Thirdeyemom

Should a woman travel alone?

As a mother, blogger and avid world traveler who annually travels alone, I’ve been following the story on Sarai Sierra, the missing New York mother of two, with interest and fear. I first heard the story from my parents who sent me an email with the link and told me that it concerned them. You see, in some ways I’m like this woman. I’m a mother, a solo traveler to what some would call dangerous places and share my life with thousands of strangers through my blog and other social media outlets like Twitter, Pinterest, Google + and Instagram.

Yet, in other ways I’m different. I have been out of the country many times and whenever I do travel solo, I’m not truly alone. I am always going through a volunteer organization based in the US that organizes the entire trip for me including contacts to meet and greet me at the airport, deliver me safely to a trusted and approved host family where I stay and keep  in regular contact with me throughout my stay.

Sarai Sierra

Sarai Sierra. Photo Credit: AP

Sarai had never been out of the country before and went to Turkey alone (after her friend canceled) to practice her photography skills. She had over 3,000 followers on Instagram, many whom she communicated with on the site.

Her disappearance shook me up a little. It all seemed so odd. Here is this mother of two, going to Istanbul alone and staying at a hostel. She was in regular contact with her family via Skype until the day before her departure and then never showed up. It all sounded really strange.

Last night when I saw the news, I let out a gasp. “Sarai Sierra found dead”. Clearly I was shocked and saddened. As police are investigating the story, I have read some of the comments made on the internet about this woman and have been even more saddened and angered. Comments by complete strangers calling this women “stupid”, “selfish”, “naive” and “just plain dumb for going to such a dangerous county who hates westerners”. Comments wondering why a single woman would ever travel outside of the US alone. Comments saying she was “asking for it”. Also there were so many comments about Turkey and being incredibly “dangerous as a Muslim country”. These comments angered me and reminded me that unfortunately some people are very ignorant about the world. Many of these people have never even left the United States before.

Perhaps Turkey isn’t the best place for a solo woman traveler to go. Yet, per a recent report:

“While break-ins and petty thievery are common in Istanbul, the vast and crowded city is considered relatively safe compared to other major urban centers. Sierra’s death was unlikely to have a significant impact on tourism, a large component of the Turkish economy.” (Source: CBS News)

At the same time I read the news about Sarai’s death, I also saw a blurt saying that a missing 13-year-old girl was found dead in California park. Yes, this is here in the United States. In fact, death, murder and extreme violence happen here every day. Just remember Sandy Hook, the movie theater shootings in Colorado, or even a late night stabbing two blocks away from my house along the Minnehaha Creek.

Of course Sarai’s murder is a wake-up call in some way that I should be more careful and all solo travelers, men and women, should be prudent. However, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid for traveling alone and should stay locked up inside my house all the time.  It just means when someone goes anywhere alone you must take certain precaution. This could happen in New York City or even Minneapolis.

I look at all the wonderful experiences I’ve had traveling solo and never once will regret it or stop taking these trips. I will continue to take the necessary precautions that I always do and use common sense. But I’m not going to let one bad story keep me from volunteering every year. I’m just going to continue to use the same common sense I’d use anywhere when I’m alone.

As for how much of my life should I share on the internet via my blog and other social media, it is hard to say. It is concerning. Yet in an ever-changing world in which social media is continually growing and becoming more important, I don’t think I can simply stop my passion for writing. Social media is here to stay, as is blogging. Unfortunately there will always be evil people out there trying to prey on you. But as with anything in life, you just got to be careful. If you were afraid and fearful of everything bad that happens in the world, you would never leave the house. What a waste of a life that would be.

72 comments

  1. Thank you for writing this. This is the first I’ve heard of this woman, but then again, I don’t read the news much. Your article puts things in perspective. I’ve traveled solo for most of my adult life. I’ve been to some very dangerous places and have had some close calls. This has made me very vigilant, even in so-called safe countries. It scares me when I hear of stories such as these…but it’s not going to stop me.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes it is scary and I think I’ve perhaps done a few things I wouldn’t now but then again I look back at my twenties in college and did the same as well. I agree, it is important to keep your perspective as stuff can happen anywhere. Someone tried to steal my car a few years ago right outside my bedroom window!

