Female solo travel — liberation or commodification?
This year I have noticed a growing number of women travelling alone. I’m not just talking about young women having an adventure before starting their career and/or family. Actually, I see many more women like myself: middle aged, already settled in work and career, many with a family and yet still finding creative ways to escape routine, taking their time to reinvent themselves.
Women are using tourism as a tool for self-exploration. They travel to gain perspective on their lives. By traveling alone, they challenge the status quo, breaking expectations of their traditional societal position.
Historically, women have always travelled alone. Yet now, there is an increasing recognition and validation of the mobility of women. And while they are still discouraged to travel alone, the number of daring women exploring the world is rising.
As more and more women join the ranks of solo travelers, a new trend in the tourism industry is evolving. Current research investigates the behaviour and the practices of women who travel alone. According to the report of OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel, 2019), the number of women traveling solo has been rising dramatically. Women outnumber solo male travellers 67% versus 37%. Between 2018 and 2019, more than 60,000 women travelled alone. From this number 81% are women over the age of 45.
The tourism industry, of course, takes advantage of this niche and has started to create services targeted to this demographic. This follows a common capitalist path: emerging organic movements are quickly transformed into commodities to be sold in order to generate profit.
Currently, there are hundreds of organized excursions to be purchased by women travelers, each offering safe environment and passage from one place to another but, unfortunately, eliminating serendipitous opportunities for connection, as this mostly happen in spontaneous moves.
With the commodification of female solo travel, we risk losing travel as a form of liberation for women. The sisterhood connection and the supporting system that travelling alone creates is in danger of disappearing.
As I travel, I’m trying to prioritize an openness to connection over just get safe services that remove the possibility of rich encounters.
I was reading Salma El-Wardany, an Egyptian-Irish speaker and writer, who is also a lone traveller. She states that she is always careful when buying services for her travels. To her, a feminine/feminist travel industry should be female-owned and work on an economy of sisterhood. It should also be intersectional, giving space to all sorts of women travelling and not just privileged travellers.
Salma’s writings was an invitation to me to pay more attention when travelling and not be co-opted by this commodification.
I am trying to be more attentive to the process of travelling as the most valuable experience for me as a lone traveller goes beyond the destination. The valuable experience is in building connections and relationships, sometimes initiating life-long friendships.