Stop shaming female solo travelers
My biggest pet peeve is people who say we don’t need feminism. Want to know my second biggest pet peeve? Shaming women travelers.
Before I go into my educational tirade, let me tell you a story.
At the time, I was a young, spry 21-year-old on the cusp of turning 22. I decided that it was time to visit my mom who lives in Phoenix for Mother’s Day. I boarded the plane at the Minneapolis, Minnesota, airport and sat next to an older woman. She was in her late 50s and was noticeably nervous for our upcoming flight. She was trembling in her window seat, fidgeting with the corners of her rose embroidered purse. I offered her a small smile and asked gently, “Nervous?”
Her eyes widened and she leans closer to me whisper. Her words flowing out in quick concession, “Yes. I’m by myself. Heading to visit my family. I’m a widow with no one to travel with.” She paused before emphasizing, “Don’t let them know.”
What struck me to the core was the last thing she muttered. But I understand why she wanted to keep her solo travel plans to herself.
Women are shamed for embarking on travels by themselves. We’re apparently reckless and “asking for” misfortune to happen. Many also think that women travelers are also more likely to face danger if alone. The topic of female solo travelers is apparently taboo and is something that should be avoided.
I’ve jetted off to international beaches and soared to geological goldmines, even roadtripped through farmland and to the mountains.
On these vacations, I’m always met with a degree of animosity. Whether it’s because I’m a woman or a solo traveler, or some other fact that I’m painfully unaware of, I’m silently (or sometimes not so silently) judged by others.
For the sake of education, I’ll retell some of the sexist and rude questions that I commonly hear on the road. I’ll also equip you with some sassy, sure-fire comebacks that’ll leave your tormentors speechless. (Maybe I should’ve called this article “Shit not to say to Female Solo Travelers.”)
1. Where’s your husband?
Regardless whether I’m single or in a relationship, I’m always asked this question. First of all, it’s a silly question for so many reasons.
Unless I’ve specifically stated that I’m a solo traveler AND that I’m married, this is the only time you can ask where my husband is. Even then, I would caution others to ask this question. There are so many types of romantic relationships today I would caution people not to speculate. By speculating we deem some relationships more worthy than others, which is both rude and insulting.
Again, unless you know the person well and they’ve mentioned a significant other, that is the only time I would ask. I always allow the other person to engage this conversation because I don’t want to pry. Some people travel to find themselves and to escape the pressing needs of our everyday realities. By asking pointed questions such as “where’s your husband” may trigger some unpleasant feelings and/or memories.
A witty reply:
Instead of risking offending other sexual orientations or demeaning other lifestyles, I would avoid being sassy in your reply. By making a joke saying you’re “forever alone” or “a serial dater” only perpetuates the notion that all people must end up in some sort of committed relationship. Obviously, this isn’t true.
If you’re comfortable, I would explain your circumstance. Or politely say, “It’s none of your business,” worded obviously much better than that.
If you’ve been guilty of asking this question, try asking instead “What brings you to NAME COUNTRY?” This is a much more meaningful question in my book. Usually, people will touch upon why they’re venturing to a certain destination and if they’ve brought anyone with them. You’re also not making any assumptions, and, let’s be honest, it’s really none of your business whether they’re in a relationship or not.
2. Why is a pretty girl like yourself traveling solo?
About 85% of the time I get asked this question on my way to/from the airport. The other 15% is usually at a crowded restaurant and/or gas station.
Society has such an ill-conceived notion about being alone. It’s assumed that being alone is sad and depressing and that we should pity these people. When in fact, being alone is inspiring and empowering. Do I need someone to hold my hand and take care of me? Nope! This woman has got it all under control.
Now if someone were to ask me, “Why are you traveling solo?” without the addition of “pretty girl” or another unnecessary compliment, I’d be more than happy to tell them my story. By using phrases and terms that are used to “sugar” or “soften” people, the question becomes insulting. I equate this situation to using baby talk with another adult.
It also insinuates that women need to be cared for. That we’re inferior and aren’t strong enough to take care of ourselves.
If you think that, then you clearly don’t know us.
What’s as equally as insulting is, “You couldn’t find someone to go with you?” Again, it seems innocent enough, but it clearly implies that because of my female anatomy I need someone to keep me safe. It enforces the idea that women are frail creatures who need a support system. We’re unable to do it alone.
Depending on the situation I might lie, especially if the individual is making me uncomfortable. I might create imaginary travel companions that are waiting for me “back at the hotel.” If I believe these terms of “endearment” are being used for ulterior motives, I steer clear.
Otherwise, I’m polite and answer their question honestly. I’m tempted to add that I’m brilliant and an award-winning journalist and blogger — anything that indicates that there’s more to me than my beautiful appearance — but I usually refrain from doing so.
3. Did you go just to get some good Instagram pics?
I’ve realized that “friends” who ask me this really aren’t my friends. If they think that I book, what they consider lavish, vacations just to impress people, then they really don’t know me at all.
