The Dangers of Absorbing Everything You Read
In the article entitled "Dangers of Traveling While Female", journalist Tara Isabella Burton writes "I wanted to be a fearless adventurer like my male heroes, but a voice kept warning me: Don't get yourself raped." Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and as I see it, opine away. However, statements like this compel me to publicly share my opinion.
Perhaps a bit of quick background first would be beneficial so that you can assign as much or as little merit to my opinion. I’ve traveled through more than 25 countries including Thailand, India, Turkey, Italy, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, most of them solo either via foot or motorcycle. I wasn’t emotionally ready to travel alone at 18 when my plans dissipated at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. Sans travel guide and armed only with four years of high school Spanish and a credit card, it was rough going until my friends arrived a week later. However at 25 years old, getting dumped in Athens, Greece quickly compelled me to abandon the concept of needing a travel partner and I’ve never looked back. Point being, everyone reaches that comfort level in life when they’re ready, willingly or otherwise.
A travel writer, which as much as I’d love to think I could one day be, I am not. I am a travel enthusiast, a scholar of the world, a budding gastronome of the exotic, and a lover of architecture that is older than my country. The aforementioned is but a small piece because what truly defines the experience of travelling abroad is the cultural exchange between you and the country’s inhabitants.
So…when I read an article written by a woman with the above byline, I have to take a step back to compose myself before opining on what can only be described as ‘shock value’ to get me to continue reading. Sadly, the shock value was a persistent theme throughout the piece. As any writer should do, I read up on the source with respect to travel writing. In a different piece, the author writes “I’d always been better with places than with people". I can’t imagine why?
The impetus driving me from couch potato to op-ed today is not to attack the author’s ability to write, just her credibility from making statements like "If being a woman traveler has taught me anything" and follow it up with some wisdom wholly unrelated to any of her experiences, at least those which she chooses to include, and based on harboring an irrational fear. In my opinion, she discredits her own perspective as a "travel" writer by excluding organic experiences with others based on their gender, which leaves me as a reader knowing that her writing is an opinion solely based on physical presence of a location and irrespective of the community living within it.
Hopefully, recognizing this will encourage women who may be swayed to believe otherwise by reading overly dramatized articles which lack encounters that validate her opinion. That is not to negate the possibility of anything bad befalling a woman (or man for that matter) travelling alone, but simply pointing out that traveling alone is no more of a risky proposition than walking down the street in your own neighborhood and being killed. [Last I checked, we still do that without the need to produce material instilling fear (of which one hasn't themselves experienced) into others more susceptible to shock value and less interested in fact checking.]
The takeaway, if any, is to take a chance and enjoy the freedoms we have been given to experience life beyond the realm of our cozy comfort zone and to embrace the kindnesses of our fellow man. "...the freedom to have an adventure, to have the adventures one chooses, is illusory. " Life is what you make of it. Choose fear, choose freedom, choose to write whatever you wish and publish it. We have choices, and the opportunity for us to have them didn't come easily, but that is another article entirely.
I am a firm believer in that the way you carry yourself defines your experiences with others. Don't believe me? Try it sometime. On Saturday, smile at everyone you pass and greet them hello. If an opportunity to help someone arises, take it. Open doors; say please and thank you. If the store clerk opens a door to conversation, don’t close it. Now on Sunday, do the opposite. Scowl, be quick to answer and of few words, and let the door close behind you. How did that affect your day-to-day experiences with others? How were you perceived or treated differently?
I also believe that more often than not, our “sixth” senses about people are correct and we change the course of random events on a daily basis, even if only fractionally. That said, presenting yourself in a foreign country with an unfounded sense of fear from the moment you arrive will have some effect on the reciprocity of your interactions. The vast majority of conversations I’ve been solicited to have were started on the basis of basic human curiosity and cultural exchange (and not of a sexual nature). If one doesn’t have the ability to travel outside of their country for whatever reason, you have just brought the outside world to them. What’s not to love about that? I have had personal tours, invitations to dinner with the family and/or stay at their homes, assistance in language translation, and an abundance of help to fix my motorcycle.
None of those interactions could have been achieved with a closed mind or heart. There is an entire world to be explored beyond the one square foot of earth on which you stand and the notion that a woman cannot have the same experiences as her “male heroes” because something unspeakable is bound to happen is ridiculous. As previously suggested, life can be every bit as “dangerous” sitting in your air-conditioned office, typing a rebuttal piece as it is riding a motorcycle down a deserted highway in Argentina with buzzards flying overhead, counting on your demise.
Fear is addictive. If you’ve ingested the emotions you’ve read or heard, your spirit of adventure be damned. Your life beyond your square foot of earth is guaranteed to never evolve or become enriched beyond that. Don’t let someone else’s irrational fears poison your curiosity to set foot abroad on your own. Start small…I tossed the guidebook out the window for a six-day layover in Thailand and my life will never be the same.
In the humorous words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.
Be bold, be brave, and forge your own path when you're ready.
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