Traveling is such an adventure for me. I never really considered solo travel to be a scary or truly intimidating concept. When I set out to travel to Europe for a few weeks for a much needed reset, the response was overwhelming— some thought it was “brave” and others thought it was downright insane.
My first trip alone took place years ago and was admittedly much shorter in the states. The idea that going abroad would be different didn’t cross my mind when I booked my flight, planned my itinerary, and started packing my bags.
After lots of prayers and an eight hour flight, 45 minutes lost in Charles de Gaulle, I was finally on the RER B headed into Paris. Having been to Paris twice before, I thought I could easily navigate the metro system as I have used it once I was in the city. Getting from my terminal to the train… an entirely different story. Up to this point, being a female solo traveler ultimately made no difference in my travel experience. A slight exception of course is that family and friends only considered this trip “brave” or “insane” because I am a female who cared not about my gender when making my plans.
Once I was safely off the train, I was riding the escalator up and felt an unwanted hand touching me in a place it had no business touching me. Carrying two bags of luggage up an escalator and a man decided he could sexually assault me in broad daylight in front of a metro full of people and not a single soul did anything to stop him. “What the fuck” is not in my French vocabulary. It should be. It needs to be. I turned around quickly and hit him with a pretty empty bag and then hopped off the escalator because I was at street level. That was how my holiday started. An unwanted and unwelcome reminder that irregardless of how many times I had been here, I needed to be on guard at all times. It didn’t ruin my trip by any means but it undoubtedly made me less trusting and probably the asshole American I never wanted to be.
As the days went on, I danced along the Seine at all times of the day and night to my favorite Christmas tunes. I decided not to let anyone steal my joy. I made a point to be kind to the people in shops and restaurants. I still smiled and offered to take pictures of tourists as I would on any other trip. The difference? When men offered to help with my bags, I often declined. When men walked up to me speaking in French, I responded in Italian or German. At all times, I was ready to run faster than Usain Bolt or Alyson Felix in the Olympics. I continued on to places I’ve visited before and some I hadn’t, but allowing strangers to photograph me, no. I became quite familiar with “selfies” and quickly discovered I in fact do not have an angle!
I will never stop traveling (with or without friends) and I don’t think women should be expected to make that choice. I have always loved reading and as long as I can remember, artists and writers traveled all over. I don’t believe there was ever a prerequisite that women must be accompanied by men or travel in groups.