Wanna travel to Pakistan with Against the Compass?
We have one scheduled expedition this summer to North Pakistan. 14 days driving the Karakoram Highway, and exploring offbeat valleys of Shimshal and Astore.
August 13th to 26th
Pakistan grabbed my attention since I saw, in the media, another solo female traveler enjoying the beauty of its land and people. I had never thought of it as a possible destination and, to my surprise, it has become one of my favorite countries.
I wasn’t sure if I was prepared or not, but simply the idea of visiting such an unexplored country, made me feel very excited.
I had been to Iran and India by myself previously, but I think Pakistan is at a different level of travel expertise.
I spent two months backpacking in Pakistan as a solo female traveler and I enjoyed it as much as I suffered its lack of infrastructure and the difficulties of traveling there solo as a woman.
It is a complex country and not many tourists venture into this ground. Locals are not familiar with tourists, much less with solo female travelers.
As a woman you will have to face some extra issues, but I need you to understand that this country is rough for both men and women.
However, Pakistan is really worth it.
In this guide I will summarize what it looks like to travel solo in Pakistan as a woman. This is all merged information from my experience, and also from other women I met when I was traveling there or afterwards in other countries.
If you are thinking of going with some female friends, this article will help you as well. I think this will be useful also for men, just so you know what is going on from our side of things.
This is an honest guide – it doesn’t matter how much I love the country – I want to assist you making a decision on definitely going to Pakistan or cancelling all your travel plans there. I really hope it helps, there isn’t much information out there.
For all the places to visit in the country read this Pakistan 1-month itinerary
Is previous travel experience required?
Local women in Pakistan
Is it safe for women?
Tips on how to stay safe
Interaction with men
How to move around?
What to wear?
Best and worse areas to solo travel
Pros & cons of being a solo female traveler
How can we support local women?
Feminists in Pakistan and foreign travelers
I would honestly love to recommend Pakistan to any single woman I cross paths with, but I can’t do that. I would feel responsible if I advised you to go there and you ended up having a bad time.
Maybe you are not prepared enough, or it is possibly not the best option after your New Zealand and Australia vacations.
Traveling in Pakistan can be tough, uncomfortable, frustrating and dangerous.
It requires some previous experience in patriarchal and hard-to-travel countries. If you have visited other male-dominated countries, you should be fine.
Can you picture yourself walking through markets surrounded only by men?
Will you be able to react or ask for help, if necessary, to stay safe?
Are you happy to socialize with only men for four or five days?
Better if you are well-traveled, ideal if you have visited different areas of the world and you know how to take care of yourself in any sort of environment.
If this is your first solo trip, simply don’t. That doesn’t mean you will have a bad time, but it could guarantee you some very uncomfortable experiences. There are so many countries in this area of the world much easier to travel around.
Also, I have heard some comments from women who went in Pakistan with their partners and recognized they couldn’t do it alone. You can travel to Pakistan as a woman, but stay safe. Watch out and keep your eyes open!
For all the practical information, remember to read: Tips and how to travel to Pakistan
This is super clear to me: men and women are not in the same situation in the country, not even close. There is not a common way for both genders, you will experience this constantly in your trip. You will feel frustration when trying to understand how this works.
You will walk through markets and streets without seeing a single woman for hours. You will meet women who hardly ever leave their house.
Do they really want to stay there all the time?
Do they avoid going out in order to avoid stares?
What if they all went out to normalize it, so men would stop harassing and behaving like they do?
Women in Pakistan are definitely in a worse position than men. This depends on the region, but, in some areas, women don’t leave the house at all. They only see the world when they need to go to the doctor or to the market sometimes, however always accompanied by their husbands.
At some point you will see, in some families, that women live in a specific part of the household and it might take a bit of time for men to allow you to enter that zone. When I managed to approach women in the house, I felt so looked after and I could always feel their excitement when meeting me.
I recommend you read My Feudal Lord, a book for understanding the position of women in Pakistan.
In big cities like Lahore or Islamabad, women are much more independent and “free” in general. When I write free, I do it from a Western perspective.
I am sure many women in Pakistan are happy with the level of freedom they have. It can also be cultural, but we should provide them with all the options and perspectives, though.
It is quite interesting to see how many girls wanted to talk to me about all the matters they cannot discuss with their families or friends, for example, sex.
As a Western female traveling in the country, you will not be expected to behave like a local woman. You will be treated not only like a man in terms of freedom and leisure options, but also you will get the benefits of being a Westerner traveling in Pakistan. They will be glad you came to their beloved country, so you will be treated in a very gentle and protective way. Additionally, and from what I have experienced, we are treated in a more caring way than Western male travelers.
Interested in more articles like this one? Check my solo female travel section
There is not much information out there about solo traveling in Pakistan as a woman. Less indeed, if what we are looking for is the experience of a woman who has spent quite a bit of time in the country, traveling independently and in different areas.
For a generic analysis, terrorism-wise and a detailed region break-down, don’t forget to read: Is Pakistan safe to visit?
Hard to explain, but I am sure I can’t say the country is 100% safe for women.
Also, I wouldn’t recommend it to every single woman.
Short answers to the main questions I am very often asked:
Is it safe to travel in Pakistan solo as a woman? Yes – important to keep reading below – but previous travel experience is a must, as previously mentioned.
Is it safe to travel in Pakistan with male company? For sure. I wouldn’t hesitate to go there if I had male company.
Is it safe to visit Pakistan with a group of females? I think you will feel more protected when you are in a group, but the same solo female travel issues and rules apply here.
Solo traveling has become very popular, but not all countries are ready to welcome you with a good standard of safety and pleasure.
A young woman once asked me about traveling in Pakistan and I asked her directly where she had been solo traveling before: Japan, only.
Not that I judge people completely by the side they show in social media, but this girl was a Santorini kind – perfect sunset with sparkling long dress for the occasion.
Pakistan is not for you.
Let’s make sure you enjoy your time in Pakistan, if you finally decide to go there; there is nothing bad about leaving it for another time. If you want to travel in a similar country but easier, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are good options and nearby.
I suggest you take a moment to answer these questions in your head:
Am I able to continue enjoying my day after getting disgusting sexual comments on the streets?
Am I open-minded and calm enough to respect and digest comments against my Western way of doing things as a woman?
Am I able to manage tense situations like having a group of armed men guarding me for three days?
Can I stand living in a male world during my stay in the country?
Pakistan is an intensely patriarchal country. Women are in a much worse position than men – in too many cases, they are not independent at all and don’t even leave their house. This was tough for me to digest as a very independent woman.
You will feel treated like a princess as a Western traveler, kind of ask what you want and you will get it, but sometimes you will suffer overprotection and a big defeat when you don’t understand how things work in this complex country, specifically for women.
Teaming up with other travelers would be ideal for an easier trip in the country, but meeting others doesn’t happen that much, as the number of travelers in the country is very low – hoping we become more and more each year.
I was lucky enough to meet another female backpacker, so we joined forces and traveled together for a couple of weeks in the northern areas.
Pakistan is not completely safe in all areas; in certain regions, you might be assigned a team of army guys – luckily, I didn’t get them. They will be protecting you, by accompanying you for some days until they consider you are safe.
My experience was decent, but I appreciate how easy is it for a woman to get involved in something bad or unfortunate in a country like Pakistan. From touching to following on the streets, I have experienced quite a few, read below…
There was one man who was walking on the same street as me in Lahore but in the opposite direction, and when we were just about to pass each other, he started running – so I could not react on time – towards me to touch my bum. The street was quite empty, despite being a main one, so I couldn’t do much more than shout at him whilst he kept running.
On other occasions, when I was walking past and someone said something to me – usually stupid sounds or flying kisses – I just faced them and asked them to shut up and be respectful in a loud voice, so the other people around could hear what was going on. I think they are not used to woman who reply like that, anyways not used to women at all.
Also, I have heard that many solo female travelers receive sex offers when walking on the streets. It has never happened to me, but I would react the same way I do when being touched or similar.
We must face them and do a favour for the next female travelers visiting the country.
As I don’t think police officers will pay so much attention to sexual harassment abuse on the streets if you accuse someone, it all depends on us and our attitude towards them. You depend on you, basically.
When in a conservative country people are not “allowed” – obviously here respecting religion and culture, I am talking about the creepy people who annoy us female travelers – to behave freely as humans – enjoy a normal sexual life and dress however they want, for example – things go to the wrong side.
Restrictions make people go mad, from what I have seen when traveling in conservative places, and this translates into some Pakistani men thinking Western travelers are porn stars at least.
First of all, I advise you to read some books, previous to your trip, mainly for understanding the country’s background and getting a sense of their society. Check this list of the best 23 books on Pakistan.
Someone you can trust and you can call if you get into trouble. It doesn’t matter if the person lives in the other side of the country, he or she could help you.
This is always better than nothing and you can, for example, find this contact through Couchsurfing (make sure you know the person well enough).
Pakistan has still some complicated areas, tons of checkpoints and it is a country for general misunderstanding.
Never go to a place where they can’t guarantee your safety!
You will get invited to many chai teas, houses and get a thousand proposals. Be extremely careful with those invitations, especially when they come from men. If something sounds or looks creepy: stay away.
Especially to people you don’t trust or you have just crossed paths with.
There is a funny-not funny fact about Pakistan; somehow, they find out where you are/ follow you/ find you all the time. I have heard things like guys following girls to the next cities in their itineraries.
You can use apps like Uber or Careem to move around the big cities but most of the drivers will try to make you fall in love with them – either you or your passport look beautiful – while driving slowly.
Many men continue doing stupid stuff because we don’t complain or embarrass them in public. Do a favor to all the women traveling in the country after you, please.
Zong is a good network provider for most of the country and Telenor works well in the northern areas.
Maybe you think I am exaggerating, but it has saved lives. This applies to Pakistan and rest of the world.
I was quite impressed by the fact I was treated as a man when staying with families or meeting local people. It took me a while to understand that I was allowed to do all the male activities while their women were sitting at home.
I still don’t understand why and it frustrates me.
I attended weddings and other celebrations. Women were celebrating separately and I was always invited to celebrate with men.
I find it quite interesting and worrying at the same time, that they consider me more one of them with all the benefits this means in Pakistan.
If I am that respected and let free, why can’t they do the same with their women?
Many men will get super excited when seeing you on the streets. I didn’t have any bad experiences but, I have for sure felt uncomfortable when walking around.
Pakistani men can also be very charming and handsome and, if you are interested in a romance, be cautious. I found out that they can be so eery and getting close to a man in this country, only means trouble.
Tinder is an option if you want to play creepy/non-creepy swipe right and left. I recommend you stay away and wait for the next country, hopefully it will be better.
There are many men without any previous experience with women. They will see it as the perfect chance to lose their virginity or do the things they can’t do with their local girls.
Of course, not all Pakistani men are looking for sex or are disrespectful; I left the country feeling that I made really good male friends and I am looking forward to going back.
They will make you sit separately in any sort of transportation and this applies to the entire country; they will for sure guarantee you sit alone or next to the other women.
You may be seated next to women covered with a chador or burka.
Faisan Movers is a decent bus company and sometimes they have private security on board. As previously mentioned, don’t be afraid of asking for help if someone is annoying you.
I have never taken trains but I have heard is a pretty good option, if you are careful with the tickets you choose, the best class possible and check whether there are females only carriages.
I assume the Indian trains rule applies here: the top bed is always better for hiding or covering yourself.
I know some women who have traveled the country by motorbike; but never someone who rented a car, does this even exist here?
If you want to try hitchhiking…well…up to you! Hunza is a great area for that.
You will go through many surreal situations, but for sure they won’t let you run out of chai.
I still remember when I was in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and two things happened in a bus station:
It looked like their world got frozen: they all stopped doing what they were doing in order to approach me: hundreds of men surrounding me and not a single woman.
I wanted to share a car to the next destination. They had to make it work somehow, there were no more women in the station and it was impossible for me to share with men.
Frustrating, once again.
The best thing you can do is to wear their traditional female clothes because the last thing you want is to grab attention in this previously mentioned male world, so I advise you go shopping once you land in Pakistan.
Their clothes are full of color, really beautiful and you will for sure take some of them back home – I still don´t know what to do with them.
Local bazaars are always cheaper, but if you want something fancier, Generation is the brand I like the most and you can find various shops in the main cities.
They dress in the traditional salwar kameez, a very comfortable piece of clothing. It has two parts: wide trousers and a shirt that covers arms and hips.
Always cover your arms and legs. There is no need to cover your hair, but a dupatta is always necessary to enter mosques and useful for social moments or restaurants.
The main thing is that you dress accordingly to the occasion. I can confirm that when I was dressed as a local, they welcomed me more gently.
In terms of manners, try to behave in a very respectful way and imitate local women. I always tried to help them in the house when they were cooking, cleaning, etc.
If you end up staying with families, keep in mind that not all the families are the same level of conservative or open-minded.
I traveled in their valleys for nearly a week and I stayed with local families.
I even spent New Year’s Eve with a fabulous couple. Kalash women are authoritative, it even looks like they control men somehow – not the right thing either, but happens in the area – they show a different attitude compared to other Pakistani women.
For me Kalash valleys is the best place if you want to chill and drink some wine (home-made liquor).
A very touristic destination for locals, but also travelers. They are accustomed to tourists, so they won’t be shocked at seeing you on the streets.
Their markets are for women as well. You won’t have any problems here and you will feel very relaxed.
They will give you the chance to meet other travelers, hopefully some ladies!
If you any reason you are in need of Western lifestyle, head to a shopping mall. The cities are ideal for meeting people or visiting some touristic areas without you feeling the most significant thing on the streets.
In Islamabad you can find some areas where all the expatriates live and they are full of modern restaurants.
I spent some time in the Swat Valley area and its tribal surroundings – not easy -. This is one of the most conservative areas in the country and women dress in the burka, you will barely see them on the streets.
You should read this article that covers all the safety concerns by area in Pakistan.
1 – You will for sure feel more protected than any male traveler. In Pakistani men’s eyes we are weak, so they will do as much as they can to keep us safe.
2 – You will experience both genders, as you will be treated as a man with a chance to meet the ladies too.
3 – Because you are a woman, they will trust you more. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in my head, but it is how it works.
1 – Constant tension on the streets: staring, harassing, touching sometimes…
2 – It is, in general, exhausting. When I left Pakistan after two months, I sat on the plane and relaxed. Done until the next time.
3 – You will get annoyed by how many times you “cause problems” just for the fact of being a woman: I mean bus sitting, restaurant sitting…
4 – Overprotection is something we all get in Pakistan but it goes at a different level with women. You will claim your own space after a few days, believe me.
With our presence we might not change the entire country, but we can do it to some degree.
If you travel deep into the country, I am sure you will change the way some people think. Small actions can change bigger things.
I was in Chitral with some friends and asked them why there weren’t any women in the bazaar; their response was: the road is in a bad condition.
I simply asked back: why is it not in a bad condition for you? Blank…
Sit down on motorbikes the usual way and ignore the sideways dangerous tendency, share your opinions when possible, support women businesses and team up with local women.
Times are changing for women in Pakistan but there is still a lot to do.
Female travelers Pakistan: for women traveling solo or trying to team up in Pakistan. Tips and travel advice for women.
Couchsurfing: you can check in advance if there will be other travelers in the country at the same time. It is also great for organizing trips with locals you can trust – always check the references!
The Mad Hatters: Tour company owned by females.
Facebook groups like Backpacking Pakistan, See you in Pakistan and The Karakoram Club are good for general travel advise and meeting people. I don’t particularly like posting in them as, once you do, you get a hundred friend requests from men.