As much as I hate to admit it, we are still living in a man’s world. Take a trip outside the progressive shores of the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia, and you may transported to a place where men and women are not treated equally. But after living and traveling to countries where it’s not necessarily so easy to be a woman, I’ve picked up a few tips for women traveling the world.
This post was updated on November 29, 2019.
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Raising the next generation of women traveling the world
Watching my daughter grow and navigate her way through society, I often wonder how she will fare when it comes time for her to explore the world on her own. It’s not always easy for women traveling the world. I wonder how she will handle it. Will she always rebel, or will she find ways to accommodate cultures that’s aren’t necessarily women-friendly?
As a mother, I always want to make that journey easier for her. Yet I know that no amount of advice and suggestions can ever really prepare her for what the world has in store for her. At the same time, my years of travel have given me a chance to gauge some of my own knowledge and skills in being a woman.
Here are my four tips for women traveling the world.
Take it as an opportunity to subvert the dominant paradigm
When I lived in Togo, I noticed that women often did not have the same opportunities as men. They also didn’t always share the same social level as men. As a foreigner, I occupied a unique space of not really being treated like the local women, yet also not considered a man.
I took this as an opportunity to show that women can be educated. In addition, I tried to show that women have opinions of their own and can be independent. It’s not always going to be a big change, but for women traveling the world, we are well-positioned to show others that exploration and adventure is not strictly just for men.
Accept that some social constructs won’t change overnight
In other places, like in Paraguay, it’s a little harder to break the gender divisions. While celebrating my friend’s birthday there, my husband and I noticed that the men and women were completely separated from each other. The men congregated in the courtyard of the house, while the women mainly stayed in the kitchen.
It was a bit unsettling for us to see. My husband and I both grew up in a society where men and women sharing the same physical space is commonplace. But in a culture like Paraguay, these habits of separation by gender can often be hard to break. In those cases, as women traveling the world, all you can do is accept that way of life.
Observe how other women operate within these social spheres
In cases where there is a distinct difference in how men and women are treated, or where men and women sit in the social structure of a particular culture, sometimes it helps for women traveling the world to observe how other women operate in these environments. In Paraguay, the women were separate from the men. But they were certainly not subservient to them.
For a woman to grow up in a machismo culture like Paraguay, you have to develop a certain thickness of skin. Women are not helpless creatures waiting to be saved. In most cases, they have learned to express who they are and assert themselves, despite the obstacles that are thrown their way.
Don’t let societal pressure constantly dictate your behavior
Even within our progressive American culture, societal pressure dictates that women shouldn’t travel alone. The world is not safe. There are too many predators. Too many people are out there waiting to take advantage of the helpless woman on her own.
Some of these fears are true. In India, for instance, rape and assault towards solo women in public spaces have led to women protesting for safer streets. And in 2018, a woman traveling solo was killed in her Airbnb in Costa Rica.
But if I could give only one piece of advice to young women traveling the world, it is this: don’t let society determine what you can or can’t do. Sure, there may be cultural or societal barriers put in your way, but if you are persistent enough in your dreams, you will find a way to overcome those barriers.
A model for future women traveling the world
One of my favorite travel memoirs to read when I was in my 20’s was Tales of a Female Nomad, by Rita Golden Gelman. I remember reading the book and feeling inspired to travel on my own. In a way, Rita Golden Gelman was like a mentor to me, showing me that it is possible for women to travel on their own.
As a mother to a young girl, I am keenly aware of how my own behavior will influence the future behavior of my daughter. I hope that what I do now shows her that women can be independent. as well as adventurous, and brave.
Already I see signs of these traits in her. She already makes her way through this world with a precocious mix of sassiness and spunk. If anything, that assures me that I am doing the right thing.
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