"And who is financing your travels, young lady?"
This was one of the first questions I was asked at customs upon arrival in Manchester by the middle-aged British man working at the counter I was unlucky enough to be called to. He started with the basics - how long are you here, business or pleasure, where are you headed to next - but when he learned of my eight month/seventeen country travel plan, his eyes, which had immediately widened in surprise, settled into a knowing, condescending gaze as he asked me the fateful question. It may seem like an innocent query to you, because maybe you're not a 22 year old blonde female traveling the world, but if you're a female at all, you've probably gotten a similar question or reaction in regards to a parallel situation. Why, though? Is it really so unbelievable to think that I am financing my own trip? It shouldn't be. Because before 3 minutes ago, he didn't know me, nor did he know anything about me. He didn't know that I worked three jobs while going to school full time and still graduated a year early. He didn't know that I've been traveling since I was 16 and that THAT is what I put my savings towards. He didn't know that I worked an actual big kid job for a year to save up before leaving for my trip. He knew nothing about me, and yet he had the audacity to assume that I could never pay my own way. But why? Because I can tell you with absolute certainty that if I had short hair and a penis, that question never would have been posed. Because somehow, even in 2018, the idea that a woman could be self sufficient and successful is harder to grasp than the same idea for a man.
But this is not the first time I've been asked such a question, nor will it be the last. In fact, I got all kinds of questions and comments before leaving on this trip.**
"Oh it's so good you're traveling now so that when you're done you can start looking to settle down."
"Good to get the traveling bug out of your system now so you don't feel like you missed anything later in life when you have a family."
"Is that a safe place for a pretty young thing like you to be traveling alone?"
These are the kinds of things I heard before leaving on this eight month adventure. I heard them a hundred different ways but the end game was always the same: traveling is something you do so that you can say you did it and eventually my maternal instincts will kick in and my womb will ache and my biological clock will tick and I will feel an intrinsic need to literally push children out of my body while simultaneously trying to develop a career and still make time for myself and my significant other (none of which will involve travel bc it's expensive and so are children). And maybe I will. Maybe I'll wake up one day and decide that's what I want. Motherhood is no doubt an incredible experience and I thank the universe every single day for giving me such a stellar mom. In fact, it would be amazing to have a family of my own like the one my parents have built. But maybe I won't, and that's okay with me.
When my plane lands in Krakow, Poland on Monday, I will have officially visited 19 countries. Considering I turn 23 in a few weeks (ew), I guess that's not too shabby - and considering by the end of this trip I should be at around 28 countries, it really isn't bad at all. But let me make something very clear: I do not travel to get it out of my system. I do not go new places to get another country checked off the list and another stamp in my passport and move on (though I will admit I love new passport stamps bc are you kidding who doesn't). And I most certainly don't travel bc I feel like this is the only time in my life I'll have to do so.
I go because I crave new cultures and new experiences with every fiber of my being. I travel because it causes me physical pain not to do so. I go because there is a whole world out there that I have every intention of seeing. I want to have opinions and thoughts that are based in more than just the books I've read and the places I grew up. I want to diversify and challenge myself to understand perspectives that are foreign to my own. I travel bc I love making friends all over the world - and they're not the kind of friends where you say "we'll totally meet up sometime" and never do, they're the kind whose casa is su casa. I travel for the rush of excitement I feel when the plane leaves the ground and I'm headed somewhere new or somewhere old or back home. I go for the nervous excitement I feel when I have to figure out how to communicate with people of an entirely different background and way of life. I travel bc I would much rather collect plane tickets and memories than money - though I am fully aware that money helps with the purchasing of plane tickets, which is why after this trip runs its course I'll have a really good time finding ways to finance my ticket back home. I travel bc RyanAir has 20 euro round trip tickets to places I've never been and who am I to decline such an offer?
I'm 22 years old. I have a college degree. And I'm having the time of my life. So please, shove your questions and concerns where the sun don't shine and enjoy my travel pictures.
