Women in Martial Arts - Solo Female Travel

Women in Martial Arts - Solo Female Travel...Empowered!

the author smiling at the beach
Emma Whamond

#Women in Martial Arts #Female Solo Travel

Women in martial arts possess a big advantage when it comes to solo female travel. And you don’t have to be a black belt to enjoy this “edge” over other women who travel.

Female martial artists of all calibers are in a much better position to deal with the challenges of backpacking through a foreign country.

So let me tell you a true story from my last trip to Europe. What happened on this solo trip was shocking and scary, but ended well - all because of my martial arts training.

Solo Travel for Women - Not Always An Instagram Pic!

Here’s what happened:

Last fall I traveled solo through Southern Europe for two months. It was the first time I had traveled by myself for an extended amount of time (although I had traveled in groups and with family many times before). Since this was my first time, the thought of traveling alone abroad was a bit unsettling. But I wasn’t naive: I’ve trained martial arts for over 15 years (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Taekwondo) and I knew the dangers lurking out there for solo female travelers. Public transportation, for example, presents many hidden threats.

I knew I should avoid putting myself in situations that I might regret, but at the same time, I knew that might not always be enough. In the end, having martial arts training proved to be the true key - and - I say this without any hyperbole: it most likely saved my life.

martial arts female traveler Here I am in Sintra, Portugal. A couple weeks before my encounter.

A Chilling Encounter

In multiple cities during my travels, I was catcalled, men took photos of me both in secret and very publicly, and I was greeted by lots of staring - even in October and November when sweaters and coats were typical dress. But these encounters weren’t nearly as scary as an encounter I had with another woman.

But let me backup a second. The skill I found most valuable while traveling was one I had honed after years of martial arts training. The ability to register the degree of threat in a situation through heightened awareness. Martial arts trains you to have an observant eye for things that signal a threat. Like these: someone’s eye path likely indicates what their next move is. A shift in weight distribution between their feet could telegraph a punch or kick. Or a hand in a pocket or behind the back could mean a weapon (“asymmetry”). In short, the skill of situational awareness keeps you out of situations that would require you to use your martial arts training.

The Museum Incident

Anyway, in Barcelona I went to the Museum of Archeology of Catalonia alone. It was a Wednesday afternoon and the museum was mostly empty. Excited, I strolled into the first room of the museum and took a look around (my head is always “on a swivel” as they say). I noticed only one other person in the room. She looked unassuming - on the shorter side, glasses, dark hair, middle-aged, holding a pen and clipboard.

I walked around the room admiring the artifacts and reading the descriptions. I glanced over at her and noticed she wasn’t doing the same. In fact, she had her back to the display cases.

Red flag number one.

I went back to viewing the displays. But a bit later, I noticed she looked around the room, looked down at her clipboard, then took a few notes I couldn’t read. “Okay - whatever, she’s probably just another museum goer”, I thought to myself. I moved on to the second room. Before long, she walked into the second room as well. “Weird - she barely looked at the artifacts in the first room”, I thought.

Red flag number two.

“But maybe she works for the museum”.

I took my time in the second room. I inspected gold coins and ancient vases and took all the history in. But every once in a while, I glanced back at her. I quickly noticed she still wasn’t looking at the artifacts. And guess what?

She was looking at me and taking notes!

Red flag number three.

Now my alarm bells go off. Surely, if I went back into the first room, she wouldn’t follow me. I mean, she wouldn’t be that obvious, right?


She followed me back into the first room and through seven other rooms - and kept up with my speed walking pace. The only time she backed off was when I finally reached the security desk. The security guard told me she didn’t work with the museum or with security.

Suspicions confirmed.

With my heart pumping, I ran upstairs hoping she wouldn’t see me. I did pay to see this museum after all. Within a few minutes - once again - she followed me upstairs. She sat on a bench, avoided my eye contact and kept watch of me.

Now she’s a threat.


Now I didn’t just go over and hip toss her, sorry to disappoint. But I did confront her. What else was I to do?

Approaching her, I questioned “You’ve followed me through every room in this museum. Why? Why are you following me?!”

I startled her, finally getting a good look at her clipboard. What I saw was shocking:

18-22 years. Alone. Long brown hair. Light skin. Blue jeans. White shirt. Brown jacket. Purple boots. Glasses.

She had been writing physical descriptions of me.

“Uhhhmm ummm I’m an art student. I’m drawing”, she said as she hugged the clipboard.

I exclaimed, “I know what you look like. Stay away from me. I’m not afraid to defend myself and I’m watching you.”

I stormed out of the museum and hailed a cab. I’ve heard the stories, she was likely what they call a “recruiter” in human trafficking circles. These are women who help find and gain the trust of new potential victims. Women are more likely to trust other women. Think Ghislane Maxwell, Jeffrey Eptein’s partner in crime.

No, it’s not always the men you have to watch out for. The truth isn’t always easy.

Now, I’m not trying to scare you out of solo traveling. Quite the opposite. My martial arts training has helped me feel much more confident about traveling solo.

