Female Travelers

The one thing I promised to my family, my boyfriend, my friends, and my genius advisor who has guided me through every step of the studying abroad process, Dr. Amy Juhala, is that I would never travel alone, and I have not. The closest thing I have had to a solo trip was a 30-minute train ride to Liverpool to run some errands, and I kept it this way for a good reason. I am young, I am a woman, and when in a foreign country, young women should take every action with constant vigilance. I researched additional precautions by female travelers, I emailed female travel bloggers for advice, I even looked into what kind of protective devices I am allowed to carry (the options are quite limited).

None of the professional female travelers ever got back to me, but through their blogs I found a surplus of helpful techniques, such as always carrying a fake wedding ring with you in case some guy cannot take a hint, never leaving your drink unattended, always being very aware of your surroundings, being vague about describing your place of stay, coming up with a fake name and story to tell people, etc. I also stumbled upon a plethora of helpful apps designed specifically for female travelers, such as Tourlina, which connects the user with other female tourists in the are of travel, or Safety Map, which highlights the safest, busiest streets, most well-lit for female travelers to take when out and about. However, I did not make use of these because there was never a moment when I felt unsafe in my travels, which may be attributed to traveling in groups, or generally safe places.

When one of my travel buddies, Ashley Fierstadt, announced that she was making a solo trip to Germany, I was shocked. Why on earth would she take a risk like that? She is a smart girl; does she not know the dangers of traveling alone? I thought, and then immediately interjected that it was a terrible idea, and that I wanted her to be safe and not become a story I would later read about in the news. She gave me a look that put me in my place; she was a much more experienced traveler than I, she had been around Europe numerous times, she was aware and she knew the protocol. It singed, but I knew I deserved it, and afterwards, I had an aftertaste of jealousy. It takes more courage and independence to do something like that than I have.

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Upper left: Ashley Haan and Ivy. Upper right: Alicia Duntin, Nina Theobald and Ivy. Lower left: Ashley Haan and Ivy. Lower right: Ashley Fierstadt, Alicia Duntin and Ivy.

This event returned me to the extensive research on safety precautions I had done before arriving in Europe, and made me reflect on my experience here, as a woman, which led me to realize that it was nothing like I had feared it would be. Not once, in all of my walking through Liverpool, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Vienna, or Edinburgh had I been cat-called by a driver or a pedestrian. At bars, when I told a man that I was not interested, after asking if I was sure once or twice, he would respect my wishes. Maybe I am just plain lucky, or may European men are more respectful towards women in general, but it made me realize that I was not under eminent threat, and I had not once needed to use the precautions I took, such as the fake wedding ring. The treatment I received from male strangers in Europe far exceeded the treatment I received from male strangers in America.

I am not writing this to discourage women from taking safety measures when traveling, especially if they travel solo, and I still encourage it even if I did not find them particularly useful. I am not writing this to shun men for they way they treat women in America (ok, maybe I am a little bit, but the cat-calling was never cool or funny, and is never going to work, so just give it up). I chose to write this because I do not want the female population to commit all of their actions, decisions, or in this case, travels, under the threat of a man.

To be totally unaware and take no precautions would be foolish, but reflecting on my time abroad with only a short time before I return, I recognize that it is also foolish to let fear inhibit one's self from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To say that it is unsafe to travel alone as a woman condones the illusion that women are safe when they are not traveling, but that is just not true. People, both men and women, are attacked in America all the time. If one were to do the research, there are millions of terrifying stories, statistics, and testimonies of women being attacked, raped, stalked, and murdered. There are many less threatening, but very annoying, attacks on women: unwanted grabbing, objectification, unsolicited comments, cat-calls, etc. Even in sweet, safe, tiny Bismarck, into my adulthood, I was never allowed to go out for a stroll around sunset for my mother feared I would be taken hostage because I might not make it back before dark. We can take precautions, but we cannot live in fear. We do not live in a world where it is unsafe to travel alone as a woman; we live in a world where it is unsafe to be a woman.

I conclude with my advice to future, female travelers: Whether or not you decide to travel alone, get comfortable traveling with friends first (not just for safety reasons, but for epic bonding moments and practicality). Do your research, and take precautions; just because I was lucky enough not to encounter dangerous people does not mean everyone is. If you are traveling in a small group of women, and you are staying in a hostel, it is very much worth it to pay a little extra money for a women-only dorm. Never stay in a hostel that has a rating lower than 7/10 (not just for safety, but for quality of travel). It is totally worth it to spend a little extra for a hostel located in the heart of the tourist places. Do not be afraid to travel alone, but do not do it if you do not feel safe or ready in doing so. Use your judgment with and in all traveling situations. As Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter would say, "Constant vigilance!" is key: be totally aware of your surroundings, and travel plans.

Ultimately, do what it takes to make you feel safe in your travels. There is no magic equation that works for everyone. I have friends who refuse to drink when traveling, and I have friends who like to navigate the tubes of London while drunk (though I should say: good friends do not let friends do this alone). I have friends who only stay at Airbnb properties, and friends who refuse to take taxis while traveling. As cheesy as it is, you have to choose your own adventure.

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