Few of us set out with­out a twinge of anx­i­ety

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Is any­where in the world safe for fe­male trav­ellers? The head­lines that fol­lowed the aw­ful mur­der of Grace Mil­lane in New Zealand last week cer­tainly sug­gested not. How­ever, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that mur­der by strangers is in­cred­i­bly un­usual. That holds true what­ever the coun­try, but mur­der of trav­ellers and hol­i­day­mak­ers is so rare that the vic­tims’ names are re­mem­bered. We are mor­bidly fas­ci­nated by killing, par­tic­u­larly of vul­ner­a­ble young women; there must be more books and films with this as the main sub­ject than any other. So it’s no won­der we are fright­ened when we find our­selves in a threat­en­ing si­t­u­a­tion.

The great­est dan­ger for fe­male trav­ellers is road ac­ci­dents and other mishaps, but few give a thought to this; in­stead the fear is of men. Dervla Mur­phy, in the Sev­en­ties, called it “ho­mo­pho­bia”, a term she had coined her­self, more ac­cu­rately than the cur­rent mean­ing. She rec­om­mended turn­ing the ta­bles on men who ap­peared threat­en­ing and ask­ing their help. Good ad­vice. Women have the choice be­tween act­ing con­fi­dent and self-as­sured or vul­ner­a­ble, which some­times brings out the chivalry in for­eign men. But their great ad­van­tage as trav­ellers is un­doubt­edly the sis­ter­hood that al­lows them to be wel­comed into women’s homes, and to share some in­ti­mate as­pects of other cul­tures.

Though statis­tics show that women are less likely to be at­tacked than men, there’s no deny­ing that trav­el­ling alone takes courage, and few set out on a solo trip with­out a twinge of anx­i­ety. It was for these trav­ellers that I com­piled the an­thol­ogy

I se­lected the sto­ries and rev­elled in the ac­counts of how every­thing turned out well de­spite their worst fears. Take Nicole Teufel, for ex­am­ple, an 18-year-old Amer­i­can who went to Rus­sia on her own, mostly in de­fi­ance of her coun­try’s prej­u­dice. “I ar­rived try­ing to sup­press my un­con­scious neg­a­tiv­ity to­wards Rus­sians, but a minute in I had al­ready failed. A man came up to me say­ing he was a taxi driver. I said no. He had the same cold face of ev­ery ter­ror­ist and kid­nap­per I was ever warned about.” In the end Nicole said yes, and “as my heart raced and I fol­lowed him out I heard ev­ery rel­a­tive and friend of mine telling me to turn back … though there wasn’t a sin­gle rea­son not to trust him. I got in and waited to be driven to some far-off place and never heard of again.” Of course, the story ends hap­pily. The taxi driver shows her the sights of Vladi­vos­tok, stops for pho­tos, and fi­nally makes sure that she gains en­try into the hos­tel. “He was the kind­est taxi driver I had ever known. And yet I had taken him to be a crook. I had a lot to learn.”

I look back on years of travel and re­mem­ber sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions. And I ad­mit it – I was of­ten afraid. One piv­otal time was in Colom­bia when I found my­self alone in a train com­part­ment with a young sol­dier. It was dark out­side and there was no es­cape from the car­riage. My Span­ish at that early stage of the trip was al­most nonex­is­tent and I was too wary to want to at­tempt con­ver­sa­tion – some­thing he was un­com­fort­ably

Just me, the moun­tains, and the lake...

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