September 26, 2013

Why Women Should Travel Alone

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kokorowashinjin
kokorowashinjin

In my short time as a traveler and backpacker I’ve often come across criticism from friends, family, and strangers about why I travel alone. Usually the concern or criticism isn’t just about me traveling in general, it often comes down to the fact that I am a woman and I am a woman traveling alone.

Considering the many attacks on women travelers in India in the past year it’s understandable that people are concerned. These news stories only reinforce the mindset that international travel is dangerous and scary, but even more so if you’re a woman alone in a foreign country.

Think about the numerous books out there like On the Road about a male protagonist headed out on a journey of self-discovery through traveling and meeting new people. In stories where there is a female protagonist on a journey, her story is always surrounded around finding love, but not about a female simply wanting to explore her world and learn more about herself in the process.

Solo male travelers are admired for their bravery and adventurous personality, and they’re encouraged to travel alone at a young age. Solo female travelers, however, are often met with judgment, concerned tones, and raised eyebrows.

It goes without saying there is always risk in travel, whether you are male or female, alone or with a group, but many times when something happens to a woman when she is traveling she is blamed for the incident and questioned for her motives of traveling alone in the first place. You should never let other people’s opinions over gender roles dictate what you do in life or where you should go. Here are some reasons traveling alone as a woman is pretty freaking awesome.

People look out for you, especially if you’re a woman.

I’ll be honest. There has been a few times where I second guessed myself while backpacking, wondering if I would be safe or if there would be any chance of me being harassed or attacked. The week before I went on my first big backpacking trip alone I felt especially vulnerable, wondering what the hell I was about to embark on, and if I would regret it.

Instead, that first experience and every experience traveling alone since then have been nothing short of surprise at how concerned locals and other travelers have been for my well being. People seem to take extra care of me because I am a woman alone, making sure I have a taxi or ride back to my hostel at night, offering their homes up so they know I will be safe, or putting me in touch with trusted friends to ensure my journey is smooth. It always feels good to have that added security that people are looking out for you. I know male travelers don’t often get that kind of treatment.

Sometimes things are cheaper and easier.

When I approached the border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama I was nervous it would be a complicated process. Male travelers I had talked with previously before my trip told me of their struggles and hassles at reaching this point. They told me the immigration officers charged them more than necessary, gave them grief over their surfboards for some reason, and a slew of other hassles. My experience was completely stress-free for the most part, and the male immigration officers were very friendly and welcoming. Other females I talked to once I was in Panama also described their border crossing as a positive experience.

Other times, I’ve received cheaper prices just for being a solo woman traveling. While in Bocas Del Toro, a local guide was taking me to the various isles to get me the best price on a decent hotel. I could have stayed at a hostel, but my birthday was coming up (something I had shared with my guide), and he wanted to see if he could get me a deal on a nicer place.

My guide took me to a small, beachfront hotel owned by an older Panamanian couple that warmly welcomed me to their hotel. They asked if I was alone and when I said yes they said, “For a young woman traveling alone, we will give you your room for $30 a night.” They usually charged $60. Talk about a steal!

People want to feed you! And give you drinks!

During this same trip to Bocas del Toro I found a lovely little restaurant looking out over the ocean. I decided to treat myself to a nice meal. The weather was 80 degrees and perfect, the wine was delicious, and I was having a great time by myself reflecting on life. Soon, an older retired couple sat down at a table next to me and they quickly asked me to join them. They refused to take no for an answer.

An hour later and I had quickly become new friends with Bob and his wife Sheryl. They were from Canada and had traveled the world together. We discussed everything from our life’s ambitions to politics and everything in between.

They are still, to this day, the most awesome old couple ever. They kept insisting I try different foods the restaurant offered and the drinks kept pouring. At the end of the night they refused to let me pay for anything, their reason being they wanted to give me a great night out in reward for my bravery traveling alone.

This has happened several times to me while traveling. Maybe gender has nothing to do with it as people seem to be fascinated by the solo traveler in general but regardless, it’s always nice to meet new friends.

Because the “but you’re a woman” logic should never stop you.

It amazes me how narrow-minded people can be, even in 2013. Despite how supportive my mother is of my travels she still sometimes will say things like, “but you’re a woman” in response to things I want to do. Recently, this was mentioned when I discussed the possibility of me driving from Michigan to Houston to visit her. “Alone!?” she asked. Yes, alone. “But…you’re a woman. You should really have someone travel with you.”

Ah, my mother. Love her dearly but sometimes this mentality really gets under my skin. It’s not just her though. I’ve had other people say the same things to me. “But you’re a woman.” “Should you really be doing that when you’re a woman?”

It’s as if, somehow, because I have a vagina attached to me, I am incapable of maintaining my own safety, making my own decisions clearly, or unable to protect myself.

If you’re afraid of traveling alone or afraid of travel in general that’s one thing, but don’t be afraid to travel alone simply because of your gender. TC mark

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