  2. Sas

    I regularly travel alone, and every time I plan a new trip I’m told by the people around me that I can’t go on my own. Well, you know what, I can and I do. It’s interesting that people in America think Turkey is dangerous and a place where westerners are disliked. I’ve had a few disapproving comments in Turkey because I look Turkish but I act English, but overall I’ve found it to be a friendly place. When I told everyone I was going to America for two weeks on my own, I was told ‘You can’t, it’s much too dangerous over there.’ Again, I personally have only ever found Americans to be friendly. I think some people are just too scared to leave their own backyard, and they justify their own feelings by quashing other people’s.

    • Turkey to Westerners, Easterners, the southerners, the Northerners, the very love, religion, language, race, color separation we made ​​Turkish guests. Opens its doors to people who does not know you, even if you keep feeding the guests welcome, and it does not wait for a fee or interest. Yes, some bad things happening in big cities in Turkey, as well as all over the world. But in this regard, please be fair and genuine effort to get to know the Turks spend real characters. Everyone who wants to have an idea on this subject to my country to Turkey sincerely invite you to my house.affection from Turkey

      • Thank you! The short time I was there years ago, I loved it and do hope to come back. It is too bad the press can be so wrong with the facts and that people believe it.

    • Excellent response! That is interesting too what you said friends told you about coming to the US! I agree we have our fair share of violence but I never looked at it in that way but do see why people would say that given our high crime rates. But yes, plenty of bad stuff happens everywhere in the world and it is silly to live a life of fear when you can get hit by a car crossing the street in your own neighborhood! (Yes this has happened!).

  3. Country, Turkey would not know the correct answer is given . This event is in every country, every human being can happen.. Yes, Turkey is a Muslim country,. And Muslim country in the world that has the most accurate . The last is the religion of Allah Almighty knows Müslamlığı research and I’m really sorry for those who do not.. However, some questions need to be asked in this case seems to have. According to the American security officials, Sarai Sierra, and local organizations in the United States to help the lack of livelihood in the area is said to be a person. Municipal worker earning $ 15,000 a year, with the revelation is said to be led by economic distress is expressed again by the authorities of the United States.. Considering the passports issued for the first time, However, according to U.S. officials, This lady is said to comply with the criteria for kuryeliği looking for Drug mafia mafia deception is likely to have bought To be considered..
    Now I’m asking you . How can Islam in Turkey and in charge of this case.. Make sure that the person who did this is a Turk is a Turk who do not know Islam. Islam is the last favor to ask of you, and get an idea about Turkey investigate the information is true and correct.. I can help with information about it to anyone who wants. Make sure that this understanding and tolerance, world peace will prevail nothing to do have to be careful or bad affection from Turkey

    • Thanks for writing. I’ve been to Turkey and also went alone to Morocco. I loved both. I am angered by the people who think it is dangerous to go to these countries because they are Muslim. I felt incredibly safe when I went to Morocco alone to volunteer for a week and was treated with amazing kindness. I remember people thinking I was crazy to go there but I honestly think there are way more places even more dangerous than that. Thanks for commenting! I would love to visit Istanbul someday. 🙂

  4. Morocco to Turkey is a country very different way you think about Morocco to Turkey, I can guarantee that you will fall in love. You were here before, remember to Izmir and Ephesus Selcuk We Turks are very fond of guests.you, your spouse and your children, and for this reason the whole family in Izmir / Turkey to invite you to my house Be my guest and get to know us. Best regards

  5. I used to travel alone a lot in my 20s without fear. Nobody understood how I could go anywhere alone. I enjoyed the freedom of doing what I want, when I wanted, how I wanted, and not having to wait around for anyone else. I had many great experiences on my own that I wouldn’t have had otherwise had someone else been along. There are certain places I probably wouldn’t travel alone on my first trip – even (especially) in the United States, where I am from. Like you said, crime happens everywhere. And the comments are most definitely from people that never leave the comfort of their computer chairs or little towns.

    One of the things I’ve learned about safety is to blog where I’ve been, not necessarily where I am.

