Around this time last year, a campaign erupted all over the internet after two young Argentinian girls traveling in Ecuador were blamed for their own murders because they dared to travel alone as females. The response was the #viajosola campaign, or “I travel alone”, an initiative for women to express our right to travel on our own.
I am well aware of the fact that as a woman, I have a lot more to lose when I travel than say, a man. That someone could rob me or take my things is really the least of my worries. All women must go out into the world with this awareness burning inside of them as intense and irrepressible as our desire to travel. But go, we must. Things are never going to change if we don’t.
Of course there is still a huge population of the world that just cannot wrap their mind around the idea of a woman traveling by herself. Here in Latin America I’ve found that it usually comes as a surprise and a shock to a lot of people. In fact, I’m starting to find it quite hilarious how everyone (read: every man) who sees that I am alone assumes that I must be looking for/wanting company. I will never forget my experience traveling in Cuba, where without fail every single time a man talked to me the conversation was the same:
Question #1) Are you alone? Yes
Question #2)Do you need a Cuban boyfriend? No, Gracias!
I tried to be polite and say “no thank you, not interested” every time, but after about the 1000th time I was starting to lose my patience. Did the thought ever occur to you that maybe I just want to be alone? Is that so impossible to conceive? Well the answer is yes, it really is difficult for them to comprehend, and that’s exactly why I’m saying we need to keep going until we make them comprehend that this is normal now, that we live in a world where women can and are free to go out on their own. And free to return. Call me a dreamer but, I think we can and will teach the world that it is perfectly acceptable and normal for a woman to travel on her own. It’s happening already.
I have been so happy to see over the last couple of years more and more women are traveling and traveling alone. There are now huge communities of us established online. I am a part of a few of them; they are the ones that have saved my butt when I had questions or doubts about trips I was planning and lifted my spirits when I felt discouraged about what I was doing. Now we are 10’s of 1000’s of members supporting, encouraging, and inspiring each other in the spirit of travel. I think it is in part because of communities like these that more and more women are going for it and getting out there to see the world, not waiting around for any man or anyone to accompany them. I meet them all the time. I think there are just as many women traveling now alone as men, perhaps even more.
Now, I also want to touch on the fact that in my experience traveling alone as a woman has it’s advantages, too. In fact, that same vulnerability that makes traveling more of a risk for us is the very thing that protects me in some way. Oftentimes I have the sensation when I travel alone that there is always someone looking out for me. Seeing a young woman by herself strikes a certain chord of sympathy in people that makes them want to help and protect you. My dad, naturally, worries a lot about me traveling by myself. There have been so many times that I wanted to message him and tell him about yet another situation where strangers have jumped in and assumed his role, or my mother’s role, or my brother’s role, not because I asked them to but because people are kind. While I can’t recall ever having felt seriously threatened while traveling alone, these instances of “guardian angels” happen on a daily basis. While I will always walk with the awareness of the inherent vulnerability that comes with being female, I am also aware of the fact that most people are good, and the world is safer than many of us believe. Traveling has shown me this.
My advice to women traveling by themselves is to always have your guard up, know when not to be alone (ie walking in certain neighborhoods or at night), and don’t be afraid to put on your mean face when you have to. You gotta know when to put that mean face on, it’s seriously one of my most essential tools for travel. If you’re too nice people will think they can take advantage of you, and you can end up giving away your precious travel time to someone you don’t want anything to do with (in the best case scenario). I’m not saying be a bitch; a smile is also a very important travel tool, but use your good judgement and if it’s someone you don’t want to be talking to, assert yourself and don’t be inviting with smiles and chattiness. Sometimes just seeing your mean face will make someone you don’t want to talk to back off.
Traveling alone is an important experience that everyone is entitled to regardless of their gender. While it may seem we take more of a risk as women when we travel by ourselves, it’s a risk that we can absolutely handle with good sensibility and awareness. With this awareness we can go out into the world and fight the erroneous mentality that women cannot or should not be traveling by themselves.