A few years ago, it was not acceptable for a Saudi girl to travel abroad alone, and if she did, it was discreetly. This, however, is no longer the case.
Attitudes towards Saudi girls traveling on their own has undergone a substantial shift and now the number of young girls traveling without a male companion has remarkably increased.
A girl may have to travel on her own without a male relative for several reasons, said Saza al-Nasser, an employee in a private company in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
“Sometimes it is difficult for a girl and her accompanying male relative to have the same days off,” she said.
Some girls, she added, like to go through the experience of being abroad on their own to see how they would manage and how independent they can be.
“A girl who travels on her own also feels free and can go anywhere she wants like shopping and going out with friends without having to get the approval of that relative.”
Nasser called upon Saudi girls to try traveling on their own because it is bound to shape their personality.
“A girl becomes stronger and learns how to deal with emergencies when she has no one to help and arrange her life.”
Nasser pointed out that traveling abroad is easier than traveling within the country.
“The schedule of domestic trips is not as organized as what you have in foreign countries.”
For Saudi journalist Maisaa al-Amoudi, it is very normal for a Saudi girl to travel abroad alone.
“Now women are equal to men,” she said. “They have a career and this sometimes necessitates that they go abroad to attend conferences for example.”
Amoudi argued that traveling for shopping or sightseeing is not different than going abroad to work or study.
“A woman is a human being who has the right to lead a normal life exactly like a man.”
Depriving women from traveling on their own, she added, is because of the accumulation of social values that view such an action as unacceptable.
“It also implies lack of awareness of other people’s rights and this sometimes is taken too far it almost amounts to racism some times.”
Girls started traveling alone five years ago when the law allowing them to study abroad on their own was issued, said Mohamed Maghrabi, the general manager of a travel agency.
“This made it more acceptable for society and parents too gradually approved of their daughters traveling on their own,” he said.
Maghrabi added that the number of girls traveling alone is still small compared to men.
“The number of girls has so far increased by 15 percent and it is still going up every year.”
Regarding the most popular destinations for girls, Maghrabi said they usually prefer nearby countries.
“Most of them go to Dubai, Beirut, or Sharm al-Sheikh since they are all close, especially since the trip does not usually exceed five days.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)