Should Solo Women Travelers Pretend to be Married?

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There are hundreds upon hundreds of guides for women’s travel safety abroad, and many of them have conflicting advice.

One of the more controversial rules surrounding solo women travelers is whether or not they should pretend to be married or wear a fake wedding ring.

Some women interpret this advice by announcing that they’re married from the get-go to everyone they meet, from hostel guests to street vendors, even when in a nonthreatening environment.  I don’t know what these women do after they become friends with someone.

Could pretending to be married keep you safe?  Perhaps.  In some conservative cultures, saying your husband is coming to meet you is often the easiest way to get out of a long discussion. But most of the time, it’s meaningless.

Let’s talk about Italy.  Of all the places where I’ve traveled, Italy was where I got the most male attention. Italian men hit on everything that moves, and a wedding ring — whether yours or theirs — makes no difference whatsoever.  (And you wonder why Italy is my favorite country.)

Thankfully, though, if you call Italian men on their behavior, most of the time they’ll protest your claims, blame someone else, and shrink away in defeat.  And you can do that whether married or single.  (My favorite response, which I’d hear often in Florence: “It is not me, it is the Albanians!”)

In my experience, a wedding ring may stop a few men who would have ordinarily hit on you if they thought you were single.  Maybe.  But it won’t fend off an attacker.

My advice?  Guard your safety in smarter ways — like taking a self-defense course, getting cabs at night, and not getting intoxicated.

Ladies, I would love to hear your experiences.  Help me out: should solo female travelers pretend to be married?Should solo female travelers pretend to be married?  Ladies, I would love to hear your take.

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31 thoughts on “Should Solo Women Travelers Pretend to be Married?”

  1. I agree that you should guard your safety in smarter ways. I had a boyfriend when I traveled through South America alone so I wasn’t lying. We had promise rings that we wore on our left hands while we were apart from each other. I found that saying I had a boyfriend didn’t stop any guy from hitting on me or trying to take things to a whole new level. In other parts of the world guys are very forward and they go after what they want with or without your permission. In South America if you talk to a man then you are showing romantic interest with them. They do not have boy/girl friendships in the way that we do in America.

    1. Thanks, Jenny —

      And you underscore the fact that the most important thing solo female travelers should do is research their destinations like crazy, so that they can learn about male/female relationship dynamics in other countries.

  2. I don’t really see the sense in pretending you’re married. As you mentioned, a ring often doesn’t deter foreign men anyway. And, like you pointed out, wearing a ring or telling people you’re married certainly isn’t going to fend off an attacker.

    I think your advice is best – to guard yourself in other, smarter ways.

    However, I know there are certain countries and cultures that don’t understand the Western penchant for a woman being single into her 20s or 30s or 40s, let alone traveling single. In certain situations, it’s probably better (and easier) to just say you’re married to avoid awkward conversations and/or arguments.

  3. i normally wear a claddagh ring on my right ring finger, in such a way that indicates to anyone familiar with them that i’m taken, but abroad i don’t often claim to be married. i especially wouldnt randomly proclaim it to everyone i meet. in egypt, though, i found that swiveling the ring around to show the plain band shielded me from the random propositioning i had previously been hearing in cyber cafes. no more invites to hotel rooms once they saw that! it’s also worth noting that in many other countries, the right hand is where you wear a wedding ring, and i’ve had foreign friends tell of embarassing mistakes in pickup artistry because they forgot that americans wear them on the left.

  4. I have to agree. Ring or no ring, it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve tried both wearing ‘a’ ring and noting the proverbial boyfriend is meeting me, but the men appear to like the challenge & the chase is on. Be assertive, be aware, be smart and don’t let others buy your drinks. But don’t be paranoid. It takes the fun out of meeting people. 😉

  5. Good post Kate – one that I can’t say I have experience of – except as that man in the hostel offering my affection…. Seriously, it can be a problem for women solo travellers, but how often are they really on their own and not travelling with other like minded women or even men? The ring may say something but in all reality it probably doesn’t. Perhaps you are leaving yourself open to someone trying to steal the ring from you instead?! As I’m sure all people woudl say, there are many other ways to keep men at bay. Keeping off drink (well, too much anyway) and off drugs must be top of the list.

  6. We find that sometimes it helps to pretend to be married – but only sometimes – to get rid off men who are a little bit too attentive, if not even aggressive. Most men don’t seem to care though, and if there are no men anywhere around you, they just keep trying (which we find to be very disrespectful if a woman is really married!)

    We’re lucky that we’re traveling together as two girls rather than alone; it’s much easier to ‘shake them off’ when you’re with somebody else, and less scary than having to deal with persistent men all by yourself, especially at night on the way to your hostel.

    Like you say – just be attentive at all times, get a cab at night, and you should be fine.

