This week the interwebs/innernetz have been buzzing with news of the disappearance and death of a NYC women, Sarai Sierra, in Turkey. On two separate Twitter chats the question came up surrounding safety and the solo traveller. On my favorite travel chat, Women of Color Talk Travel (#woctt) hosted by Nicole is the New Black we answered the following questions: (1) As travelers or potential travelers what was your initial reaction to the news that an American woman was found dead in Istanbul, (2) What have been some of the most shocking comments you have heard or seen regarding the story and (3) Did this news make you reconsider potential solo travel trips?
We touched on what Ms. Sierra’s death means to us as travellers, women travellers, women of color who travel and how the news affects our plans to travel alone. I compiled a snapshot of our conversation using Storify, which you can read here. I’ve also captured the chat in its entirety here, as after about a week you won’t be able to get access to it, if you want to read the conversation. We did veer off topic a bit as we are wont to do in the chat.
Some takeaways from the conversation, Ms. Sierra death will not stop most of us from travelling and those of us who travel alone will keep doing so. One participant @ACSpeakEasy said “I hope women of all colors & ages have the opportunity to travel solo. It’s empowering in a way nothing else is.” I agree whole heartedly. I urge everyone to take a trip by yourself, even if it’s just a day trip outside your city. Research something you love and hope in the car, on a bus or train or even a plane for the weekend. Coming back around to safety when travelling alone, advice ranged from making friends with your hotel/hostel workers to not making friends with them; checking in on social media or not checking in for fear of stalkers; informing friends and family back via email what your itinerary is for the trip and leaving copies of your document with someone trusted. One stand out recommendation was to enroll with the US Department of State in their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). You enroll once and can add trips as needed. I’ve known about this for some time but this incident gave me the final impetus to complete the enrollment. If you were to go missing and you had imputed your travel information the US government would have somewhere to start and would know who to contact in the event of something really bad happening to you.
The advice repeated over and over is to stay aware of your surroundings and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. So if you won’t go to the “ghetto” part of town back home don’t do it in a foreign country. I’d add that be aware of what is acceptable for a woman to do and wear in your host country too. There is an old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So if the locals don’t like to see a woman’s shoulders cover them with a scarf or shawl. Nothing can protect you from a crazy person bent on doing harm, but knowledge and preparation can keep you fairly safe. Don’t forget to listen to your gut, if it starts rumbling or clenching or whatever yours does in warning, pay attention and take action.
As I finished up this post one ladies on the chat posted this article by Britain’s Daily Mail with more information on Sarai Sierra and the alternate reasons the authorities think she was in Turkey. Regardless, of what her reasons were for being there and what she did while she was their, a mother lost her child, a husband lost his best friend and two little boys still don’t know that Mommy is not coming home.
If you have any advice for travellers solo, or otherwise please leave them in the comments.
Be safe in your travels my friends.