that curve around and snake between the symbolic brown mountains of Gran Canaria. He smiles and nods, falling silent.
For a moment I wonder about his story, the old man next to me, tired of his walk back from the harbour. And I feel bad for not engaging in further conversation.
Is he on his own? Is he travelling solo like me? What is his story, I wonder? Is his wife or perhaps grandchildren waiting back at the hotel? Perhaps he simply finds joy in solitude and the endless possibilities you can find when not being afraid to set off on a journey all on your own?
“In 2019, how can I be prepared to experience my travels and the special moments of discovering new cultures and cities, without the fear of being paranoid but also not exposing myself to complacency? How can I be reminded of the kindness of strangers and a curiosity towards my own culture and origin, without confusing it with ‘stranger danger’?”
So what is it about travelling solo that often invites surprise and sometimes even fear? In the busy world of constant social engagements, iphones and connectivity, the world seems big and small at once. Working in the security industry (and from just reading daily news), my awareness of our own vulnerability to threats and risks from the outside world has no doubt created a certain way of perceiving the world and acting accordingly. However, as a lone female traveller, how can I make conscious decisions on whether it is safe to go and whether I am indeed exposed to increased risks of security incidents? In 2019, how can I be prepared to experience my travels and the special moments of discovering new cultures and cities, without the fear of being paranoid but also not exposing myself to complacency? How can I be reminded of the kindness of strangers and a curiosity towards my own culture and origin, without confusing it with ‘stranger danger’?
A day prior, by the light blue water of my hotel swimming pool, enjoying the hot island breeze, I am privileged to meet someone whose words stay with me for a while, reflecting on life and travelling, solitude and bravery. Our conversation starts from a simple question I ask about taking a bus to Mogan and me explaining why I would never hail a taxi on the street, knowing about the stories I have heard from my friends and experiencing some first-hand myself. My newly acquainted friend, whose husband has gone on a fishing trip, nods and admits she would have never thought about the difference in choosing a taxi company or the dangers she may be faced with when sitting in a stranger’s car. We dive into a deep conversation about the lone female traveller workshops I run in London for female business travellers. Hours later, when she returns from a swim, she tells me about meeting her friends who asked if she wanted to join them, but her answer was: “No thank you, I have met the tallest and blondest girl who, can you believe it, is travelling on her own. We all thought how brave you are.”
Later in the evening, returning to my solitude, our conversation got me wondering. Should I, conscious of my own physique and origin, be called brave when travelling on my own, whether for work or for pleasure? What makes me vulnerable to the dangers of the outside world? Knowing useful tips like being prepared to arrange a driver to pick me up from the airport, knowing the names of local taxi companies, being mindful of not flashing expensive items when I am out and about on my own, being mindful of conversations I have with new acquaintances to having more detailed knowledge of higher risk areas where perhaps violence against women has been reported high or if in case of a serious incident, should I think twice before actually reporting it to the police without being prosecuted myself. All this knowledge and conscious preparedness has helped me to embark on journeys on my own, either for business or for pleasure. All of this allows me to find security in feeling more safe during my travels. And from a professional point of view, I also know that my company can trust me to follow their duty of care principles. Being security aware and conscious of my own profile, I am not scared to admit that I have felt more unnerved in the dark streets of London whilst being harassed on the street by “unknown bullies”, than being in the middle of Africa, caught up in soldier mutinies in the turbulent Ivory Coast. I am also aware that as 6ft and female, I may stand out in murky situations when a low profile would have been my best bet for safety.
“Travelling solo can open up roads less travelled, and can be an experience that provides freedom and clarity, and deeply personal moments. It can give endless opportunities to meet new people and gives a chance to be reminded of the kindness of strangers and the curious nature of human beings. But it can also expose you to vulnerabilities and dangers of opportunists or the terrors of the modern society.”
Coming back to the story of the woman I met, I am surprised and moved by her words. I am thankful for being considered brave for finding joy in solitude and travelling solo. However, I cannot help but to think back and admire her bravery for finding joy in her life after losing her child to an accident some years ago. Still wanting to travel and still wanting to see the world. For me, this is bravery. As this is not my story to tell, I can say I was privileged to have shared her journey, even for a day. And bravery, well, this is for each of us to judge.
Travelling solo can open up roads less travelled, and can be an experience that provides freedom and clarity, and deeply personal moments. It can give endless opportunities to meet new people and gives a chance to be reminded of the kindness of strangers and the curious nature of human beings. But it can also expose you to vulnerabilities and dangers of opportunists or the terrors of the modern society. Taking a conscious step to be prepared, aware of your own profile and how it may be perceived in the destination country, is a great way to reduce the likelihood of any of those fears or concerns of becoming a sad reality. There can be safety found in solitude and the unknown, and when the modern world gives endless opportunities for travel – going solo can be really rather wonderful.