On Young Women Traveling Alone

Iris traveling alone

This originally appeared on The F Bomb. Republished here with permission.

“Be careful! You’re just a girl!” people told me before I set off to South America this summer by myself.

“Be careful, you’re just a girl!” I heard this phrase far too many times this summer as I prepared to leave for Brazil and Peru.

Every Spring Break since I can remember I’ve traveled to Peru, and I’m unfortunately used to people’s stereotypical and prejudiced conceptions of Peruvian culture—I’m pretty sure many of my childhood friends thought that I rode llamas, wore tribal clothing, and climbed mountains for the duration of my visits.

But this summer, I couldn’t tell if people were skeptical because I was traveling alone as a woman, or if they were just scared of Latin America in general since they saw it as too exotic and dangerous. Regardless, because I am both a woman and Latin American, it was doubly offensive.

The issue of stereotypes and prejudice has certainly been addressed before, but it is important to reiterate each individual’s ability to decide whether or not they will promote these judgments and destructive mentalities that can ultimately influence future generations. There will always be places that will require more precaution when visiting, but one’s gender should not prohibit them from traveling at all.

Traveling alone opens new doors and views on the world, can help individuals get in touch with themselves and uncover fears, hopes, and dreams. We should encourage women to have these experiences.

And yet, before I traveled alone this summer, I faced numerous snide comments about my safety that undermined the fact that I had done research and was aware of—and prepared for—the risk involved.

People assumed (perhaps because I am a young woman) that I needed advice and paternalistic warnings, but the truth is I have been traveling alone for a few years and each journey has been better than the last.

This time I was able to stay with my best friend and her wonderful family in Brazil and see a country I didn’t know through the eyes of people living there. I was able to be independent in Peru, and saw the country from another perspective and not just that of my family’s from our yearly visits together. These experiences will last me a lifetime, and I think taking that away from someone is like asking them not to grow up.

After coming back from my month-long trip, I went with my mom to our local nail salon. The manager, though he is normally incredibly kind, was one of those people who questioned whether it was wise for me, a young woman, to travel to “risky places.” As soon as I walked through the door he shouted, “You’re alive! You made it out! It was a reaction more applicable to the return of someone coming back from war, not an intelligent, independent person returning from a summer of traveling.

I wish the manager, and any other closed-minded thinkers, would educate themselves before imposing their thoughts and judgments on others. I hope people will encourage their nieces, daughters, or other young women in your life who hope to travel. Sexist ideology or cultural ignorance should not sway young women from a potentially life-changing, independent experience.

Ines Renique is a sophomore majoring in International Studies at American University. From 2012-2013 she served on the Teen Advisor Board for “Girl Up,” a United Nations Foundation campaign. She worked for the empowerment of girls both in the United States and in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Malawi, and Liberia. Earlier this year she interned at The Inter-American Dialogue, the leading think tank on Latin America-United States relations. Since April, Ines has been a member of the FBomb.org’s editorial board.

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