“You want to do what?”
The first time I told my mother I wanted to travel Sabah for two weeks on my own, she freaked out. She 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.
Needless to say, I was upset. I remember thinking that if it were my brother making the very same request, mom and dad would have gladly driven him to the airport. The double standard infuriated me.
I was angry not so much 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 robbery, drugging, molestation and worst of all, rape. While they happily grab a beer with their new found bro from the hotel, we have to keep our eyes on our drink at all times.
Unfortunately, women are still seen as the weaker sex, making us vulnerable targets.
There are safety in numbers, but this fear will always hover as long as there is no male company.
Who will stand up for us if we get unwanted attention from creeps?
Many women are still dependent on men. It is their fathers who will fix their broken car, their brothers who will read the map, their boyfriends who will hoist their oversized suitcase up 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.
“You have so many guy friends, why don’t you ask them to join you?” My mom always asks when I tell her of my latest plans.
Ever since returning from my first backpacking trip alive and well, my family has learnt to trust me. It took a lot of convincing to finally get their blessing, though disappointed head shakes from my grandparents and raised eyebrows from friends are some things I can never escape.
Others are more wary of what their bosses think. There is always a worry that taking time off to travel will affect their careers.
These worries – of disapproval, of the lack of male dependency, 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 from our community, but we have to realise that we cannot let everyone’s opinion affect us. Learn to filter the negative opinion of those who do not matter and have an open conversation with those who do.
Every time someone asks me how my parents are fine with me travelling as a single woman, I say “They’ve given up on me.”
The truth is it took time to show them that independent travel is very important to me. Upon realising that, they bit their tongue and saw me off on my first trip.
After that it was a matter of winning their trust. 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 with every trip. Now, not only do they give me their blessing, they are also proud of me. They may be used to my wanderlust, but they will never stop worrying, not even if I were married with kids. My mom’s constant nagging to “not trust anyone” can be overwhelming, but it is a form of her love.
Fear of personal safety
Unfortunately, all the media reports on rape in places like India do not make things easier for your anxious family nor yourself.
If you let fear of crime hold you back from travelling, it might as well stop you from going to work too. Whether on the streets of Timbuktu or your local pub, there is danger everywhere in the world.
Instead of letting it cripple you, why not take charge of your own safety?
I almost had cold feet when I was en route to Jordan. I started inviting friends at the last minute to no avail.
Was it a scary experience? Yes. It was for the first couple of days, but it became less scary with time. If I were a little smarter back then, I would have read up on other women’s experience and advice on keeping safe to boost my confidence. What did help was researching on local customs to take note on things to avoid and how to be respectful.
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.
The best way of conquering this is to dive head first into it. Book an all-girls trip or go on a getaway on your own, you will be surprised at 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 decision is, always be honest with yourself.