Skip to main content

This is the weekly Amplify newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web or someone forwarded this e-mail newsletter to you, you can sign up for Amplify and all Globe newsletters here.

Domini Clark hiking the 300km Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales by herself.Handout

As I sat there picking at my lasagna, it became apparent the man at the next table found the sight of me eating mediocre pub food arousing.

Legs splayed out, his hand was clearly moving up and down under his jeans.

“Is it okay if I say you make me horny?” he asked after a few minutes.

“No,” I said. “It’s really not.”

I’m Domini Clark, travel editor at The Globe and Mail. While I sometimes get to explore the world as part of my job, most often I’m out gallivanting by myself for the sheer joy of it. But the fact is, as a solo female traveller, days abroad aren’t always easy breezy.

The aforementioned incident took place at the end of a trip to Wales, a country I adore (for the record the guy was English). And in that moment I did what my colleague Denise Balkissoon so perfectly summarized in her column about being groped: “We decide in a moment how safe we are, or aren’t, and how much we do, or don’t, want to make a scene. Then we reconsider that decision for hours or days or years afterward.”

For various reasons, I did not report the man to a staff member. Do I regret it? Perhaps. But I definitely do not regret putting myself in that position to begin with.

Women exploring the world alone is one of the hottest, most talked-about trends in the industry. Less discussed, however, are the inherent safety issues. “Whether it’s a creepy Uber driver, lush at the hotel bar, or crude neighbor during a flight, women live in a radically different world than men when they travel,” Andrew Sheivachman puts it bluntly while discussing one of the few reports even loosely related to the topic: In a 2018 survey conducted by the Global Business Travel Association and AIG, 83 per cent of women polled said they have experienced a safety issue or concern during a work trip in the last year.

During my travels, I’ve had my butt smacked, my face grabbed and kissed, a man follow me around and a guy sit down at my table and refuse to leave. Still, I know I have it easy. I’m pretty thick skinned – and I’m white. Reading Ashley Butterfield’s BBC essay about travelling as a young black woman puts any harassment I’ve faced into perspective. I am incredibly impressed at how she turns uncomfortable situations into moments of cultural education.

Over the years I’ve developed my own set of rules for staying safe: No more than three drinks unless I’m with someone I trust. Never tell a stranger where I’m staying. Wait until I’ve left to post my location on social media. Always make sure someone knows where I’m headed, and check in at the end of the day. (The 25-page Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe Travel Guide by the Canadian government offers far more extensive advice.)

But don’t misunderstand: I don’t travel in fear of the opposite sex. When I missed a train, I once grabbed a lift with a random man who offered. Another time, I spent a day riding a motorcycle driven by a guy I’d just met. Caught off guard when I was unable to withdraw cash from a foreign ATM, I begged a group of Welshmen to buy me food and drink, and then partied with them until 1 a.m.

Above all, I trust my gut. And I draw inspiration from women whose current solo travels are far more adventurous than mine – such as these 10 recently profiled in the Telegraph – and the trailblazing globetrotting gals who came before them. “The world’s earliest travel writings were produced by a woman named Egeria," Aditi Shrikant states in Vox. “In 381 AD, she climbed Mount Sinai on her pilgrimage from what is thought to be either Spain or Rhone Valley to the Holy Lands.” For sure she put up with some guff. Likewise 19th-century wanderers Mary Seacole and Nellie Bly, whose works I’ll be reading on upcoming flights.

So, yes, travelling solo comes with risks – but so do most things in life. And I think the ability to break free from expectations, to experience moments of pure bliss and to learn deep truths about oneself are worth it.

Solo travel is “about hedonism,” the author Bidisha writes of her adventures in the Guardian. “I am not alone: I am spending time with myself, in contemplation of the outside world, waking up in silence, with unbounded time, indulging my hobbies without having to be nice, or tidy, or hygienic. Being alone, occupying public space and exploring the world as a free agent, not an object or an ancillary facilitating figure, is my right.”

And it’s a right I encourage all women to seize.

What else we’re reading:

The headline of this New York Times piece by Adam Grant “No, You Can’t Ignore Email. It’s Rude” – has me feeling guilty. E-mail is an important, valuable part of my job but often getting through my inbox feels like a Sisyphean task: I send one reply, another new ask comes in. I have to prioritize who gets a response. Grant scolds those guilty of what he deems “digital snubbery,” but I think his argument could be stronger. This bit of advice, though, is one we should all follow: “What we really need to do is to make email something we think carefully about before sending.” Cut the clutter and everyone wins.

Inspired by something in this newsletter? If so, we hope you’ll amplify it by passing it on. And if there’s something we should know, or feedback you’d like to share, send us an e-mail at amplify@globeandmail.com.