Female Solo Travel – The Ups and the Downs


In the fast-paced bustling 21st century world, women have grown to be more independent. That being the case, it is still seen as unusual for a woman to travel on her own. Whether that woman is originates from a Western or an Eastern culture, liberal or conservative, the question of “why are you travelling alone?” still arises. Friends and family worry about safety, while strangers might pity the lonesome traveller. However there are many advantages to travelling alone that are easily overlooked.

Why Travel Alone

Venturing off on your own and exploring the world is a liberating experience. You don’t have to stress over putting a group together, who would be able to go to the same place at the same time on the same budget, you don’t need to worry about compromising to accommodate someone else’s schedule, and you can change your plans on a whim, without concern for anyone else.  While you might feel cut off by leaving their homes and loved-ones behind, the truth is you are never truly cut-off. When travelling alone you are able to embark on a journey of self-discovery, as well as meet new people at every stop. You can always find someone somewhere who is similar to you in some way.


Fear of feeling alone and bored can make you reconsider solo travel. “What am I going to do with my day?” is a common question among new solo travellers. The answer is: plenty. Being in a foreign country, where you are trying to absorb as much of the culture as possible in a limited amount of time, gives you plenty to do. There will always be a show to attend, a museum to explore or an underwater cave to discover, activities and amusements are abundant when visiting a new location. And if you run out of activities during your trip, you can seek companionship in a book or chronicle your adventures in a journal/blog.

Another major concern that faces, particularly women, is safety. Between pickpocketing and harassment, women are considered an easy target, especially when they are walking alone in an unfamiliar area. To avoid a gruesome fate, make sure you keep yourself and your belongings as safe as possible. This can be done by hiding your money inside your clothes instead of in your wallet. Don’t carry large sums of money when sightseeing or shopping, credit cards are preferable. Try to appear like you belong, so as not to attract any unwanted attention to yourself. Walking with a map and turning left and right, labels you as a tourist that can be taken advantage of. Avoid walking alone at night. Finally follow your instinct, if you feel that you shouldn’t be in a particular place then you probably shouldn’t be there. Safe travel is generally about common sense. So as a woman, don’t let your concerns and other’s discourage you from exploring the world alone at your liberty and your own pace.

Playing By My Own Rules

I’ve been living in this city since the day I was born. I know the culture and I have a feel of it; it’s a crucial part of my life. But for the past four or five years I’ve been determined on leaving. I felt that my time here was limited that I was meant to live somewhere else, not sure where, but somewhere more accepting. You see I have many problems with living here, some more complex than others. My number one issue, though, has to be the people.

I’m aware of how general a term that is and how much it may not make sense, but I’ll explain. The population of greater Cairo is approximately 20 million people, give or take. It’s one of the densest urban areas in the world and one of the most polluted. That leads to an unfixable traffic catastrophe and more garbage than the city can hold. Leaving the house every day is a tedious task for everyone, regardless of which form of transportation they choose to take. All that is in addition to extreme inflation, which devaluates the money, adding more of a burden to people who’ve had it up to their eyeballs in problems.

However, this brief background doesn’t explain what I mean by having an issue with the people. I’m used to the crowded streets and have grown accustomed to the traffic, still hate it though. But what I can’t tolerate is the constant judgment and brazen interference in other people’s lives.  People’s lives are like a circus act, trying to balance between obligations and expectations. Society expects people to stand on a wire and effortlessly balance these two things with perfection, which is impossible! It’s outrageous to even conceive that such a life is possible. As you walk down the street, there always watchful eyes looking out to see if you step out of line. This creates an atmosphere of extreme frustration and oppression that no one can endure. One may pretend, put on a mask and spend their lives hiding, but it will certainly not be truthful. I’m not saying that this is the case for everyone, but it is the case for a great majority of the citizens of this city.