    • Excellent tips! I usually don’t write about where I’ve been either until I’m back but sometimes post a few photos. I think this is a good precaution which I’ll be sure to remember. Thanks again! 🙂

  6. I had been following this story and was saddened to hear of the tragic ending. I admire women who live their lives, not letting fear stop them. As you say Nicole, when you travel you must take precautions, any prudent person must. And they must whether they travel to Turkey, Mexico, or the United States. We can’t let fear keep us from living a full life.

  7. NIcole, like you I have travelled alone extensively, usually to developing countries, and before I had kids I would travel on my own and stay at youth hostels all the time. I only had a couple of threatening experiences as a woman alone, and they were when I hadn’t used my own good sense. We saw the news about Sarai with our visiting Turkish cousins, and we marveled that this news is so big when things like this sadly happen around the world all the time. I have been to Turkey with family three times, it has never been less than warm and welcoming and is a fantastic place to travel. I also found youth hostels to be the safest place to stay as a young woman alone because I always met up with other travelers to explore with from all around the world. This is a sad story, but I agree with you, it could happen anywhere in the world, and women traveling alone do need to be cautious, but should not stop traveling because of this.

    • Thanks so much Elizabeth for your comment. I also have been to Turkey (not alone) and to another Muslim country, Morocco, on my own, and felt incredibly welcome. I get annoyed when people make blind statements about places they’ve never been before. As for hostels, I used to stay at them all the time too when I was in my twenties and agree that it is a great place to meet other solo travelers. I’m surprised as well at the level of press on this story and sad about the fact that this woman won’t come home to her children. I hope it enlightens people that bad stuff can happen anywhere though. Like you said, you can’t stop traveling just because of a few bad incidences.

  8. I travel alone all the time. I think being a bit older is a bit of an advantage. Nobody is interested in middle aged women, although I attracted more attention in Istanbul than anywhere else. Bad things can happen in your own street, and as you say, if you worried too much about these things you would never leave your house.
    Obviously you need to be aware and not put yourself in dangerous positions, but I have found friendly and helpful people all over the world.

    • Thanks for your comment Debra and well stated! Yes, I have found friendly people all over the world too and bad people everywhere. So it is good to take precautions but also not live in a shell.

  9. Thanks for your sane and right-on post. I can totally relate to all you write. I too, am an experienced, solo world traveler. I too hate seeing the Turkey-bashing and the apparent forgetfulness of the violence against women in all countries

    Yet I am also wrestling with what Sarai Sierra means for me…I have felt so safe in Turkey – but am also almost embarassed to say that I have very curiously grown to have felt so fearful of walking around Istanbul based on objections from a secular, super liberal husband, brother-in-law and Dad…it’s an ongoing struggle in my relationship. I wrote about it today on my blog.

    In any case, I concur we can’t let fear keep us from living a full life.

  10. Merhaba ben Türkiye de yaşıyorum ve Türküm.Dünyanın her yerinde malesef bu tarz olayla yaşanmakta.Sizin yaşadığınız şehirde ülkenizde böyle olaylar oluyor.Ben televizyandan basından takip ediyorum.Ama bu beni korkutmuyor.Ve sizin ülkenizin güvenilir olmadığını düşünmüyorum.Okuduğunuz kötü yorumlara sizin gibi bende çok kızdım.Benim gibi bu duruma üzülen bir çok Türk var.Bu cinayet siradan bir cinayet değil.Çözümlenmesi için Türk polisi ve Türk halkı elinden geleni yapıyor.Aklıma takılan sorular var.Sarai bence sadece bir gezgin değildi.Sarai ülkesinde 450 usd ile çalışan bir insan.Oysa seyahat harcama tutarları oldukça yüksek.Camera kayıtlarında elinde hiç fotoğraf makinası yok.Cesedi bulundu ve üzerinden değerli eşyaları alınmamış.Olay çözümlenecek buna inanıyorum.Ama Sarai bence başka bir olaydan dolayı öldürüldü.Türk halkı olarak bizler misafir severiz.Herkese karşılıksız yardım ederiz.Sokakta tanımadığımız birisi bile olsa onunla yemeğimizi paylaşırız.Çok üzgünüm ve bu olayı kim yaptıysa cezasını çekmesini isterim.Sevgilerimle Canan Ekinci

  11. That’s so, so sad. I travelled a lot alone when I was younger – in South America and Africa – and I was always very conscious of the fact that I was a young woman on my own. This was mainly (not always) in a good way though – I made so many more friends (local and other tourists) when I was on my own than when I was travelling with others (especially when I was travelling with my then boyfriend, now husband). I am the person I am today precisely because I went out there on my own and just got on with it.

