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No matter how long I travel or how many places I visit, there are certain questions that I will never be able to answer. One of them is what you need to know to travel as a women. I’ve talked to many female travelers over the last several years and without question they have to deal with things I never have to consider. Thankfully, I also know many inspiring women who have spent years traveling around the world. One of them is my friend Marybeth Bond. She is an accomplished author who has been traveling her whole life and has dedicated herself to inspiring and helping women to travel.
I’m asked Marybeth to share some of the lessons she’s learned from her lifetime of travel. Here’s Marybeth….
Ask yourself: what’s a Gutsy Woman? To me, gutsy means courageous and women today are bold, brave and empowered. In terms of travel, our habits have changed too. After all, women make 80 percent of all travel decisions, and we’re on the go. We are getting off the beaten track and trekking the globe, on our own, alone and with other women. Our issues on the road are often different than a man’s experience.
Over the past thirty years I have hiked, cycled, combed, dived and kayaked my way through more than ninety countries. I traveled alone around the world for two years at the age of twenty-nine, wandered the globe with daughters and girlfriends.
What do women want from their travel experience? In the process of creating twelve travel books, including nine for Travelers’ Tales and three for National Geographic, I discovered that women want: safety, freedom, adventure, opportunities for learning and giving back and time to nurture ourselves. I have interviewed hundreds of Gutsy Women who have shared their stories, wisdom and strength with me.
The rewards are many: We try on new identities as more independent, self-sufficient women; we explore new behaviors; and we develop a greater awareness of our potential.
Looking through the world through the lens of a woman, often alone, always aware, here are lessons I’ve learned along the path of traveling the world.
Akron, Ohio. Age 3-17
Every evening when my dad came home from work, we watched him ceremoniously put his extra change in a bean jar on the kitchen shelf. The money was carefully counted and saved for a splurge on our annual camping vacations. If there was enough money, we’d go out to dinner in a restaurant. Or we’d be just as happy with hot fudge sundaes.
All year long my parents saved and planned for a major family vacation far from home. The day school was out we would pack up the trailer, stop the mail, unplug the electrical appliances and cram four kids and two adults into the station wagon. We camped in State and National Parks across America from Wisconsin to Florida and Virginia to California. “You can do this when you grow up” was the message my parents instilled in their daughters.
- I learned how to plan ahead, save money and be frugal.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Age 17
During a family trip through the west, I envied the college students working in lodges and resorts. They were having a blast. My parents told me to “dream big” and urged me to look for a job for the next summer in a National Park. At Jackson Lake Lodge I wandered into the Human Resource Office and asked for a job interview for employment for the next summer. And I got lucky. Not with a glamorous job as a waitress or receptionist, but as a maid.
Stay home or go alone?
At home I convinced a girlfriend to join me, but she didn’t get a job because she didn’t have a personal interview. My dilemma was; go alone or stay home? Two days after high school graduation, with tears in my eyes as I said goodbye to my high school sweetheart, I boarded the airplane by myself and fly to Wyoming to change beds and clean toilets. A month into the summer I broke a finger horse-back riding and was promoted to “toast girl” in the kitchen. A week later I was became a dining room waitress where I met fascinating American and international guests. I dated cowboys, the pastry chef and a park rangers, climbed the Grand Teton and made life-long friends from New York and California.
- I realized a woman, or teen can travel alone and love it! I learned to talk to strangers.
Oxford Ohio. Miami University. Age 19
Freshman year in college I began dreaming of leaving Ohio to study in Europe. I was awarded an alumni scholarship and moved to Luxembourg to live with a family, study and travel for a year. From London to St. Petersburg, and Crete to Paris, I fell in love with Europe.
- I learned to ask people of authority for help. I didn’t even know financial aid was available until I started needling around. I learned to live on a very tight budget and travel on the cheap.
- Bar Tips – Buddy System and Date Rape Drug. I learned it’s better to have two sets of eyes to watch for bad situations. Don’t leave without your buddy. Get smart about Rophynol, “the date rape drug”, which is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. If a
guy buys you a drink, don’t accept it unless you see the bartender pour it. Carry your drink around with you. Don’t leave your glass unattended to go dance or to the toilet.
- Don’t Act Afraid. If you are, people can sense it and you can be a target for unwanted attention. Walk with purpose; chin up, aware of your surroundings. Know when to adopt the “don’t mess with me” attitude.