Back to the topic at hand, it hit my today that the only way I can be content with living here is if I do so by my own rules. I don’t think it will be entirely possible, but hypothetically it would be a step forward. If I could have my own place, take charge and responsibility for my own life. Be a mature responsible adult before being in a committed life-long relationship. Why is that I have to wait for a husband until I can be independent? It’s such an archaic social structure. Why can’t young unmarried men and women live on their own, outside their parents’ house? Why does there have to be a negative stigma behind that, especially for women?

I detest this culture of dependence and I hate that I’m sucked into it. I would like to not have to move away to have a life that I can call my own. I would appreciate it if people would mind their own business and accept the differences of others. I would like to see this culture as non-patriarchal, non-misogynistic, less destructive, more accepting, more proactive, more productive and more respectful.

Do I dare to dream such a dream?

An Unconventional Life

I’ve always wanted an unconventional life. A life that’s exciting, a life I’d be proud of and remember. I want to make a difference, even if it’s minute. However the culture I belong to and the society I live in make it quite difficult, if not impossible. Everyone needs to act a certain way, a be a certain way or else you’re judged or condemned. I can’t be who I want to be, because I don’t have the opportunity to do that.

This society sucks the life out of a person. This society which believes everything is wrong and inappropriate. I feel imprisoned.

“I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a crowded room screaming at the top of my lungs and no one even looks up” (Titanic). I can never really be myself, I’m not allowed to be myself.

I know that going anywhere else will be extremely difficult and exhausting. But I want to be able to walk down the street. I don’t want to be conned in everything. I don’t want to feel like a second-rate citizen in my own country. Or a second-rate human because I’m a girl. I want a life that’s mine. I want independence.

I look around and think this place can be much more than it is. But I’m not going to wait around to find out. I’m not gambling away my life, it worth a lot to me. Even if other people don’t understand the value of time, I do. And I want to make the most out of my time, because regret is the worst feeling imaginable. Anyway all I really want is to have as much control as possible over my life. I am a firm believer in fate, that’s why I accept fate as an invisible hand having some control over my life, but not other people.

I want to choose the life I want to live, regardless of how it is.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

 I have been a city-girl my whole life. Born, raised and lived my entire life in the city; in the same city. I was raised surrounded by high buildings, noise and pollution. I can never imagine living the country-side or in a small town or village or even in the suburbs. I am a city-girl. That being said, I no longer want to live in this particular city or any city that resembles it; not for long periods of time at least. I can’t live in capitals with intolerable traffic, all forms of pollution and hostile environments. I realize that there are world capitals that don’t fit this profile, and are actually characterized as the most beautiful cities in the world.  While that is true and while there are some cities from both categories, if we for the time being assume there just are two, that happen to be the most popular cities in the world.

Cairo fits the profile I have described above, perfectly; that is in addition to it being one of the most populous cities in the world.  Therefore I have been raised in a polluted, over-crowded, noisy, at times even over-whelming city. I have known no other home, but as of recently it doesn’t feel like home. I have become a stranger in my own city, a guest of sort. I and everyone I know live in a world outside of this country, but still within the parameters of the city. I am constantly in contact with the residents of this city, but until I return to the bubble I was brought up in, and in which my friends, family and closest acquaintances live, I feel that I don’t belong.

As I have already mentioned I was raised in a large metropolitan city and I can only live in a place that provides very much the same facilities, but doesn’t resemble this city. I realize I’m being a little cryptic, I’ll elaborate. I am rarely ever in contact with nature, excluding air obviously. This city, and many that are quite like it, is dead. I never lived near a sea, a mountain, forest or a river (that isn’t surrounded by buildings and is so polluted that it looks more like sewage).

This all brings me to the title of this entry. All what I have said explains how the environment I live in has led to my elevated stress level, but it doesn’t why it’s not easy to change this environment. Growing up I was under the impression that I would always live here, under rigid social rules and familial expectations (all of you in my situation can easily relate), and I had accepted that fact for so long. However a couple of years ago, I found this to be a choice which is suicidal more than an actual fact. Recently I realized that living in Egypt is impossible and that it needs to be temporary. This all explains the reasons why I would be damned if I don’t leave, in addition to the current political, economic and social status of the country.

