The dark side of travelling

Most people only talk about all the good things that happened during their travels; the beautiful places, the amazing cuisines, the captivating culture and the people. It’s all rainbows and butterflies, which for the most part it is.

I’ve been travelling (predominantly) solo for 3 years now and have since visited 17 countries. As a solo female traveller, we do face our fair share of challenges – here’s not to disregard any that men face but I can only speak for my own gender. When I started this site, I wanted to give tips and advice of places I’ve been to, with a hint of anecdote. I aim to make my articles reflect the truth, so being candid about the “ugly side” of travelling and addressing about taboo subjects is part of this truth journey, if I may. While I don’t want this topic to deter anyone from fulfilling their dreams and travelling solo, I think it is important to address it.

Sexual harassment and assault.

According to UN Women, sexual harassment is experienced by 40 – 50 % of women in the EU and a statistic provided by another page states that a staggering 1 in 3 female has experienced sexual violence. Shocking, right?

Throughout our everyday lives, women receive unwanted sexual attention. As a result, a lot of women are unfortunately hesitate to solo travel but it doesn’t deter me. In all honestly, I too have been a victim of sexual harassment and almost a victim of sexual assault. It is not common for women to come forward when it does happen because of the ‘shame’ that’s commonly associated with it, being judged and told that they were “asking for it” or some other bullshit. Although this topic impacts a lot people, it is not stressed enough and it is swept under the rug, more often than not.

Trigger warning:
The following is a re-account of two incidents that has happened during my travels that I’m comfortable sharing. Towards the end, I will provide some tips to actively help yourself if you’re caught in such a situation, to which I hope doesn’t happen. Here goes nothing.

1. Gili Islands, Indonesia
I came to the Islands to enjoy a last hurrah before I started my internship. There was a massive party and everyone I knew from my hostel (and around the island) gathered on the beach, celebrating the Full Moon night.
I had a little bit too much to drink, it was getting late and I decided to make my way back to the hostel. One of the hostel employees saw me and stopped me in my tracks asking how the party was and where I was headed to. Thinking nothing of it, I mentioned I had a bit too much and was calling it a night. He made a suggestion to come back to my bed before grabbing my arms tightly and pulling me in for a kiss. Apparently to him I had been flirty and made advances (throughout my stay at the hostel), giving the impression that I wanted to sleep with him. Just because I am nice, it does NOT mean I want to sleep with you. I would like to think I’m an open and friendly person so do NOT assume that friendliness = sex.
All 5’2 of me managed to break free from his grip and push him off, shouting like an insane woman. Head down and pissed right off, I ignored everyone who tried saying hi to me, giving them the death stare. A lady who had spoken to me a couple of days back stopped me – noticed I was frazzled and asked me what was wrong. I told her what had happened, broke down and she consoled me before accompanying me to my hostel. Bless her.
The following day, I moved out of the hostel and into my own private bungalow because I really needed to get away from it and him.

2. Koh Phangan, Thailand
A common assumption that people make is that sexual harassment or assault occurs when people are intoxicated.
This time however, I was sober as a whistle. I was walking with my female friend back to our accommodation to grab some stuff before heading out to the Jungle Party. We had two ways to walk; one being a dangerous Indiana Jones-styled path across a dodgy wooden, non-lit bridge or the other was a dark, poorly lit road which barely anyone drives on.
We took the latter since we weren’t carrying any torches on ourselves. We came across 3 kids on a motorbike (couldn’t have been more than 14 years old). Cautious, we turned to place our backs towards the road and clutched onto our bags, mainly worried that they might snatch our bags because we’ve heard stories of it happening. They slowed down and then two of them stretched their arms towards us and groped our breasts before speeding off. Treat people with respect, do NOT violate them. Your mom taught you better.
There was nothing we could do because it all happened so quickly and by the time it sunk in, all I could fathom was a string of vulgarities and anger.

