A complete—and honest—guide to female travel in Pakistan, from one of the most experienced foreign female travelers to blog about the country… me! Who said women can’t travel to Pakistan?
- Background: What’s up with women in Pakistan?
- Is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?
- What to expect from female travel in Pakistan
- What to wear in Pakistan
- Social etiquette
- Finding accommodation
- How to interact with men
- Tips for female travel
- Best and worst places for women to travel
- Relationships and marriage with Pakistani men
- Female-run businesses in Pakistan
- Pakistani women to follow
- Foreign female travelers to follow
- Travel resources
I ain’t gonna lie: traveling Pakistan as a woman can be intense.
Endless stares, medieval mindsets, constant questioning, and male-dominated spaces can be exhausting… but then there’s the flip side! Overwhelming hospitality, almost guaranteed assistance, and access to spaces men can’t see because you’re a woman.
After almost one year of independent traveling through Pakistan solo, with friends, and with men both foreign and local, I can tell you that Pakistan is worth it.
More foreign and local women should travel in Pakistan; I’m here to do what I can to help encourage and inspire you! In the name of helping out fellow boss ladies, here’s a guide to female travel in Pakistan with everything I’ve learned throughout my travels.
What’s up with women in Pakistan?
Basically, women in Pakistan are treated like second-tier citizens. (Gonna get shit for this statement… but it’s true.)
Though there are always exceptions and things are changing in cities, many Pakistanis—both men and women—consider women delicate flowers who need to be protected and “respected” by men. Not humans capable of doing things themselves.
While men roam the streets, women are meant to stay at home. Society is heavily segregated by gender; there are places in Pakistan where you won’t see any women on the street. Very rarely will you see women publicly hanging out the way men can. Given the stares, harassment, and social pressures they face when going out, you can’t blame women for wanting to stay inside.
Times are changing. Women drive cars in cities, the ratio of boys to girls in schools is equalizing, women are outperforming men in university… but it’s still unusual for women to ride bicycles and motorbikes, girls are still pressured to drop out of school at young ages in villages, and most female university students don’t work for long after graduating; they get married and become housewives.
Traveling in Pakistan as a woman means diving headfirst into this pool of patriarchy. There’s nothing you can do but brace yourself and jump.
Is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?
I believe Pakistan is safe for women to travel.
In my experience, harassment has been the biggest issue. However, I’ve never felt seriously threatened. Though minor harassment—inappropriate touching, verbal harassment, stalking, etc—is more prevalent in Pakistan than other countries I’ve visited, harassment (unfortunately) happens everywhere. I don’t think it’s enough to stay away.
However, that doesn’t mean I think Pakistan is a good destination for every female traveler. Adventurous and experienced female travelers, by all means, go. Otherwise, I think it’s important to consider if Pakistan is the right destination for you before booking a ticket. See this post for more on whether or not Pakistan is right for you.
What to expect from female travel in Pakistan
Perks of traveling as a woman in Pakistan
Okay, it’s not all bad when it comes to traveling as a woman in Pakistan! There are some definite plus points such as…
You don’t have to stand in line as long. Often there’s a [much shorter] ladies’ line in places like railway stations and banks. If there’s not… *cough* if a woman edges to the front of a queue most men won’t say anything. Almost a fair trade for the hassle we have to deal with on the reg, right?
People will go even more out of their way to help you. If traveling without men, most people will be so surprised that they’ll take extra good care of you. That’s saying something considering Pakistanis are already quite hospitable! A double-edged sword, as it’s due to the delicate flower mentality.
You’ll straddle the world of women and men. In segregated spaces such as conservative homes, male travelers cannot enter spaces occupied by women (ex. kitchens). But you can!
Due to their unusual position, female travelers, especially foreign females, can experience both the man and woman’s world in Pakistani society. I’ve had dinner with men, then been taken to meet women of the family while my male companion(s) had to stay put. It’s fascinating, if troubling.
You’ll get better seats on transportation. Especially when traveling alone, you’ll often be given seating closer to the front on buses and in cars. Girls in the front, dudes in the back.
