It's sad to report, but machismo is alive and well in Mediterranean Europe, a region in which gender roles are still largely based on age-old social norms. But even if attitudes are not always very enlightened, a deep sense of hospitality runs through many Mediterranean societies, and travellers (of both sexes) are usually welcomed with warmth and genuine kindness. That said, women travellers continue to face more challenging situations than men do, most often in the form of unwanted harassment. Other things to bear in mind:
- Staring is much more overt in Mediterranean countries than in the more reticent northern parts of Europe, and although it is almost always harmless, it can become annoying.
- If you find yourself being pestered by local men and ignoring them isn't working, tell them you're waiting for your husband (marriage is highly respected in the area) and walk away. If they continue, call the police.
- Gropers, particularly on crowded public transport, can also be a problem. If you do feel someone start to touch you inappropriately, make a fuss – molesters are no more accepted in Mediterranean Europe than they are anywhere else.
- In Muslim countries, where women's roles are clearly defined and unmarried men have little contact with women outside of their family unit, women travelling alone or with other women will attract attention. This is rarely dangerous, but you'll need to exercise common sense. Dress conservatively, avoid eye contact and, if possible, don't walk alone at night.
- Security for solo travellers is mainly a matter of common sense – watch your possessions, don't go wandering down dark alleys at night and be wary of overly friendly people you've just met.
Sources of information and inspiration include:
Wanderlust & Lipstick (www.wanderlustandlipstick.com) Comprehensive site with loads of useful info. Also sells The Essential Guide for Women Travelling Solo, a good guide for nervous first-timers.
Journeywoman (www.journeywoman.com) An online women's travel magazine full of tips, anecdotes and recommendations.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Exchange thoughts and ideas on the Women Travellers branch of the Thorn Tree travel forum.
Women Travel Tips (www.womentraveltips.com) US travel expert Marybeth Bond shares her experiences and provides plenty of on-the-road tips.