Solo travel is and can be a very beautiful thing so I do encourage everyone to go out and discover the world we live in. Regardless of my negative experiences, I still continue to set out on solo adventures and I urge you to do the same. Just because one bad egg ruins things, it does not imply that everyone else is the same. For the most part, I’ve met the most amazing people and locals who have helped me out of my pickled situations. I’ve grown to be a more cautious (and a less naive) traveller over the years and while I still do enjoy a couple of beers on a night out, I try to be as aware of my surroundings as possible.

Here are a couple of things you can do if you find yourself in a pickle of a situation:

  • Trust your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, excuse yourself and leave.
  • Know your exit points.
  • Get yourself to a safe place.
  • Try to avoid walking along dark roads.
  • Watch your drinks. Never leave your drink unattended – I either finish my drink before I go to the toilet or bring it with me. Something dad taught me when I started drinking.
  • Don’t be afraid to fight back – I took up Muay Thai, just in case I may need it (also, it is an extremely fun sport).
  • Use your voice – it’s your first defence mechanism.
  • Be affirmative. NO means no. You don’t owe anyone anything.
  • Report it if you have been a victim of sexual assault/harassment. It’s okay, there’s no shame if it does happen. Never feel like you’re alone or you’re the one to be blamed!
  • Contact family and friends. They can provide much needed emotional support.

If you have experienced sexual assault, please contact someone or head to the nearest police station and file a report. Nobody should get away with violating you. If by chance, you happen to stumble across someone who has recently experienced sexual assault, show this person that the world isn’t that bad and there are good hearted people out there who do care. Be my Gili Island lady towards them.

You are strong and independent. Don’t let horror stories deter you from experiencing the world. Acknowledge that this does occur to people and take your own measures to keep yourself safe. You’ve gotten this far, so don’t let the sh!ts of the world ruin it for you.

You got this x

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Peace, love and good vibes.

28 Replies to “The dark side of travelling”

  1. Oh no, it is a reality and so unfair. I once had a guy climb in my bed while I was sleeping! Apparently he did the same thing to other female travelers in our room. I will say though, staying in female only dorms would resolve 100% of the problems I’ve ever had in a hostel though. That’s the advice I give women who are hesitant to use hostels.

    1. Unfortunately, you’re right… It is really unfair that we have to face these challenges.

      Oh wow, I haven’t had that happen to me before! Sorry to hear :\ That’s definitely good advice for women who are worried about these things happening in their dorms. It definitely gives you a peace of mind.

  2. Sorry to hear about your bad experiences. Solo travelling is indeed fun and challenging. I also take Muay Thai class just in case I need it, too. 🙂

    1. Solo travel does have its ups and downs! Haha yessss, muay thai is such good fun. I know so many women whom have picked it up for fitness and self defence. Great to see!

  3. I haven’t yet travelled solo in my life and this is one of the reasons why I’ve never considered it. The advice you gave is spot on. I’m a big believer in gut instinct!

    1. It is definitely really different from travelling with someone else I find… Trusting your gut instinct is so essential!

      Thanks for giving this a read Daniela!

  4. Wow this is an incredible account of your horrible experiences. Thank you for posting such a difficult yet important post! Us ladies really need to be careful out there!

    1. I was so hesitate to post this but I’m really glad I did… I think it’s really important to address this issue. Hopefully everyone else can learn from my experiences and better prepare themselves when they travel solo.

      Thanks for reading this, Sebrin!

  5. Hey Caroline,

    it’s awesome of you to share these negative experiences. Always good to hear stories from the other side of things.
    I love travelling solo, but not many girls from Malaysia dare to, because of these stories they hear or read about on social media/news etc. I think at the end of the day, you really just need to trust your gut instinct and be smart about things, but never let what others do stop you from living your life to the fullest.

    1. Hi Jolene!
      Cheers 🙂 I always think it’s important to share the good and bad bits of travelling.. I know exactly what you mean. A lot of people I know are surprised that I travel solo. Can’t let what you see on media stop you from going places and seeing beautiful things.

      That’s it hey, it’s about being aware of your surroundings and learning as you go. Thanks for reading this!

  6. Really sorry to hear about these experiences, but these stories need to be told. I hate that being a woman means that traveling becomes more complicated and rarely men understand this reality.

