This series is a set of firsthand anecdotes from a seasoned solo woman traveler who has traveled to 50 countries in the last decade. Priyanka Juneja is also finishing up her MBA and a Masters in International Studies from Wharton and is the founder of @hera.travel, a platform to empower women to travel fearlessly.
My solo trip to the Philippines was probably one of the best trips of my life, even though it wasn’t without its bumps and challenges. I chose to stay in a hostel for all ten days of my trip and each stay was in a shared room. I’ve stayed in somewhere close to 30 hostels during the last decade, so I wasn’t a stranger to the shared room situation. On the trip in El Nido, I slept in a room with four beds and I was on a bottom bunk. One of the nights, an older man checked into the room and realized he had the bed above mine. He looked at me and said, “Looks like I’m sleeping on top of you. Hope you’re okay with that.” My skin immediately crawled. For the rest of the evening, anytime I saw him in the common spaces, he’d wink at me. He only stayed that one night, but I couldn’t fall asleep until I heard him start to snore. Even then, I still felt a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, nothing happened, and I didn’t even see him the next morning, but it certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.
Before I continue, I think it’s important to give some context as to why I’ve stayed in so many hostels over the years. When it comes to picking where to stay on a trip, there are some great reasons to stay in a hostel.
- It is extremely affordable
In most places, they’re the cheapest option so if you’re a backpacker or someone traveling on a budget, likely you’ll want to stay in a hostel. For example, I’ve seen cheap hostels in Thailand for as low as $5 a night!
- You can meet other travelers
Hostels are such a great way to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds. If you’re traveling alone, you can find people to explore the city with or grab a bite to eat with. In fact, I’m still in touch with some friends I made through one of the hostels in the Philippines. I truly can’t wait to travel with them again one day.
- They have a fun, eclectic vibe
A lot of hostels host different events or themed nights. Some are as simple as a dinner that the hostel prepares all the way to a full rager. Not only are they a ton of fun but they also help you meet other guests.
- It can make your trip easier
Some hostels are a one-stop shop with a restaurant, bar, and more. A majority of them have an excursions desk, so it’s easy to just book with them. In the Philippines, I took a different boat tour every single day, and it was as easy as waking up and heading downstairs to catch the tour.
- It helps you feel safer
If you’re a solo woman traveler, there are aspects of safety that a hostel helps with. For example, if you want to experience the nightlife but don’t want to go alone, you can find people to go with and return to the hostel with.
On my trip to the Philippines, I actually chose a hostel mostly because of the last point I mentioned. I wanted to feel safer when leaving at night. So it’s ironic that I had the experience I did.
Reflections on My Experience
When I reflect on the anecdote at the beginning of this post, there is one main question that springs to my mind. Should I have said something to the front desk? I remember that, at the time, I did consider it but quickly dismissed it. Why? I thought I was overreacting. I was worried they’d roll their eyes at me. You, reader, are probably the one rolling your eyes at me and you should be. It’s ludicrous to put the worry of being judged over my own personal safety. I know that and yet I did exactly that.
As a solo woman traveler, I am hyper aware of my safety when I travel. I am constantly on guard, naturally skeptical of almost everyone. It may sound a bit extreme but that’s the nature of traveling alone. While I’ve taken measures to protect myself on my trips, I’ve never actually had to speak to anyone else about my safety. Perhaps, that’s why I didn’t say anything?
Of course, I know the answer is more complex than that. As women, we are taught by society to normalize this type of behavior and comments from men. Inappropriate comments towards women are so commonplace that we brush them off and move on. Nothing actually happened so why does it matter what he said to me? How was his comment different than any of the other leers or catcalls I’d endured?
Looking back, I know that it does matter. I was the one who felt anxious and the one who lost sleep over the comments not him. I’m the one who is wary of future hostel stays, not him.
Whose Responsibility is Women’s Safety?
Which brings me to my next point. In looking at the travel industry as a whole, whose responsibility is women’s safety? Let’s examine hostels. More often than not, women-only dorm rooms are more expensive than mixed gender rooms or male only rooms. Private rooms are also obviously more expensive than a dorm room. That means, if you’re a woman traveler and are looking to stay with other women or have your own room for safety purposes, you’d have to pay sometimes up to 4x more than other travelers. Young travelers often opt for hostels and, if they are to be converted into lifelong travelers, it is essential that their experience from the get-go is positive.
Of course, it isn’t just on hostels, every player in the travel industry should be prioritizing women’s safety. That is exactly what Hera focuses on and strives to ensure. By vetting hotel and hostel partners, providing women travelers the ability to connect, and curating safety guides, we hope to make travel safer and more accessible for all women.
Pro Traveler Corner
Here are the things I do in hostels to feel safer and more comfortable:
- Introduce yourself to everyone in the room
They’re more likely to remember you and think something is up if you don’t return.
- Lock your suitcase and other bags
If there are storage lockers you can use those too, but I always like to make sure I can lock my suitcase as well.
- Take your clothes into the shower
If the showers are communal be sure to take everything you need with you. That way you can avoid having to walk back into the room in just a towel.
- Don’t be afraid to say something
This is my own lesson learned. If you don’t feel comfortable, SAY SOMETHING. There’s a chance they can move you to another room or help to resolve the situation.