'To travel isn’t a problem; the problem is to be a woman': solo travelers associate violence with sexism

After the killing of Julieta Hernández, women report widespread fear, both at home and on the road

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
Brazil is one of the countries with the highest numbers of femicide cases - Divulgação/Redes Sociais

For two years, 28-year-old solo traveler Marina Ribeiro, from Minas Gerais state, has been traveling across Brazil. On one of her trips, a man approached her on a beach in Bahia’s capital city, Salvador, and said obscene things. On another occasion, an app driver aggressively questioned her, while inside his car, about why she was traveling alone, even though she was accompanied by two female friends.

The situation doesn’t change much from those faced by Lanna Sanches, from São Paulo, a 30-year-old woman frequently questioned by men about the reasons for her solo trips, despite the fact that she is accompanied by other female travelers. “I was on a trip with a female friend, but everybody kept asking us if we were traveling alone. It happens because, even with another person, the lack of a male element in this equation made people think we were ‘alone’”, she explains.

Creator of the platform "Elas viajam sozinhas” (They travel alone, in English), Sanches started walking alone in 2017 and reports that fear is a constant on her trips. As the stories in this report show, the feeling is not new to the routine of women who decide to travel alone. In fact, it is intrinsic to being a woman in a sexist society.

“The fear I have is the same I felt in São Paulo. That’s a fear I already had, something frequent in my routine before I began to travel alone. That’s not new [to me]. It’s a different kind of fear because I was in a place I didn’t know. But that wasn’t an unknown fear to me because I used to feel it in my daily life,” she says.

Among the strategies to feel safer, Lanna shares her location with friends and relatives, says to strangers she is with a man and records audio to pretend someone is waiting for her. These strategies aren’t different from those she adopted when living in São Paulo. “These are tricks I already used in São Paulo even before traveling. To be a woman is dangerous. To be a woman and travel alone also has its risks.”

This same behavior has been adopted by 26-year-old Camille Carboni, also from São Paulo, and a solo traveler since 2018. “To feel fear before traveling alone as a woman is almost a mandatory feeling. The world isn’t quite fun for women. It’s impossible not to have fears. I cannot recall a trip I made that didn’t involve a bit of fear and lack of safety because we have daily examples showing how dangerous it is,” Carboni explained.

The journalist mentions the killing of Venezuelan artist Julieta Hernández, 38, who was travelling across Brazil on a bike sharing her art with others. He was on her way back to Venezuela when she went missing on December 23 in the city of Presidente Figueiredo, Amazonas state. Her next destination would be Rorainópolis, in Roraima state.

On the first Saturday of the year, police found Julieta’s body inside a forest. She was sexually assaulted, murdered and her body was set on fire by a couple who confessed to the crime. According to Valdinei Silva, the police chief of the 37th Police Station of Presidente Figueiredo, the body was “in an advanced state of decomposition”.

Marina Ribeiro, Lanna Sanches and Camille Carboni never faced physical violence, but were followed and verbally harassed. “It’s said to talk about it, but that’s the kind of thing we get used to. Many times, we need to cope with specific situations involving men that end up insisting," she laments.

“The biggest problem we need to face isn’t traveling alone across the country, but to be a woman. We know Brazil is a very violent and dangerous country for women. Traveling alone, with friends, family or even staying at home, coming back home, on the metro, inside commercial establishments, we end up at risk anyway,” Carboni said.

In a similar vein, 31-year-old Marina Cruz, from São Paulo, states that women "walk around with a target on their backs simply because they are women." "There is no country that is not sexist, no matter the GDP or the geographical location of the country, sexism is a global culture that came long before religion, politics, and the media. It is as if patriarchy shelters the pillars that build a society,” says the journalist.

Cruz has been traveling since 2015 and for four years has been on a trip around the world. Of the six women interviewed for this story, Marina Cruz was the one who experienced the most serious violence. She was kidnapped and threatened with death and rape and had her belongings stolen in La Paz, Bolivia's capital city.

“I think there is no context, place or moment in which a woman doesn’t feel threatened. Even if it's not conscious, we are always thinking about how dangerous the world is for people, whether they travel or not", she says.

Travelling alone since 2011, Ester Paixão Corrêa, 38, is from the Tatuaia community, 133 kilometers far from Pará’s capital city. She says that “fear will always be there.”

“There is no way out of it. However, I think that it's crucial to weigh up the notion of danger and ask ourselves if we are safe at home too. We look at statistics and realize we aren’t safe at all because we can also be murdered or raped by a partner, husband, neighbor, uncle or father. But we cannot concentrate trip stories just on the risks,” she added.

Author of the doctoral thesis “Women on the road: Ethnographic encounters on the routes of South America” in Social Anthropology at the University of Rio Grande do Norte, Corrêa presents the experiences of women who backpacks.