You’re more trustworthy as a woman. Women and families will be much more open to your presence, and men will not feel intimidated or defensive around you. In this regard, it’s easier to find hosts as a female traveler.
Downsides of traveling Pakistan as a woman
You’re going to be stared at all. the. time. Sometimes it’s sexual. Sometimes it’s curious. Other times it’s scornful. Whatever the case, prepare to have all eyes on you.
Solo travelers will stand out. Pakistani women don’t often do things alone in Pakistan. If wandering around alone as a woman, you’re going to get a lot of attention.
You’ll be constantly surrounded by men. It’s hard to meet women in Pakistan—I didn’t meet any women I could really talk with until my second or third trip to the country. Unless you speak Urdu, you’re far more likely to be restricted to communicating with men only in most areas.
People will ask you if you’re married/why not/when are you having children at least one million times. You’d be surprised how quickly they can work it into conversations, too—I once had a taxi driver ask me if I was married 30 seconds after we met.
Men will be overprotective and want to escort you everywhere. Good intentions matter, but if men are restricting your travels too much, don’t let them stop you. Many people have this idea that if you walk outside unaccompanied by a man you’re going to be raped/murdered/abducted/assaulted by wild boars. Fun fact: you’re not. Except maybe the boars. Beware of boars.
What to wear in Pakistan as a woman?
Pakistan is a conservative Islamic country. Modest dress is a must!
Salwar kameez, the local dress/pants combination you’ll see on both women and men, is most ideal… and the most comfortable! They’re like socially acceptable pajamas, and great in hot weather. Many Pakistanis appreciate seeing foreigners wearing this local dress.
For cheap salwar kameez, visit any local bazaar such as Liberty Market in Lahore. However, know it’s expected you’ll tailor what you buy. Some outfits won’t come stitched at all—you buy the material, then take it to a tailor.
For “readymade” salwar kameez, head to a mall or brand-name clothing stores. There, you’ll have more options, and can try clothes on before buying. Generation is my absolute favorite brand when it comes to traditional clothes shopping in Pakistan. You can find their stores in any major city.
Shirts with at least ½ or ¾ length sleeves that cover your butt are best. Looser shirts that hide your body’s figure are ideal—leave curve-hugging and cleavage-showing clothes at home. The more conservative the place, the better it is to wear longer, baggier shirts.
T-shirts are okay in liberal parts of major cities such as malls and Defence neighborhoods, as well as when trekking in Gilgit Baltistan. If trekking in conservative places like Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, I definitely don’t recommend t-shirts.
Long pants, dresses, or skirts are a must. Skinny jeans and leggings are okay so long as your shirt covers your butt.
Don’t wear shorts. I don’t mean to police your clothing, but trust me: you don’t want to wear shorts.
Headscarves and dupattas
Covering your head isn’t necessary outside of mosques, but you should always carry a scarf with you. Use it to cover your head in religious places, or cover your head/chest in more conservative areas like bazaars if stares are uncomfortable. Dupattas are the scarves women wear draped across their chest to stop creepy dudes from checking out their boobs. They… sort of work.
At night many women cover their heads when going out, even if they don’t necessarily wear headscarves during the day.
Do as you like–you can show your feet! Shoes that can be easily slipped on and off are ideal as you’ll have to take your shoes off to enter mosques, homes, etc.
Social etiquette for female travelers in Pakistan
No, by “etiquette” I don’t mean drinking chai with your pinky out and sitting up straight in the hopes of attracting husbands! You don’t have to do much to attract men as a foreign woman.
There are some unspoken social “rules” in Pakistan to be aware of. Note that these are not official rules, just societal norms. Break them if desired… buuuut I recommend first getting familiar with the rules and the culture before purposefully going against the grain. Pick and choose your battles wisely!
Women sit in “family” areas of restaurants and dhabas (cheap roadside eateries).
This usually means an area upstairs, in the back, behind a curtain, or staying in the car and having food brought out. Men sit out on the street in the public eye. I do admit this is my favorite norm to break.
Women don’t smoke publicly.
Lighting up a cigarette on the street basically says “Hi, I’m a fast moving slut, please besiege me with your judgmental glares.” But your lungs, your decision! Some liberal women openly smoke in cities.
