Have you ever considered backpacking during your gap year? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. Over the past few decades, backpacking has grown in popularity. WYSE Travel Confederation estimates that the number of international backpacking trips was 44 million in 2017. In the 1990s, the term ‘backpacker’ generally described a young budget traveller on an extended holiday. However, since then, niches have developed that suggest that this group and their experiences are not equal.

One of the biggest differences between the way people interact with their surroundings is their gender. Regardless of the society of departure or the society of destination, tourism is profoundly gendered. Women backpackers’ travelling experiences cannot be separated from their everyday lives and socio-cultural constraints shaping their lives. The fear for personal safety is a persistent issue that women cannot abstract from, even when travelling. Almost all women reported negative feelings or fear of being sexualised, harassed, disrespected, and humiliated during their travels. According to the 2020 Solo Female Travel Trends Survey: “73% of women travelling solo worry about their safety, even experienced solo travellers do (64%)”.

It should be pointed out that men also experience challenges and uncertainties while travelling. What makes their experience different is that the precautions women take are not exclusive to travel. Every single day, women make conscious, and unconscious decisions to keep themselves safe. Who has not gone home holding their keys in their hands as a weapon? The list of Solo Female Travel Safety Tips suggests precautionary measures such as: “Install a tracking app so a trusted person can track your location; have a fully charged phone; don’t say you are alone; blend in; don’t stand on empty platforms; be cautious of your alcohol intake; take a picture of the driver and the plate”.

This does make one wonder, does the constant fear deter women from backpacking or travelling? Fortunately, most studies show women don’t limit their travel experiences out of fear. Women are tourists in their own right. They continually recognise and negotiate their destinations’ social and cultural constraints. As a movement, women are consciously stepping out to create safe public spaces for women. In doing this, they experience countless adventures, which challenge the cultural beliefs about women’s societal positions and roles. Women backpackers go against the conventional gender messages of passivity, nurturing, and fear related to outdoor activities. They advocate for travel on their own terms and their right to explore the world. 

Are you a woman backpacker? Tell us your experiences of navigating the great outdoors!