Opinion

Woman of the world: what it means to be a woman who travels

travel

I have caught the travel bug.  Having spent the last eight months traveling and living in Europe and with a plan of continuing to travel for another three months, I think it is safe to say I have wanderlust (Danke to the Germans for having a word for everything).  From sunbathing on a pebble beach in a tiny Italian village, to being serenaded by a group of nuns in a small nunnery on the Camino de Santiago, and swimming in the warm, crystal clear ocean in Croatia, I have fallen in love with seeking, finding and seeing new countries and cultures.

However, as I travel I am permanently aware of two things; the first is the location of my passport and the second is the fact that I am a woman, often alone, very far away from home.

Travelling as a woman presents its own set of rewards and challenges, far different from that of a man. For me, understanding what it means to be a woman in the world has been an empowering and character building process.

I have learnt how to see myself outside the small world of Sydney.  I have learnt to uncover new visions of who I am as a woman as I push through new spaces, and interact with new faces.  Travelling has been about exploring my personality outside the situations I would normally encounter at home, and learning to love that personality.  

Perhaps, most significantly, travelling has taught me to be happy when I am totally alone.  I have learnt to enjoy my own company when navigating a new place, enjoying my internal monologue, rather than permanently seeking the opinions of others around me.  Since we live in a world that is so reliant on the approval of others, being alone and seeking your own approval and happiness can be one of the greatest lessons you will learn.  

Travelling has also taught me to become acutely aware of my body’s warning system, better known as my gut instinct (and sometimes branded a “woman’s intuition”).  If I find myself in a situation where I am uncomfortable, I trust my instincts and work my way out of it.  I now feel empowered to act on this warning system, as I have learnt how to say no when I feel uncomfortable.  

Women are consistently told to be polite and to minimise how rude they are, however I have learnt that being upfront with what I don’t want is not rude. Rather, it is owning your comfortability and asserting yourself.  I no longer worry about my presentation when asserting that I don’t feel comfortable in a situation, in fact I completely trust that I am making the right decision by saying NO.  

I have also been exposed to body diversity in a whole new way.  In Australia we model women’s physical features off an American vision of perfection.  By meeting people with different ideals, and by seeing a different physical norm, I have found myself more at peace with my body than ever before. Women often have very low self esteem when it comes to body image, so improving my own has been empowering.

Naturally there are also downsides to traveling as a woman.  I have been harassed on multiple occasions, often in the company of friends (sometimes even male friends).  I have sometimes had to restrict my experiences, like choosing not to go out at night alone, or refusing a dinner date, for fear for my safety.  I have often had to compromise my strong, outspoken, feminist beliefs as I have navigated cultures which clash with my personal belief system both out of respect for the culture and for my own well being.  

However this shouldn’t stop you from travelling. Women are always told to be smaller, do less, and stay safe.  This, in its own way, is a form of victim blaming.  Yes, when you are woman travelling there are risks. However when you are a woman living anywhere in the world, there are risks.  And these risks should not stop you from living out whatever travel fantasy you have, rather they should empower you to make informed decisions about travelling in a safe manner and soaking up every experience life offers you.

Image Credit: Flickr

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About the author

Lara Smal

Currently located in Berlin, Lara is a contributor at F is for Feminism. Her hobbies include exploring abandoned buildings, pretending that she is fluent in German and reading children's books. She is "annoyingly feminist" according to her brother and aspires to be a gender historian.

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