Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thoughts on Solo Female Travel

Recently we lost one of our countrymen, and a fellow female traveler. Sarai Sierra, a New Yorker, and married mother of two, was found dead today in Istanbul. She had traveled alone to Istanbul to take photographs, and went missing the day she was expected to return home. You can read more about Sarai's case here, so I won't use this platform to do what journalists do best. 

Instead, I wanted to take this opportunity to say my condolences, and to publicly discuss the issue, or non-issue, of women traveling alone. 

This case really hits home for me. I did not know this woman personally, but as a young woman who often travels alone, I can say that this is every female traveler's worst nightmare. I would be lying if I said that the nightmare  doesn't creep into my mind down every dark alley, be it Hong Kong or Honolulu, no matter how far I travel I am never completely free from fear.  How I wish we women could wonder the world as carefree as our male counterparts. Staying at hostels, meeting strangers at bars, sleeping on the street until sunrise, train hopping in the middle of the night. Don't get me wrong; female travelers are doing these things all the time. I've done all of these things too. I haven't been foolish. I haven't been careless. But I also haven't been unlucky. 

As a fellow female traveler I feel obligated to speak out against the onslaught of speculators, who blame this woman for her death.  Such comments include, "Why would a woman travel to Turkey alone?", "How could her husband let her go there by herself?", "Its not surprising they found her dead...a lone woman traveling in a woman hostile Muslim country."

It disgusts me that women seem to take all the blame for their misfortunes. We can't forget this past election year, when politicians blamed women for being raped, blamed women for getting pregnant, blamed women for being single mothers, and now my fellow Americans are blaming women for getting murdered. 

First, I will tread on this topic lightly. The tragedy that befell this women is not to be exploited on this blog or elsewhere. Also, the circumstances of her death are presently unclear, with the murderer and motive still a mystery. 

My message is a message for those of us who are still living, who are still traveling, and who plan to continue living and traveling safely as long as we possibly can. 

Our ancestors worked hard to make this world a safer and freer place for women, and their sacrifices should not be forgotten.  We live in an age in which women enjoy unprecedented freedom. But freedom comes at a price. Many women suffered before laws were enacted that could have protected them. 

Now is not the time to be afraid, now is the time to be thankful.

To my fellow women I say, don't give up. Don't stay inside your homes, afraid of the world that lies beyond your street corner, and on the other side of the earth. Don't blame Turkey, don't blame Muslims, don't blame the "others" for all the misfortune in the world. But most of all, don't blame our brave sister Sarai. 

To my fellow women I say, keep traveling, keep taking risks, keep surprising the people around you with boldness and brilliance. The world will be a safer place for our daughters as long as you do so. And above all be thankful. Be thankful everyday.

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