Survey reveals women feel unsafe when traveling solo; two out of five report harassment

A survey found that women feel uncomfortable or unsafe traveling solo (although two out of three have done so). Furthermore, two in five women report that they have experienced sexual harassment while on the road alone.


Recent movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp revealed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in our culture today. It should come as no surprise that some of the stories shared through these movements shine an uncomfortable light on how women experience travel. One such story that went viral came from a well-known Silicon Valley executive who posted her experience being harassed by a seatmate on an Alaska Airlines flight last November.

A new Quick Take on Travel survey by independent marketing communications agency Eric Mower + Associates asked 400 US women about their perceptions on safety when traveling alone. The results reveal that overall, women feel uncomfortable or unsafe traveling solo (although two out of three have done so). Furthermore, two in five women report that they have experienced sexual harassment while on the road alone.

From a generational standpoint, millennial women are significantly more likely to have concerns than Gen Xers. They consider their safety when choosing the location of their airline seat, have developed strategies to ward off uninvited overtures, and have definite ideas about what hotel features enhance their safety.

A few highlights from the survey results include:

Planning for safety

  • A full 80% of women have considered personal safety issues related to potential harassment or assault when planning a trip, with a quarter considering safety often or always. Gen X women are more likely than millennials to say they have never considered personal safety when preparing to travel (25% vs. 14%).
  • Nearly two-thirds of female travelers (65%) research the relative safety of their destination before they go. To gather the information they need, they are most likely to reach out to other people who have traveled to that destination (31%). Others report they have read reviews on the topic (28%), consulted guide books or blogs (18%), looked at local crime statistics (16%), or visited message boards or travel communities (16%).
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Perceptions: Women find strength in numbers

  • Current events around sexual harassment and assault have made 33% of women less comfortable traveling alone, while 54% report their feelings have not been influenced. Millennial women’s comfort levels have been more negatively impacted by such news than their Gen X counterparts (42% vs. 27%).
  • Thinking about the risk of sexual harassment when traveling alone makes 43% of women feel uncomfortable and 24% feel unsafe.
  • Women feel safest traveling with a group of friends. As many as 62% are either very or extremely comfortable with this scenario, compared to a male friend or partner (54%), female friend or partner (36%), or a tour group (31%).
  • Only 15% of women are very/extremely comfortable traveling solo. The largest percentage, 34%, are somewhat comfortable, while 25% are not at all comfortable. 

Experiences: Two in five have been harassed while traveling

  • Two in five women report they have experienced sexual harassment/unwelcome interactions when traveling, with those interactions most often occurring in a bar (21%). Approximately 10% of women recall harassment while sightseeing, on an airplane, or in their hotel.
  • Slightly more than half of women have felt unsafe when traveling alone, and again, the bar is the setting in which they most likely have felt so (27%).
  • Gen X women are more likely than millennials to say they’ve never felt unsafe when traveling alone (46% vs. 27%).

Navigating the too-friendly skies

  • Three in five women have taken steps to discourage an airplane seatmate from unwelcome interest. Their most common tactic? Using earbuds or headphones (33%), followed by reading (28%), feigning sleep (19%), and explicitly telling the person they aren’t interested (17%). Eight percent have resorted to summoning assistance from a flight attendant.
  • As many as 59% of women select their airplane seat with personal safety in mind. Thirty-five percent prefer the aisle, either because it allows for an easy escape from an offensive seatmate (21%) or so they are more visible to the crew (14%) while 23% like a window seat so they can turn away from the attention. One out of 10 opt for business or first class where there’s more interaction with the crew.
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Hotels as safe harbor from unwanted sexual advances

  • When choosing travel accommodations, 24/7 presence at the reception desk and secure on-site parking are the most important security features, with 50% of women rating each very/extremely important.
  • Other security features they value are staying on floors with access restricted to guests only (41%), having the door to their room either located inside the hotel or facing away from the road if outside (33%), and having room service delivered by female staff (24%).

Find more information and get a closer look at EMA’s most recent Quick Take on Travel survey HERE. Quick Take on Travel is a series of surveys tracking hot-button U.S. travel industry trends and issues.

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