Days after a California man with a well documented grudge against women went on a killing spree Twitter exploded with #YesAllWomen, a campaign designed to shed light on the daily struggles all women face. After reading and identifying with statement after statement I decided to take a look back at my travels and reveal what it’s like to be a female wanderer.
My very first trip abroad was in 2001, I was 17-years-old and visiting Germany, Austria and Switzerland with some high school classmates. One of our hotels had a faulty elevator forcing us to use the stairs to get to our room. I’d have to pass up one floor full of teenage soccer players from Italy. Most times, passing their floor was no problem but one night several of them blocked me in the stairwell. One guy touched me between my legs and stuck his tongue out at me. I swiftly turned around and kicked as hard as I could in his crotch. He fell to the bottom of the stairs in pain. The rest of the guys quickly focused their attention to laughing at their friend who just got beat up by a girl, giving me the opportunity to escape to my hotel room. I am painfully aware that this story could have ended much differently for me.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last experience with this type of behavior. I had to realize early on that if I wanted to see the world then I’d have to be much more careful than any of my male counterparts.
When you travel you are encouraged to not be a “walking target”. This may mean keeping your money out of sight or not putting your phone in your back pocket, all great advice. However, what some people don’t realize is that for women simply being who we are makes us a target, not wearing revealing clothes or being flirtatious (none of which is an excuse in any way) but being a woman. We can take all the extra precautions we want but being a “walking target” is unavoidable.
Here are several more of my personal stories:
– I was once warned by a taxi driver in Athens, Greece as she drove me to my hotel one morning, “This is not a safe neighborhood for a woman to be alone. My advice would be to eat dinner early and get back to your room before the sun goes down.” I heeded her advice even though I would have loved to explore the city under the streetlights. If I had been a man there would have been no such warning and I could have stayed out as late as I wanted.
– I’ve had a Uber driver in Chicago tell me that he would have preferred be my driver in the summer instead of the winter because I’d be wearing less clothes (I reported this incident to Uber and they said he was fired).
– I’ve had cops in Brazil tell me to cross the street and walk on the other side where there were security cameras. I guess the reason being that I was less likely to be harassed.
– Once time, a man on the subway asked me, “Are you spoken for?”, I said “yes” and he walked away leaving me to wonder what I would have had to endure if I had said no. His unwavering respect for an imaginary man blew me away. I would have liked to say, “ That has no bearing on my desire to commute without be hassled,” but I did not have the energy for any of the situations that could have arisen.
– Sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a girlfriend in Poros, Greece a man approached our table and invited us onto his yacht. We politely declined yet he refused to leave us alone. He became more and more insistent, grabbing my shoulder as if to lead me from the table. Our stern demands for him to leave us alone finally worked but I shudder to think what could have happened if we had met him on an empty street instead of a busy cafe.
I could go on and on but my point is that women are on guard at all times, not only when we are traveling. Caution is a part of our daily lives.
When I had late night classes in college going home via public transportation was a mission. There was no texting or checking facebook at I walked to the train station and certainly no dozing off as I rode to my destination. Once I got off at my desired stop, I’d take the elevator to the garage level where I parked my car. As a woman, walking alone to your car in a dark garage is a terrifying experience. It is the most calculating thing you’ll do all day. With keys and mace in hand, you walk briskly to your vehicle and then quickly check the backseat before entering. Once inside, you don’t do anything before locking your doors. Only after your doors are locked and the key is in the ignition do you breathe.
I am always amused with men who first open their trunks to place their backpack inside before leisurely strolling to their front door. All the time in the world. Time not afforded to women.
My advice for female travelers is to be prepared for unfamiliar places and circumstances. Stay alert and make it apparent to others that you are paying attention. Don’t take drinks from strangers or leave your belongings unattended. Use common sense when walking alone. While you have every right to walk down a dark, empty street alone (hell, you have every right to walk down that street naked) without being accosted not everyone recognizes that right and those are the people you need to be afraid of.
This doesn’t mean everyone you meet is a predator. I’ve met some amazing people (men and women) during my travels but I’ve had to trust my judgement is each situation. None of my decisions are made without careful consideration.
Being a woman isn’t going to stop me from seeing every part of the world that I can. It only makes me more careful about the decisions I make while I’m exploring.
Safe travels to everyone!