Today is March 8th, Women`s day. There is much to say about this day, if it is a celebration or a reminder of the bad things women still have to fight against. I won`t talk about this, what I would like to talk about is something that for many, feminine sex included, is still a tabu: Women who travel alone.
We`ve already came a long way on this subject and there is a lot of girls exploring the world on their own now. Im glad to see many fellow bloggers conquering our space out there, visiting many countries all by themselves. And I know that it still takes some courage to do this. Sadly, is not everywhere that you can feel safe, as a woman, traveling without a man by your side. It has happened to me, even in my own country. A girl can`t go to a bar by herself, without some man thinking that she is “looking for something” and wants to get approached. What if I`m traveling alone, and after a long day exploring and photographing a new city, I don`t feel like going back to my hotel room and eating alone? That doesn`t mean I`m looking to score, I just want to have a nice glass of wine and try some local food without getting interrupted by guys trying to hit on me. And I` sure many of you, woman who traveled alone, have been to this same situation. Some guys even get offended and a little aggressive if you tell them off. This is sad…
But this should never, I mean NEVER, stop any of us to do whatever we feel like doing. Sometimes you can`t find a companion to travel with. All of your friends are busy, or married/with children, or they don`t have the means to afford a trip… There was a time in my life, before I moved to Spain by myself, when this would be enough to make me give up on my plans. Not anymore.
Now not only I don`t have any problem traveling alone – and I actually really enjoy it – but sometimes I choose to travel all by myself. It gives me an empowering feeling, to know that the only boundaries I have are the ones I set to myself. Otherwise, if I wish to, the world is mine. Of course that are some places that are safer than others, and everybody should have that in mind when traveling. Even if you are a confident, wise and cultured girl, you always have to respect the laws and culture of the country you are at. That sometimes means having to wear a veil, or covering your arms and legs. Even if you disagree with the rules… Safety first.
The first time I traveled alone I went to Italy. I am going to tell you this because is real life, shit happens (pardon my language). I was in Milan, taking pictures of the park behind the Sforzesco Castle, when this guy came from behind. With one hand he grabbed my arms (I was holding the camera to my face), and with the other he turned my face to try to kiss me. It was snowing a little so I was wearing a hoodie, and that got between his mouth and mine. Luckily I was prepared, I used to do kickboxing, so I took advantage of this moment to react, let the camera go (it was hanging from my neck), dig my nails in his arm, turned and kicked him over there… It was a scary moment, he fell on the ground and all I wanted to do was to keep kicking him, so angry I was that he was ruining my perfect moment of freedom, my first trip alone! Instead wisdom kicked in and I ran to the safety of the castle.
I am not telling you this to discourage you from traveling alone, to make you scared. I`m telling this story because I survived. Fiercer, stronger, even more determined to not let ANYONE stay in the way of doing what I want to do and traveling wherever I want to go. After that episode, I didn`t take the first plane home. I didn`t even tell anyone. I kept on traveling, I went to the Carnival of Venice the next day (such an amazing experience, everyone should see this festivity once in a lifetime). I had the most amazing time. I got even more addicted to traveling, to explore.
You may be thinking, “Ok, that sounds great but I don`t know any martial arts or how to defend myself”. Yes, I don`t know what would have happened if I hadn`t reacted the way I did. There were people in the park so probably I would have screamed, and someone would hear me. Do I think it is good for women to know some self defence moves? Yes, absolutely. Do I believe it is a fundamental thing for traveling alone? Absolutely not!!! This kind of thing can happen anywhere in the world, and I believe that today, Woman`s Day, is about bringing awareness to this. But in the meantime, should you feel trapped into just going “where is safe”, should we be prisoners of a patriarcal society and give up our dreams because of a few men who still don`t know their role, our role, in the world? Most people in the world are good people.
Traveling alone you will get the chance to meet a lot of incredible people, men and woman, old and young, and this kind of life experience is priceless. Also, seeing what this amazing, beautiful world has to offer, so many stunning places, isn`t this what having the opportunity of life should be all about?
Another great advantage of traveling alone? You have all the time in the world to do things your way. No being rushed by other people or having an argument about where to eat. As a photographer, that are some places that, unless I`m traveling with a fellow photographer/photo enthusiast, I prefer to go alone. That applies for all you art/architecture/food lovers, sometimes is just hard to find someone who will be in the same vibe as you when traveling to a certain destination…
To finish this post, here are some tips for when traveling alone:
- If you can`t afford a private room in a hotel or hostel, many hostel have feminine shared rooms, where only women are allowed, if you don`t feel comfortable sharing with men. In this case it is always best to book online in advance.
- Airbnb and Couchsurfing are great tools for accommodation. Choosing the right host will not only make you feel safer, it will give you some companion and maybe even reward you with a great new friend for life!
- Before traveling to a new country, do some research on how to dress. Some islamic country have rules on that, and you want to respect that.
- Long dresses and skirts are a great traveling outfit. They look amazing on pictures, classy and beautiful, and will cover just what you need without loosing style.
- Scarfs are another good tool. For protecting you from the cold, covering your hair on a windy day or your head when entering a mosque, they are stylish and easy to pack.
- Follow your instincts. Women have a powerful sixth sense. If you feel that something is not right, or someone is not giving you a good vibe, distance yourself from it. Sometimes your unconscious has already picked up warning signs that the racional mind hasn`t noticed yet.
- Travel light! There is no fun in having to drag around heavy backpacks alone, through the streets and buses/subway/trains. Unless you`re a fan of weight lifting… or crossfit.
- Some countries have in their “culture” that is perfectly normal for men to say “nice” things to women when they pass by (please notice the irony here). This kind of harassment you will find in a lot of the Latin American countries, in the States, in Italy pretty much from 8 to 80 years old`s, and many other countries. My advice: Just ignore it and walk straight ahead. If you are traveling alone the last thing you want to do is to get into an argument with a stranger in the middle of the street.
- When in doubt, google it! Internet has a lot of blogs and forums for/by female travellers flying solo. And hearing something from experience is always better then just imagining what it would be like. Plus, there`s a lot of people ready to share their experiences online and help. If you have any doubts, just ask, you can write and ask me too, I`ll be glad to help!
- Be careful, but don`t forget to be a little careless! You are there to enjoy the experience, and being tense and afraid all the time will ruin it. Go to dinner by yourself, order that drink, talk to that group of people, approach that other backpacker on the train. Learning to trust strangers may not be easy in the beginning but once you do, you can be positively surprised!
- Be yourself, feel comfortable on your own skin, carry yourself with confidence. If you respect yourself, others will, too. That applies for traveling and for everyday life. We are strong, amazing human beings. Don`t let anyone tell you can`t do it. Because yes, we can!!!