This series is a series of firsthand anecdotes from a seasoned solo traveler who has traveled to 50 countries over the past decade. Priyanka Juneja is also completing her MBA and 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 if it wasn’t without its problems 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 almost 30 hostels in the past ten years, so the shared room situation was no stranger to me. On the trip to El Nido, I slept in a room with four beds and was on a lower bunk. One evening an elderly man checked into the room and found that he had the bed over mine. He looked at me and said, “Looks like I’m sleeping on you. I hope you agree with it. “My skin crawled instantly. For the rest of the evening, he always winked at me whenever I saw him in the common rooms. He only stayed one night, but I couldn’t sleep until I heard him start snoring. Even then, I still felt a little uncomfortable. Thankfully nothing happened and I didn’t even see it the next morning, but it certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.
Before I go any further, I think it’s important to provide context as to why I’ve stayed in so many hostels over the years. When it comes to figuring out where to stay on a trip, there are some great reasons to stay at a hostel.
- It’s very affordable
In most countries, they are the cheapest option. So if you are a backpacker or a budget traveler, you will likely want to stay in a hostel. For example, I’ve seen cheap hostels in Thailand for only $ 5 a night!
- You can meet other travelers
Hostels are a great way to meet people from different backgrounds. If you’re traveling alone, you can find people to explore the city with or to have a bite to eat with. In fact, I’m still in touch with some of the friends I made through one of the hostels in the Philippines. Can’t wait to travel with them again one day.
- They have a fun, eclectic atmosphere
Many hostels host various events or themed evenings. Some are as simple as dinner the hostel cooks into a full fit of anger. Not only are they great fun, but they also help you meet other guests.
- It can make your trip easier
Some hostels offer everything from a single source with a restaurant, bar and much more. Most of them have a tour desk so it’s easy to just book with them. I did a different boat tour every day in the Philippines and it was so easy to wake up and go downstairs to catch the tour.
- It helps you feel more secure
If you are a woman traveling alone, there are aspects of security that a hostel can help with. For example, if you want to experience the nightlife but don’t want to go alone, you can find people to return to the hostel with.
On my trip to the Philippines, I chose a hostel mainly because of the last point I mentioned. I wanted to feel more secure when I went out at night. So it’s ironic that I had the experience that I had.
Reflections on my experience
When I think about the anecdote at the beginning of this post, one main question comes to mind. Should I have said something at the reception? I remember considering it back then but quickly declining it. Why? I thought I was overreacting. I was afraid that they would roll their eyes. You, reader, are probably the one rolling your eyes to me, and it should be you. It is ridiculous to worry about being judged about my personal safety. I know that and yet I did just that.
As a woman traveling alone, I am very conscious of my safety when traveling. I am constantly on my guard and, of course, skeptical of almost everyone. It may sound a bit extreme, but that’s the nature of traveling alone. While I’ve taken steps to protect myself in my travels, I never had to speak to anyone else about my safety. Maybe that’s why I didn’t say anything?
Of course, I know the answer is more complex. As women, we are taught by society to normalize these types of behavior and comments from men. Inappropriate comments towards women are so commonplace that we brush them off and move on. Nothing really happened. Why does it matter what he said to me? How was his comment different from the other empties or catcalls I’d endured?
Looking back, I know it’s important. I was the one who felt scared and the one who lost sleep over the comments, not him. I’m the one wary of future hostel stays, not him.
Whose Responsibility is Women’s Safety?
That brings me to my next point. When looking at the entire travel industry, whose responsibility is the safety of women? Let’s examine hostels. In most cases, female-only dorms are more expensive than mixed-sex or male-only dorms. Private rooms are of course also more expensive than dormitories. This means that if you are a female traveler and you want to stay with other women for safety reasons or have your own room, you sometimes have to pay up to four times more than other travelers. Young travelers often choose hostels. If you are to become lifelong travelers, it is important that their experience is positive from the start.
Of course, it’s not just about hostels, every player in the travel industry should make women’s safety a priority. This is exactly what Hera focuses on and tries to do. By reviewing hotel and hostel partners, allowing female travelers to socialize, and creating 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 make myself feel safer and more comfortable:
- Introduce yourself to everyone in the room
They’re more likely to remember you and think that something is wrong if you don’t come back.
- Lock your suitcase and other bags
If there are lockers you can use them too, but I always want to make sure I can lock my suitcase too.
- Take your clothes in the shower
If the showers are communal, be sure to take whatever you need with you. That way, you can avoid walking back into the room with just a towel.
- Don’t be afraid to say anything
This is my own lesson learned. If you are uncomfortable, say something. There is a chance that they will relocate you to another room or help resolve the situation.