  7. I think this is an old-fashioned defence mechanism that just isn’t efficient anymore nowadays. A person that wants to harm you, will, ring or not. It might be an easy getaway from flirtatious guys, but other than that, I don’t see what it does for you.

  8. The only time I’ve pretended to be married while traveling is when my fiancee and I have been in extremely conservative or religious countries. Some places don’t let unmarried people of different sexes share a room, for example, so pretending to be married alleviated some of that for us.

    I wouldn’t do it as a safety precaution though. The most recent stats I’ve read suggest that even in North America single women are the victims or rape and assault more than married women, but that has less to do with their marital status and more to do with the reality that they aren’t alone as much as single women. As rape is often a crime of opportunity, pretending to be married on a solo trip would probably have little bearing on safety.

    It makes me sad that we still have to worry about this stuff but unfortunately, we do. Great post Kate!

  9. LOVE what everyone had to say on this topic… I believe you should be open and honest when dealing with individuals in general. Although at the same time be somewhat guarded and smart about the information you are relaying to strangers. NEVER reveal where you are staying! Be sure to do your research on cultural customs of the destination you will be traveling to. Lastly big, expensive, fancy jewelery attracts unnecessary attention in any country. When traveling alone that is the last thing you want to do!

  10. In Nepal the first question you’re asked is “where’re you from?” and the second one is “Are you married?” I answered honestly that NO and then the guys usually started all that revolting lovey-dovey talks.
    But as soon as I started claiming to be married they began to shut up very soon.

    I wouldn’t wear a fake ring but I certainly will be ‘married’ when I travel in the countries where marriage is considered a serious commitment.

  11. Traveling solo is not my thing because of security reason especially in a very strange places but I think pretending of something you are not is entering in a more difficult situation. There are other ways to depend yourself and that is not lying such as bringing non-lethal weapons which you can use during emergency situation.

  12. I just came across your blog…and this post made me laugh.
    While I was student teaching in Cameroon, there was another girl in the program who pretended to be married. The director of her school asked her if she would be interested in becoming his second wife. She declined, explaining that she was already married. Later, her host family invited the man to dinner. In the middle of the meal, trying to make conversation, the host mom explained to him that their young guest was duping the local men by pretending to be married. She had no idea why the meal suddenly got incredibly awkward 😉

  13. This is great advice from you and your readers. I’m heading to Central and South America at the end of the year and thought about taking a band with me just in case. I think I’ll wear one just to make myself feel more protected than anything else (it’s my first time travelling – and I’m going alone) but won’t be shouting it from the rooftops. I’ll mention there’s a husband/boyfriend should the question arise.

  14. Hi Kate,
    As a matter of principle: No, as a matter of convenience: Yes. Sometimes it helps to lie a little bit because in the end it doesn’t matter. Oh but the question was for the ladies, oops, why am I responding.

  15. I wore a wedding band (and carried a picture of my “husband”) when I went to Spain for the first time (I was 19 and traveling alone). It works on the respectful men, but doesn’t really do anything against the ones that aren’t so respectful (and those are the ones you are concerned about).

    I had one on during my solo travels throughout Central America, and it was basically the same story, with an added twist: “But your husband isn’t with you right now….” Meaning, essentially, that he would never know. I think my favorite moment was when I was taking one of the last taxis through Managua in Nicaragua before the road was shut down due to protests. I get to the airport, and the taxi driver asks if I want to go with him to his house nearby (“since it’s still two hours before your flight…”). Um, no thanks!

    I still carry a wedding ring when I travel, but I realize that it isn’t a perfect defense against propositions and awkward questions. I also carry mace, and only get in licensed cabs.

  16. I don’t think a ring or even saying you’re married wil make a difference. I’ve traveled in some of the worse countries for sexual harrassment, i.e. Morocco, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and know how annoying being harrassed can get. And saying I had a boyfriend or a husband didn’t deter anyone. I heard in some cases, it even makes you seem like an easier mark, because they figure you’re down for an affair no one will ever know about. I found the best way to discourage male attention was to pretend like I didn’t speak a common language. I’d pretend like i only spoke Russian, and its a pretty safe bet most people outside of Russia will not know Russian. They usually tried to speak for me a bit but I kept shaking my head and saying “No understand,” then they’d give up. Also try wearing long and loose skirts, and black clothing. Some of those countries consider even jeans to be revealing.

  17. Here’s the deal. Wearing the ring works in some places and not in others. For instance, in Nicaragua, the men believe that if a woman is married, she is bored and looking for some action (local or foreign). So wearing the ring actually gets you more attention than you want. In Costa Rica, just wave your wedding ring in front of some men and they dissipate into thin air. In Spain, it works better. It gets rid of a good amount of getting hit on and then leaves you with the die hards that don’t care and you know you wouldn’t want to hang with any of them. Now, if you are actually looking to date someone in these countries, well then, you have to try another tactic. Also, if you choose to stay longer term in one of these locations and that husband or boyfriend never shows up, they notice. In Latin America, I got called a lesbian, bitch, whore, butch and more for not dating the local men or any men at all. However, after my terrible, awful, ridiculously bad experience with a Nicaraguan boyfriend and hearing the terrible, awful, ridiculously bad experiences that many of my girlfriends had with unfaithful, lying, lazy local men who had them paying for everything and doing everything for them, I am on a dating siesta. And after all of the being stared at, cat called, groped, and sexually harassed on a daily basis in Latin America and in some European countries, I’m both off dating and off men. I’d rather be a Buddhist nun than deal with this level of chauvinism, disrespect and objectification.