Here’s why: Martial arts is the art of observation first, action second. The bottom line: I found myself in and way out of a threatening situation. And all without having to lay a finger on anyone. In other words, stopping the fight before it started.

martial arts woman solo wandering market

Why Martial Arts is Crucial for Solo Female Travelers

So how does martial arts empower women to travel?

Well, as you just heard, martial arts training has helped me improve my situational awareness skills, my self-confidence, my problem-solving, and my ability to physically protect myself. And the skills that helped me are not specific to a particular martial art!

After my experience, I urge every woman thinking about solo travel (or van-life) to consider training martial arts.

Right now.

(By the way, did you know a style of Kung Fu called, “Wing Chun” was created by a woman? It’s true!)

But you don’t need to know martial arts history to reap the advantages of training. There are many benefits that help women to travel.

If my story hasn’t already swayed you, here are a few more things to think about. Eight more, in fact. Here are the eight ways martial arts training can help you as a solo female traveler:

1. Boosts Confidence

Traveling can be overwhelming - a new place, new people, new language, new culture, and so on. But with martial arts training under your belt, the scene changes.

You’re not just another tourist. You’re a traveler with a secret weapon: confidence. Each step you take is more assured. And not because you’re looking for trouble, but because you know you can handle it if it comes your way. Remember: This isn’t about throwing a punch or a roundhouse kick on the street. It’s about the inner strength that martial arts cultivates … in you.

Remember those grueling training sessions in class? Every drop of sweat, every moment you pushed past your limits wasn’t just about physical strength. Martial arts is just as much about building an inner strength as it is about the physical. Now, as you navigate a new city, that strength is your foundation. You speak to locals with more confidence, you explore with less fear, and you embrace experiences you might have otherwise shied away from. Make sense?

This confidence pays dividends beyond your travels. It permeates every aspect of your life. You walk into job interviews with a firmer handshake, you speak up in situations where you once remained silent, and you carry an air of self-assurance that others notice.

Solo female martial artist vanlife

2. Sharpens Awareness

As in my story, martial arts isn’t just about learning to physically defend yourself; it’s about sharpening your senses, fine-tuning your instincts. Most travelers find themselves in a crowded city-center with their senses overloaded. And this is where your martial arts training becomes even more valuable.

Through martial arts, you learn to observe. Not just to see, but to really observe. Your eyes become adept at catching subtle movements, body language, changes in your environment. In fact, sometimes even a lack of noise is more a red flag than more noise. Your heightened awareness helps you navigate through unfamiliar environments with a sense of security. You’re more in tune with the vibe of a place and the body language of people around you. You instantly know if something’s amiss, or if an area feels threatening.

And guess what? This awareness means you get to experience travel more richly. You notice the small details that others might miss – the way the old man at the corner smiles as he crafts, the laughter of children playing in a side alley, the intricate patterns on local handicrafts.

But it’s not just about safety or richer experiences. This awareness also makes you a more respectful traveler. You become more sensitive to cultural nuances, understanding when to speak, when to listen, and when to simply observe. It’s about blending in, respecting your surroundings, and becoming a part of the world you’re exploring, not just a spectator. You’re engaging, understanding, and connecting.

Woman practicing boxing

3. Heightens Physical Fitness

Martial arts offers a complete workout. It strengthens your muscles, boosts your endurance, and enhances your agility. As a solo traveler, this physical prowess is a game-changer. Picture yourself navigating the labyrinthine streets of a historic European city or hiking through the lush trails of a tropical forest. These activities are no longer daunting; they’re exhilarating. Why? Because your body is conditioned to handle them.

But it’s not just about muscle strength or stamina. Martial arts also teaches you balance and coordination, skills that come in especially handy when you’re trekking on uneven terrains or simply trying to stay steady on a rocking boat. And let’s not forget the benefits of flexibility. Those high kicks and deep stances in your martial arts classes? They translate into a body that’s supple and adaptable, making cramped bus rides or long flights a bit more bearable.

For every traveler, martial arts offers a treasure trove of physical benefits that transform not just how you travel, but how you live.

womens martial ars solo traveler laughing

4. Reduces Stress

When it comes to solo travel, stress is often part of the package. So let’s unravel how martial arts training can be your secret weapon against it.

Picture yourself in a situation where your flight’s delayed, your language app isn’t working, and you’re in a country where hardly anyone speaks your language. Stressful, isn’t it? Now, here’s where the magic of martial arts kicks in.

Martial arts teaches you to center yourself, to find calm in the chaos. Remember those deep breathing exercises in your class? Or the focus required to master a new technique? They’re not just for the dojo; they’re life skills. These practices train your mind to find peace and clarity, which is incredibly valuable when you’re navigating the uncertainties of solo travel.

On the other hand, imagine you’re lost in a foreign city. Instead of panicking, you recall the breathing techniques from your martial arts training. You take a moment to breathe, to center yourself. You’re able to think clearly, to assess your options, and to find a solution. This ability to stay calm and focused is a direct benefit of the mental training that comes with martial arts.

