“YOU WANT TO DO WHAT!?”
Mom freaked out the first time I told her I wanted to backpack solo. Sem break was coming up and I was dreaming of going to Sabah for two short weeks. But that was not going to happen. She immediately sat me down and recommended I go see a doctor for depression. Hours later, my brother called home from Singapore to talk me out of it.
Well, that sucks. I remember thinking to myself if my brother made the same request, mom and dad would’ve gladly driven him to the airport. No questions asked. Pfft! What double standards!!
I was infuriated not at my parents, but at the reality of society. It’s a painful truth to say out loud, but life is a little trickier for women.
While our male counterparts walk out the doors with little to worry about, we’re inundated with fears of sexual assault. While they happily grab a beer with a stranger, we constantly remind ourselves to keep an eye on our drinks. While they’re ready to rumble in two shirts and a shorts, we obsess over our clothes – Can I wear shorts? Do I need a headscarf? Are short sleeves disrespectful? Did I pack my pepper spray?
Unfortunately, the realities of travel for women are different from men as we are still seen and treated as the weaker sex.
“You have so many guy friends, why don’t you ask them to join you?”
One university degree and countless solo adventures later, mom still asks this question whenever I share my latest travel plans.
Like my mother, a lot of women out there are still dependent on men. It is their fathers who fix their broken car (guilty as charged), their brothers who read the map, their boyfriends who hoist their oversized suitcase to the plane’s overhead compartment. For these women, the idea of tackling a foreign country without male presence can be unnerving, especially when it gives them a sense of security.
Nonetheless, my mother has learned to accept the realities of a wanderlusted daughter who prefers to travel alone. While that’s great, I still can’t escape disappointed head shakes from my grandparents and raised eyebrows from relatives.
Others are more wary of what their bosses think. What if taking time off to do a bit of travelling affect their careers?
These fears – of disapproval, of the lack of male presence, of physical safety – have set many aback from venturing outside their comfort zone. But what are fears, if not for us to face them?
Fear of disapproval
It is human nature to seek validation, but how can we achieve our dreams if we let everyone’s opinion affect us?
Solution: Learn to filter the negative opinions of those who do not matter and have an open conversation with those who do.
For me, I’ve trained myself to turn unsolicited opinions from busybody aunties into background noise. When they say “you should stop travelling”, I hear flies buzzing in the background. The only blessing I needed was from my family.
Every time someone asks me how are my parents okay with me travelling as a single woman, I joke that “they’ve given up on me.” The truth is, it took years to show them that independent travel is not a mere hobby, but a part of who I am. Taking that away from me would be like asking Shakespeare to stop writting. Upon realising that, they bit their tongue, got me an amulet from the temple, and drove me to the airport.
It was a matter of winning their trust from then on. I shared my itinerary with them, forwarded my hotel reservations, and “reported” home often. I did all I could to convince them that I am careful yet brazen enough for this.
I slowly won my family’s trust one trip at a time. Now, they proudly armchair travel through my recklessness. They may have accepted my wanderlust, but I don’t think they’ll ever stop worrying. Mom still tells me that it’s time to stay home and settle down. Her constant nagging to “not trust anyone” gets overwhelming, but I know it’s just the kind of overbearing motherly love every lucky daughter has to deal with.
Fear of personal safety
Unfortunately, all the news reports on violence against female tourists in places like India do not make things easier for my parent’s anxiety.
I’d hear mom say ‘don’t travel here, don’t go there, it’s too dangerous’. That got me thinking, if I let the fear of crime hold me back from travelling, I might as well just lock myself up at home and never go out. Whether on the streets of Timbuktu or at the street outside my home, there is danger everywhere in the world.
Solution: Instead of letting it cripple you, take charge of your own safety
Case in point: Shopping mall parking lots are notoriously dangerous in Malaysia, but we haven’t let that stop us from going shopping, have we?
With female independent travel becoming a norm, there are a tonne of resources out there written by women for women, use it to empower yourself. Read about other women’s experience to boost your confidence. Connect with a women travel groups to get support and advice. Research on local customs to learn what to avoid and how to be respectful. Maybe take up a self-defence course! Be aware of the possibility of dangers, yes, but please don’t let it paralyse you.
Lack of male presence
Who will stand up for you if you receive unwanted attention from creeps? Yourself.
A male presence is handy, but not the be-all and end-all.
The feeling of need for a man to be your patron and protector is called the Cinderella Complex. It stems from having little confidence in your ability to make it in the world on your own, leading to a desire to be saved by Prince Charming.
Solution: Dive head first into it. Book an all-girls trip or go on a small getaway on your own, you’ll discover how independent, self-sufficient, and strong you really are.
Whatever your fears are, do not let it stop you from travelling. Most importantly, do not live with the regret of not pursuing the things you believe in.
Oh, and if your work does not support your right to a fulfilling personal life, ask yourself if it is worth sacrificing your time and life for. Perhaps the company is worth postponing your dream for the next five years, perhaps it’s not. Whatever your decisions are, always be honest with yourself.
This article was first written for Zafigo.
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