    Having said that, I don’t know if I’d be as confident with my daughter doing the same thing…

    • Very good points. I never thought about your end point though. My little girl is only six now and I can’t imagine her globe trotting around solo like I did in my twenties! But that said, I still would have to let her go. Those were the best times of my life and I can’t have her live in a shell when bad stuff can really happen anywhere, even right outside your door and in the college dorm rooms. Hmmm….

      • You’re right – we’ll have to let them do it. And believe me, I want my daughter to see all the stuff I did!

        It’s only when I had kids myself that I really thought about what my mum must have been going through as I backpacked my way around random countries on my own. And she was brilliant – never once did she say “don’t do that!” or “no way!”. She just smiled as she listened to my crazy adverntures, and calmly reminded me to stay safe. Hopefully I’ll be like my mum…

        Anyway, we have a few years left yet before they start all that, no?! 😉

      • Thank goodness we have time! Just think, we didn’t have cellphones then (or at least I didn’t) and I lived in France alone before the internet when I was 20! 🙂

  12. I had not read that she had been found, and my heart goes out to her friends and family. of course there will be people who do not understand, who criticize, but that’s not going to bring her back or change the story.

    i take with me two tidbits of advice whenever i travel/wherever i travel. an episcopalian priest friend counseled, ‘remember to always be on the offensive and never find yourself in the defensive postition..’ when i am ‘out’ i step into a different mindset and am forever aware of anyone who might fall in step behind me or someone who looks questionalble that i’m approaching on the street. i have been known to abruptle cross traffic to get to the other side of the street, strictly on instinct. the other advice came from an attorney friend who said, ‘.. be smart. remember that the world’s hatred of our country is greater than your kind heart.’

    it is our duty to represent our country the best that we can, do be on the offensive at all times, and to develop a system of checks and balances when travelling alone. i always let someone who where i am going, and i always try to be where i need to be by 3 in the afternoon, in case of breakdowns and emergencies. when i suspect my personal safety might be at risk, i have no problem dropping 70, 80 100 dollars on a room for the first night to be sure that i am in a safe place in a new town. my personal safety is worth it.

    yes, all countries have those horror stories, and we can’t live a shell of a life just because our loved ones want to coddle us and keep us from harm. we wean away, take off the training wheels and grow as people.

    my time traveling alone has rewarded me with some of the most enriching experiences of my life, and i would be a shell of a person had i stayed safely at home in the neighborhood where i grew up.

    • Excellent points and tips that I will remember. I am perhaps too trusting and kind but I agree, you’ve got to be careful and remain on the offensive at all times.

  13. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Nicole – such a tragic story. As you note, we take risks every morning when we get out of bed, and much of life involves balancing calculated risks. Good reminder to always keep perspective, yet also to always remain vigilant. ~ Kat

  14. When I was in Bangkok, I was dropped off at a train station by a tuk tuk driver that didn’t want to leave town due to traffic. I just had a bad feeling about where I was so I went to the closest apartment building and got a cab. Another time, I felt someone was walking too closely [not hard to do in Japan], so I crossed the street. When someone advised that it wasn’t safe to walk along the river in Saigon, I didn’t do it and when someone advised I shouldn’t stay in Pattaya, Thailand, I stayed in Bangkok. When I was in Mexico City, I was escorted. [business kidnapping is a true threat.]
    Who knows the circumstances around the woman’s death but it is a reminder to us, Women Who Travel Alone, to listen to our instincts and keep our senses sharp.

