I’ve been going on solo expeditions in some of the world’s most remote and extreme regions for 23 years. In that time, I’ve learned that I face different challenges when traveling alone than my male peers do—and I’ve figured out plenty of tricks to protect myself.
1. Do your research
Anticipate the environment where you’re going, whether it’s just a new neighborhood in your city or an entirely new country, and adapt accordingly. In a region where I was hiking in China, I knew I might be mistaken for a prostitute as a woman alone—so when I needed supplies from a village, I would get them very quickly in a remote shop and get out without making conversation.
2. Be as inconspicuous as possible
Another thing that’s helped me is dressing like a man to prevent unwanted attention. And in dangerous areas like parts of the Australian bush, where I’ve feared coming across outlaws, I’ve covered my tracks. I don’t set up tent in perfect locations because those are too obvious—you have to pick the unexpected place, and as a female, you always have to think about an escape route.
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3. If an altercation arises, consider your audience
If you find yourself in a confrontation, it’s important to read the other person’s energy and tap into it. Do you want to annoy them so they’ll go away? Maybe you’ll try speaking in a high, aggravating voice. Do you want them to calm down and defuse the situation? Maybe you’ll speak in smooth tones that let them know everything’s going to be O.K.
4. Be prepared to try multiple approaches to solve scary situations
The most important thing when you are threatened on an expedition is to remember that, if your reaction isn’t working to defuse the situation, you have to change what you are doing. When I was in Mongolia, I tried to ask two men for help finding water in a village. But as I left the village, they came after me on horseback, and I knew I had to change my reaction. So I ran toward them screaming and waving my arms, and the horses reared, scaring the men so they turned around and rode off.
I always joke that in the next life, I want to be a big, strong George. But actually, we women have our own strength. We’re a little bit more sensitive, a little bit more grounded. We use our five senses.
It’s a big plus to me to be a woman, not something negative. My message is that I’m just the girl next door: If I can do it, so can other women. We as humans have this amazing DNA—now, what can we do with this? Are we capable of surviving in harsh environments? The answer is yes, we can, and this is a powerful message for women out there. That’s why I wrote my book, Wild By Nature. I wanted to inspire people to find the strength we all have inside us.
I’m in the frontlines, telling other women, “Girls, move your butts—this is where we’re going now. Come with me because we can do this.”
Sarah Marquis is a Swiss adventurer and explorer, as well as author of the new book Wild By Nature.