Wanderlust: I’m Not Afraid To Travel Alone

I am traveling alone through the islands of Hawaii and I am a young woman. I am not worrying about getting raped every moment of my journey, unlike writer Tara Burton, who wrote about her fears in an article for Salon called “Dangers of Traveling While Female.” I don’t feel as if my life or body is in any imminent danger simply because I’m in new surroundings with people I may not know. After all, it has usually been in the most familiar places back home — my residential neighborhood, at school or local night clubs — where I have been stalked, street harassed or treated like an object.

While traveling, I don’t feel as if the likelihood of such dangerous encounters increase. As a matter of fact, oftentimes, I feel safer. When people hear that I am traveling alone, they seem to feel a sense of responsibility and concern for my safety and well-being. They take an immediate interest in my boldness; and all of a sudden, I become a woman worth protecting.

“Who are you here with?” curious people often ask when we become acquainted during my travels.

“Um, by myself,” I reply.

“Wow, that’s really courageous!” they exclaim, wide-eyed.

It really isn’t. Well, it is no more courageous than simply existing in this world, on a daily basis, as a woman, and even more specifically, as a woman of color. Waking up everyday to face the barrage of images and messages that try to diminish, judge and/or demean my womanhood and my blackness requires courage. Swimming with dolphins, hiking up lonely trails, bathing in isolated natural springs, snorkeling among exotic fish and large turtles, listening to the stories of other weary travelers or falling asleep alone while listening to the sound of waves crashing against the shoreline? Those things don’t require much more than an adventurous spirit and some money. In truth, I believe it is far more difficult to face life’s daily struggles than it is to hitchhike for hundreds of miles with complete strangers.

That’s because my vulnerability is actually acknowledged in these situations. People feel as if they must be on guard to protect me from the cruel dangers of the  “strange” world that is unfriendly and unkind to a young woman traveling all alone. They detail what streets are safe to walk down at night, and which are to be avoided. They advise me to steer clear of “creepers” and pull over immediately to pick me up if I’m trying to hitch a ride back to my hostel late at night. I’ve even been offered a few free meals. People care. And that care translates to a willingness to extend friendship, guidance and support to a complete stranger.

At home, my struggles as a young woman becomes trivialities to those around me. It was only a few months ago that I told my friends that I was being stalked near my house by a strange man and many of them laughed off the incident saying, “Oh, I’m sure he is harmless”.

I wonder how they would’ve reacted if I told them some guy followed me five miles from a local cafe to my campsite and stood waiting for me a few steps away from my tent?

Young women are constantly preyed upon in society and that truth is often obscured, buried by victim-blaming or excuses for indecent male behavior. Evidence of rape culture can be seen in everything from the response to the Bill Cosby rape allegations and the constant ubiquity of street harassment, to the belief that a woman is “asking for it” because she decides to dress a certain way. Yet, many do not feel compelled to reevaluate the belief systems that create such predatory environments. They ridicule the movement against street harassment, call feminism anti-male and unnecessary, and victim blame. That is, until they encounter a young woman traveling alone, of course. Then, all of a sudden, the world becomes a frightening place for ladies. Such is the disjointed, hypocritical relationship between our larger society and the women who exist within it.

As much as I do appreciate the concern of others, I know that if anything were to happen to me while alone on my travels, many of those same individuals would question: “But why was she traveling alone?!”

The realization that the guarantee of my safety or protection is contingent upon following rules of dress or fulfilling gendered expectations of behavior is far more frightening and disturbing than anything I will likely encounter as I travel alone. I don’t fear being raped in a dingy Hawaiian alley, as much as I fear the dark truth that if, in the unlikely and horrifying event that a man did force himself upon me, I would possibly be blamed for it.

That is the thought that haunts me every step that I take in my solo adventures.