Women's Experience While Travelling

by Arleigh Rodgers

The compelling narrative surrounding gender while traveling often explores the following concepts: a woman must be more careful than a man while traveling, as she is more likely to find herself in a dangerous situation; a woman must therefore be accompanied by a man while traveling, as it is  a necessary precaution because she is a woman (again, more likely to find herself in a dangerous situation). This narrative is not compelling because it is true, but rather because it suggests women traveling to foreign countries (and in general) are unable to protect themselves against danger without a man’s company.

As women, we are meant to look out for ourselves and for each other. And while a man’s company may be appreciated on a trip — women are inclined to romantic or familial vacations that include men, of course — being abroad and in unfamiliar circumstances does not warrant protection from a male counterpart. We are already so accustomed to unfamiliarity, simply because the harassment women face is invariably different than the harassment men face. As women, we never forget this fact, especially when we enter into spaces with which we are not familiar — such as a foreign country. Therefore, the presence of unfamiliarity does not warrant a man’s protection because women encounter unfamiliarity daily, even on their routine walks to work or class or back home. The same people do not likely frequent the same route as us every day, and therefore we watch the world around us with eyes of caution. One factor can make a familiar route uncharted.

This narrative has been brought about through the voices that lead travel writing — men, whose documents of their travels reflect their worldview rather than a woman's. This makes sense. A man is not told, in the way a woman is, how to be careful while traveling; never is he told how to present himself while traveling to ward off any unwanted attention; nor is he ever instructed to keep himself and his male friends safe in the way women are told to keep themselves and their female friends safe. Women are asked to watch how much they drink, to be aware of their clothing choices, to not walk around at night alone, and to hold their keys between their fingers, transforming into a pseudo-Wolverine in order to fend off this unwanted attention. Men are told to avoid putting their phones in their back pocket so that it may not be stolen.

It’s no secret that the dialogue around women’s issues has changed in many forms. While in the past men were often more likely to travel for the educational elements travel brings, women were taken along as a man’s companion. But I am living abroad in Italy to learn, and I came with no male counterparts to assist or limit my learning. In fact, I would say the majority of people in my study abroad program are women, and I live in an apartment with all women. There are seven of us learning, interacting, traveling — largely by ourselves— but when we do not learn, interact, or travel together, it is usually with other women.

[Consider: There are seven of us, learning, interacting, traveling— largely on our own— but when we do learn, interact or travel with someone, it is usually with other women. ]

This dialogue, however, has remained intact as well. There have been many  instances throughout my life in which my female friends and I took extra precautions when going somewhere— usually at night. Being abroad made no difference to these changes. Whenever I go for a run along the river nearby, I always send my location to my apartment's group chat just in case I don't come back after a while. Whenever we go out to a bar — no matter the day of the week — we send each other updates throughout the night and look out for each other while we're out, particularly when the night gets pretty late and the bars fill up with unfamiliar locals rather than the study abroad students we recognize from classes.

This narrative is no doubt thrown at us because we are women, and I imagine very few men are having the conversations my female friends and I have weekly, sometimes daily, about our safety. Indeed, I don't believe safety concerns come from nowhere, and I also don't believe it should ever be entirely on us to protect ourselves in seemingly harmless situations (like going for a run along the river). However, we are repeatedly told we are responsible for the clothes we wear, the actions we take, the decisions we make— and that is the reason behind this argument.  Until there comes a time when men take responsibility for taking advantage of the clothes we wear, the actions we take, and the decisions we make, we will always be — and must always be — on the lookout for ourselves.

Adriana DeNoble