The following interview on traveling alone in Iran as a woman was submitted by Ethel Karskens. Read more about solo female travel here.
My name is Ethel Karskens. I am 24 years-old and come from Brussels, Belgium. I finished Uni two years ago (with a master in Economics and Management) and, since then, I’ve just travelled and written. I haven’t been home for 20 months now. I began the journey in Western Australia where I worked in a mining town and Perth.
On February 2016, my project WHAT is a WOMAN started in Hanoi, Vietnam. The goal of my project was (and still is!) to cross Eurasia and meet women from different backgrounds. I met single mothers in Vietnam, transgender women in Cambodia, long-neck women in Thailand, nuns in Myanmar, the last matriarchy in China and entrepreneurs in Iran.
I was so lucky I was able to do this project, it really brought me a great insight about women’s struggles around the world but mostly their strength and their courage. The project is not completely done yet but we’re approaching the end of it. As for travelling itself, this big journey ends in… 4 days. But I’m really glad to see my family again and I know it is not the end of the adventure.
Why did you decide to travel to Iran by yourself?
Because I’ve always travelled by myself. I wasn’t scared at all of the country. I already had friends and my father who went there and they had told me how wonderful that country was.
Did you have any trouble traveling solo there?
Some guys were a bit weird on the street. They see Western girls as women without values and think they have sex easily. So they are going to “try” (meaning they will say a few creepy things in Farsi, slow down their car for too long, waaayyy too long) but they were never physically violent or anything. I was never out at night and tried as much as possible to avoid men on the street and everything went fine.
Did you ever feel unsafe?
Tell us about one of your favorite experiences from traveling solo in Iran.
Probably every time someone was inviting me to eat at their home. For example, when I was in Isfahan, I was walking on a mountain when a woman with poor English invited me to have lunch at her place. In other places in the world I would be suspicious but that’s how it is in Iran: they see foreigners as an opportunity to show the Iranian hospitality, to know more about other countries and to share their stories. At her apartment, I had a big discussion with her son (about the state of the world and his favorite show, “Friends”). He brought me to the centre to show me around. They were so generous, like many other Iranians.
Were there any special precautions you took to feel safer while traveling solo?
Yes: not being outside at night, not walking in isolated places, always researching the next destination in advance, having enough cash on me, not talking to men or pretending my “boyfriend” is around. Common sense but, it’s those sort of countries where your days get pretty exhausting, you tend to forget some basics.
>>See how to pack for conservative countries.
Did you meet any other solo female travelers while you were there?
No, but I’ve met a girl in Vietnam who did it alone as well.
What luggage did you bring with you to Iran?
>>Read reviews of the best female travel backpacks.
Were there any items you were glad you brought with you or that you wished you had brought?
I wished I had brought more long-sleeves tee-shirts. As a backpacker, I don’t really like to buy too many new clothes in each country where I travel so I stuck on my 3 tee-shirts and my pants. But I would have loved to have a lighter pants, in cotton or something. Also, I would recommend to bring large tee-shirts plus a light coat you can put above. I think it’s the best option to be traditional enough without baking.
>>Check out the best travel pants for women.
What’s your number 1 tip for females traveling solo to Iran?
I would say: do what the other Iranian women do when you don’t know how to act. But also, don’t stress out, Iranians are great. Just remember that it’s another culture, a strong one, and it can be exhausting sometimes. Use your common sense, be cautious but enjoy the experience as much as you can.
About the author: Ethel Karskens is from Brussels, Belgium, and writes in French and English. She has published a few shorts stories in Paris and a book called “American Macadam” about travelling in the USA in Brussels last year. In that book, she tells her solo journey from San Francisco to New York by bus. Next to that, she has contributed to a few platforms as a guest blogger and has blogged for herself. You can check out her current project about women from different backgrounds at WHAT is a WOMAN.