In the thesis, Corrêa points out "vulnerability, fear of violence and sexual abuse as one of the particular characteristics of being a woman doing mobile fieldwork, moving around South America".

“On the road, we are constantly bumping into pinches and overdoses of sexism and violence, the same things we learned to deal daily in our lives in South American cities. […] Female travelers have to cope with specific kinds of violence on public transportation, and sexual assaults on buses, so practices in these places are different: pay attention to the time you leave and arrive home, face that dark street that shows the limits of cities and places."

In the book “In Search of the North: A Traveler with No Money”, 30-year-old Manoela Ramos, from the city of Cabo Frio, writes that she did not find specific data on femicide that occurred on roads or highways. She explains that there is no relevant data, particularly compared to femicide cases in romantic relationships, and marriages can be as dangerous as a trip.

“When talking about the dangers of femicide and violence against women, if we stop for a moment to analyze, there are recurring cases of domestic violence, that is, violence cases that take place inside houses, between romantic partners or even perpetrated by uncles, friends of the victim’s parents, step-fathers or fathers,” Ramos wrote. To Brasil de Fato, she restated her perception that “harassment cases on the road are the same as those in bank queues, malls, workplaces.”

Other cases of women killed while travelling


Julieta wasn’t the first female traveler to be assaulted and murdered. Probably, she won’t be the last one. Also in December last year, the Argentinian traveler Florencia Aranguren, 31, was stabbed to death during a hike at José Gonçalves beach, Rio de Janeiro state. Before being killed, she was also robbed and raped. 

In July 2020, Julia Rosenberg, a 21-year-old student, was strangled in the coastal city of São Sebastião, São Paulo state. She was hiking alone toward the city of Maresias. Her body was found with a rope tied around her neck and a piece of tissue inside her mouth. 

In 2017, British canoeist Emma Kelty, 43, was murdered in Coari, Amazonas state. She was attacked by river “pirates” while camping on a beach. Before the killing - and just like Julieta Hernández - Kelty was robbed and raped. She was shot dead and her body was thrown into the Solimões River.  

Having a female companion seems not to be a protection against violence. Being a woman is enough. In 2016, Argentinian travelers Marina Menegazzo (21) and María José Coni (22) were killed in Montañita, Ecuador. Both victims were robbed and raped before being beaten and stabbed to death.

In 2003, teenagers Tarsila Gusmão and Maria Eduarda Dourado were murdered in a sugar cane plantation in the city of Ipojuca, near Recife (Pernambuco’s capital city). The investigation showed that Tarsila’s body had three gunshot wounds: two in the head and one in the hand. She also had her bikini and dress pulled from her body. Maria Eduarda was killed with a shot in the forehead and jaw, probably after being raped, since her shorts were pulled up to her legs. After 20 years, the case has still not been solved.



According to 2019 data from the Women's Danger Index, Brazil is the second most dangerous place in the world for female solo travelers, behind only South Africa. The survey considers and compares femicide, safety and services statistics. Another study, made by Money Transfer in 2023, says that Brazil is the third most dangerous destination for female travelers, behind only South Africa and Peru. 

According to Brazil’s Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship, there is no survey on the number of femicides committed against solo female travelers in the country, just femicides in general. 

In Brazil, femicides and homicides increased by 2.6% in the first semester of 2023 compared to the same period of the previous year. The same period of the two previous years – 2022 and 2023 – also recorded a 16.3% increase, according to data from the Violence against Women and Girls report, prepared by the Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP, in Portuguese). 

In total, 722 women were victims of femicide in the first half of 2023. In the previous year, there were 704 murders. As for rapes, there were 34,428 recorded cases. That means a girl or woman was raped every 8 minutes, the highest number in the series that started in 2019.



Brasil de Fato asked the Federal Government if there is some public policy focused on the safety of female solo travelers. In a statement, the Ministry of Tourism suggested contacting the startup Sisterwave, whose work focuses on female tourism. The ministry also suggested reading an article published on its official website with tips for female solo travelers

In September last year, Marcelo Freixo, the president of the Brazilian Agency for International Tourism Promotion (Embratur, in Portuguese), began discussions on how to improve the touristic experience of female solo travelers in Brazil. 

“Women who travel alone are welcome in our country. To guarantee a good experience for these tourists is a priority for Embratur. We want women from all around the world to feel safe to travel in a sustainable and democratic Brazil, a safe country for female solo travelers,” said Freixo in a meeting with a tourism agency dedicated to female travelers. 

Brasil de Fato also questioned the Ministry of Women about public policies to benefit the safety of women traveling alone. So far, there has been no response. We remain open to the ministry’s statements. 


Edited by: Thalita Pires