Traveling Solo

I read an article the other day with the title somewhere along the lines of “How to Travel Safely Solo as a Female.”  It had valid points, but the title and audience it was directed to rather annoyed me.  The gender equality topic is an exhaustive one.  We should be treated as equals, but reality and biology  says we are not the same.  Equals, but not the same.  Does that make sense?

In the military, PT test standards are different for men and women and for different age groups.  No one seems to be up in arms about the fact that a man aged 40-44 in the Navy must run 1.5 miles in no more than 15:30 versus a man 20 years younger, who has 2 minutes less to run the same distance.  We all accept that as we age, our capabilities may not be as they once were.  Women aged 40-44, however, have a run time of 17:15, whereas their younger counterparts are expected to maintain the distance at a maximum of 15:30.

This two minute gap between men and women of the same age is a cry of outrage for some.  But men and women are physically built differently, as much as joints and muscles aging 20 years as a man, apparently.  Did anyone notice that females 20 years older only get an additional 1:45, where men get 2 minutes?  Could it be that women age better than men and that’s the logic behind it?  At any rate, we’re not the same in this regard.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know 50 year old guys who easily pass their 20 year old counterparts and women who can crank out more push ups in the 2 minute time period than anyone else doing the test.  We are all capable of better (and of course, these are the minimum standards).

Anyway, I’m digressing.  Solo female traveling.  Right.  It bothers me because women have been vying for equality, but then we single ourselves out on these things.  Solo male traveling can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than solo female traveling.  Men are stronger.  Sure, maybe.  Men also have more tendencies to do stupid things.  Sure, maybe.  Men can’t be raped.  Men can’t be mugged.  WRONG!  Of course they can.  Such things aren’t reported as often as they occur for numerous reasons, mainly, it’s more ’embarrassing’ for men to admit to such things.

If a woman is raped, maybe she had it coming.  She was wearing something revealing and was drunk and flirty and she was ‘asking for it.’  That’s a horrifying thought, but we play the blame game, and unfortunately, in many cases, we focus on how the victim seduced the offender.  You see a picture of a female in a mini skirt and low top and clearly she was looking for sex.  It’s preposterous to believe she wore that outfit simply because it made her feel good and sexy without actually wanting sex.  But it shouldn’t be.  And then there’s those women who are raped who were wearing baggy jeans and a t-shirt.  Were they asking for it too?  That’s what I thought.  But most women almost expect to be raped.  Statistics say 1 in 4 women are victims of sexual assault.  25%.  We know statistics can be manipulated, but even so, those are TERRIBLE odds.  There are 6 females in the room I am sitting in right now.  Statistics say that at least one of us has been assaulted.  Pretty daunting when you think about.

If a man is raped, they are less of a man.  They have been emasculated and it’s internalized because, well, they’d be mocked and ridiculed because they let another person take advantage of them.  No one brings up what a guy was wearing if he was assaulted.  If he even discloses that he was attacked.  But all of those things apply to females as well.  Because we ARE equal.  We are human and such an abominable experience will affect us.  It is that simple.

So the article. Traveling solo.  Like I said earlier, it was a good article.  But there was absolutely no reason it had to be directed at solo females.  It had a lot of common sense stuff.  Don’t walk down dark streets at night, let someone know where you’re going, ask locals about the area, protect your valuables, have copies of your important documents, list serial numbers of electronics in a safe place like an online server to prove it’s yours if stolen.  None of these things apply solely to females.  This doesn’t even solely apply to solo travelers.  These are tips for ANYONE who travels!  I think the only thing that did apply to solo travelers, but not just female ones, was that it can be extremely liberating and empowering to travel sans others.  Truth.

For those of you who may not know, I have done some extensive traveling on my own.  I moved to Germany for a job opportunity in 2010 without knowing a word of German.  It was after a summer study abroad with a group of people I didn’t know at the beginning of the trip.  That group of people are some of my closest friends now, even if it only has been 4 and a half years since I’ve met them.  There’s an extremely unique experience when you are a fish in a sea with only a handful of other fish who can truly understand you and what you’re going through.  But we’ll save the group travel for another day.  There’s something rewarding about moving to a place where you know no one and succeeding that words really can’t describe.  In my last post, I talked about the hardest emotional thing I’ve had to do as of yet.  Living in Germany for six months was an extremely close second.

During my time in Germany, I traveled throughout Europe, mostly by myself.  I explored Prague after learning that trains split in half (and being on the wrong half), I attended concerts in Vienna, toured Salzburg and found myself on a bus to see the sights from The Sound of Music, climbed Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, wandered alleys in Oslo, explored my heritage in Budapest and Krakow, navigated New Zealand embassy difficulties in Berlin as well as learning about the wall, hiked mountains in southern Bavaria, visited castles, experienced Oktoberfest, discovered the more in-depth horrors of concentration camps, marveled at the Eiffel Tower, and the list goes on (man, I miss those days…).  I usually figured out hostels before I bought the train ticket or flight, but that was about it.  I packed along my Rick Steve’s Guide to Europe and researched on the train and by talking to the people I met on the way or in the streets there.  I did not have a phone.  I’m still here.  Not once did I EVER find myself in a situation I felt uncomfortable because of other people.

The worst situation I found myself in was when that train to Prague split in half and I ended up in Hof at 11:30 at night (not many trains run after this time).  I thought I could still get to Prague that night and 40 euros later, I was in a new train station, much less populated than the one I had been at, and all alone.  Gracious cafe owners, and quite certainly the ONLY people in a 10km radius, gave me some food and tea and tried to get me back to where I’d been, but it was way too late.  I ended up walking back 15km in the middle of night in the snow of a German December by myself.  As the 5 cars passed by throughout that journey, I considered hitch hiking.  I had done it once before and I was still alive and well.  But it didn’t feel right, and I kept on trekking.  When I finally got back to the train station, it was locked.  But there was a police office with a light on and thus, my salvation.  With some difficulty, we finally managed to understand each other and the wonderful men of the Hof station, opened the building, moved a bench in front of the heater for me, and bought me the right ticket I needed to finally get to Prague.

Consequently, when I went to Buenos Aires with my then boyfriend and one of my roommates, a person did try to mug me and the two males I was with did absolutely NOTHING to help me fight off the perpetrator.  Of all my adventures, the one scenario where I was with 2 men was the one time I felt more threatened.  I won’t say that I always found myself in situations that were 100% safe, but I never felt threatened by other people being creepy when I was traveling solo.  Perhaps it’s naive, but I believe people are inherently good.  It’s the select few who ruin it for the many.  At any rate.  Travel.  By yourself, with others, whatever you feel like doing.  Traveling is the best.  But always maintain situational awareness and common sense.

Hakuna Matata!

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