x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Solo travel broadens the world for women

Women should embrace the chance to travel independently. It could change your life

The increase in women's education and involvement in the workplace over the last century has brought many obvious benefits: greater economic independence and the opportunity to influence commercial and public policies.

But one major benefit usually overlooked is the rise in solo female travel. Part of this is as a result of more women travelling for work, and part of it is due to women's greater economic and social independence.

For women this is excellent as travel is one of the most formative experiences a human being can experience, and a positive statement about being active participants in global cultural exchange and adventure rather than passive bystanders.

Businesses in the travel sector have been savvy in responding to this trend. There has been increased attention paid to the female business traveller.

In Saudi Arabia it's well known that multinational hotel chains have female-only floors. But this approach is now also seen in countries including India, Denmark and even the UK.

Hyatt, for example, has a "Hyatt for her" programme. Some hotels make small adjustments for women, such as make-up mirrors, better hairdryers and smaller slippers. But some, like Hyatt, recognise that the stresses on women are different from those on male travellers, with women feeling more vulnerable particularly late at night, or when their rooms are placed at the end of long corridors, or even when relaxing in public spaces. These themes are constant across regions.

On the leisure front women are less worried about travelling without men, including Muslim women. Many tour companies are being set up for women-only groups. The same is happening in India, a region where women's safety and reputation are major factors in travel. Specialist female groups are becoming popular.

Of course some of these trends might be interpreted negatively as women travellers being forced out of the mainstream travel experience through fear for their safety. After all, why should women be siphoned off to separate floors?

In India, where separate carriages are created for women to travel free from male harassment, the question arises: are women being taken out of the public space and hidden away, albeit under the pretext of their own protection? It's true that the argument that "protection is for women's own good" has been used historically - and continues to be used - to enforce women's confinement and exclusion.

In the grand scale of women's emancipation and autonomy we must see female-orientated travel services as a positive step forward to normalising travel for women. A century ago it was only the wealthiest of women who could both flout social convention to travel, and had the resources to do so. Today, the ridiculous notions that women are too feeble to travel and that it is not becoming for them to do so are rightfully rejected. And with growing economic resources and the affordable price of travel, cost is not an issue either.

Some traditionalists say that women should not travel, their place is in their home, and why do they need to travel anyway? The answer is simple: because they are human beings, and travel is crucial to the human experience. Individuals benefit, but so does society. Travel, to quote a cliché, broadens the mind.

The world should not be off limits to women, whether in business or leisure. And women should embrace the female-traveller experience - it is life changing, in a very good way.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk