7 travel bloggers weigh in on why representation is so important.
On Tuesday night, Girl vs Globe blogger Sabina posted the article: “Why I’m Not A Solo Female Traveller”. In the article she panned solo female travel bloggers for “highlighting not only how they travel but also what’s between their legs while they do it.” Kudos to her for graphically getting her point across – gosh darn, now we’re all thinking about vaginas! – but I thought the debate deserved a little more than that.
The article opened with some valid points. Calling women “brave” for travelling solo is unnecessary and women excelling in their field should be recognised “without making it a gender issue”. Amen! I could side with that. But that’s where it stopped making sense to me.
Sabina is a blogger who has beautifully carved out a brand for herself by focusing on female travellers. She admits she “pretty much exclusively writes for women.” So why was she writing an article to negate solo female travel bloggers?
It’s an irony she is at least quick to acknowledge, “[my] blog is literally called Girl vs Globe”. Yet she goes on to mention that solo female travel articles have a tendency to be written in the pursuit of more web traffic, which can be said about any topic.
Blogging is by nature the publication of ideas on a platform that can be readily and widely read. If we were writing without the goal of it being read we might as well be scribbling on the back of toilet doors. Plus the web traffic claim is extra ironic considering her article title is pretty clickbaity.
Sabina’s main case is that while our female experiences make us feel like a “different breed of traveller”, we’re no different to male solo travellers. She argues that solo female travel bloggers reinforce “an unhealthy stereotype”.
That I can understand. I wish we lived in a world where gender was not a defining feature and a limiting one at that. But we don’t. That being the case, I don’t think the bloggers in question are pigeonholing solo female travellers. Tailoring content to females isn’t playing into a stereotype, it’s working to tear it down. It’s motivating women to do something they’ve constantly been told they can’t do.
There are plenty of historically and societally formed misconceptions working to deter women from travelling alone. If you Google “Solo Female Traveller” today, the top articles are “7 uncomfortable truths about travelling solo as a woman” and others warning of the dangers female travellers face.
And it’s a sad reality. The rate of sexual assault is higher for women, the danger of kidnap is far more real. You don’t need to watch all eighteen Taken films to know that. Despite these aats, I believe the positives of solo female travel far outweigh the negatives.
Of course, all solo travellers – regardless of gender – face obstacles wherever they go. It’s just different for a solo man. I won’t budge on that one. Solo females are constantly hit up for their motivations to travel alone. More often than not, they’re required to defend their choice about seeing the world solo. No one blinks an eye at a dude getting his wanderlust on.
One of my favourite comics, Louis C.K., said: “There is no greater threat to women than men…Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. You know what our number one threat is? Heart disease.” Needless to say, this is relevant in the realm of travel.
I believe my travels have been a uniquely female experience. I’ve had to learn critical life lessons just to be safe on the road, lessons which men can probably skip.
In Paris, I got rid of a stalker by telling him my family was waiting for me at The Louvre. They weren’t, I didn’t know where the heck they were. In Bali, I lied and told most of my drivers I was alone because my then-boyfriend was sick in a Canggu hotel and not home in another country. The old food poisoning fakeout: diarrhoea lies save lives.
Near misses aside, I’ve been screwed over by one too many accommodation scams in Southeast Asia and I was once assaulted on a train in The Philippines. These experiences were devastating for me. At times I wanted to give in to my mother’s advice and just go home.
However, speaking from the other side, the positives of solo female travel eclipse the negatives. That has been my experience. As for my ordeals, I can also say there are f*ckwits everywhere. Truly, you’ll find them at home and abroad.
Travelling solo as a woman has immeasurably taught me what I’d never have learned in my everyday life: the art of perseverance and the pioneering spirit of self-reliance. It’s led me to new friends. It’s given me memories to look back on when I need to be reminded of the wonderfully absurd beauty of life.
While I’ve seen the worst of folks, travelling solo has also taught me the innate kindness of people; a poor woman who put teenage me on a motorbike home when I lost my debit card in Bangkok, a young Chinese man who told me my $8 haircut didn’t look “that bad”. To carry on with my Blanche DuBois sentiment, travelling as a solo female taught me to put a bit more trust in the world.
I’ve also been able to see firsthand the perks of being a lady on the road. May every day be ladies night! *glasses clink, silk scarves are helicoptered in the air* There’s the opportunity to leap to new lands and ventures without having to check in with a travel buddy. Fellow travellers and locals are naturally more trusting of you because you’re a lassie and you seem less threatening than a male. Again, sad but true.
Despite the title of her article, I know Sabina isn’t discrediting solo female travel itself, but the representation of it, the trend of female bloggers gearing their content to this specific market. But for the reasons I’ve mentioned, the risky part and the rewarding part, it’s critical that informative and empowering resources geared to solo female travellers exist. Not just to explain the risks and how best to avoid them, but to inspire women to get out in the world.
I know I’m not the only one who sees the importance of this kind of content. The other night, after Sabina shared her article in a female travel blogging group I’m in – the group she also runs – many were quick to voice their opinions on the matter.
‘Representation matters. It matters to young people who want to look up to someone of their gender accomplishing something they want to do when society is saying it isn’t for them, simply because of their gender.
If I search the terminology that you [Girl vs Globe] don’t like, I instantly find many articles about solo women travellers and I find my community, my representation. Without the terminology, we don’t have representation.’
‘I do feel like I have to deal with things as a woman that men just don’t. While I don’t feel that it limits me, it does often alter my experience in a way that’s unique to my gender.’
‘I disagree [with the Girl vs Globe article]. Not because it shouldn’t matter what’s between our legs, but because we live in a world where it still does. No matter what your ideology may be. It’s not even in places as far flung as Iraq or India or Morocco, but Eastern Europe that still thinks of women as inferior. You know why? Politics. Religion. Places being left to (rightly so) evolve at their own speed.
I have a Romanian friend who sees me as the best thing since the end of communism because she watches my travels and wants to do the same. She doesn’t feel like she can because of where she’s from. I am a female solo traveller because it gives hope to other people who want to do the same but aren’t quite in that position yet.’
‘If someone were to tell me that I’m brave for a girl that would definitely piss me off, but I do feel like we need the term solo female traveller. I wish it wasn’t the case, but my experience travelling is completely different than the experiences of my male friends. I have to be more careful.
That is no reason for me not to travel, I just travelled all of Southern Africa on my own. But being able to read about obstacles women faced on their travels makes my life and that of other girls easier.’
‘I think it helps inspire more women to go out and travel when they can read pieces that are made for them. Women do sometimes face certain obstacles that men simply don’t (which infuriates me), so it’s important to write about it so that others know what to expect and how to deal with it.’
‘The main reason I love seeing “solo female traveller” is because it really is rarer. I hear from older women, “In my day, women were never doing these things. I love that you are so adventurous and following your dreams.” I don’t equivalate “solo female traveller” to “being brave, for a girl”’.
- Image by Garry Chiu