Women sit next to women, unless they’re related to/know the men.
This applies to cars, buses, trains, etc. People rearrange to make it possible. This one I don’t mind so much— usually this means solo females get the front seat on buses.
Women don’t shake hands with men.
Some men think it’s inappropriate to touch women’s hands. Don’t offer your hand to shake unless the man offers his hand first. Instead, you can place your right hand over your heart and nod your head.
Women don’t pray in mosques.
Unless they’re women-only mosques, or the mosque has a separate women’s area. However, women can visit mosques, contrary to what some people may tell you.
Finding accommodation for women in Pakistan
Getting [safe] accommodation in Pakistan as a woman can be tricky at times.
Women are technically not allowed to share rooms with men they’re not married or related to (if traveling as a foreign unmarried couple, just say you’re married).
I’ve been denied rooms at hotels because they didn’t want to the responsibility of having a solo foreign woman guest.
Women traveling without men will likely not be allowed in cheap accommodation such as truck stops, student hostels, or crappy guesthouses.
I’ve been assigned security escorts once I reached my hotel because they were uncomfortable with my walking around alone.
Of course, you never know until you try! If on a budget, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If not on a budget, mid-range hotels (around US$30 and higher) and luxury hotels should not have reservations about accepting you. You can find these hotels on Booking.com, or other options on Airbnb.
If on a tight budget, I recommend Couchsurfing, a platform where travelers can find hosts to stay with for free. The CS community in Pakistan is very active. Though there are plenty of creepy men on the platform, there are plenty of decent men—and women—as well. Look for references from other women before deciding to stay with a host.
Note: Gilgit Baltistan is used to travelers of all sorts; these accommodation rules don’t really apply there.
How to interact with men in Pakistan 101
You’re going to be with men most of the time—it’s time to perfect your art!
Not all men in Pakistan are evil creeps out to cop feels—far from—but sometimes it can be tricky to judge a man’s character. Until your instincts are sharpened, here are do’s and don’ts to ensure smooth interactions with men.
Do: Use familial terms to address men.
Call men of a similar age or younger bhai, brother. Address older men as chacha, uncle. Think of it as a linguistic version of “friend zoning” a man.
Do: Keep your distance.
Though men are physical with men and women with women, opposite genders do not touch except perhaps to help a woman in/out of a vehicle, or to escort her across a street. You know, chivalrous stuff.
If a man is touching you, it could be accidental… but might not be. Touches from someone you’re talking to are usually subtle flirtations, even if seemingly innocent. Unless you’re in a crowd, “accidental” brushes against your body (often on butt, chest, hips, etc) are probably intentional. Drivers often do this to women sitting in the front of cars/jeeps/buses.
Pakistani men are masters of weird, subtle touching. If someone is touching you and making you uncomfortable, loudly bring attention to it so others know. Or punch him. That works, too.
Don’t: Smile too much.
You don’t have to death glare all the time, just don’t be excessively smiley when talking to men you don’t know. Strangers, especially young men, might interpret it as flirting. You can be enthusiastic, but cautious with the smiles.
Don’t: Give out your Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp/phone number to men you don’t know well.
Men ask for it all the time, even if they don’t know you well. I learned this the hard way: JUST SAY NO. If you don’t, prepare to receive a million and one messages/calls/photos/etc… some of them more lewd than others.
You don’t need a reason to say no, but if you feel bad about it, just lie and say you don’t use those apps, or you don’t have a local phone number.
Don’t: Be afraid to be rude.
It’s hard to be brusque with men sometimes, especially if they’ve done something nice or helpful for you. But in the end, if a man is making you uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter what he’s done for you or given to you. You’re completely within your rights to leave if you want to.
Tips for female travel in Pakistan
In Pakistan, take the same basic safety precautions as you would anywhere else in the world.
Don’t walk alone at night, especially in dark streets without many people. Always make sure someone knows where you’re going or where you are.
Be cautious when interacting with men. If a man seems like he’s coming on to you and you don’t like it, leave. Remember that you’re in a conservative society; if a man wouldn’t act this way toward a Pakistani girl, why is it okay if he does it to you?
