Is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?

Is Pakistan safe for women travelers? I get asked about female safety in Pakistan often. Here’s what I think about whether it’s safe for women to travel to Pakistan, written after months of solo female travel in Pakistan and updated in March 2020.

 

Curious about traveling to Pakistan, but nervous about going alone? Check out my women-only tours of Pakistan!

 

“Is Pakistan safe?” “Is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?” “Can solo female travelers visit Pakistan?”

As one of the few women who traveled to Pakistan and blogged about it—both solo and with men—I get this question all. the. time. There aren’t many people traveling to Pakistan in general, and most of those who do are men. Not the best source for female travel information!

Pakistan is brilliant, and more travelin’ ladies should visit… but I want to err on the side of caution with my encouragement. Pakistan is not an easy country to travel in, and in truth, I don’t recommend travel in Pakistan to all girls just yet. Read on below to see if traveling Pakistan is right for you.

What to know about female travel in Pakistan

A girl sitting in the flower fields of Deosai National Park, Pakistan

Being girly (for once) in Deosai, Pakistan.

Is it safe for women to travel to Pakistan? The short answer.

  • Is Pakistan safe to travel in? Yes, I believe so.
  • Is Pakistan safe if I’m a woman traveling with a man? For sure. Don’t even bother reading this—check out my practical travel guide to Pakistan instead.
  • Is it safe to solo female travel Pakistan? Yes, I believe so… if you take the proper precautions, just like any other country. However, I only recommend Pakistan it to experienced solo female travelers.
  • Is Pakistan safe for me to solo travel in? … maybe.

Read: The ultimate guide to female travel in Pakistan

Girl holding a Kalashnikov on the border crossing from Iran to Pakistan

Traveling overland from Iran to Pakistan was not your typical backpacking border crossing…

FYI: traveling to Pakistan is not like traveling to Paris or Bali

Seemingly a bit of an obvious statement, but I do get messages from girls who want to solo travel to Pakistan but haven’t yet grasped this concept. It’s okay, I get where you’re coming from.

Solo female travel is “in” right now. Girls have been traveling by themselves all over the world for decades, but these days every other travel blog and #wanderlust Instagram account is singing the praises of solo female travel. It’s cool… but can be misleading.

Most of the girls promoting solo female travel are traveling to places filled with other travelers, such as Southeast Asia or South America.

They gush about how you’ll never be alone if you don’t want to, how you can always buddy up with other travelers when necessary. The countries they visit have plenty of tourist infrastructure.

Oft-visited Western Europe is at the forefront of gender equality, relatively tolerant, and the streets are generally safe regardless of what’s between your legs or in your heart.

Pakistan is none of those things. Sorry, girls, but Pakistan is not the next step after your month of backpacking in Bali.

 

A solo female traveler standing near a lake in Pakistan

Basking in the glory of Saif al Muluk lake

Reality check: the downsides of female travel in Pakistan

  1. Pakistan is patriarchal as fuck, and generally a terrible place to be a woman. Many men (and women) are not yet accustomed to women going out and doing things by themselves. Shitty, but that’s the reality.
  2. As a foreign woman, you may automatically be perceived as available or “loose”. Films, music videos, and porn are some men’s only insight into the lives of women abroad… and they may assume you’re as approachable or easy as the women they see on TV. Erm.
  3. There are few foreign travelers in Pakistan. You cannot always count on pairing up with a fellow (male) traveler if things get uncomfortable, or if you want to share the costs of an outing.
  4. There’s not much infrastructure for foreign tourists unless you count the occasional security escort in “dangerous” areas. There’s a lack of information—even with blogs like mine—and getting from A to B isn’t always as easy as it seems. Be ready to deal with male officials making things complicated, and get ready to spend a lot of time with male security guards.
  5. There are many places where you won’t see many women on the streets, especially at night. The major cities are exceptions.
  6. In some places, you’ll be the only mature woman not wearing a burqa or chador, and the goings-on of men and women are quite segregated. It can be an intense or upsetting experience for some women.

 

A girl hanging out the door of a moving train in Pakistan

On a train speeding through Sindh

Get to the point. Should I travel to Pakistan if I’m a [solo] female?

Let’s do a little test, shall we? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Have you traveled independently before?
  2. Have you traveled to particularly patriarchal countries before? Common examples would be India, Egypt, and Iran.
  3. If traveling solo, have you traveled solo before in “difficult” countries or regions? (Not Southeast Asia or Europe.)
  4. Do you trust your traveler’s instinct to know when a situation or person is suspicious, dangerous, or trying to get into your pants?
  5. Will you be okay if you’re the only girl around for potentially days on end?
  6. Are you ready to put in an effort to figure out where to stay or how to get places ahead of time?
  7. Are you okay with potentially having a male police escort with you for hours on end?
  8. Do you generally understand what’s involved in traveling as a solo girl or a group of girls? Ex. be extra cautious at night, tell trusted people where you’re going, etc.?
  9. Are you able to take a massive disparity between the freedom of men and women’s lives in stride? Or will it upset you?
  10. Can you “handle” someone groping you or verbally assaulting you? Or will it ruin your entire trip?