Finally, the physical exertion of martial arts is a fantastic stress-buster, they’re a way to release tension. After a good martial arts session, you feel rejuvenated, your mind clearer and your body more relaxed. This physical release of stress is incredibly beneficial when you’re on the road, helping you to enjoy your travels fully.

female solo travel in the jungle

5. Improves Your Problem-Solving Skills

Embarking on a solo journey is like stepping into a world of unforeseen challenges and spontaneous decisions. Now, let’s explore how martial arts training is not just a physical endeavor but a mental toolkit for problem-solving.

Picture this: You’re navigating the bustling streets of a foreign city, your plans have gone awry, and you need to think fast. This is where your martial arts training shines in an unexpected way.

In martial arts, every move requires strategic thinking. It’s not just about how you strike, but also about how you anticipate and react. This constant analysis and adaptation enhance your problem-solving skills. When traveling solo, this translates to a heightened ability to assess situations quickly and find solutions. Missed a train? You quickly weigh your options and adapt. Facing a language barrier? You find innovative ways to communicate.

The disciplined environment of a martial arts school, gym or dojo is where you learn to make decisions under pressure.

Sparring sessions (like the Muay Thai one below) are not just about physical combat; they are simulations of high-pressure scenarios where you must think on your feet. This experience is especially valuable when you’re in a foreign land, making decisions on the go, often in stressful situations.

We have a saying for this: “Cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield”.

Moreover, martial arts teaches you to see problems as opportunities for growth. In your training, every setback, every difficult move or technique, is a chance to learn and improve. This mindset is a powerful tool in your solo travel adventures. When things don’t go as planned – and they often don’t in travel – you see it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to experience something new and unexpected.

But here’s the crux: martial arts training also teaches you about resilience. You learn that not every problem can be solved immediately or on your own. Sometimes, resilience is about seeking help, leveraging local knowledge, or even taking a step back to reassess.

It’s about knowing that not every battle is won by charging forward; some require strategy, patience, and the wisdom to seek assistance.

martial arts girl practicing muay thai

6. Keeps You Safe

Now let’s talk about something super important for anyone traveling alone, especially for women: staying safe. Again, here’s where knowing martial arts is like having a secret superpower.

When you learn martial arts, you learn how to defend yourself. Say you’re walking down a street and someone bothers you. They block your path, act threatening or otherwise harass you. With your martial arts training, you know how to stay calm, how to move, and how to get away safely. It’s like having a tool in your backpack that you hope you never need to use, but it’s good to have just in case.

Also, martial arts training teaches you about respect and self- control. It’s not about being aggressive. It’s about knowing you have the power to protect yourself and using it in the right way. This means you make smarter choices about where you go and what you do. You become better at making safe travel plans and have a more enjoyable time while traveling.

martial arts woman meditating

7. Improves Discipline and Focus

Discipline and focus. You might be wondering, “What’s that got to do with traveling?” Well, a lot, actually!
Discipline is like being your own boss, making yourself do things you need to do even when you don’t feel like it. In martial arts, you practice moves over and over, even when they’re tough. This incremental improvement gradually hones your discipline and focus.

When you travel, this kind of discipline helps you a lot. For example: when you need to wake up early for a flight, stick to your budget, or plan your day. It’s all about being responsible and maintaining self-control.

Also, martial arts teaches you how to focus on your moves and block out distractions. This serves you well while traveling. You learn to pay attention to the important stuff, like keeping your passport safe, remembering directions, or even focusing on enjoying the moment.

And guess what? When you’re good at discipline and focus, you make better choices. You’re less likely to lose things, miss buses or trains, or get confused. Martial arts strengthens that muscle and keeps you organized and calm. For women, staying organized, focused, and in control during your travels keeps you safe and having fun.

Woman with gi in group

8. Connects You To a Global Community

Finally, let’s talk about one of the biggest benefits you gain from martial arts, especially when you’re a girl traveling by yourself: a whole world of new friends! Martial arts isn’t just something you do in a gym; it’s like being part of a big, worldwide family.

Wherever you go, you’re part of a global martial arts community. It’s like having an instant family in every corner of the world. This community isn’t just about sharing techniques or sparring sessions; it’s a network of support, advice, and camaraderie. You land in a new city, and there’s someone with the same passion, ready to guide you, share local insights, or even watch your back in unfamiliar places.

This bond, forged in the discipline and respect of martial arts, breaks barriers and builds bridges. It’s not just about knowing how to defend yourself; it’s about feeling connected, understood, and supported, no matter where your travels take you. For solo female travelers, this global martial arts family can transform a journey from just another trip into a rich, empowering, and safe experience.

So - wherever your travels take you - whether it’s a popular and ultra-safe destination for solo female travelers OR an off-the-beaten path that others rarely tread - the first thing you should pack is being a female martial artist!

Here is a video that reveals many tips on safely traveling as a female in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, they don’t talk about self-defense and martial arts training prior to setting out on the road. Even so, it’s worth a watch:

Happy travels!

For instructors dedicated to empowering women through martial arts, explore our martial arts software for effective school management.