Grace Millane: Solo backpacking didn't kill her, say bloggers

By Kathryn Hamlett
BBC News

Image source, Lucie Blackman Trust
Image caption,
Grace Millane had arrived in New Zealand in November 2018 after a group trip in South America

British backpacker Grace Millane was found buried in bushland outside Auckland, New Zealand.

Grief, anger and messages of support for her family dominated social media since news of her killing emerged.

But among those voices are some who have been repeating the same question: why had she been travelling alone?

It shouldn't matter, suggest these bloggers - all women who travel solo across the world.

'Travelling alone had nothing to do with it'

Image source, Claire Sturzaker
Image caption,
Claire Sturzaker urged solo travellers to "follow your gut"

"It's absolutely awful what happened to Grace - but travelling alone had nothing to do with it," says Claire Sturzaker, who backpacked solo around Latin America for two years and is now travelling around Europe.

"These things happen anywhere. Women are much more likely to be killed by someone they know than a stranger.

"People always ask about what clothes the woman was wearing at the time, where they went, whether she walked down an alley on her own. But why are they to blame?"

Ms Sturzaker, originally from Southport in Merseyside, who blogs at Tales of a Backpacker, says she believes Miss Millane had "done everything right".

"She was keeping in touch with her family and telling them where she was going, and she'd just come from supposedly 'dangerous' South America to supposedly 'safe' New Zealand."

Ms Sturzaker, who first moved to Barcelona in 2013 after losing her Manchester-based job aged 30, believes the most important thing for travellers is to "follow your gut".

"If you get a weird feeling as you're walking down a street, stop, and go down another one. That's exactly what you'd do at home so apply it to wherever you are in the world."

'I knew I was in trouble'

Image source, Alice Nettleingham
Image caption,
Alice Nettleingham says she still sees India as a "beautiful country"

Alice Nettleingham, originally from Dartford in Kent, went on her first solo worldwide trip eight years ago at the age of 25 and has since travelled to many countries, mostly in Asia and the Middle East.

Last year she was sexually assaulted on her birthday by a stranger while walking back from meeting a friend in Rishikesh, India.

"I knew I was in trouble before I was even in trouble - things didn't feel right," she says.

"It was pure bad luck. I'd walked the same route earlier but at night it changed, it felt different, and I hadn't realised until then."

Ms Nettleingham, who knew some jiu jitsu, fought off her attacker and now advises solo travellers to also learn self-defence.

"My reaction to the attack was 'I'm going to stay here'... I wasn't going to let this defeat me and I received nothing but kindness and care from the rest of my trip.

"India is a beautiful country and in no way would I want to put anyone off going."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Ms Nettleingham stayed in Rishikesh for a month after the attack because she "wasn't going to let this defeat me"

Ms Nettleingham, who writes the Teacake Travels blog, says the experience has not put her off travelling - she has a trip to Pakistan lined up for next year - but says it's "different for women to travel than men".

"Women have to take more measures - you need to understand what that culture's perception of women is. Is it a country where being a woman is seen as empowering, or is going out at night unsafe?"

She also urges people to research any neighbourhood before staying there, and echoes Ms Sturzaker's belief that people should apply the same safety principles as they would in the UK.

"Travelling is such an amazing experience - before I went travelling I didn't know how to be assertive but it's given me so much confidence. I've become stronger, more open minded and have the ability to think on my feet."

'Stay savvy, and travelling is so empowering'

Image source, Yari Coello
Image caption,
Yari Coello says knowing the language where you are is not always an advantage

Yari Coello decided last year at the age of 35 to embark on a 10-month trip on her own to South America and south-east Asia.

Born to "adventurous" Latin American parents in the United States, she describes herself in her blog, the Beauty Backpacker, as a Londoner - where she's lived for the past 12 years - "and global wanderer, by choice".

"I find travelling so empowering," she says, after clocking up visits to more than 50 countries.

"I found when I came back I felt so fearless and felt like I could handle anything in normal life."

She says while travelling in some areas she took steps such as only getting buses during the daytime.

"But even then, one time I was in Bolivia and a man came and sat next to me on the bus even though it was completely empty. It made me feel uncomfortable so I made an excuse and moved.

"I've also had taxi drivers ask if I had a boyfriend, which made me nervous, so I found other ways to get to the airport - and I wouldn't go out unless I was with a friend."

Ms Coello, who speaks fluent Spanish, says knowing the language of the country you are in is not always an advantage.

"There've been times in South America when I wished I'd just pretended I didn't know what men were saying because they'll throw in a question like, 'Have you got a husband?' or 'Where's your wedding ring?' and you get caught up in conversations you don't want to be in."

She said the secret to being a solo traveller was "being savvy" about your surroundings at all times.

"I'd hate something like what's happened in New Zealand to put off other women from travelling on their own because as many people as possible should get that opportunity."

An earlier version of this story was first published on 11 December 2018.

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