I recall being in Beijing, China, a few years ago and my colleagues asking if it was safe for them to go for a walk outside the hotel. It was just after dinner and we didn't have anything to do.
I texted a friend who was studying in the Chinese capital at the time. His response: "You're not in South Africa. Please explore."
The “you’re not in South Africa” quip was in jest, but it stung because that's partly why my colleagues had asked if it was safe for us to take a walk in the evening. Them being women added to their stress. After all, coming from South Africa, it is rare to feel safe while walking in a city at night.
We laughed, bitterly I might add, about it. Had we become so accustomed to being alert all the time in our cities back home, that we were afraid to venture out into the street? I recalled downloading Didi, which is a Chinese e-hailing app, just to take precaution in case we found ourselves in trouble. There was no trouble.
For the several days we stayed in Beijing and also the week we spent in the south of China, we frequently took evening walks and felt very safe. As we prepared to return home, one of the women remarked how odd it was going to be to not be able to walk at night and feel carefree.
I stood my ground and said I wouldn’t delete any picture. The police chief at the Nungwi police station then said he wouldn’t let them take me to the hospital for checkup if I don’t delete my pictures and videos— Zainab Oladehinde (@zainabdehinde) April 16, 2022
This came back to me this week after reading the harrowing story a Nigerian traveller told about her experience at a resort in Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Zainab Oladehinde took to Twitter to share the incident, which she says happened on April 16 last year, when she travelled to Warere Beach Hotel in Zanzibar, alone.
She had decided to travel to the popular island destination to celebrate her birthday. However, she found herself having to fight off someone who was trying to rape her.
Despite having locked the door to her hotel room, a man made his way into her room and attempted to molest her. It was only when she lied, saying she was HIV positive, that her attacker backed off.
She relayed how she did not get any assistance from either the hotel or police. She had to leave the hotel to go to another as she was not safe. Plus, she added, $1 100 was stolen from her bag.
It has made us once again think about the threat to women’s safety when they travel solo.
Which countries are the safest for women travelling alone?
There are various lists compiled by various sources.
The Women's Danger Index, which was created by travel writers Asher and Lyric Fergusso and whose blog is focused on travel safety, has been releasing its list of the most dangerous countries for women travelling alone.
They use data gleaned from official reports by countries and agencies to rank the top 50 countries with the most international tourists to deduce which are the safest for women to visit.
On their website, they write: "We’ve gathered data from a variety of trusted international sources to create a “Women’s Danger Index” that will help you find the worst (and safest) countries for solo female travel." Criteria includes how safe it is for women to walk alone at night.
South Africa topped the worst list in 2019 and 2021.
Another trusted source is the Safety Detectives. Forbes reports that last year, that Safety Detectives analysed 78 countries to determine which were the safest and the most dangerous for women in terms of the number of crimes committed against them as well as the laws protecting them. Some of the things they looked out for were the number of crimes per 100 000 women, including sexual abuse, murder, domestic violence and rape (non-exhaustive).
Tourism bodies still remind solo travellers to trust their gut, to not venture off too far from places they recognise and take precautionary measures.
Using the two sources, plus other lists, here are five countries, in no particular order, rated as some of the safest for female solo travellers and why they are a great tourism destination.
For more than a decade, Iceland has topped the lists of travel destinations and is widely considered to be one of the best places in the world to be a woman. Ad the country’s natural beauty and stunning sights, and it makes sense why women choose to travel solo there more than any other country.
Beyond just the culture of Japan that has made it one of the most popular destinations, it’s the fact that women feel safe, thanks to visible policing. There are a mobile police stations that are scatted in towns around the country. Japan ranks as one of the countries with the lowest crime rates world wide.
Poland’s cities and remote villages towns have made it one of the must visit tourism destinations in the world. Warsaw is regarded as one of the safest cities for solo women. It is not unusual to see lone women calmly strolling in the middle of the night. The safety element is also a huge factor on how the country attracts a large contingent of solo women travellers.
Spain, especially Madrid and Barcelona, are famous for having a low crime levels. The safety of tourist, especially women, is paramount. Add the friendly nature of locals and Spain ranking as one of the top 10% of the safest countries in the world, it’s a top destination for women travelling solo.
It’s not surprise Singapore is on this list as it’s regarded as the safest country in Asia and one of the safest in the world. The high safety rates, including 92% of women feeling safe when walking alone at night, has made it a top destination for women travelling solo.