I Am Not a Prostitute. I’m a Solo Female Traveller!

In high spirits after having dinner in London with old friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time, I jumped off the tube at Bond Street Station, waved goodbye to my friend Poli and made my way back to the hotel where I was staying.

The bellhop held open the heavy wooden doors and I stepped inside the lobby. It was just past midnight but the hotel was empty, and the clip-clopping of my heels on the marble floor echoed throughout the building. Deep in thought, I made it halfway up the carpeted stairs when I realised that someone was following me and shouting in my direction. Alarmed, I turned around and was met with a Concierge who squared up in front of me as if to assert his authority.

“Are you a guest at this hotel Madam? If so, I’ll need to see your room card. If you’re joining someone, can you please tell me his name and room number? We can’t have unregistered guests staying at the hotel”

Taken aback, I didn’t really handle the situation the way that I wish I had. “Erm yes, yes I am” I stuttered as I fumbled around in my handbag trying to find my door pass among the clutter while he stood watching impatiently as if this “search” was just a front to save face. I retrieved the door pass from a sea of pens, foreign currency and subway ticket stubs, handed it to him for closer inspection and then went on my way, self consciously zipping up my coat as I climbed the rest of the stairs.

(For the record, and since I know we live in a society of “victim blaming”,  I was dressed conservatively – a long skirt, a trench coat and heels; though I am a believer of the school of thought that women should be entitled to dress as they please without being victims of ignorance and prejudice).

Mistaken for a prostitute travel
Having afternoon tea with a platonic friend in London… No he didn’t buy me and I wasn’t scouting for clients!

Sitting in my hotel room, my shock soon transformed to fury and as much as I tried to get to sleep, I couldn’t rest thinking about the concierge. I called my friend, I ranted on Twitter, and then eventually, at 3am I threw on my hotel slippers and gown and shuffled to the Reception desk. I explained the situation to the man that greeted me and without an apology, was met with an indifferent response of “Well Ma’am, it really is at the Concierge’s discretion as to who he decides to stop for security reasons”. Bewildered, I shuffled back to my room assuring myself I’d write a strongly worded email of complaint in the morning. (The funny thing about this situation was, I was in town reviewing the hotel as a Travel Writer!)

The situation was humiliating, and not representative of how you expect to be treated as a guest of a luxury hotel; however the worst part about this experience was that this type of thing has happened to me before. Several times actually, though admittedly this was the most confrontational.  

There just seems to be something about a woman that takes care of her appearance being by herself in certain locations that rubs people up the wrong way. As though it is completely out of the question that she could be in a luxury hotel by herself as a result of her own successes. As though just because she isn’t donning a backpack and staying in a hostel, she couldn’t possibly be a solo traveller. As though a woman wearing makeup couldn’t possibly have an interest in history, culture, and world issues.

Mistaken for a prostitute travel
Travelling solo in Israel… Hopefully not being mistaken for a Prostitute at my boutique hotel.

As a woman in her late twenties who earns her own money and prefers the comforts of a hotel to the chaos of an eight person backpacker’s hostel dorm, I am no stranger to this ignorance. I have received plenty of lecherous looks from males thinking that I was on sale, and disapproving looks from females about my lack of self-respect.

To feel eyes burning into you, silently judging you because of this untrue and ignorant assumption is probably one of the most humiliating feelings in the world. It knocks your confidence, causes you to be hypercritical of yourself, your appearance, and your surroundings, and almost makes you feel ashamed as if you were actually there soliciting.

My experiences are not just restricted to hotel stays. Living in Seoul, white women are somewhat fetishised and to satisfy this “demand” there are plenty of Russian prostitutes on hand. I cannot count the number of times that I have been approached and offered money for sex in Korea. Most of the time, I was dressed in the most unflattering attire and buying groceries or doing the recycling.  

I can’t exactly go around with a billboard attached to me that states my accolades and the intricacies of my resume but I wish that people could be open minded about the fact that there are many plausible reasons why a young woman may be sitting in a hotel lounge at 7pm, scribbling on her notepad by herself that don’t involve selling sex.

