In Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in The Woods” Bryson writes about an incident that occurred while he was hiking the Appalachian trail, albeit in a different part of the trail. Two women were brutally murdered and the murderer never found. This incident is told briefly and without much consequence, that is, it doesn’t stop Bryson from hiking the trail and so doesn’t effect the story much. But for me, a reader and a woman who likes travel it did have an effect. It reminded me that for women travelling and travelling alone are still rebellious acts. It reminded me that so often when women tread in spaces that have been traditionally occupied by men there is danger and fear. It reminded me that explaining this fear is still a job, an exhausting, draining job, that often to falls to women. It reminded me that my good navigation skills, even in strange cities, isn’t a natural skill but a consequence of having travelled alone and paying attention to where I am at all times. It reminded me of the way we are often blind to situations that don’t affect us directly and as such there are probably a multitude of issues that I, a white woman, don’t personally see and need to learn about. And it made me angry that women’s safety is so often treated this way, as an oh-well-what-can-you-do, and something that shouldn’t discourage women from travelling or even taking precautions. As a feminist, I would like to live in a world where women are always safe, but this isn’t, notably, the world we live in. Telling women that sure, they should travel any and everywhere and throw caution to the wind seems callous at worst, and thoughtless at best.
On Being Alone
Back when I was 21 after my first trip abroad (and alone) I remember someone saying to me that they could never eat alone in a restaurant. Of course at that time I fancied myself an extremely worldly and independent woman (having both lived abroad AND gone to the cinema by myself) and looked at this comment with contempt. But it’s hard to deny, for me at lest, that in the last ten years the attitude towards women travelling alone , or in general doing things alone, has changed a lot. Many young women from my home town are travelling alone now, and my social media is flooded with advertisements for groups with titles like ‘Solo Women Travelling’ and so on. Also a lot of mentions of “girl tribes” which, if I’m honest makes me highly uncomfortable. When I see fellow women doing things alone it makes me happy, it makes me proud. But there’s a commercialisation of women travelling that honestly doesn’t sit right with me. We know that women have a lot of buying power and these trips that promise round the world adventures, courses that suggest that you will make a massive income while lying on the beach and sipping from a coconut, and wellness retreats that promise you that through the right meditations and essential oils your life will be fixed, seem less like women’s empowerment to me and more like plain old capitalism. As I’ve written before, travelling is great and can certainly help and empower us but we have to be careful how we frame it. And if I’m honest, why does it have to be empowering? What is wrong with women doing something we want just because we want to? Because it’s fun? Because we can? It seems in this day and age we are all crushed under the weight of having to constantly be bettering ourselves. Our hobbies should become jobs and our spare time filled with informative podcasts and TED Talks, if we’re not making money we feel guilty. But there’s nothing wrong with doing something because we want to and this is especially true for women whose enjoyment of leisure time so often gets labelled as selfish.
On Being The Only One
Often, over the last two years I’ve wondered why I found this move to Ireland more difficult and more frustrating than when I lived here before or when I lived in any of the other cities I’ve lived in over the years. And it occurred to me the other day that it is because I’m relatively alone. That is, I’m the only non-Irish person I know. In other places I’ve lived I’ve always had the barrier of expats around me, people with whom you can laugh at your cultural foibles, wonder at the things that annoy you and praise the things you love. Whatever the case may be you’re on equal footing. Everything is as new and different to you as it is to everyone else. Without that, I’ve felt lost at times.
Of course I am writing this as a white and English speaking person who has moved to a largely white and English speaking area so I don’t wish to conflate my experiences with that of people who might be visible minorities or experience racism or prejudice.
On Social Media
When it comes to social media, particularly Pinterest and Instagram I often find myself torn. On the one hand I know and can feel the way that they contribute to personal and community stress. When it comes to travel it’s not enough anymore to go somewhere interesting and have a fun or interesting time. It has to be done while perfectly dressed and shot with a high quality camera and edited to perfection and posted with a thoughtful and engaging, but not-to-obviously-looking-for-followers and then. THEN if it’s a moody shot of a mountain or something it will be praised as art but if it’s you on that mountain then it’s more vain, self obsessed unrealistic-expectation-setting trash. Social media is fickle and difficult, just when someone thinks they’ve figured out the algorithm, it changes. It puts pressure on us to act like every moment is perfect. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know there.
On the flipside I think that a lot of the derision towards Instagram and Pinterest has a sexist undertone. People use Instagram to showcase their beautiful homes and skilfully and artistically applied make up, their DIY craft projects and other things that traditionally have been feminine pursuits. Pursuits that are so often labelled as shallow.
Sometimes I miss the days of travelling without Instagram. It didn’t matter if my outfits weren’t perfect always (okay, hardly ever) and I didn’t feel that I had anything to lose or to prove. Still I enjoy an artfully arranged and taken Instagram shot. I suppose the necessary thing as in everything is to find balance, to keep learning and to worry less what people think, a not simple task in itself.