“If you use tampons – take plenty with you.” June, UK
Get a local SIM card so you can call people if you need help (and people can call you to help!). Telenor and Zong have the best coverage across Pakistan, while army-run SCOM has the best coverage across Gilgit Baltistan.
“Buy some local-style clothing to wear during your visit. They’re gorgeous, comfortable (especially in the summer), cover all the bases for respecting local norms, and you’re likely to make a great impression on people you meet.” Rachel, Canada
Use Uber and Careem for getting around in big cities. They save you from haggling with rickshaw drivers over prices you don’t know, and they track where you’re going and hold their drivers accountable if something happens. I’ve had issues with drivers before, but I reported them and punitive action was swiftly taken.
Note: In Pakistan, there’s a motorbike option in both Uber and Careem. Bike is by far the cheapest (and in my opinion, most fun) way to get around in cities, but there’s also a stigma against women using bikes. Whether or not you use it is up to you, just know what you’re getting into. I use it all the time, but I keep my distance on the bike seat—a backpack between you and the driver will do—and don’t get too chatty with drivers.
Best and worst places to travel as a woman in Pakistan
I hesitate to declare whole regions good or bad; there is good and bad to be found everywhere! However, if I had to pick…
Best places for female travel in Pakistan
The most “liberal” area in Pakistan is the Ismaili-majority area of Hunza. Due to the encouragement of their leader, the Aga Khan, Ismailis prioritize education for both men and women. Hunza people are more open-minded than in the rest of Pakistan, and you’ll see far more women out on the streets. That’s not to say that the women here live a good and equal life, but they’re certainly more free than women in other parts of Pakistan.
Hunza is also the most heavily touristed of all the regions in Pakistan; people are used to seeing female travelers of all nationalities, solo and otherwise.
Major cities: Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad
As with everywhere in the world, cities attract more liberal, educated minds. Girls can get away with a lot more in cities. Of course, there are liberal and conservative areas in every city, but generally the more wealthy the area (ex. “Defence” areas/DHA), the more liberal people’s attitudes toward women and how they act and dress.
The Kalash Valleys west of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are an interesting place to meet women from a different religious/cultural background from the rest of the country: Kalasha people are pagan. Women wear extremely colorful traditional clothes, and are much more visible on the streets than in other parts of the country. They also interact with men more freely, here.
The most difficult place for female travel in Pakistan
Most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
I’m probably going to get shit for this, but so be it—KP is an intense place for women, travelers and otherwise. Though I do believe Pashtuns are the most hospitable people in Pakistan, their culture around women is also one of the more strict in the country. That doesn’t mean don’t go—just know what to expect before going!
Pashtuns are very protective of women. There’s a strong emphasis on purdah: women are to stay out of sight, so as not to attract the unwanted glances of men.
This means there aren’t many women on the street at any given time—the ones who are will be swathed in white chadar sheets or burqas—and women stay inside homes more often than not. If you visit a Pashtun household, you might not see any women at first; they might be in a separate area of the house. Luckily, as a woman, you’ll probably be taken to be introduced at some point.
Relationships and marriage with Pakistani men: For love? Or for the visa?
It might seem strange, but after several years advising women on travel to Pakistan, this subject has come up far more than I expected: men marrying foreign women for visas.
Most of the time, Pakistani men cultivate online relationships with Western foreign women. They “fall in love”, invite the woman to Pakistan, and try to marry them at some point during the process.
Within Pakistan, I often see men flirting with foreign women. Foreign women are excited by the prospect of a spicy local hookup; men are excited because the woman could be their ticket out of Pakistan.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to find a legitimate, loving relationship with someone from Pakistan—just that women should be wary of men trying to seduce them for immigration purposes.
Never rush into a relationship/marriage with someone you don’t know. Insist on meeting them in person for an extended period of time before even considering the idea. If a man pushes you to move faster than you want to, stand your ground; relationships are a two-way street. Pakistan is not kind to women, especially once trapped in marriage.