  18. I do a lot of solo traveling (and blog about it! but not professionally). I’ve been to Italy and I can handle the attention of men. The only time I have ever pretended to be married is when I was alone in Istanbul. Men were more aggressive and would refuse to take no for an answer. Being honest and assertive didn’t seem to be enough, so I gave it a shot. It was helpful as another excuse, like another level of defense, but it wasn’t enough by itself. The most important thing was to remove myself from the situation when it felt threatening.

    That being said, Istanbul was one of the most rewarding and extraordinary experiences of my life. I think as long as you’re safe and intelligent, you learn the most about yourself when you’re outside of your comfort zone.

  19. Hi. I’ve been travelling alone through Europe and Northern Africa (Egypt and Morrocco). My experience is that it differs per place and country. In Europe a fake wedding ring wouldn’t matter much, and also I haven’t been harrassed while travelling alone through Europe. Also in Morrocco it was no problem, especially in Marrakech which is a very touristic city. But Egypt on the other hand, was a very different story. If you go there travelling alone as a woman, I would definitly advice you to wear a fake wedding ring!! There are a lot of men in Egypt who think a western woman has a lot of money and would definitly want to marry them (and this, to my experience, can get very, very, extremely annoying). But in Egypt the men have a very high value of marriage, and if they think you’re married, you won’t get any marriage proposals anymore! So there it’s actually kind of nice wearing a ring, it also helps being able to talk more normal to men, which is nice because you don’t meet a lot of local women there (at least not in the city, in the villages it’s again different).
    I will be going to Southeast Asia on my own in a short while, and I won’t be taking a fake wedding ring with me, I’ve read and heard a lot of this part of the world and here it definitly doesn’t seem necessary!
    In short, what I’m trying to say, is that it depends on how strong you are (or how easy you want to make it for yourself in for example Egypt) and especially where you are. I think most parts it’s not necessary, but it some parts it can definitly help a lot!

  20. Hey Kate! India has always been on the bucket list, but all the negative press has made me seriously question whether to go there or not!

    I’ve heard heap of stories about people pretending to be married – but surely it doesn’t mean anything unless you actually have a man there with you – and I plan on travelling solo!! Aghh!


  21. I am also on the “don’t wear a fake wedding ring” side of the discussion. In countries where being married is respected more and solo female travel is considered inappropriate, a fake ring won’t help you because everyone is going to think something is wrong with you if you are not being accompanied by a man anyway. And a “fake” ring doesn’t look like a real wedding ring. I think it is more useful to just hang out with a male friend than with a ring.
    I don’t really invent a fake boyfriend, and when I do it doesn’t help (also when I am actually taken, everybody thinks I am making it up, because if he was real, he would be traveling with me). I met a couple of those “do you want to have a boyfriend?” in Israel. And if I said no, they assumed it’s because I already had one. As if all a woman wants is to be taken.

  22. I’ll occasionally say I’m married if I’m asked and if I feel vulnerable. For example, if I’m in a cab by myself, the cabbie seems sleazy, he’s asking too many personal questions, and then drops the “so do you have a boyfriend?” line, I’ll sometimes tell him I’m married and I’m on my way to meet my husband right now.
    Otoh, I hate that the fake boyfriend or husband is even a thing. It means that men are only backing off out of respect of another man who laid ownership over a woman, not out of respect to the fact that the woman is not actually interested. It makes me angry. But being alone at night in a cab with a sleazy driver is not a time for an angry feminist rant – it won’t help. Pick your battles.
    On a completely different note, my fried and her boyfriend got fake wedding rings for Dubai so they could stay in the same hotel room legally. Well not legally, but you get what I mean.

  23. Marianne Stenger

    I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and never used to say I was married, but I’ve been living in Kenya for the past year and now I always tell people that I’m married if they are getting too pushy.

    I actually do have a boyfriend, but here the term “boyfriend” means nothing, and unless you’re married you are considered fair game.

    When I get to know someone better I’ll just explain why I say that I’m married and they always understand. It’s never made things awkward, but maybe that’s because I’m not creating a fictional character and when they ask questions about my “husband” I can just truthfully talk about him and don’t have to make something up.

    Generally I will never let a guy buy me a drink unless I already know them, as it can create awkward situations where they feel you “owe” them, and get offended if you leave them for another group.

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