Mistaken for a prostitute travel
Travelling solo in The Middle East. Searching for ancient ruins, not searching for clientele.

Obviously not everyone I encounter while travelling alone makes this assumption about me (at least I hope they don’t!), but it’s happened enough that I felt the need to share it. I am a huge ambassador for solo female travel and I strongly believe that every woman should try it at least once in her life. These incidents were in the minority, but maybe my sharing this here will provide some comfort to anyone that has experienced the same (or if they do in the future, and then they don’t have to go through the same “what is it about my appearance?” self-analysing process that I did.)  

Have you ever had an encounter like this when travelling solo? How did you deal with it?

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  1. Wow… that’s shocking. I hate this way of thinking but you’re so right when you say that if a woman takes care of herself and wears make up, she cannot be interested in history, culture and world issues.
    I’ve never experienced it in hotels because I travel with my boyfriend and back when I traveled on my own, I stayed at hostels (and wore very little to no makeup…). BUT when I was studying at uni and would tell people about it, many times they were quite surprised because I “didn’t look like somebody who would be able to study at uni” -.-
    So I know the struggle.
    I think it’s good you wrote about it, share it everywhere, especially in online travel platforms. Maybe send this article to the hotel you were staying at?

    1. Oh my gosh, I hear you! & I’m sorry to hear about it.
      I actually find it bewildering that in 2017 people still seem to think that there is some kind of correlation between appearance and how intelligent someone is as a result, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
      Thanks Cristina! Yes I think it’s important to do so. I’ll have a think about how best to approach them!

  2. Not as blatant as yours but definitely some assumptions. I felt a lot like people saw me as some kind of sex-crazed machine in India for sure. In Goa, so many young local men asked to take photos with me that I started asking for money for them (after I heard that they would tell all their friends they had sex with you and the photo was apparently proof). Does that make me a prostitute? Ha ha.

    1. Hahah well while you’re standing around waiting for them to take their photos like a character at Disney World, you may as well make some money out of it! 😉 Ew it never occurred to me before that that they would want the photo for proof of that! When I was in Egypt, men at the hotel wanted their photo with me and at first I was just startled and wanted to be polite, but then they’d come back to me again a few days later like “Let’s take another now I’m in different clothes!” Uff, no.

    2. When I was in India, I would tell NO to anyone who would want to take a picture with me. Noone stops them to say they had sex with you even if they don’t pay for the picture… Many tied to take pictures of me then while I was walking away, hiding the phone in the clothing, behind someone etc.

  3. I hear your pain. I live in the center of the city in a multi-story house and it just happens to have a strip bar in basement and I have had people approach me and ask me “how much” or “will you be dancing tonight”. The most offensive one was from a neighbor lady who approached me while I was standing at my car and unloading some veggies from the trunk (produce fresh from the garden, I was wearing a summer dress), who started telling me off about something else, completely unrelated, and saying I should know better etc etc and saying how working in that place is this and that. And then she didn’t even apologize when I told her I actually have lived in this house with my parents, have two master’s degrees and just happen to be skinny and young. The house is not that big, 15 apartments only, so for her not to know me… well, it was very, very insulting.
    Whatever choices women make, if they do that kind of job out of free will (I must say I know someone who did that kind of thing years ago for various reasons), it is up to them. But these “security checks” and random accusations are not ok.

  4. Great post Melissa. I think I’m too old for this to happen to me, but I think it’s interesting that this happens. It’s so wrong in so many ways. Thanks for sharing this experience.

  5. I am speechless. As a solo female traveller myself I feel your pain and have plenty of stories myself of where the prejudice and judgment is nearly too much to handle but being mistaken for a prositute and challenged in such a rude way. (Though today I walked around Athens all dolled up for a photo I planned on taking, and a guy literally came running up to me and started singing something about sex. WTH?) If that concierge really was worried about security, he could have just asked for your key card to check whether you were a guest, without making any asumptions. That is uncalled for. And that receptionist is utterly rude as well. Even if he doesn’t have a say in what the concierge does, he can still apologise. It is insulting. Thank you for writing this honest article.