Where to meet women in Pakistan
It sounds crazy, but I didn’t really meet any women on my first trip to Pakistan aside from being introduced to wives, sisters, or mothers who didn’t speak much English.
Now, I have a scattering of female friends in the country, but it took several trips and pointed effort to find them.
But no need to search any more! Together with my (female) friend Aneeqa, we created a Facebook group called Female Pakistan Travelers. It’s a women-only safe space where women of any nationality can interact, ask questions, and plan trips or meetups. It’s a great place to find other girls to hang out with when traveling around in Pakistan!
Aside from the Facebook group, Couchsurfing is another place to meet women, though there are far more men on CS than women unfortunately. See You in Pakistan is another Facebook group with a lot of Pakistani women happy to meet travelers.
Female-run businesses in Pakistan tourists can support
Women running businesses is still relatively rare in Pakistan; support women-run businesses where you can in your travels! Here are a few places tourists can start.
- The Mad Hatters – Tour company run by my friend and business partner, Aneeqa
- Let’s Home – Accommodation network for Gilgit Baltistan run by a Hunzai woman named Seema
- Auratnaak (Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi) – A female/queer/nonbinary stand-up comedy group with a focus on feminism in Pakistan (many acts are in English or a mix of English and Urdu)
- A Piece of Cake (Lahore) – Hip café run by two women, Hafsa and Anum
- Bozlanj Café (Gulmit) – Small village restaurant/café run by two women offering made to order traditional food
- Kha basi café (Altit Fort) – Entirely women-run café below the fort organized by Ciqam, a local women’s empowerment initiative
- Hunza Food Pavilion (Karimabad/Baltit) – Small food stall run by two women serving delicious local food
- Carpet Center (Gulmit) – Women’s weaver collective where women can learn carpet weaving and make money selling carpets to tourists and locals
- Go Flour bakery (Lahore) – Trains underprivileged women to work in their bakery
Pakistani women worth following
Want to get a taste of what badass women are up to in Pakistan? Check out some of these women.
- Zenith Irfan – Known as Pakistan’s Motorcycle Girl
- Samina Baig – Mountaineer from Shimshal who’s summited Mt Everest
- Abida Parveen – Most famous female Sufi qawwal singer
- Malala Yousafzai – Author of I am Malala, famous account of Taliban control in Swat Valley from a girl’s perspective
- Yumna Warraich – Solo biker who’s traveled all over Pakistan alone
- Guliafshan Tariq – Biker girl from KPK
- Misa The Solo Girl – Solo traveler and vlogger
- Girl With Green Passport – Travel blogger/Instagrammer
- Khaula Jamil – Photojournalist
- Amna Zuberi – Travel and street photographer
- Amna Yaseen – Cultural photographer
- Girls At Dhabas – Feminist movement reclaiming public spaces for women
- Shehzil Malk – My favorite feminist artist/illustrator
- The Traveluster – Traveler and blogger
- Maria Soomro – Traveler and Instagrammer
- GBGFL – Women’s football organization in northern Pakistan
Foreign women to follow
Foreigners’ perspectives can be helpful, too! All of these girls have traveled Pakistan extensively, both solo and with men, and offer helpful insights into the country and what it’s like to travel as a foreign woman there.
- Marsha Jean – Solo traveler from Hong Kong/Australia
- Eva Zu Beck – Well-known vlogger/Instagrammer from Poland
- Rosie Gabrielle – Motorcyclist from Canada
- Amel – Yoga teacher living in Pakistan from France
Resources for female travelers
- Female travelers Pakistan – Facebook group specifically for women traveling in Pakistan
- Women-only tours of Pakistan – Designed and run by me and Aneeqa! We’ll take you all over Pakistan on this unique, offbeat tour with a distinctive female flair
- Backpacking Pakistan – Foreigner-specific Facebook group
- See You in Pakistan – General Pakistan travel Facebook group
- Emergency contact numbers in Pakistan from UN Women
- The Mad Hatters – Female-run tour company who can help you organize your Pakistan travels
Yay transparency! This post includes affiliate links. If you buy something using one of my links, I’ll make a bit of money at no extra cost to you. Never fear, I’d never steer you wrong!