If I am being completely honest with you, then I’ll tell you that I think all the time about travelling the world. When I met a man on a bus in NYC who told me how average, everyday people can get to Antarctica, I thought God was giving me a sign that my dream to set foot on every continent would come true.
It’s easy to fuel a “passion for travel” or “wanderlust” with travel magazines, cozy corners in bookstores with travel books and guides, and, best of all, the lovely “Travel” category on Pinterest. Quintessential photos of beautiful young women backpacking alone through the streets of Thailand or the Swiss Alps make you think, “That could be me!”
About two weeks ago, I saw with my own eyes one of those quintessential young women. My family was eating some authentic American food [aka Dominoes Pizza] on a busy street here in Delhi. This particular strip of the street is “home” to some well-known American chains, so it isn’t uncommon to see other “whities” (as I fondly call my fellow race-mates) coming out of Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds. But when a white woman in her early twenties, blonde as can be, walked in alone, lugging her backpack and a purse with her, I immediately said to my family, “Wow, look at that girl.”
Wow, look at that girl. This is a phrase, folks, that I could use in two ways when referring to a beautiful, blonde, well-dressed white girl who is backpacking by herself through India. In America, with my naively Pinterest-shaped world-view, I might say, “Wow, look at that girl” with awe and lots of envy as she sets off with a smile on her face and big dreams to conquer the world. But friends, while I was sitting at that table across from her in the freezing AC of a Dominoes in Delhi, India, I said, “Wow, look at that girl” with lots of hesitation and fear for her.
To clarify, I will say this: Western women (Americans, Europeans)…value the “equality” and respect that you have. Most of the women in this world are either a) seen as sex objects b) do all the work without receiving any credit for it, and c) not seen as anything at all. A majority of Indian women believe that it is ok for their husbands to beat them. I have lived in an African country carried on the backs of women while the men sit around all day drinking alcohol. And in every non-Western country I have visited, I have experienced what it is like to be seen as a beautiful white body and nothing more. I knew as I stared at that brave young woman that she was probably realizing just as fast as I had that on the streets of Delhi you will have a lot of eyes staring at you and that the smiles of the men passing you are not “friendly” ones.
I want to pause here to say something very important, though. I love India! I love Gabon! I have thoroughly enjoyed so much about the experiences I have had in these types of cultures, and I still want to visit more! The things that I have least enjoyed, though, are how men stare at me and call out to me and whistle at me and rub up against me in crowded places. I don’t enjoy walking down the road that was the site of an international-news-making gang rape. I wish I could tell my sister to just “go explore” this amazing city, yet I haven’t told her that because I don’t want to chance anything happening to her.
The point I am trying to make is that while I DO believe that people should travel more, and I believe they should travel to places like Delhi or Libreville, and I don’t think that anyone should let fear keep them from experiencing other cultures, I have faced the hard realities of travel. Sometimes you aren’t welcomed. People aren’t always as nice as you expect they should be. And truly, as a young woman, there are some situations where I could be (and have been) in more danger that I had expected.
Why am I writing this post? I’m thinking that right now…I’m thinking about how my parents or grandparents might read it and get freaked out about me travelling alone as much as I do. I’m thinking about women who have successfully traveled alone in all sorts of sketchy places and might say, “It worked for me, what’s wrong with you?”. I’m thinking about how you might misinterpret everything I’ve said and think that the dangers of travel have scared me off. I’m thinking about how bad it would be if I have instilled fear into you to travel more.
But at the same time, these are things I’ve been thinking about these last few weeks. I want to share with anyone who reads this that I have discovered that the world can sometimes be a little scarier than you think. It’s awesome and beautiful and interesting and vibrant and the diversity has taught me so much about God…but it not heaven and bad things can happen. Dreams are great, and I say, “go for it!”, but be safe at the same time.
I have found this article to be really helpful, and I agree with pretty much all of it. It is so easy to visit cultures that are SO different from our own and almost forget that the people there are people. When I remember that, I start to have less fear because at the core of us all is humanity.
Anyways, that’s what I’ve been thinking about.