on solo female travel

Before I went traveling, my 90-year-old Chinese immigrant grandmother clucked her tongue and told me not to.

Find a husband first, she said. Then you can go traveling with him.

———-

I yelled at a Turkish boy at a party last weekend. He was upset because I wouldn’t dance with him, I wouldn’t drink excessively, and I was nicely sidestepping his aggressive advances.

If you have a boyfriend, why are you even here?

He spat this at me as if I should know better than to accept invitations if I’m not interested in sleeping with anyone there, as if my existence is meaningless if I don’t want him.

I shout back a stream of English that might’ve been beyond his comprehension, but makes the whole street turn around and stare, and sends me back to my hostel room sobbing.

———-

All through Asia I refused those probably uncertified motorcycle taxis that hang around outside clubs to take people home. I heard tons of male friends tell great stories that started on the back of one and ended in a bar full of locals, or a tiny streetside food stand, or even driver’s home. You never really know what’ll happen—the major pro and con to that form of transportation.

I give in once in the middle of Vietnam, at three in the morning after a huge fight with the English boy. I lean back and hold on to the bike but the driver reaches around and puts his hand on my thigh. He takes me to my hostel, but not before asking for my Facebook.

———-

A Canadian girl moans about her white skin and blonde hair and blue eyes.She is going to India, and knows she will be stared at, catcalled, treated like royalty.

I can’t get behind her in this. It’s like cursing the fact that you’ve been born with a massive advantage, one that the people around you fiercely desire. And if that means you’re slightly uncomfortable, well then maybe for once you are catching a tiny hint of what some people feel like when they watch the white-dominated media, or get discriminated at at airports or job interviews.

———-

I gush about Morocco—the history, the culture, the food, the people. Another American girl is shocked.

My friends told me they hated it, she says. They were always getting stared at for their shorts and tank tops.

I didn’t wear shorts and tank tops, I tell her.

———-

Traveling as a solo female is this—all of these scenarios that don’t come up in the calls home to my parents. It’s being shown Taken (and Taken 2) by my Houston friends after announcing my trip, and being gasped at by the majority of the people I meet. It’s the terrifying times I felt unsafe, the frustrating times I chose to play it safe and missed out on a high risk-high reward opportunity.

But it’s also instant trust, instant camaraderie among other travelers just because you’re smiling, just because being a solo female is the least threatening persona on earth.

It’s the English girls who invited me to share a room with them to save money. The Dutch boy who invited me along to the north of Laos. The German bus driver who let me ride for free because I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket. The English boy who walked me home from the bar. The American girl who let me use her laptop to try and find my stolen phone. The Vietnamese man who rented me his motorbike. The Thai hostel owner who let me store my bags for free. The Laotian man who taught me how to properly eat soup. The German boy who invited me in on his New Year plans so I wouldn’t be alone. All the new friends I made who let me sleep in spare beds and showed me their city.

I am lonely sometimes, and scared sometimes, and angry sometimes.

But more often than not, I am surprised by my strength, encouraged, impressed, and humbled by others’ kindness, and so grateful that I have been lucky enough to live this.

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