If your answer is yes to most of the questions, then sure, you go for it girl! Move on to the next section.

A group of men and a girl standing next to a camp fire in Pakistan

A typical day in Pakistan: many dudes, only one girl

But if your answer is no to most of them, I strongly urge you to consider testing the waters in other destinations.

If you want epic nature, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are close by and cheap. If it’s culture you’re interested in, there are plenty of overlaps in culture between Pakistan and its more touristic neighbor, India.

The actual problem with female travel in Pakistan (in my humble opinion)

So you’ve decided you’ll go? Excellent — now we can get to the planning part!

The good news: Pakistan and its people are absolutely brilliant. Most of the people you’ll meet will be genuinely kind, friendly, and interested in helping you along your merry way.

Three male park rangers in Deosai, Pakistan

Instead of being creepy, these park rangers in Deosai taught me how to make parathas!

The bad news: there are also men skulking about that might seem hospitable, but actually just want to seduce you to get at your passport, or get in your pants like in every country. (Sigh.) 

Soloe female traveler and a creepy man in Thatta, Pakistan

This mosque’s caretaker seemed friendly enough, only asking for photos… until he groped me, that is.

Normally that’s not the biggest issue, but in Pakistan, it can pose a tricky problem. Because people are so hospitable, they’ll be inviting you for all sorts of things, ranging from a cup of tea to dinner —or three—in their home! If you were a man, accepting these would be no issue, but as a girl, you must be more discerning in what you accept.

Many would say accepting such invitations as a female is improper, or is an invitation for men to do whatever they want to you. Luckily, there are plenty of people not living in the Stone Age but know that some may interpret your acceptance as such, and act accordingly.

Solo female traveler and a friendly man in Skardu, Pakistan

This mango smoothie master in Skardu was incredibly friendly. His son? A serial boob-brusher.

It’s up to you to decide if an invitation is genuine or not, which is why it’s important to have a well-honed traveler’s instinct before solo traveling in Pakistan as a woman. If you’re not sure, better to politely decline. It may be a missed opportunity, but better safe than sorry.

 

A girl on a train in Pakistan

On a train to the urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh

Safety tips for female travelers in Pakistan

I could go on all day about ways to stay safe and happy in Pakistan… but ain’t none of us got all day. To get you started, here are some basic safety tips that I recommend to all women asking me about traveling in Pakistan.

Dress modestly.

This. This all day. Not that I want to police anyone’s dress, but when you’re visiting Pakistan as a woman, dressing modestly makes a world of difference.

I highly recommend buying yourself several salwar kameez, the long shirt/pant combo you’ll see women (and men) wearing all over Pakistan. A dupatta—the scarf women drape across their chest—is optional, but I find it useful to always have a scarf on hand in case you need to go into a religious place.

You can dress a bit more liberally in the wealthy/upmarket areas of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. There, you’ll see girls in the occasional t-shirt or tight pants. Otherwise, dress conservatively unless you want stares for days.

Don’t give men you don’t know your contact details.

Both men and women will ask you for your phone number, Facebook “ID”, Whatsapp number, etc. If you don’t know them—or don’t trust them—don’t give it to them. Either lie and say you don’t use Facebook/Whatsapp/whatever, or outright turn them down. Doesn’t matter which.

If you do give random people your details, be prepared to fend off their messages and calls day in and day out. I learned this the hard way!

If a man is giving you weird vibes, leave.

Are his eyes moving up and down your body? Is he looking a little too excited to talk to you? Or is he being too aggressive about contacting you online?

Drop him.

Don’t feel bad about it. Better you be rude than be harassed. Besides, he likely wouldn’t dare do the same to a Pakistani girl.

Address men as “bhai” or “uncle”.

Bhai means brother, and can be used on men approximately your age. Uncle is good for older men. By addressing them this way, you’re implying they’re like a respected friend or family to you. It lets them know you’re not interested in them sexually.

Avoid walking around too much at night in sparsely populated areas.

This applies everywhere in the world, but it doesn’t hurt to mention.

If you want to chill, put Gilgit Baltistan at the top of your bucket list.

If you want to travel to Pakistan as a woman but avoid hassle as much as possible, stick to traveling up north. Gilgit Baltistan has a large Ismaili Muslim community, and they’re renowned for being relatively liberal in their views of women.

In my experience, men in GB are much less creepy on average, and you’ll get a lot less unwanted attention there as the region is relatively used to foreign female travelers.

Read: Trust as a female traveler – my creep radar, explained

A girl sitting in a field of corn in Pakistan

Pakistan is gold, so long as you take the necessary precautions.

Resources for meeting people in Pakistan

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should forego Pakistani hospitality in favor of playing it safe! If you plan ahead a bit, you’ll be able to meet plenty of awesomesauce Pakistanis, and won’t have to worry about whether or not people are legitimate.

