Do you have any tips on woman solo traveler in a not-so-women-friendly country like in the Middle East?
Truth be told, a lone female traveler attracts a lot of unwanted attention in plenty of places in the world. In my experience, Italy is more annoying than Lebanon, for example. Someone broke into my room in Uzbekistan, but I felt safe roaming the streets of Iran way past midnight. A British tourist was recently gang raped and killed in Thailand, one of the most touristy places on earth.
As a solo woman traveler, sometimes you have to fend off prejudices from both locals and tourists alike. In their eyes, someone – male or female – traveling by themselves is after a cuddle or two in between taking snaps of weird food and/or selfies in front of monuments/cute local animals. There are different reasons why they think this way. There are a good number of (female) sex tourists roaming this earth, them bad apples ruining it for the rest of us. A Moroccan tour guide once told an acquaintance that seven out of 10 female tourists tried to get it on with him (I have no way of confirming this, obviously).
Sometimes a difference in culture gives locals the wrong idea, e.g. some female tourists from certain cultures see casual sex or premarital sex with a boyfriend as acceptable, whereas locals have a different point of view. In a culture where males and females are often segregated, a friendly smile can be misinterpreted. In a macho culture, local men don't see how offensive the wolf whistles/cat calling/gropes are. Male tourists who have hooked up with other tourists see no harm in tryin'.
With that in mind, my tips are thus: observe the local woman. How she dresses, how she acts and interacts with her male countrymen. Also observe how the local men treat their countrywomen. If you don't see a lot of physical contact, it's safe to say that you would want to avoid this even if the same gesture (like a hug, a kiss on a cheek) is considered normal in your custom. If you need to ask directions, ask a woman first. Make friends with local women. Nip suggestive conversation with the opposite sex in the bud. In short, forget what's considered normal in our custom, follow your hosts' custom. No "but it's considered rude in my country", you're not in your country now, so if a local woman doesn't smile to strangers on buses, you don't have to smile back.
Be vigilant, but don't travel in fear (assholes, like dogs, can smell fear). If you feel uncomfortable, take yourself out the situation immediately. Scan the place for a quick getaway. If you're going to a remote place, find other tourists who are going the same way if possible. Have a mobile phone with enough credit handy, and let people know where you're going. Always lock doors. As for the randy tourist, a firm “no” is usually good enough – he'll be off to his next prey.
On the flip side of the coin, in the majority of the world, a solo woman traveler enjoys more protection from locals and tourists. I can't count how many people have kindly walked or driven me to my lodging to ensure my safety. I have fellow travelers came to my rescue when I felt unsafe. But just to be clear, I rarely feel threatened in my travels.
Safe travels and enjoy!
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