I travel to learn about other diverse cultures and see landscapes that are unlike my own. To travel the world is a privilege, it’s an even greater privilege to learn from it.
Yes, I am privileged to be a travel blogger and to be able to accommodate this lifestyle. In reality, part of my job is to snap those #wanderlust Instagrams. If my Instas inspire you to pack your bags and book the next flight, to me, that indicates that I’ve done my job well.
But, Quirky Globetrotter inspires to be more than just an accumulation of #wanderlust posts. Quirky Globetrotter looks at the world through eyes keen on details and listens through ears that perk up when a good story is nearby. Our underlying motto is to observe the world as a local. It’s not that tourist traps don’t have any educational or entertainment value — they most certainly do, that’s why they’re considered “must see” and iconic landmarks — it’s that the local perspective is usually neglected. Yet, the local perspective is probably the most valuable when learning about a foreign culture.
My gut reaction is to ask, “Jealous?” Yet, I know that will do more harm than good. Instead, I tend to be honest and to the point.
“Killer Instagrams are just a bonus. It was more riveting learning about NAME CULTURAL ACTIVITY.” Instead of being offended, use this as an opportunity to educate others and share what you’ve learned. We’re not all travel bloggers, but yet we all have helpful pieces of advice and stories that we can share.
4. Isn’t it dangerous for a woman to travel solo?
We live in a society where one in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. For me, traveling solo isn’t any more dangerous than the crime and risks I face at home. Horrendous crimes that I could potentially fall victim to walking down the streets in my own neighborhood. With statistics like this, I’ve learned that I always have to be on guard and aware, regardless of my locale.
Indeed, there are countries that have higher crime rates than others. Again, this serves as an opportunity to learn about other cultures and lifestyles. It’s an even bigger opportunity to acknowledge the privilege we have as travelers.
As a traveler, I’m not chained to the unsettling reality that many have to live. For instance, unlike those who live in “rougher” communities, I have the opportunity to simply pass through and return to a safe space. That in itself is a privilege that unfortunately many don’t have. And these communities may not all suffer from crime, maybe they suffer from a lack of resources such as clean drinking water or even having enough food to feed their community.
“I feel safe when traveling solo because I take the necessary precautions,” is my go-to. I keep it short and to the point.
If they continue pressing me, I then go into my educational rant highlight the privileges that both of us possess.
5. How do you manage to carry all your bags by yourself?
Thank you for assuming that I’m materialistic, which unfortunately is a common assumption because of my gender. It’s not because I’ve professed my love for thrifting or shoes. It’s because I’m a woman and therefore I must love to shop and own far too many things.
I’ve actually seen mouths flop open when I say I only travel with a carry-on. Regardless if it’s a month-long vacation or I’m venturing for an extended weekend, I aim to fit everything in my carry-on.
I’d be snarky and reply something like, “Minimalism is so in right now,” with ample loads of sarcasm.
This is one of the few questions that would catapult me into a feminism discussion. Ultimately, this the epitome of shaming someone, relying on old stereotypes to try to understand them. And believing that women are shopaholics is one of the oldest stereotypes paired with the archaic 50s housewife trope.
I’m much more than a card swiper and a housewife. Please do not belittle me to that.
Why does this matter?
These are just a few of the questions that female travelers are bombarded with during their travels. (If there are others that you’ve heard, leave them in the comments below!) Yet, there’s a larger reason to stop asking these questions, not only because it is a pet peeve of mine.
The overall consensus is that female travelers want to stop feeling ashamed — ashamed of their travels, their experiences and of themselves. Many of these questions imply that female solo travel experiences don’t matter or that they are lesser than other types of travel, which is completely untrue. Female solo travel is an entirely different genre of travel than adventure, family or backpacking. They might share some of the same elements, but the experience itself is completely different.
Which is why how we discuss and ask women about their experiences is important.
If we don’t encourage women to share their experiences, they simply won’t. Women want to share their stories without facing judgmental or feeling ashamed. If we start asking genuine, honest questions to female, solo travelers, they just might want to share their story with you.
Society needs to stop marginalizing this group of travelers simply because of their gender. Simply ignoring the fact that I’m a woman also won’t solve matters. In fact, that’s almost worse than demeaning me with shameful questions. By not addressing that I am a female, you ignore the tribulations and obstacles I face every time I travel, which is a worthy discussion in itself. Yet, you also assume that my experience is the same as every other gender.
It certainly isn’t.
I’ve endured sexual harassment as a female traveler. I’ve been followed in foreign countries because I’m a female solo traveler, so how I remain safe is vastly different. How I’ve treated abroad because I’m alone is certainly different than other types of travelers. Yet, you wouldn’t know any of this unless I told you, or if you asked me.
Instead, society needs to embrace that female solo travel is different and talk about the different facets. By hearing their stories you acknowledge their existence and their importance. That’s the ultimate goal.
So go ahead, ask me about my travels. Just don’t shame me for having different experiences than you. Learn from my experiences and learn how to not judge me.