A woman, travelling….alone? GASP!

By: Andrea Alarcon, Hoi An, Vietnam

Every time I tell someone I’m on a solo journey across Asia, they give me a blank stare. It quickly morphs into either a look of pity, concern and happy to say, sometimes admiration. Yet every time I wonder how their reaction would be if I were a man.

An oil company executive’s Colombian wife, whose husband’s job has taken her all over the world, told me: “Your golden rule is: don’t trust anyone”. So I have to cover my drink and not talk to strangers. She asked me if I had seen the movie Taken. Yes I have. She asked me to watch it again.

I am not naive. I know these things happen, and I know that this earth is full of despicable men waiting to do horrible things to me. But in order to change a world controlled by a need to protect women, and realizing this protection is another form of oppression, we need to start somewhere. The belief that if something happens to me then I brought it upon myself, is again, the old rape-victim dilemma.

Fear of men stands as the justification behind burkas, behind the judgement against women having premarital sex, behind not allowing girls to go to school with boys or letting them out at night. Does this behavior not just perpetuate the cycle?

Andrea traveling in Asia.
Andrea traveling in Asia. Courtesy of the author.

Until now I have stumbled upon quite a few 20-something-year-old women traveling by themselves. Absolutely no Latin Americans, of course. In that respect I am certainly alone. A Dutch girl I met on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and I both kept trying to explain this to a Thai man who sold water purifiers. The issue that we were women didn’t really come up, but just the fact of being alone. Yet I see so many men traveling by themselves and, of course, no one is scared for them. They are strong; they are MEN.

A friend emailed me this article about precautions to take if you are a female foreign correspondent in countries with defined gender roles. I’m not sure there are too many I would adopt. You should take a look though. It’s certainly interesting.

I’m not going to pretend I’m flying into the face of danger. I have not been out at night much, for example, mostly because I know that attracts creepy older men to try to pick me up. Yet this is something I wouldn’t do by myself at home either. The nights I have been out has been with fellow travelers, most of the time females. Not going to lie, the men who creep me out are the European men, not the Asian men. Asian men judge me, but they don’t approach me.

Until now, nothing terribly wrong has happened. The occasional cat call, the belief that I’m more easily scammed… tour guides with innapropriate comments. What I have received the most is judgement, from everyone, women, men… Tuk tuk drivers, guides… I think they expect this crazy independent behavior from European women, not from one as dark as they are.

Even Olay, the Buddhist Monk I met in Chiang Mai, with whom I had one of my most memorable conversations, told me, “I just wish you were not traveling by yourself… You have boyfriend, no? Why not travel with boyfriend.” And I answered: “It’s ok Olay, I don’t need a man to protect me.” My boyfriend certainly agrees.

10 thoughts on “A woman, travelling….alone? GASP!

  1. Found this on Feministing, and just had to ask: what on earth does “Absolutely no Latin Americans, of course” mean?? Girl, check yourself with your generalizations. I travelled Southeast Asia for 5 months with a Latin American woman.
    Also, fear of men as justification behind wearing the burka? Please.

    1. Hello, thanks for the comment,

      I have not run into any Latin American women traveling by themselves since I started. I would’ve loved to have met one! It’s not fact checking, it’s just been what I’ve encountered. Latin America is farther away, so there are many more Europeans, Australians and Canadians than anything else.

  2. I like that you travel alone–I do so myself–however, you shouldn’t ignore basic precautions and sounds like you’re trying to. One can pay a high price for this. I grew up in a country that is considered dangerous (no need to mention the name here, I don’t want it to turn into country-bashing) and a US citizen now: I would not wish to travel alone back to where I came from. Once, I had to, and I exercised extreme caution at all times, yet was close to criminal victimization from street robbers twice, just because crime is high. Do not be a fool and offer yourself to criminals as prey. Do NOT forget that organ trade and human trafficking exist and are flourishing in some places. Things happen to males, not just to females, so advice to be careful applies to BOTH actually. I don’t know why you wouldn’t adopt great advice for female war reporters–it’s written by someone way more experienced than you and the only good thing you could do it to actually follow this advice. A lot of this advice has to do with simply showing respect for the culture you’re visiting, as a Guest. If you come to a home that requires shoes off, you better take them off, in other words. I knew people who’s been attacked because they had taken a taxi (alone or with someone) in my home country–so when someone, for example, tells you not to take taxis it’s a very simple reasonable precaution. Covering drinks is another basic common sense. Not to trust anyone is what you should actually do, when you travel overseas alone, yes. Not to look men in the eyes is something one should definitely do–I feel extremely OFFENDED when Western males look me in the eyes, because my native culture does not encourage this. To dress conservatively–this is an important one–it’s just a basic common sense. If you go on a spree trying to demonstrate that you have “rights”–you might be in for a rude awakening: your life has NO value in many places overseas, and guess what? You have NO rights there. Tough reality–but this is life. As an outsider, you can not control what’s happening in other culture, this would be patronizing. Your statement about burqa is an example of patronizing and disrespect.

    1. Hello, thanks for the comment,

      I am well aware of local norms and cultures, and by all means always following them. I have seen many women wearing short skirts to temples or being drunk on the street, none of which I would ever dream of doing. The comment on the burkas is a generalization, and I apologize if it sounded patronizing, but please correct me if I’m wrong. If you understood that I think we should not be wearing burkas when we visit countries where they are a norm this is certainly not what I’m saying. Besides the religious requirements, is it not to keep women safe from men on the streets? I have been told this by many muslim people, who tell me that a burka is a shield and not a tool of oppression. I understand its use and respect it, and if I were going to a country that required it I would absolutely wear it. But isn’t it fear of men, after all, what would require any shield in the first place?

  3. PS: I want to add, that as an outsider/non-native, you simply will not be aware of many local dangers, as they exist under the surface, and sometimes, unfortunately, people learn about them only when it’s too late for them. Western tourists visiting my home country, would never guess, from walking around the streets, what really is happening around. Only locals know about these things. For example, the police can take you and make you disappear, any time, for any reason, such as not liking your appearance, yet, you wouldn’t know it from spending a couple of weeks there.

    1. Yes you are right. I know this very well being from Colombia. People ask me at least once a day if it’s too dangerous to visit, and I say no, as long as you know what you are doing. The foreign people who have gotten themselves kidnapped in Colombia have indeed, gotten themselves kidnapped. They go into places that Colombians would never dare go to, because we all have the firsthand experience, or know someone who does. But this is not a gender matter any more, its about being a smart traveller. It’s simply knowing where you are going and what you should expect.

  4. Here i am !!! I´m Chilean woman traveling by myself around the world …it´s not than impossible like it sound !!!, but you´re right we aren’t so many … i hope all of us could do it … just make our dreams come true …
    Regards from Chili :)

    1. Hi Cecilia! Great to hear. Where are you right now? I had a great time on my trip and I would reccommend any woman out there to go do this by herself. It makes a trip become an adventure.

  5. Go you! I did a lot of international travelling on my own in 2005-2006. In my normal, daily life, I don’t think of myself as a label – female, Asian, twenties, etc. I just think of myself as “me”. Nothing makes you more aware of those labels than travelling solo. Most people were kind to me, and the people who weren’t, I imagine they’re not kind to other people either. I like to think, especially for the middle-aged, mis-laid intentioned men of the world, that the more they encounter solo female travelers, the more they can think of us as equal human beings instead of some precious, fragile artifact to be laid claim to and protected. One can dream, anyways. Hope you’re having a great trip!

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