    1. Hey Karen, I know what you mean. Sometimes men don’t take into account how different travelling as a woman is. Part of the reason why I decided to write this post was to raise awareness amongst both genders that this is what solo female travel is like in some places.

  7. Wow I’m so sorry these things have happened to you! Thank you for sharing your experiences and advice x

    1. Thank you. it was definitely a learning curve – one I would have preferred not experiencing but it helped me grow as a traveller. Hopefully everyone can learn a little bit from me 🙂

      Thanks for reading Nadine! x

  8. Thank you for this. Seriously, shit happens and when people ask how trips go, most are unlikely to hear the ugly side, but for me travel isn’t merely a peachy vacation but a lifestyle with ups and downs. I applaud you for reflecting on all aspects of your travels, both good and bad. On a happier note, I’m loving your blog! It looks like we share two very important passions: beer and sloths.

  9. Thank you for this. Seriously, shit happens and when people ask how trips go, most are unlikely to hear the ugly side, but for me travel isn’t merely a peachy vacation but a lifestyle with ups and downs. I applaud you for reflecting on all aspects of your travels, both good and bad. On a happier note, I’m loving your blog! It looks like we share two very important passions: beer and sloths.

  10. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had two experiences of this. However, good on you for not only sharing your experience but for learning from it. You won’t believe what an inspiration you are! I think when we all first start travelling we are a little naive and situations like this are extremely unpleasant but we come out of them stronger. I hope you never go through this again!

  11. Such a thoughtful post. And so very helping to others. We often highlight the brighter side and ignore the flip side. I am glad you took out the time to pen down the other side as well.

  12. Wow… thank you so much for sharing this post! Not everyone shares the “darker side”… I’m sorry you had to experience those things, but hopefully you will help prevent someone else from having it happen to them.

  13. Being a solo female traveler can definitely expose you to such vulnerabilities. Reading your experiences really invoke anger in me – to think why some people would do such horrible acts toward others when it could simply be avoided. Thank you for being honest about your experience – hopefully it will open the eyes of women to the need to be vigilant and always be cautious when traveling, especially to a foreign country.

  14. Oh wow! Sorry that you’ve had those terrible experiences. It sounds scary. It is terrible when guys think you’re flirting with them when you’re just being nice. Trusting your gut is a great tip to keep in mind (some self-defense training would help as well).

  15. So sorry that you had two pretty awful experiences, I will never understand how people can be so cruel. I am a firm believer in wearing a ‘mean face’ whenever I am in places/situations that feel a bit sketchy. I know it sounds ridiculous but people seem to steer clear from me ha. It is so sad that as women we have to be extra careful of horrible people.

  16. It makes me sad to hear of your bad experiences and am so glad they were not worse. Those experiences have and will help so many others who read your post. Thanks for sharing!

  17. This is such a thought provoking and heart breaking post! My heart goes to yourself and anyone who experiences something like this, especially when traveling. Thank you for highlighting an important issue.

  18. I often say “driving & traveling is fun. However, slow drivers and bad people turn both into headaches for free”. Unfortunately, the 2 experiences shared here were headaches for free. I feel bad that happened to you, on the same note, I admire your courage of sharing your experiences with other female travelers so that they are well prepared if an ill situation arrived during their trip. I feel like suddenly your role from a blogger changed into a role of private investigator. Very good post.

  19. So horrible! Bless that woman who helped you and consoled you. I also had an experience in a London tube and now, I wasn’t drunk. He was and it was 7am. Lol. Scared the wits out of me but had to put a brave face on and go on with my trip.

  20. It’s an issue that all women have to deal with when travelling. It’s sad but true. All we can do is educate our girls on what to do and teach our boys on what not to do.

  21. It’s indeed sad that so many women have these stories from their travels, some even worse. I have had my own experiences like this and they definitely shake you up. As long as we don’t let it discourage us from continuing to travel and asserting our voice, that is the most important take away from those terrible experiences. Stay safe out there. Thanks for sharing.

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