“What does your boyfriend think about that?”
I usually crack a joke, something like “eh, he’s used to it,” but the constant questioning of how Ben feels about my travels begins to rub the wrong way. Everyone who has asked that question doesn’t even know him, so the motivation behind the question is less “someone I care about might be lonely” and more “wow, your boyfriend lets you travel on your own?” I’ve seen a clear difference in reactions to male friends’ travel plans; there is never any doubt of them being allowed to march where they please.
I suppose this is just another thing that solo women travelers often must deal with. Of course, there’s the sexual harassment, which is even harder to navigate in another culture and in an unfamiliar place. In many places there’s the continuous barrage of “are you married yet? What, no? Why?” But the skepticism of women moving around independently begins at home.
Yes, I’ll be leaving Ben for five weeks. He’ll be working. Sure, he’ll probably be a bit lonely, which is sad. But he also understands and encourages me to not only travel but to take all the time I can, when I have the opportunity. I’ve been abroad for two three-month periods before and here we still are, over four years later. We want each other to do what makes us happy.
The day Ben and I started dating we sat on a bench and talked for hours about our previous travel adventures as the night sank coldly around us. There was the feeling: you understand me, like many others do not. And partners are partners. Ben doesn’t tell me what I can and can’t do. In fact, I’m probably the more commanding one, in a Hermione-esque way. We’re both independent people. And I refuse to defer to others solely because of their gender.
Of course, I discuss my plans with Ben and seek out his opinions because I value them. To answer the question of concern, what does Ben think about me going abroad?
I wish all people would come to view women moving around and traveling independently as normal. I hope to provide an example that not only can women explore the world on their own, but that they can do so while in a healthy relationship, even if their partner is unable to join in on every adventure. There are many women, including friends of mine, who serve as further evidence of this fact. Build equitable relationships, be confident in your abilities and independence, and you’ll go further, individually and together.
Tagged: female travel, feminism, life, relationships, solo travel, travel
I think it’ great that you have the guts to go out and travel on your own. I think it’s even greater that you have found someone willing to let you go out and do your own thing. Individuality is so important. You are an inspiration to the average female traveler who wants to go out and experience the world.
Thanks very much! I hope that by reading my stories and others’, people will see that they should pursue what makes them happy without needing anyone’s permission. Of course, I’m so glad Ben and I met each other but I also think that when people follow their hearts they’re better able to demonstrate to the world their best selves – and in doing so it’s easier to match up with a person (if they’re looking for one, that is!) that understands rather than one that tries to get them to turn away from what they love.
You go, Leah! So glad you’re doing this, and that you have a love who gets it and supports you. :)
Thanks, Steve. Me too. :)
Ugh it’s so annoying that people ask you that! Like you said, a partner is a partner, not someone who tells you what to do with your life. It’s not like you need his permission and he sounds like a great guy so why would he not want you to travel and have adventures? I don’t understand people’s logic sometimes. Anywho, good for you guys for kicking gender boundaries in the butt!
Right! I don’t think most of the people asking the question thought twice about it or realized that it is honestly a bit offensive (though I know they didn’t mean harm), which just goes to show how entrenched these gender roles can be.
Used to travel to Canada for fishing “on my own” quite a bit when I was younger. If you converse with anyone, it’s always a stranger. Great way to meet people & learn about areas your visiting! Made some good friends up there, lots of experiences I would never had if I had traveled with a partner or group!
Guessing it may be a bit more of a challenge for a woman though ??
Keep traveling, KEEP SAFE, keep writing ! Keep posting!
You’re right – there are huge advantages to traveling solo, one of which is that you’ll probably socialize with more people and therefore likely learn more about the area. There are certainly some additional challenges for solo women travelers, though they largely depend on the area. And after all, many of the challenges I’ve faced like sexual harassment, though they were more prevalent during some travels, are things I also do experience at home. I hope women don’t limit themselves, though, but instead just be a little extra wary and trust their instincts. Thanks so much for reading, and I will indeed keep posting!
I think its amazing that you are going and doing things alone, I hate the whole idea that partners have to be one unit; joint at the hip. This post really clicks with me because I’m going to Europe for a year and my boyfriend of 4/5 years is staying back home..of course he will visit but the majority of it will be apart. and people like you show that it really can be a great thing. The concept that you might need your boyfriend’s permission or something really annoys me. Gender roles are so incredibly entrenched in society..
Yeah, gender roles are unfortunately quite entrenched but hopefully if we keep defying them they will gradually change. Good for you for taking advantage of the opportunity to go to Europe, even if your boyfriend can’t come along. There are definite advantages to going to a new place on your own, and you’ll also have a great time when he visits! Win/win, I say.