  6. What an interesting story, thank you for sharing. I have personally ave not experienced something like this but I am more of the hostel traveller hiking boots, top and jeans. However I do feel that sometimes even among travellers, woman who travel alone and long term have the reputation of being sluts even though that is not the case.ä and often missunderstood.

  7. what’s weird about this, likely a product of my own ignorance, is that the presence of an elegantly dressed woman in a premium hotel would arouse suspicion – i would have thought the opposite; a woman casually or poorly dressed would be suspicious.

  8. I seem to be the only guy who ran across your post so far. Just want to say:

    A) The concierge is a troll and completely antithetical to his profession. You absolutely should call him out in your review, and he should be fired by the hotel.

    B) Especially in a higher end hotel, any woman clearly knowing where she was going, coming into the hotel at any hour, should be assaimed to be either a registered guest, or specifically invited there by a registered guest – whatever the purposes are – and he should only be facilitating her ability to get to her room, if at all needed.
    (While the clear assumption of the concierge may or may or may not be the situation, again, especially in a higher end hotel, if it was, that woman is still doing what she wants to be doing in that moment, and she should not only be absolutely respected for that, but both she and the guest should absolutely have their discretion preserved)

    C) If the situation was as the concierge assumed, AND the woman was not there with her full consent and will, and potentially needed help, the concierge has plenty of opportunities to discern and actually provide that help in an appropriate and caring and respectful manner, which would be much more likely to actually help her. That WOULD be consistent with how concierge should behave.

    I’m a senior level business executive who travels internationally a lot. I think it’s absolutely spectacular that you travel like you do, and that you spread the word that traveling for the single woman (even one who’s attractive) is as practical, though with probably just a little more preparation depending on where you go, as for a guy.

    I very much appreciate that you spread that message, including the message that femininity is not in any way something that needs to be left behind. In the very best of ways, from my perspective, it is quite refreshing, and puts a much broader perspective on travel, to encounter a woman traveling independently. Any guy out there should have immense respect for that.

    Lastly from a male perspective, I truly want to apologize for his behavior. Regardless of the psychosocialgenderhistoricalwhatever arguments/standpoints, the reality is that he is in a position of power from a social standpoint point, on various levels, and clearly treated you differently than he would’ve treated a man. That is the opposite of how he should be behaving. If anything, he should treat you with even more respect, given that the reality is you are likely to encounter stuff like this more than a guy, for no fault of your own.

    Quick disclaimer to other readers, that unfortunately it seems I have to make this day and age:
    Don’t parse this too hard; I’m super busy and don’t have time to make sure I’m politically correct on every jot and tiddle. We’re all human here. Do know that I respect you fully – until you give me reason to do otherwise.

  9. Wow – that was long.
    Given that you are literally are about the second comment I’ve ever left any website/blog, I guess I’m not used to this, lol! Probably shouldn’t be dictating these…. happy trails!

  10. Wow… that must have been so uncomfortable! I would have struggled to sleep too. I guess it says a lot about the types of people who usually stay at those hotels, but it’s so unfair for you to be treated like that because you’re a young woman travelling alone.

    When I lived in the Middle East, men would always ask if I was “Russian” (which was basically code for prostitute) and it made me feel kind of gross. But you forget that this sort of thing can happen in the most tolerant and developed cities too, and I’m ashamed that this happened in my own home city.

    Did you ever publish the review? I’d be interested to know if you included an account of this.

  11. Hi there,
    Thanks for sharing your story. This is infuriating to me! I’m sorry uou were treated this way. Society has a long way to go. I think what fruatrates me most is trying to explain how no, actually women are not treated equally… not by a long shot. Only to be met with a blank stare of not getting it.
    Anyway, I’ll be there with you to continue the fight. Stay strong💪

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