I recently was at an educational seminar at this Northwest Overland rally. This is a pretty large gathering for those who like to go off road and take their entire house with them. These are serious backroad travel folks. It spans the gambit of national and international adventuring, as well as the all too famous weekend warrior. There are seminars and vendors and like-minded people all around. Thousands, literally.
I attended a seminar from a young lady who was supposed to talk about women and traveling solo. This was something she had done quite extensively, according to the description. She was young, later she said 26, was giggly and said “like” a lot. The women in the audience were not her age, and were mostly my age, or closer to my age than hers. I was looking forward to hearing about her gear, how and why she traveled, and maybe learn something. I tried really hard to have an open mind. Honest, I did.
Until she talked about the times she makes up stories about a fake boyfriend when she is asked if she is traveling alone. She went so far as to talk about someone she knows who puts out an extra camp chair and even a pair of men’s boots as a way to supposedly ward off attackers. I was beside myself. She said this was “one of the tools in her tool box” and she had no problem using it. In all my years on this earth, I have never made up a story like that when I traveled alone. I cannot imagine the series of lies I would have to tell, and keep track of, once I started down that road. I mean, what happens if she later runs into the same people and the boyfriend is still “in the bathroom” or “paying for the gas”? What if she went missing and rescuers went looking for a couple? I was taken aback. I was actually surprised as she went down this road of safety and a strategy is the made up male partner. Not just a partner, mind you, but a male.
I see so many things wrong with this, I struggle where to begin. Are we, as women, so based in our fear, that the only recourse we have is with the presence of a man? Even a fake man? Are we still that dependent on others for our safety and security? The scary situations the other women described were all situations where nothing happened. It was the “maybe” or the “assumption” that something bad could or would happen. It was fear. They had no reason to fear for their safety, except the stories they have been told, the images we see, and the stereotypes were are fed as women. The situations described were the “what if” and not the “guess what happened to me”.
From a young age females are taught to be careful, be on the lookout for harm, to be afraid of so many things! Being alone, the dark, the alley, strange men, strange people, the city, the country… the list goes on and it is all messages of fear. We are not taught how to be strong and confident and how to protect ourselves. We are taught all the ways we must alter our lives so that we stay safe. Lock the doors and windows, get a dog, have a roommate, don’t go out alone, don’t stay out too late, carry weapons. We are taught how to be afraid. This young lady contributed to the culture of fear that keeps so many women from pursing their dreams, their passions, or taking the opportunities for travel and adventure that call to them.
I have been a single woman for more years than I have been partnered. Now, I am an older single woman. I took all the steps I could think of to protect myself. I have been trained in firearms, martial arts, some weapons. I have always walked and carried myself in a way that makes me a “hard target”, which means I seem like I can kick your ass. Previously, that was all talk and I had no skills to back it up. Now, I have skills to back it up. Well, some skills anyway. Does that mean I walk willy nilly down the alley in some unfamiliar place in the middle of the night? No, it does not. I am mindful of my surroundings, working to minimize my risk, yet not alter my entire life due to fear. I do not believe any one gender holds the key to my safety or to my risk. I believe that situations, such as large groups where alcohol or drugs are consumed, are more risky than some remote campground out in the woods.
I wonder about the other women who were at the talk. I wonder how many do not or will not seek adventure due to their fear. I wonder how many think an extra camp chair will save their life. If asked, I always admit that I am traveling alone. It is the truth and I am not afraid. I may not always say where I am and I may limit any details, depending on the situation or circumstance in which it becomes a topic. I am proud of myself for taking on this adventure. I am proud of the preparations I have done and those I continue to practice. I will not completely alter my life due to fear.
I really, really hope the other women will find ways to be confident on the road and in their travels. I hope they will be aware and mindful, but not see all other people, men in particular, only as signs of danger or their only hope of protection. I am bothered that this is the job of the young woman. She is working for a company and she is doing THIS training all over the place. I really want her to stop training women to be afraid or give them bullshit ways to address the issue. A fake boyfriend will not help you should the need arise and neither will his fake pair of real shoes.
I believe we should work to educate and empower women to feel confident being and living alone. I believe we should educate and empower men to find solutions outside of violence and to be mindful of the culture of fear we all help to create. If you are scared to travel alone, dig deeper and explore what exactly you are afraid of and how you can accomplish your goal of travel and feel safe. Are you afraid of hiking alone? Being someplace unfamiliar? Not speaking the language? Not camping around others? There are hundreds of ways to travel and dozens of ways we can empower ourselves to be more confident. Address your fear as a way to open the doors to your dream of solo travel.
Fear needs to go. Messages of fear need to stop. Confidence and feeling secure needs to stay. Exploring our fears and working to create solutions needs to happen.
I said this before and I will say it again – FUCK FEAR!!