Ethiopia. – I’m supposed to be writing my thesis on women travel right now. But instead I’m typing for my travel blog because, you know, why not. Women and traveling – two words that were not used together at all until late 19th century. It was almost impossible to imagine these two terms appearing on the same page of an article at that time. I am not going to bore you with how traveling has historically been associated with men and masculine prerogatives and how women were domesticated and not suppose to communicate knowledge about the world. It is, however, a fact that women traveling independently is still not accepted in many places in the 21st century. I have mentioned in my previous blog entries some of the reasons why I love traveling solo and my encounters while travelling solo. But I don’t remember writing about these things from a female perspective. It’s not like I deliberately try to avoid talking about my traveling experiences as a female traveler, and it’s not like I think my gender doesn’t matter, either. My traveling, in fact, has been very gendered.
‘It got me thinking: what if I were not a women?’
And the name of this travel blog that you are reading right now, if you don’t know already, is ‘ironically’ “Miss Traveling”. Does it mean I’m aiming at a female audience? No. Does it mean I am a feminist who thinks all women should travel solo? No. Does it mean I travel only because I want to go against the “norm” because society tells us it is dangerous for women to travel? No. I had two breakdowns when I was traveling in Ethiopia – all because of the things that I had to face because I am a woman. It is not a matter of whether I am being proud of a woman or not. I was born a woman and therefore there is no choice as to say whether I like it or not. Yet I am very aware of the EXTRAS that I had to consider as a woman travelling solo. I had to wear more layers when travelling in Muslim countries and some African countries even when it was boiling hot. I had to be careful with my behaviour because men from certain cultures might misinterpret my intention.
‘…love interacting with local people and in the developing countries.’
I had to pretend that I did not hear the whistles and verbal harassments that came along with me walking down the street. All these EXTRAS that I had to pay attention to at times made my interactions with people difficult because I am a people person. I love interacting with local people and in the developing countries that I have traveled to, the people who speak better English and who usually approach me are men. It is very frustrating when you meet some interesting people that you could learn a lot from and you see a huge possibility for friendship but it turns out the other person wants something else. It got me thinking: what if I were not a woman? I am often convinced that if I were a man, our conversations would go on and on and I would be friends with everyone that I have met during my travels. I even had to wear a ring on my ring finger to pretend that I was married during the second half of my travel in Ethiopia.
‘…not make assumptions.’
That said, it is not like I would avoid having conversations with men while traveling. I have built life-long friendships with people I met on the road and I still learn a lot from making conversations with people from different cultures. At the end of the day, I have learnt nothing more than how to judge situations and not make assumptions. I would never assume that people intend to harm me or take advantage of me. Some say it’s best to expect the worst, but I still have faith in humanity. It is easier said than done, but I do believe when I approach people with an open heart; they would respond accordingly.
About the blogger: Constantly shocking her family and friends with the most bizarre travel destinations, Pearl Yan finds no fun in staying in a shell and shines the most when she discovers the unknown. Based in Hong Kong, she documents her offbeat global adventures that aim to inspire (oh that time when she had a hyena massage), and you may (or may not) find them on her blog, Miss Traveling.