But in all honesty, the craziest part is that this doesn't even begin to encompass the day to day bullsh*t that women experience. Even more terrifying is the fact that as a straight, white woman, I don't even get the brunt of it. Womxn of color, trans womxn**, and female-identifying LGBTQ+ folx in general undergo far worse on a daily basis, but obviously I can only speak from my own personal experience. Being a woman means the guy that bought you a drink at the bar feels entitled to grope you with no regard for consent or lack thereof. It means your coworkers making offhanded comments about your appearance or womanhood that serve a dual purpose: they assert their dominance while simultaneously putting you in the position to look like a "crazy feminist" if you have any other reaction other than laughter. It means rape accusations being met with "But what were you wearing?" and "Are you sure you're not just embarrassed that it happened and wish you could take it back?". It means not necessarily being believed until a man backs you up. It means doing something "like a girl" is synonymous with "not as well". It means that the older you get, the more people will ask you when you'll be having kids, and then give you a subtly judgmental look when you say you're not sure children are in the cards for you. It means hearing in the media "how many women were attacked" rather than "how many men attacked women" because they aren't willing to place blame. It means that if you're dedicated to your job then you're "married to it" rather than a man of the same mindset who's just "motivated". It means carrying mace in your purse when you walk home from work late at night. It means saying yes to the cute boy who took you to prom and wants more than you bargained for at the end of the night bc you're afraid he won't like you if you say no. It means getting your butt grabbed in the middle of the dance floor and not knowing who did it but feeling violated and confused about why parents never taught them not to touch people without their consent. It means men stepping in front of you in line and not being willing to say anything bc somehow that feels aggressive even though you have every right to. It means being afraid to network at work for fear of it being seen as flirting. It means taking self defense classes for protection, not because you're curious. It means school dress codes that guilt you, rather than the young men, for the unwanted attention you begin to receive at a young age. It means competition with other women rather than sisterhood bc society tells us that we have to be better than the rest to be worth anything. It means thinking that saying you're "not like other girls" implies that most girls are inherently sub par. It means being perceived and portrayed as overly emotional when we find the courage to speak out. And sometimes, like the other night in Manchester, it means standing up for your fellow womxn even though it may be difficult or scary or dangerous.
Let me explain. I get many things from my father, but one of the most prevalent seems to be my ability to make angry people even more angry. Sassy and I had gone out for drinks the Saturday we before we left England and were headed to the next bar when we heard a British guy threatening to beat the girl he was with - who was crying - if she didn't come home with him. That didn't sit well with us for obvious reasons, so it took all of two seconds for us to walk up to the pair who were coming our way and ask if everything was alright. The guy showed his compassionate soul pretty immediately while he told us it was none of our business and to "f*ck off" as the girl he was with continued to cry, so naturally that didn't reassure us much. I turned to the girl and asked her directly if she wanted help finding a ride home, to which she responded with a slight head nod without meeting my eyes. This girl was obviously scared of her companion - and for those of you who don't know, being 5'9 and not having a tiny frame has given me a (perhaps false) sense of security - and all it took was a look for me and Sassy to agree to help her out. This upset the absolute monster she was with, and he immediately started threatening me with violence of all sorts ranging from knocking me out to "beating the sh*t out of me". In my experience, guys who threaten/hit girls don't know how to handle it when a girl actually stands up to them, so I wasn't as concerned as I might have been otherwise, even when he started grabbing my jacket and jerking me around. Foolish, maybe, but this girl needed help and we were the best she had at the moment. Sassy distracted him while I asked her if she wanted to get a cab, and her pleading look and quiet "yes" both broke my heart and renewed my determination. There were cabs on the street around the corner, so the next time the jerk grabbed me, I grabbed him back and told her to go. She sprinted towards the main road and it was all I could do to hold onto his jacket and give her a chance to run as he pursued her. I have no idea whether she made it into a cab as Sassy's shouts from behind me reminded me to let him go before he pulled me with him into the alley, but I will forever have the image of her in my head literally running away.
Mind you at this point we'd had two group of guys come up as they'd seen the man put his hands on me and wanted to know what the hell happened and if we needed help. One of the groups even ran after them to see if they could catch him, but apparently he'd already disappeared. They were all incredibly kind and supportive, and I was grateful for their presence, but it made me wonder whether they would have said anything in the first place if they'd heard what we'd heard when the couple first crossed paths with us. Would they have taken action? Would anyone? The world is a wonderful place with so much to explore and experience, but what does any of it matter without basic human decency? As women, and as people, we have to stand up for each other when we see something happening. Don't get me wrong, our approach to this jerk may not have been the safest for us, but what else could we do, let them walk away? How? I'm not saying you should put yourself in danger, but I am saying that we need to stand up for one another. As women, our biggest supporters should be each other, and as men, it is so important to validate the women in your life and set an example that we are all equal - not because we could be your mother or sister or lover, but because we are people.**
This is a "Me, Too." But it's also a massive "F U" to anyone who thinks that one gender is superior to another - or sexual orientation or ethnicity or anything else for that matter, but that's for another blog post. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for the people around you. Be proud of who you are and know that you are valid. To those accustomed to privilege, equality will feel like oppression, and it will be a long time before we're anywhere near legitimate equality. But until then, be a feminist.
**This excludes family and friends concerned for my general welfare asking if the country is safe to visit, etc. I appreciate all of you who were and are concerned with my well-being and love you all so much.
**Womxn is a term used as a substitute to avoid using the suffix "-men" at the end of the term and is closely associated with the feminist movement.
**Feminism is also about men being able to express themselves without fear of reproach, being able to speak out when they are raped or violated and being taken seriously, getting paid paternal leave, etc. Equality is for everyone.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
(in August in the US)