- Give and Take. Give warnings to other women travelers and ask local people (preferably women) and fellow travelers for advice: Is it safe to ride public buses? Is this neighborhood safe after dark? etc.
- Dress Down. It can be very difficult to know what is considered offensive or
suggestive in segregated societies. You may not know if the local men view you as a sex symbol or immoral. So take your cures from the local women. Blend in. Dress appropriately. Ask other Western women who have experience in this culture for their advice. Clothing that is fashionable and appropriate at home may project a provocative image in another culture. Leave the revealing clothing behind.
- Are you interested or ready for romance on the road? Carry condoms if you even think you may never use them – a friend might need them. Take more birth control pills, cramp medicine and deodorant than you think you’ll ever need.
San Francisco, California. Age 29
After living in Paris for four years after college, I settled in San Francisco and began a career. I was 29 and stuck in a successful but unsatisfying job in high tech, working for Honeywell in San Francisco when I realized I was living in a velvet coffin. I had a nice life, nice things and plenty of money.
I was bored and dissatisfied with my life. I knew I had to do something to get perspective on my life. But how? Then I remembered my childhood dream of traveling around the world, spurred by a box of National Geographic magazines in my parent’s attic in Ohio.
I quit my job, put my car, clothing and career in storage and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. I took a sleeping pill on the flight because I was terrified of traveling alone. I had never eaten in a restaurant or gone to a movie alone. While some thought (and told me) I was nuts, I traveled “single and solo” for two years around the world. It was during my travels that she discovered the “gutsy woman” within myself and had the time of my life.
- I learned to listen to my inner voice. Don’t let other people project their fear on you. Carry condoms if you even think you might need them. Take more birth control pills, cramp medicine and deodorant than you think you’ll ever need.
- Pack Your Common Sense. Follow your instincts. Ask yourself if you would do this/walk there/go to a stranger’s apartment/ take this risk at home? Listen to your inner voice.
Asia and Africa. Age 29-30
- Avoid Over-packing. You’ll carry your backpack everywhere; on and off trains, through city streets and into hostels. You can wear the same clothes over and over.
- Beware of Decoys and Distractions. If someone comes up and starts flirting with you check out who else is with the person. His friend behind you may slash your purse and run off. If someone bumps into you. Check your wallet right away. No problem if you’re wearing your money belt!
- Ask For Help. If you feel unsafe, talk to someone, preferably a woman with a man or baby. Duck into a shop and tell the owner that you’re a tourist and someone is making you uncomfortable.
- Leave the Bling at Home. Wearing jewelry will make you a target for thieves.
Married, Mom, Career. Age 30’s – 40’s
I married the wonderful guy I met in Kathmandu and had two daughters. We traveled extensively with them, from the Grand Canyon to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The girls and I traveled alone when he couldn’t accompany us. We lived with a family and studied Spanish in Mexico, rode pack horses and camped with a Navajo grandmother on tribal lands in Arizona, played soccer with their pen pals in Tanzania before a safari, and hiked through the rice terraces of Bali to attend a local wedding.
- Family travel on a budget is easy. Camp, stay in Youth Hostels and Couchsurf.
- Arrange family stays in foreign countries. Spend a week or two in one place in the
home of a family.
Cross-Country Bike Trip. Age 50+
When my 22-year-old daughter asked me to join her in a great adventure and challenge, I hesitated and voiced all my objections and fears. How would we finance it? Could we get in shape to ride 3,000+ miles? Am I too old? Will we go with a group? Should we buy maps and go by ourselves? Should we ask someone to drive a camper for us? JC threw down the gauntlet, “Mom, I know you’ll find a way if you really want to.” Two months later we had landed a major corporation as a sponsor and invited JC’s best friend to drive the Recreational Vehicle. We contacted the National Osteoporosis Foundation and offered to dedicate our ride to their cause. Why? I am afflicted with osteoporosis, as are my sisters and mother. So we launched a website and blog for donations of a dollar for each mile we biked. Our goal was to ride across the country and increase awareness of women’s bone health. We accomplished the ride, we remained friends, no one was hurt, and perhaps our greatest achievement was raising $52,000 for a worthwhile cause.
- I learned that great satisfaction comes by giving back. Find the “cause” that excites you and give your time, money, your skills.