Traveling and migrating to new countries has been my form of resistance, without fear of any destination, with deaf ears to negative comments and enriching myself with so much support from fellow women who travel and allies.
The Woman Post | Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra
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However, there are many attitudes and behaviors that have to change for the world to become a safe space for travelers and migrant women.
My experience of living in five countries across four continents has taught me the beauty and diversity of our planet and its people. Learning about Moroccan Darija dialect with my housemates that became like sisters, beating my fears jumping from a tree branch in a Tanzanian hot spring, crying with an elephant and learning why we shouldn't ride them on a Thai island, seeing whales for the first time with my French friends in a beach of the Colombian Pacific and even moving in with my English love stuck in the UK during a pandemic while I learn to appreciate the beauty of the gardens and growing your own food. Travelling has shaped every single piece of what I am.
I recognize that I speak from the comfort and privilege of someone who has been supported both by family and multiple full scholarships and fellowships. Having access to education and speaking English opens some doors for people from the global south, however, these opportunities are not enough and they tend to only benefit people who have had the chance to access higher education, a privilege in most of the global south.
I dream that one day seeing the world will not be a luxury but a right. I find traveling and being immersed in new countries an invaluable educational tool. More than being a hedonistic individual act, traveling can challenge the dynamics, stereotypes, and dogmas of this planet and the unfair concept of borders. In particular, women who travel alone or with other women are reclaiming back a space that has historically been forbidden to us.
Before it was unthinkable to travel without a chaperone or caretaker man. Before it was impossible for women to go on a road trip because we were not allowed to drive. Before we were property without voice or vote, a time bomb that must be married as soon as possible, a being with no allowed prospects other than pleasing and raising the kids.
We are still being killed all around the world for being women. We are still disrespected by abusive husbands, toxic families, unsustainable systems, unjust social norms. We are still in the fight for equality. Likewise, we strive daily and reclaim spaces that should be ours from the beginning. We question, change realities and rely on our sisters and on our allies to build with them safer and more equal communities. We are powerful.
Traveling and migrating to new countries has been my form of resistance, without fear of any destination, with deaf ears to negative comments and enriching myself with so much support from fellow women who travel and allies. However, there are many attitudes and behaviors that have to change for the world to become a safe space for travelers and migrant women. Is important, as well, to acknowledge the particular struggles and challenges that black women, trans women, and women with disabilities can face, amongst many others.
First of all, everyone should stop assuming that with every traveler woman there is a man who deserves more credit and respect than her. Stop asking us where our boyfriends or husbands are, stop assuming a man is paying for our trips, stop thinking a woman that travels alone is reckless or needs to find a man that will protect her or provide for her.
Teach men around you it is not normal to touch a woman without her permission, regardless of her nationality, or if she is a tourist or immigrant. It is not normal to ask where she lives if she is alone, or treat her with less respect based on how she dresses. Men have to understand NO means NO and insisting doesn't make them more macho or desirable, it makes them abusive. A lot of solo traveler women want to be alone or simply not with a specific man and society should normalize women being heard when they ask to be left alone.
Also read: NEITHER SILENCE NOR OBLIVION
The problem is not the women who travel, it is the men who continue to disrespect us around the world. The problem is not that we smile to strangers or that we dance in a certain way, it is that men are taking it as flirting and following us disrespecting our negatives. The problem is not that we have some drinks when we go out abroad, it is men that see a woman partying alone and assume she needs their unsolicited attention and company. The solution should never be to tell us not to travel or go to specific places but to educate men. It's is not about what we wear or how much we drink but about understanding and respecting consent.
It deeply saddens me to hear fellow women who travel telling me they have bought a fake marriage ring; they only stay in all women's dormitories or they take a knife on them just in case. It fills me with rage to feel fear of this world I love and I want to explore as freely and safely as any of my male friends. With this reminder of the challenges that women travelers face, far from discouraging other women to travel, I want to bring into the conversation, loud and clear, the urgency of the world to change and become a safe place where we can live and travel.
We will continue migrating and exploring, we owe it to the many travelers that we are missing today. If you have sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers that want to travel, never clip their wings, instead, support them and encourage them. One by one we are going to demand a world in which we can travel and live without fear.
In spite of the difficulties, traveling opens to us a world of opportunities, strengthens our character, and makes many of us very happy. I write this not only to highlight what has to change but also to share my desire that the experiences that have shaped me are fairer and more open to all the girls that dream of seeing the world.
Lack of support from families and society, in general, is often an obstacle for women who want to travel or move abroad, even if it seems less visible than visas and financial restraints. As a society we need to raise daughters that don’t fear scaring men off because they are too independent, we need to raise sons that don't think they own their partner and feel threatened by a woman that wants to travel alone.
As parents, we have to stop attacking women with our fears, or forbidding them to travel unless they go with their male friend or sibling. We have to stop making them feel guilty for leaving home and having dreams different from a stable household and job, for not taking over the family business, or for making us feel worried when they are abroad. Even if many of these attitudes are born in love, they are toxic and they restrict our freedoms and our full development as individuals. Should we all stay locked up?
Stop seeing girls and women as powerless, stop forbidding us to travel thinking you are protecting us as if we had no right to this world but to the small piece of land where we were born, as if we had no say or free will on our own futures. Support us if we dream of hiking beautiful Mount Kilimanjaro or driving a motorcycle through temples in Yangon. Encourage us to dive on the islands of the Pacific and understand our grief when leaving places, we can call home around the world.
We will continue traveling, telling our stories, and protesting from wherever we are. So that one-day traveling is no longer a privilege of a few so that none of us stop doing it out of fear or prohibition and so that we all feel safe exploring this world that for so long we were told was not ours.
“I want to travel the world alone and feel free, not brave.”