    • Excellent comment! I am amazed by how many good ones I’ve received on this post. It is so true that you have to follow your instincts and be aware. I never go out at night by myself if I’m in a questionable country too. I just don’t take the change. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

      • Yes, I’ve seen it a lot now in the papers too and some people wondering why this one case is getting so much attention when women around the world go missing or get violently murdered all the time. I guess it is because she is American and our media is so crazy. Sad story and maybe we will never know what happened.

  15. Thee are bad people everywhere; bad things happen everywhere; travelling alone as a woman is probably no more dangerous than crossing your local park; more men get killed travelling – why? … they take more risks. We can’t allow the crazies to keep us at home Michelle 🙂

  16. I have just returned from Istanbul last week and I felt completely safe even at night. Istanbul might not be the safest place of all, but it’s neither more dangerous than other big cities elsewhere. I didn’t know Sarai Sierra before but I feel really sad and shocked for her death. I hope more people would speak out and outnumber all the haters.

  17. Glad you wrote this post, Nicole. Sounds like you take wise precautions. I sometimes travel alone. Often Sara and I are taking the same trip a day apart or on two separate flights. Her work complicates things. However, we ARE aware that our move to Ecuador may be a bit different, as we will not be working with and benefiting from the support of a specific NGO. Sara is going to freelance, so that worries me a bit. But she traveled to Afghanistan alone in 2002-2003. I know that had to have been dangerous.

    Okay, enough for now. Great post, Nicole!

    Hugs,
    Kathy

  18. I have to agree with Meredith above. I have felt far safer in the Islamic countries I have visited than in my own. It is sad that crimes against women are increasing, everywhere, but staying at home is certainly not the answer. Good for you Nicole 🙂

  19. Thanks for writing this post otherwise I would have never known about Sarai. Such a sad story and bad things happen in every country in the world. THis is no reason to stop living, stop traveling, we just need to do it with our ‘third-eye.’

    • Ha Ha…love the third eye comment and yes, we can’t let a few bad things make us stay behind locked doors. What kind of a life would that be? Not much fun.

  20. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on women travelers. Before I married, I almost exclusively traveled solo and often to places that others viewed as dangerous. I don’t regret a moment of those experiences, and much of who I am today is because I made the decision to not live in fear of the world. Yes, there are dangerous places to travel, but heck, a lot of those places can be found in my own country.

    Like you, I take the same kinds of precautions I take when I’m here in the States. It seems there are so many narratives of the male solo traveler, the adventurer, that those stories become naturalized in our belief system, and we can assume men will be A-okay when they travel alone. Hopefully in time the same kind of narratives for women travelers will become integrated in our culture.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree, so many of these trips especially the ones I’ve done alone have really shaped my life and even made me learn more about myself. It is such a powerful thing to do and I won’t let a few crazy stories scare me away. What a boring life that would be?

  21. Thanks for this post Nicole and your very thoughtful perspective. It’s terribly sad to hear of the story of Sierra. Hopefully investigators will soon determine the cause, find the perpetrators and justice will be served. What’s equally depressing are the number of belligerent and ignorant people who claim that she should have stayed at home/not travelled to a Muslim country/insert other ridiculous stereotype here. Do people not realize that tragic events can happen anywhere (children missing in the US and Europe and public shootings come to mind) including “anglophone” countries like Canada, England and Australia? Some of the comments I’ve been reading on the HuffPo site enrage me, if only because some people seem completely unconscious as to what they’re suggesting: “Why on earth would she travel there alone? I understand pursing your interests but I think she could have waited until someone could have gone with her. That was not safe on her part no matter how many times she checked in with her family” AND “Women should never travel alone, especially in a foreign country” were two of my favourites.

    Great suggestions. Why don’t we put a ban women on women travelling alone. Better yet, let’s follow the Saudi or Afghan example and prevent women from driving, getting an education, showing their hair or faces and going out in public without a male escort. Future crises will be averted, no? (*note, heavy dose of sarcasm intended in this last paragraph*)

    • I so agree with you. The comments made me so upset and angry. I think that so many people are just nuts and live in strange bubbles. I love your line and thinking! Let’s keep traveling!

  22. This is a great post Nicole. I believe this could happen in just about any country, including ours. I don’t believe we should sit in our homes waiting for something bad to happen and not live. We all need to live each day as if it were our last and when it is, even if it ends tragically, those we leave behind hopefully will feel that our lives had meaning.

