An Open Letter to First-Time Female Travelers

To Young Women About To Take On the World,

I can see you’re very excited to be going on your first trip overseas. I can see your new matching luggage half packed in the corner of your bedroom, the clothes around the suitcases tumbled in a wrinkled mess but what’s inside neatly folded. Your passport has come and your picture is not half as glamourous as you would have intended it to be as you now are about to become an international woman of the world. No doubt you’ve heard criticizing lectures from your relatives about  all the dangers you’ll be facing after you pass the security gate. Maybe you’re anxious as you Google embassy terror threats late in the evening when no one’s around, feeling utterly petrified. It’s impossible to have any foresight into what’s going to happen in the forthcoming months or years you’ll be away—but I can tell you that it’s going to be brilliant.

Young women are told not to travel alone. If we are insistent on going abroad or into a metropolitan area, there are a list of rules to adhere to. Do not wear too much makeup or dress in a promiscuous way (in case you attract the wrong sort of attention). Do not walk city streets alone at night. Always inform a friend of where you are going and what your plans are over the course of the day. Buy purses that dissuade pickpockets. Make plans of action before a horrible situation occurs. Be on your guard, watch your back. The world is out to get you. They supply you with horrific stories of the sex trade, political extremists, poverty, drug use-anything to make you believe that staying put in the United States is a safer choice.

My mother and I walked into our local bank to ensure that my accounts would be accessible from abroad before my departure that late September as I was about to move countries. The banker we spoke to, found it admirable and exciting that I was venturing overseas to go to school but across the floor I could see another service attendant craning her spindly neck to listen in on our conversation. From a distance she shouted over to ask us whether we had seen the movie Taken. “Watch it together,” she advised my mother. “Then decide if you’re going to let her go.” “What makes you think she has any say in whether or not I go?”  I retorted, furiously dragging us both out of the door and remembering that soon I would be miles away from all of these naive and precocious people.

Not too long ago, since returning to the U.S., I helped a customer who was shopping for her summer trip to Europe . She had leathery skin the color of burnt toast and smacked her lips ignorantly as she relayed that she was worried with the recent attacks in Europe to take the Tube around London or walk the streets of Paris. I sniped back at her that she was foolish to think she was any safer here where she had a better chance of being shot when she walked out the door. As I drive to work I see the kids going to school early in the morning, laughing and wonder how they could ever be so brave after the massacres that, much too frequently, appear in the news. I arrive at work and am required to watch active shooter training videos that are relayed in a calm demeanor by the narrator as this has naturally become a part of an American’s daily life.

At the very least be assured that those abroad are taking action, no better than we are, in order to protect their way of life. As discerning officers patrol St. Pancreas with machine guns they are taking due process with the grave understanding that they are under a serious threat. The sight of them may be shocking to the British but it’s something that Americans are prone to assume; police officers, at any level of training, will have a weapon on them and will not hesitate to use it. European officers are guarding nations that are able to take decisive action, that are able to provide for and protect their civilians. In America, they’re going to hand any predator a firearm who demands that possession is his civil liberty. Which makes you more afraid?

The fraught guidance which warns us to stay where we are in life, only serves to hold us back. It’s shocking how many Americans have never applied for a passport or traveled to another continent. Men do not receive the same scare tactics while sorting out a trip that women do. Men are encouraged to learn from new cultures, enjoy time for relaxation, and use the experience as a means to widen their perspectives. If the public had it their way, women would sit in the hotel, only venture out during peak travel times, spend hundreds of dollars in taxis to go to and fro, and be back hours before sundown. We’ve proven that women are never safe anywhere. Not in the home, not on their own. We’re still cornered into drawing the worst case scenarios to the forefronts of our minds before we have the chance to even be excited to try something new

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It is different for us and I’m not naive enough to ignore that there are precautions we have to take because of gender. I’ve delayed going to certain parts of Los Angeles alone at night because I’m aware there are bigger risk factors involved after dark. I stay aware of my surroundings and the behavior of those near me in a crowded transit area. I’ve walked home alone at night while scenes from Law and Order raced through my thoughts. I’ve been lost in several major cities for extended periods of time, been harassed by strangers, had property stolen off of me, and still-on my own-while abroad no significant harm has been done stop me from going back. At least not any more harm than I’m used to experiencing here.

Most likely you’re going to travel as a means of self discovery. The kind of trip that is spurred on by major life catastrophes. These are by far the best kinds where there will be whole new facets to explore of your being, bringing out a much needed existential crisis and resolution. You should create opportunities when and where you find them. Leave no stone un-turned in your quest for a greater purpose. Should you hesitate before jumping into the great unknown think of this: Too many people only get to take a great adventure once. Do not let this be your last, but try to live it like it is.

I’m motivated to travel more as I look back on the times where I was learning from cultures and friends who were so different from me while commiserating over the similarities we shared. You’re going to meet the most fascinating people who will make you feel at home and be  surprised at how often the stereotypes your loved ones warned you about are put to rest. Remember there are stereotypes for Americans too-and they are not flattering. There is going to be so much to see and a long list to do, so do your best to do it all. Take care of yourself. Think before you act while stilling allowing the time to be  ignorant of anything but the moment itself. Have a marvelous time and show them all how capable you are independent of the security of familiarity we become adjusted to. You may not know it now, you might have the slightest glimpse ahead, but this will change your life forever in only the most positive ways.

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