I seriously LOVE this. I have had all of these things happen to me. Another thing that I experienced while traveling was this weird judgement that came from the other back packers. When I was backpacking in Central America, almost every guy I met would ask me if I was single and when I said no, it was like I was dead to them. There is just this huge party/hookup atmosphere among young-ish traveling backpackers and you somehow get looked down upon if you are not FULLY participating. I mean, I would even drink and go out with everyone, and they still would treat me like an outsider because they knew I wasn’t going to sleep with them. It made me so mad. I was like you guys are seriously going to sacrifice getting to know someone just because she has a partner at home?! Needless to say I ended up hanging out with a bunch of women and other couples and had a totally fine and lovely time but it definitely was something that consistently happened and pissed me off.
Also many many other back packers were like “OMG, how do you do it? There are so many hot guys from other countries everywhere all the time”… I was just like do you people not know what love is? How could you even ask a question like that if you had? Anyway, there is my rant. I just had to get all of that out there. I feel ya girl!
I am very sorry to hear this, emphemeraleas! As an old (almost 60!) backpacker, it seems as if the culture has changed since I was out there — and not for the better. Was particularly disappointed to hear that guys treated you like you “were dead to them” when you wouldn’t sleep with them. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a hookup culture in the 70s, but my sense (as a man) was that if you didn’t sleep with someone or get them to sleep with you, it just wasn’t that big a deal. Lots of other ways to hang out and have fun. Of course there were jerks (mostly male) who had different expectations and more than a little patronizing of women who were on their own. But it seems like it’s gotten worse, not better, in the 40 years since, which is disappointing. I’m glad to hear that you went out and did it anyway, had a good time, and that you and Leah are continuing to push you and our boundaries. I just hope it gets better for you and all of us soon. Enough of the old shit. — Steve
Yeah I mean the problem was that I was on the “gringo trail” as we called it. I mostly went to all of the typical places young backpackers went and that was the main issue. But, it was my first big 3 month backpacking trip! I didn’t know that it is better to NOT to go to the places where everyone tells you to. However, at the end I steered clear of the “gringo trail” and went and stayed on two different little farms and that was absolutely amazing. Like I said, not trying to complain at all because it was still an experience of a lifetime, but it still is an annoying thing. Thanks for your thoughts Steve. Appreciate that.
On a lighter note, I had long blonde hair when I was on my trip (I have now since cut it very very sort) and so all of the locals were very obsessed with it and shouted “Chica del sol! Chica del sol!” at me everywhere I went. It means girl of the sun. I was half flattered, half very freaked out at all the attention.
Woah, we have done the same thing with our hair. When I was in South America I also had really long, blonde hair and it got me a lot of attention (though I never got chica del sol – interesting!). And now, I too have chopped it all off into a pixie cut. I wonder how that would impact the attention we’d get.
Cool! We have twin lives! Yeah I actually shaved my head on the first day of this year (a few weeks after I got back from my trip). It is just now getting to the cute pixie cut length. Having short hair would have been SO nice in Central America though, like it was so hot and it made my hair frizzy, tangly, and almost dreaded. I was like, “why didn’t I do this before the trip!?”.
Oh cool! I just got a regular pixie but I did have 16 inches taken off so it was quite a bit! But yeah, having short hair would have been so much easier while traveling! I didn’t have to deal with the heat as much in Peru but it was a pain to take care of and wash well, haha. I’m actually off to Siberia soon where I’ll be camping out for two weeks and I’m so glad I’ll have short hair for that! I’m actually going to get it even a bit shorter before I leave since I learned my lesson that perhaps hair cuts should happen before trips!
It’s interesting that you think it’s gotten worse, Steve, and I wonder why that is and would be curious to hear more of your thoughts. Do you think it is indicative of gender relations overall, or do you think it is perhaps that there are more people going out and backpacking now (given there’s a lot more readily-available information about how to do it/where to go, thanks to the internet), whereas earlier it was the more dedicated and perhaps more open-minded people who were making the effort?
Thanks as always for your support! I also want to say I would looove to come to one of your IS seminars now that I have a much wider breadth of travel experience. I’m sure I would have some different views now (I’m probably a bit more cynical, haha). Plus, I loved those seminars.
Yeah I am very curious about this too. I would lean towards believing the latter. Many more people are getting into backpacking these days, which is a wonderful thing! People should travel and see as much of the world as they can. But I often found they were just there to get $1 beers and maybe do some sight-seeing if they weren’t too hung over.
Thanks, Cas! And I love your rant! Though I have done a bit more couchsurfing and therefore have a bit less experience in the backpacking/hostel scene, I totally see what you mean as I’ve gotten that perception as well. When I have stayed in hostels, I’ve usually been with other friends (both male and female) that I met earlier on while we were working or studying in the country and therefore had somewhat less of a transitory atmosphere, I suppose. But even while staying with them at the hostels, I could see what was going on with much of the backpacking crowd and I honestly avoided a lot of the socializing because of that. I just wasn’t in the mood for dealing with it! And YES, I have also gotten the “how do you do it?” question. Ugh! I found it quite insulting. I got that one both abroad and from people (even friends) back home. Not only do I love my boyfriend, but I am also traveling for reasons other than to hook up with people! Grr. But high five to us for getting out there, even so. :)