Travel: It's Different for Girls

BlogHer Original Post

SxSW Travel WomenI confess, I got a little irritated when I clicked through to read this post on Travelblogs: Do Solo Female Travellers have it Easier than Guys Travelling Alone? I sputtered over the title alone -- I couldn't decide if it was a joke or not. Solo female travelers having it easier than guys? On what planet?! Then it turns out the answer to the question is... written by a guy. Um. Uh. Yeah. How would he know? Did he go in drag to find out? Did he interview a series women travelers? Nope, it's just one guys take on how we girls have it easy.

Getting hotel / hostel discounts:

I’ve seen the price drop - or full bookings disappear - for women who batter an eyelash at the male receptionist with a petite smile. Even when dealing with female receptionists, women can get a bargain because of female solidarity.

Yes, yes, yes. The hot chick gets a break. Okay then. Can we consider that this is about more how attractive and/or charming a traveler is and perhaps not about their gender?

The response to the guy's POV goes right for the gut:

...it is undeniable that it is safer to travel alone as man than as a woman in this crazy world. As a woman by my lonesome, I tend to spend a bit more to stay in a central location or somewhere well lit, and don’t drink much if I don’t know the crowd. Seems like common sense, but many a guy I meet thinks far less of the consequences of a dark alley encounter than I do.

On a related note, the Frugal Travel this post recently: Q&A With Beth Whitman, a Woman’s Perspective on Solo Travel. (Side note, I know Beth, she's a friend and neighbor.)

One of the things that comes up often is that when a woman is in a situation that’s a little bit scary, she says, “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to offend him” or “I didn’t know how to get out of the situation.” Look, there’s going to be some countries that just aren’t going to be appropriate for hitchhiking. Do a bit of research — go to the Lonely Planet forums. If someone stops and you don’t feel right about it, don’t get in the car. That’s just the bottom line.

I feel like the real meat in this conversation is in the comments, though. Just one example:

I find it interesting that when asked “Were there ever times when you wished, “Oh God, I wish I was a man in this situation?”” Whitman replies “no”….but then only a few questions later, she acknowledges that traveling in the Middle East would be inherently difficult as a female.

Maybe I am just oversensitive to creepy staring, unwanted advances by men, or several–thankfully thwarted–attempts at either pickpocketing or blatantly grabbing my purse (no doubt because the assumption is that as a woman, I wouldn’t resist). Yet these are just a sampling of behaviors I have encountered both abroad and here in the US, even in “safe” areas. Whitman seems to have had friendlier travels and paints a rosy picture, but from my vantage point, the world in general is still not that kind to women, and females should always have their guards set to high, traveling or not.

As a person who's taken public transit in Cairo, I'm inclined to agree. I could not sit on the beach by myself in Tel Aviv -- the constant harassment men who refused to believe that I was there alone to read my book was enough to chase me off the sand. I've been a lot of places where I'm transparent -- I slid through Asia while the tall blonde Texan in our group was the object of constant staring. But in Sweden where the dominant population is oh so much taller and blonder than I, not so much so -- as a (admittedly much younger) female, Sweden was nearly as bad as Tel Aviv. I can say with great certainty that yes, I have wished at times that I were a man.

You do need to consider your options -- I'm not going to Saudi or any nation where women have to wear the veil. I certainly would not expect to travel peacefully and solo there. I'm not walking alone at night through unknown neighborhoods -- and some of them I'm not walking through alone during the day. I dress extremely modestly and it's not just because my thighs are more than 40 years old. Should I find myself in Cairo again, there is no way I am taking the bus.

But I also think that being female is absolutely NO excuse for staying home.By way of inspiration, here's a World Hum post:Ten Inspirational Women Travelers.

No, we likely wouldn’t publish a list of 10 inspirational male travelers. But men and women experience travel differently and face different obstacles in making travel a part of their lives, so let’s recognize a few women who have blazed the trail.

You go, girl.

Pam blogs about travel and other adventures at Nerd's Eye View. Photo? Me, Wendy Perrin, and Sheila Scarborugh, three traveling women, at SxSW.

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