“Female solo traveler” has been a buzz phrase in the travel community for a few years. Being a female solo anything is challenging enough in our patriarchal run world, but to travel through it alone can be daunting and intimidating. As women, the threat of violence is ever looming, no matter where you go. Thus, to be putting oneself in new territory, without cell service and with only the vaguest sense of direction seems absolutely mad to many people. And it is. To be a woman in the field of traveling presents new dangers and requires hyper vigilance at all times.
But listen, I have been traveling on my own since I was 16. And I have learned many tricks and rituals to keep myself and others safe, but I truly have been so fortunate to not have gotten into anything too seriously traumatic (although I have many close calls). The reality of being a female solo traveler dawns upon me in routinely, small, everyday things. For instance, the other day it was maggots that reminded me how utterly helpless I can be. If given the choice between being left in a new city, chased by Ann army of strangers, and a trash can filled to the brim with maggots, I will happily take the first.
My roommate and I had planned a day of exploring and working intermittently. She usually picks a few beaches she wants to see that day and I grab a book, my journal and join along for the ride. As we were walking out the door she stood in front of me in rock paper scissor position to decide which one of us had to take out the trash bin. I suggested a coin toss instead, and regretted it immediately after losing. Confidently, I approached the bin to take outside. I opened the top and almost walked inside and booked a plane ticket home. The bin was absolutely covered, I mean covered, in squirming, yellow maggots.
It was totally our fault. We hadn’t taken the bin out for a few days because it wasn’t full and where we’ve lived you don’t waste bags by taking half full trash cans out. But, we didn’t realize the humidity and heat here, combined with rotting fruit peels, could turn so disastrous. And for the first time in my traveling life, I wished I could call my dad to come save me. Perhaps this instinct comes from an on going family joke me dad likes to say. “I’m good for opening jars and killing bugs,” is his favorite way to get out of playing board games with my sister and I. But in this moment, I needed him more desperately than I’ve ever relied on another human in my life.
I know this sounds dramatic; I fully acknowledge how pathetic this incapability seems. And it was pathetic, I was utterly paralyzed. My brilliant solution was to trow the bin away. I couldn’t see another option. I was going to spend my last couple bucks on avoiding this chore, which honestly seemed like a good deal to me considering I would have sacrificed a limb to avoid handling a bin filled with maggots so all the money to my name felt really reasonable. My dramatic response comes from my only real phobia – parasites. I don’t want to talk about it too much because that’s how intense this fear is, but any crawling, parasitic bug can go eat dirt because I simply refuse to share earth with them; I simply will not acknowledge they exist in order to protect myself. My friends know that I will happily challenge any intimidating figure to a scowl off and I will lead packs of women proudly into battle. Unless we happen to be battling maggots.
My roommate and I stood in the street with napkins, laughing so hard we were crying at how ridiculous our predicament. We had no idea our next move. So when people like Louisa showed up right as we decided to burn the bin and leave the country, I have to appreciate whatever great things I did in my past life to deserve her heroism. Louisa takes care of some of the houses in the area and was coming by to check that we were alive. My roommate was hesitant to accept the help, whereas I was already promising her my first born as she got out of the car to take care of us. She was the most fearless woman I have ever seen, I mean she looked almost graceful and powerful totally unbothered by my worst nightmare. She cleaned our bin as I sent my hysterical roommate to clean and shower and calm herself down a bit.
While Louisa was finishing up, I asked her if she fears anything. (In my head she was from the same island as Wonder Woman and completely inhumane.) But, I guess frogs and lizards are her kryptonite. Which made me laugh because I have a strange affection toward amphibians. It’s so fascinating where are fear comes from. I’m sure it’s partly inherited and partly cultural.
I don’t have an awe inspiring moral to this story but it did make me realize how strong of a community women are globally. In moments I look around for a man to help me, which is not often, there seems to always be a badass woman already stepping up to the plate. I don’t underestimate the female community, but when I do (confronted by a trash bin of maggots) I am happily proven wrong by a mother, by our matriarch.
My sweet roommate said something I’d like to share about her experience as a “female solo traveler”. She said, “I have been a woman all my life, I am still a woman while traveling so I take this wherever I go. I take those fears with me and perhaps there are a few extra, but my experiences being a woman in this way are the same.” You are a woman no matter where you go. So go wherever you are called, and be a great woman there.