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—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.
- The short answer: is it safe for women to travel in Pakistan?
- Pakistan is NOT Bali
- Downsides of traveling as a woman in Pakistan
- Test: should I visit Pakistan?
- The actual problem with female travel in Pakistan
- Safety tips for female travelers in Pakistan
- Resources for meeting people in Pakistan
- Resources for planning female travel in Pakistan
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 my 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. However, I only recommend it to experienced solo female travelers.
- Is Pakistan safe for me to travel in? … maybe.
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 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.
Reality check: the downsides of traveling as a woman in Pakistan
- 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.
- 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.
- There are very 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.
- 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.
- Outside of major cities such as Lahore or Islamabad, there are plenty of places where you won’t find many women on the streets, especially 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. It can be an intense or upsetting experience for some women.
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 particularly patriarchal countries before? Common examples would be India, Egypt, and Iran.
- If traveling solo, have you traveled solo before in “difficult” countries or regions? (Not Southeast Asia or Europe.)
- Do you trust your traveler’s instinct to know when a situation or person is suspicious, dangerous, or 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 (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.
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.)
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.
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.
This. This all day. Not that I want to police anyone’s dress, but in Pakistan, 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?
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 chill, put Gilgit Baltistan at the top of your bucket list.
If you want to 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.
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.
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 who blogged about/documented their time in Pakistan include…
- Tours: If you’d rather travel to Pakistan through a tour agency, I recommend The Mad Hatters, one of Pakistan’s only female-run tour companies. Aneeqa is a good friend of mine, and she’s traveled all over Pakistan on her own. You can learn more about her and her company in my interview with her.
- Travel guides: Broke Backpacker’s guide to backpacking in Northern Pakistan and my guide to train travel in 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 whole country.
For now, happy planning, and safe travels! Please feel free to comment or contact me if you have any more questions.