Interested in visiting Pakistan, but concerned because you’re a woman? You’re not the only one. Plenty of women have asked me “is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?” Here’s the answer I give, after several months of backpacking in Pakistan as a female.
“Is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?”
As one of the few women who traveled to Pakistan and blogged about it, 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.
Is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan? Here’s 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—go pick something from our Pakistan archives instead.
- Is Pakistan safe to travel in as a solo female or group of girls? Yes, I believe so… if you take the proper precautions, just like any other country.
- Is Pakistan safe for me to travel in? … maybe.
FYI: traveling to Pakistan is not like traveling to Paris or Bali
It seems a bit of an obvious statement, but I do get messages from girls who haven’t yet grasped this concept. But 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 it 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, and the streets are relatively 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 solo backpacking in Bali.
Here are the downsides of traveling as a woman in Pakistan
- There are few travelers in Pakistan. You cannot count on pairing up with a fellow traveler if things get uncomfortable, or if you want to share the costs of an outing.
- 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 this out there, and getting from A to B isn’t always as easy as it seems.
- Pakistan is patriarchal as fuck. Many are not yet accustomed to women going out and doing things by themselves. Shitty, but that’s the reality. The chance that a man is going to touch you or say unwanted things to you is high, unfortunately.
- Outside of major cities such as Lahore or Islamabad, there are plenty of places where you won’t find many women on the streets, particularly at night.
- In some places, such as towns and villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, you’ll be the only mature woman not wearing a burqa or chador, and the goings on of men and women are quite segregated.
So 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:
- Have you traveled independently before?
- Have you traveled to seriously patriarchal countries before? Common examples would be India, Egypt, and Iran.
- If traveling solo, have you traveled solo before? In “difficult” locations? (Meaning, not Southeast Asia or Europe.)
- Do you trust your traveler’s instinct to know when a situation or person is suspicious, dangerous, or just trying to get into your pants?
- Will you be okay if you’re the only girl around for potentially days on end?
- Are you ready to put in effort to figure out where to stay or how to get places ahead of time?
- Are you okay with potentially having a male police escort with you for hours on end?
- 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.?
- Are you able to take a massive disparity between the freedom of men and women’s lives in stride? Or will it upset you?
- 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.
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
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.
The bad news: there are also men skulking about that might seem hospitable, but actually just want to get a grab at your bum or check out your boobs… like in every country. (Sigh.)
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 a dinner to a night 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.
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 traveling to Pakistan as a female. If you’re not sure, better to politely decline. It may be a missed opportunity, but better safe than sorry.
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:
- 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 foreign travelers, ideally female. 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 young but 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.
- 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 that 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.
Resources for planning travel in Pakistan
From here on out, it’s all about planning your trip! Here are some things you might find useful:
- Budgeting: How much six weeks of backpacking in Pakistan costs
- Visas: Applying for a Pakistani visa in the Netherlands
- Blogs: Other girls that blogged about/documented their time in Pakistan include…
- Travel guide: Broke Backpacker’s guide to backpacking in Northern Pakistan
- Travel insurance: Always a good idea, especially in countries like Pakistan. I recommend First Allied Travel Insurance for Pakistan, as it’s one of the few policies covering the country.
For now, happy planning, and safe travels! Feel free to comment or contact me if you have any more questions.