On January 7th 2013, fresh off the hopes and dreams of the New Year a mother of two from Staten Island set off on a solo journey to Istanbul, Turkey to pursue her dreams of photography. She kissed her family goodbye and took off on her adventure. For weeks she kept in contact with her family, updating them on her trip and posting pics on her Instagram page. One of her final pics was of home, of NYC, she couldn’t wait to return.
Her name was Sarai Sierra. And she would never return home again.
On January 21st, the day she was to return home to loved ones, Sarai went missing. Her husband and brother immediately flew out to Turkey to find her and find her they did. Sarai was found by local residents near a stretch of ancient walls in the Turkish city. She was dead.
While much scrutiny still surrounds the murder of Sarai Sierra and the reality that we may never know what truly happened to her, many female solo travelers just like her are seeing this tragedy as their worst nightmare come true. As someone who travels often, much of it solo, I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a constant thought. Roaming the streets of a foreign city alone and as a woman, no matter how big or small, is always a gamble. You’re in unfamiliar territory, far from anything and anyone you know and your worst thought is always that you could be the next Sarai.
As soon as this story broke the debate began. Many feel like it’s unsafe for women to travel alone (notice no mention of it being unsafe for men), some wondered why a wife and mother would travel without her husband (as if marriage and motherhood means loss of independence), some have written Turkey off as a horrible, violent place they will never set foot in (because the U.S. is soooo much safer) and the truly ignorant few have used the tragedy as a reason to never go anywhere that doesn’t host an All-Star game. My personal two cents in the debate is that first and foremost my heart goes out to a woman who died trying to live her dream and to the family, especially the two small children, she leaves behind. However, this does not stop me from engaging in solo travel.
The thought it is unsafe for me to travel solo simply because I am a wife, a mother, a woman, is so ludicrous to me. I have the right to see the world just like any man and even more so if I’m a busy mom who might just need a mini break from the kiddies. My being a woman doesn’t regulate me to the weaker sex pile where I have to wait for a friend or man to come and escort my delicate being to and fro. Also, to cut out a country because of one tragedy makes no sense, considering that tourists come here to the U.S. from all over the world each day and die before they can return home as well. We rob them, beat them, shoot them, stab them…the works. Our streets are no more or less safe than most other major countries in the world. The World Trade Center was bombed twice, but people still work in the area and even visit the memorial. Our entire nation is under constant terror watch, but no one is packing their bags and writing America off as a bad place to live or visit, so why penalize Turkey or any other country for the same issues we deal with on a regular basis.
What I do take away from Sarai’s story is that I need to be more vigilant when I travel, alone or with friends. It is so easy to get caught up in taking pictures, trying new foods and immersing yourself in this new place, that you forget that danger is still all around you. No meeting with strangers away from public places, no roaming the streets after a certain hour, making sure I know where my local embassy, hospital and police station are, keeping my eyes and ears open as I take that picture of a landmark, in essence, keeping my wits about me and not losing my streets smarts and common sense simply because I’m away from home.
Solo travel, like any other travel, comes with its good and its bad. However, for those of us that have and will take the leap the good far outweighs the negative. Solo travel gives you a sense of introspection like no other and you always come out a stronger and more well-rounded person for it. It is deeply sad that this tragedy occurred and I pray that this doesn’t change Sarai’s family or anyone else’s view on travel. As for me, I’m going to continue on my solo journeys with the safety lessons brought to light by her death, but also with her independent spirit because if there was anything else that Sarai Sierra indirectly taught us is that life is too short to not be brave and see some world.
Does Sarai Sierra’s Story Scare You From Solo Travel?