Saying that I want to leave is very easy, implementing it though is excruciating. The political situation in the country, which makes leaving a necessity, impedes the process of leaving, as well as complicates life for those who would like to leave as much as those who don’t. A place where a person is born should not outline his/her entire life. Life should be based on the choices one makes; it shouldn’t be based on the choices one can’t make, or damned by other people’s choices or their perceptions.

Child Brides

Child Bride

There have been speculations in Egypt regarding the passing of new marriage laws; laws that particularly deal with the minimum age for marriage for girls. Currently the minimum age for marriage in Egypt is eighteen, for both girls and boys. This law is an amendment of a previous law, which legally allowed girls to get married at sixteen. These speculations however revolve around child marriages, thereby allowing girls as young as nine-years-old to get married. There, however, haven’t been any confirmations regarding this matter. On the other hand in 2001 Egypt ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which states that it is prohibited for any party (boy or girl) below the age of eighteen to get married or betrothed. Unfortunately, child marriage continues to be a problem in Egypt for many years, therefore legalizing this phenomenon would therefore be catastrophic. This issue can be discussed from various different perspectives, in order to get an overall view of the problem.

Some advocates of this phenomenon rely heavily on religion; by referring back to Prophet Muhammad’s marriage of Aisha, who was at the time nine.  But this notion can be falsified, giving more than one reason. First there is no proof that Aisha was nine at the time of the marriage, some scholars believe her age to have been between nine and nineteen. Therefore if she was in fact nineteen she was mature enough to consent to the marriage. Second in Arabia, during the seventh-century, adulthood was defined by puberty rather than law, making such an affair quite common during that time. Third, which is clearly stated in the Qur’an, is that marriage must be between two consenting adults. Therefore according to the religious text, marriage without consent, which is certainly the case when one of the parties is not even mature enough to give their consent, is invalid and void.

 However the more common perspective for such an imbalanced unity between two people is purely economic. The parents of the bride-to-be receive a respectable dowry, which becomes the focal point of the marriage process, in exchange for their daughter. Therefore debasing the entire marriage process to nothing more than a business transaction, where the girl is nothing more than a product. Results of a joint study between the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNICEF show another form of child marriage practiced in Egypt, one which is closer to prostitution than marriage.  Where young, usually village girls, marry wealthy men from Arab Gulf countries for a short period of time, usually the summer, in exchange for an agreed upon amount of money. In this case the marriage constitutes a legal form of prostitution. However there is no consent on the girl’s part, especially since some of the documents needed for the marriage, for example the birth certificates, are forged for the purpose of this union.

Girls who are married before the age of eighteen are forced into such a marriage, which in itself has negative effect on the girl’s psychological wellbeing. However the severity of the problem becomes clearer, when looking closer at the marriage itself. Victims of child marriage are subjects to sexual violence, due to forced intercourse by the much older spouse, domestic violence and early child birth. Often girls who are pregnant at a very young age either die during the pregnancy or during child-birth. These girls also have a higher chance of being affected by HIV/AIDS or other sexual transmitted diseases. Due to the huge age gap between the spouses these girls are unable to negotiate with their husbands on issues such as safe sex or even ask for a divorce, when it becomes too much for them to handle. Ultimately they become trapped in a forced, abusive, uneven marriage.

In addition young girls, who are forced into such an affair, are forced to quit their education. By doing so they are not given the chance to develop themselves or get involved in the professional arena. Thereby excluding nearly half the workforce at an early age, this becomes a key aspect as to why Egyptian economy is continuing to deteriorate. Child marriage induces domestic violence, rape, psychological trauma and prohibits young girls from, not only being productive members of society, but from being healthy human beings. Passing such laws will therefore not only affect a marginalized community in the Egyptian society, but the entire society as a whole.

*First published in AUC Times