    • Yes, we do! Carpe diem, or seize the day as my dad always tells me! We can’t live holed up behind a locked door. But sadly I think many people do and there is such a strong fear factor too in our media always trying to scare us!

  23. What unfortuante circumstances, but it can happen anywhere. The media jumps on it with explaining it as all things foreign, forces a sense of blame and works on our sense of fear. It reminds me of growing up with over protective parents with the “could happens” to keep us fearful and safe. No matter where you are you should always be aware of your surroundings, even home. The attitude always puts blame elsewhere and home is perfect. As you say though what we would miss out on in life by being too fearful to ever leave.

    • Yes I completely agree! I can only imagine what my parents felt when I lived abroad at 20 year old and then backpacked solo. I would be petrified if my daughter did it but at least now we have cell phones! 🙂 Can’t stop living right?!

      • Yes! A case of a young Canadian girl just went missing in the US a few days ago. My mother in law was appaled she was travelling alone. Doesn’t matter where you are it could happen anywhere. I waited years to travel because I never had anyone to go with. I missed out on so much. I found a way to do it alone, but still in a group. My parents were so worried, but it was the best thing I ever did for myself. It built confidence and allowed me to really grow up.

      • Crazy things happen. The story now on this American woman has been getting crazier by the minute. Anyway, I will never regret traveling alone and will definitely continue.

  24. Excellent post! I’m glad you commented on my blog after I wrote about how safe I feel as an expat living in Istanbul. As you and many other people said, bad things can and do happen everywhere. I just had this same conversation with 2 Turks in Turkish today in Sultanahmet! They said there are bad people everywhere in the world, and it’s said it happened here in Turkey. I completely agree with them! I love living in Istanbul, exploring its nooks and crannies and meeting the locals! You just need to pay attention to your surroundings like you would anywhere. When I lived in Baltimore, I knew I shouldn’t go 2 blocks north because it wasn’t the safest place. I say keep traveling! Life is too short!

    • Glad you enjoyed! Thanks for commenting as well and I’m glad I found your blog. Istanbul sounds like a wonderful place to live. I haven’t been there yet but I will! I am amazed at how our American media is covering this so much too. I know that women from other countries disappear and are murdered all the time but they rarely get this kind of attention.

  25. Thanks for a thoughtful post. I have travelled the world and been in many places and never felt really unsafe. I will continue to do so, because travelling alone has brought me some of the most amazing experiences I ever had, meeting the locals, being invited to their homes, seeing sides of the cities, countries, parts of the world that I would never have seen otherwise.
    It is of course very sad for this woman and her family but this type of assault could have happened everywhere, not the least in US.
    I am not going to put my life on hold; For what? Travelling and travelling is a part of who I am. If I can’t live the life I love; who am I?

    • You and me sound much alike! Thanks for this comment and I wholeheartedly agree. Traveling has made me who I am and I am not going to stop falling my dreams! 🙂

  26. Pingback: NZ Word » Blog Archive » Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo

  27. A great and clearly thought provoking post. Before reading this post I had not heard the sad story of Sarai Sierra. The comments here have been both enlightening and encouraging, with common sense and true perspective shining through! I just wish that thousands of people could read this and open their eyes and see the world properly.

    Over the years I have known several female friends who whilst in their 20s travelled to many different parts of the world alone and had a great time. They were confident and interesting people, with much more insight on the subject than all the media rubbish.

    It should also be remembered that only a few years ago (2007) a young British woman, Meredith Kercher, travelling and living in a ‘safe’ country, Italy, did the ‘sensible’ thing and shared her accommodation with a young American woman, Amanda Knox. Meredith was doing everything that the media are now advising young women to do and she wasn’t in a supposedly dangerous ‘Muslim’ country, yet her life was cruelly ended in a particularly nasty murder!

    Living is a risky business! Everyone, young and old, no matter where they are, should apply basic common sense and seek good advice before entering into any new activity, be it travelling abroad or driving a car. Unfortunately, many more young people die in car accidents the world over, than are murdered because they travelled alone!

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