Working in hostels can be frustrating. It can often involve cleaning up a lot of alcohol-induced vomit from shared bathrooms and too often involves answering the same question of ‘how do I get to the airport from here‘ even if there is a huge map with directions on the wall next to reception.
So naturally hostel receptionists need to vent their frustration every now and again, sometimes reaching out to other hostel workers online. I get that. I’ve done it myself.
What hostel receptionists should never, ever be doing is belittling solo female guests who are concerned for their safety.
When a guests asks “but what if someone tries to rape me?” when asking directions around a new city, she shouldn’t receive mocking comments along the line of “just don’t turn left, the rapists are left“.
In this incident the comment wasn’t made directly to the guest in question, but in an online forum intended for the eyes of hostel staff. Which is something I need to address to you guys reading this before continuing this post:
In no way do I want want any of you reading this to think this is an accurate reflection of attitudes towards sexual assault amongst hostel staff members.
My own experience is that hostel staff are, and should be there to provide a welcoming and safe experience for their guests. Hostel staff are not parents; they cannot take care of you 24/7, do your washing up and hold your hand across the road.
But one thing they also shouldn’t do is make guests feel inadequate for having very real concerns about sexual assault. Be reminded; sexual assault affects 1 in 6 women in the US and 1 in 3 women worldwide.
I’m not annoyed that this was said between hostel staff members. I’m pissed off that this attitude exists in the first place.
The hostel reviews on this site are written from my own experience, so I hope you can at least trust that as a solo female traveller I would never promote a hostel that I felt trivialised the concerns of their guests. And I honestly believe this doesn’t truly represent hostel staff. Only once in the three years this site has been live have I had to refuse to write a review based on a negative experience with a male staff member who made me feel uncomfortable.
So why am I still telling you about this conversation if I want you to continue to travel in hostels? If I am so adamant that the contributing staff members in this conversation don’t reflect 99% of my experiences with hostel staff?
I’m telling you about it because I’m fed up.
I am fed up of having polite conversation with a stranger at a bar who thinks it’s appropriate to keep resting his hand on my knee.
I am fed up of having a backpack full of modest clothing because it’s easier than risking anything more than a catcall on the street.
I am fed up of grasping my keys between my knuckles every time I walk a street in the dark.
I’m fed up of the fact that I’ve learnt to pull off an epic resting bitch face for when I’m walking through a big group of guys on the street.
So when I saw this conversation – between people who had no respect at all for the fact that solo female travellers aren’t fearless but are actually just girls alone in a world where the majority of sexual assaults take place on women under 30 years old – I flipped.
Hostels should be safe spaces for travellers.
That’s why they have locks on the doors and half the hostels in major cities have bouncers at the entrance.
Why I haven’t previously focused on solo female travel
While I am a solo female traveller, aside from a few posts on the topic it has never been a topic I have actively pursued writing about. My female readership is only slightly higher than my male readership (60% vs. 40%) and I like to think that when reviewing hostels I provide valuable insight for everyone, no matter their gender identity.
I also struggle with how much my writing should be seen as encouraging solo female travel. Or in fact travel at all.
There are enough viral and visually inspiring lists out there giving reasons why everyone should travel that don’t take in to account that travel is not the only answer. Or the fact that there are people out there who just don’t enjoy travelling solo and get a far richer experience when they travel with friends.
Just because solo female travel is my way, I’m not ignorant to consider that others don’t have their own ways.
That being said, I am going to begin expanding this blog to cover more on the topic of solo female travel. Not to persuade all girls out there to do it whether they want to or not, but to help support those who dream of travel but are apprehensive for their safety.
My promise to my readers
TheHostelGirl.com won’t become a place where I shout from the rooftops that all girls should travel alone. For those who really don’t want to, or feel the experience won’t be enriching for them personally, don’t worry. Keep travelling your way.
I will still approach my reviews so that they represent travellers as a whole and I will continue to write in-depth destination guides that apply whether you are alone or with friends or family.
But I will consciously be publishing more articles to support solo female travellers. Whether it’s how to stay safe, how to protect yourself, information on travel scams, how to get the courage to travel solo if you really want to, how to escape unwanted attention…
You know, all that shit we have to put up with in our home towns let alone when we are on the road in strange countries.
To the solo female traveller
I want to finish by acknowledging the female guest who asked her hostel receptionist if there was a threat of rape and received mockery instead of a serious answer.
Audre Lorde once said:
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.“
If you have concerns, don’t be afraid to ask them. Hopefully the people you direct them at will respect you enough to answer them.
If they are inconsiderate enough not to, ask me. My email address is email@example.com.
P.s. I’d like to give a shout to a very strong woman I know who helped me edit this: thanks Hayley Kadrou!
Feature photo by Mehdi Allam