Following are some resources you can use to find people to meet up with or be hosted by:

  • Female Pakistan travelers: A Facebook group I created to connect women traveling in Pakistan. Both local and foreign women are welcome to join and ask any and all questions you might have regarding travel in Pakistan.
  • Couchsurfing: The holy grail of meeting awesome people abroad, you probably know this one already. Still, it doesn’t hurt to mention it! There are plenty of people on Couchsurfing in major cities, just be sure to vet them well before asking to meet up. Only stay with people that have recommendations from (ideally female) foreign travelers. Be cautious about posting public trips—it’s best that people don’t know exactly where you’ll be on any given date.
  • Backpacking Pakistan: A super helpful Facebook group aimed at encouraging foreign travelers to coordinate with each other. Specifically geared towards helping girls find travel companions and clearing up confusion about foreign travel in Pakistan. Includes both foreign and local travelers.
  • See you in Pakistan: Another useful Facebook group about travel in Pakistan, with far more Pakistanis in it than the previous group. There are a decent number of girls (and non-creepy dudes) in this group. Perfect for finding answers and hosts.
  • The Karakoram Club: The go-to place for anything and everything about travel in Northern Pakistan. There are almost too many helpful people in the group, and any questions you post in there will be flooded with answers and offers for help. Be wary of false information, and don’t accept any friend requests from dudes who didn’t help you. If group members are being creepy to you, alert the admins. They have a strict no harassment policy and will be quick to curse him to the depths of hell enforce the policy.

 

Solo female traveler checking out the sunset in Fairy Meadows, Pakistan

Basking in the glory of towering Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world

Resources for planning your solo travel in Pakistan

From here on out, it’s all about planning your trip! Here are some things you might find useful:

Other useful guides for travel in Pakistan

 

So there you have it, a complete guide to safety as a female traveler in Pakistan. For now, happy planning, and safe travels! Please feel free to comment or contact me if you have any more questions.

Is it safe for women to travel to Pakistan? It's a common question, but the answer is more nuanced than you'd expect. Click through to learn if it's safe for females to travel in Pakistan.
Is it safe for women to travel to Pakistan? It's a common question, but the answer is more nuanced than you'd expect. Click through to learn if it's safe for females to travel in Pakistan.
Is it safe for women to travel to Pakistan? It's a common question, but the answer is more nuanced than you'd expect. Click through to learn if it's safe for females to travel in Pakistan.

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

57 thoughts on “Is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?

    Diana A says:

    Cynthia take my advice do not stay with your friend . I have been married to two different Pakistan’s men . Met them in the USA . I was married to one just under two years . It used my daughter to control me and secure a job .a nice one the second is a good man but you will never be good enough to marry and there views of love and truth to people not Pakistani are very different period I even gave his parents twin first grandsons not good enough . They treat me like trash . They are middle class my advice is their are much easier relationships out there much . There can be some serious repercussions for things that would be normal to you in a relationship . These guys weren’t men that needed a visa and birth order also means a lot . Don’t stay by yourself and if he can prove your married you have a whole new set of problems . It wouldn’t be that hard . Reconsider real hard . What your doing and what is discussed here are two very different things and once you are wide and with a less than honest imam you have no rights your husband and his family does . Just FYI

    Arabela says:

    Thank you for your HONEST opinion. Unfortunately, many travel influencers tend to present SoFe travel in Pakistan like it’s literally backpacking in Bali.
    I’m currently in Lahore and would love to see more of the city and country since I’m staying at my boyfriend’s place in a rather boring part of town. The problem is that my boyfriend doesn’t like to go out that much and he’s reluctant to let me travel around on my own, which he’s of course totally okay with in other countries. That leaves me stuck at home all day like pretty much all the women in his family.
    And I’m not dismissing his arguments in any way. He always tells me this one story when he went out with a local female friend who ended up being physically harassed by a police officer simply because she walked ahead too far. And of course, since coming here my Facebook has been flooded with guys calling me and stalking my profile trying to find out which part of town I’m staying in.
    I’d just love to see more of this wonderful country in the few weeks or months I’m staying here. It’s definitely a very comfortable experience going out with a male local but if it requires solo travel to see a bit more, I’d do that too. It really wouldn’t be my first time to get groped in the streets…

    Responding to this a bit late, I do know you’ve seen a bit more of the country by now 😉 But yes, you illustrate several of the many realities there—though some women live more mobile lifestyles, many are stuck at home more often than not. Even if you’re being careful, you still end up with an absurd quantity of DMs from random men trying to get at you. The country is worth it, as I think we can agree, but the challenges for local and foreign women are still present.

    Anna says:

    Indeed after watching some female “travellers” who travel with a group of males and say that Pakistan is safe for solo female, I was glad to read your honest comprehensive guide. Im travelling in Pakistan with a male friend and still experiencing sorts of sexual approaches and touching, even my male friend time from time has to tell them that we are together to stop further advances. I cannot imagine what would be if I was alone. So I cannot take the responsibility to say that solo female is safe and I would not like to go alone simply because I would like to enjoy the trip, not to deal with harassment constantly.
    More interesting that tour guides in Pakistan remove my comments about solo female safety from their websites :/

    I’m sorry you’re going through all of that :/ Harassment is already frustrating, and having to rely on men to protect you from it is even more frustrating. Choosing to travel with men definitely makes it easier, and if that’s what it takes to make your trip more enjoyable, so be it! I hope you find some good experiences despite the bad encounters. Stay safe!

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