There's No Place Like Home

It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home.  -Rumi

I’ve spent the last 10 days traveling in Spain and France.  I’m writing this blog post on my long flight from Amsterdam to Seattle.  By the time you read this, I will be home.

The past several years I have found myself traveling solo more often than not.  When a lot of people travel alone, they do so beautifully, smoothly, and easily.  I’m not always that person.  At times, my solo journey is a struggle.  Not in some big dramatic way, but everything is just a little harder when traveling alone - juggling the luggage, navigating the map, translating the language.  The thing is, I love travel so much that even if I don’t have my preferred situation - a travel partner - I go anyway.  The little struggles are worth the transformation that solo travel can bring. 

When I travel solo - whether that travel lasts two weeks or two months - I often find myself yearning to go home by the end.  It’s a palpable homesickness for familiarity, whether that be my friends and family or my own bed.  I used to feel like there was some shame in wanting to go home at the end of a trip.  As if there was a weakness in me because I was feeling lonely or wanting to fall back into my normal, every day life for awhile.  

But then today, someone reminded me that that is part of the reason why I travel - why we all travel, whether we recognize it or not.  We don’t just travel to seek what is new out in the world.  We also travel specifically for the opportunity to return to what is familiar.  How else would I ever fully appreciate what I have at home if I didn't leave for awhile and then return? 

So when I land in Seattle today, I will begin savoring the last few days of the Pacific Northwest summer.  I will meet friends for dinner this week.  I will sleep well in my bed tonight with my own pillow.  I will fall back into a routine.  And I will appreciate it all just a little more than I did two weeks ago because I left to travel.  But then I came home. 

Just A Girl


Traveling in Ireland during my first solo trip

Traveling in Ireland during my first solo trip

The moment that I step outside

So many reasons

For me to run and hide

I can’t do the little things I hold so dear

‘Cause it’s all those little things

That I fear

‘Cause I’m just a girl 

I’d rather not be

‘Cause they won’t let me drive late at night 

I’m just a girl

Guess I’m some kind of freak

‘Cause they all sit and stare

With their eyes

-”Just a Girl” by No Doubt

Like the rest of America, I woke up last Saturday morning to the news that yet another school shooting had occurred.  This one had a twist, though, which included a terrifying YouTube video and a 140-page manifesto entitled My Twisted World (indeed) during which the murderer, Elliot Rodger, railed against women for not giving him the time of day - or anything else.

As the weekend wore on, the #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen hashtags surfaced on Twitter.  The point being that from the male perspective, “not all men” are misogynists, but from the female perspective, “yes all women” have experienced misogyny.  It seemed that Rodger’s plan “to wage a war against all women” had backfired.  Women had come forward to do battle.

I launched an internal battle of my own, reading through hundreds of #YesAllWomen tweets.  I perused the online forums where Rodger used to post, reading shocking posts by other men, supportive of Rodger and his hatred of women.  I read powerful articles and blog posts written by women identifying with the #YesAllWomen sentiment.  I also read asinine articles like The Federalist’s The Ten Most Asinine Things About #YesAllWomen.  Perhaps most importantly I examined my own beliefs about misogyny and how I personally feel as a woman about men.

I do not believe that all men are misogynistic.  Not even close.  I know wonderful men - my dad and my brother being two great examples to me during my life.  But I’ve also personally known men that hate women.  That treat women not only disrespectfully but with physical, emotional and verbal abuse.  That call women vile names that are typically directed only toward women (you can use your imagination).  And that use their physical strength as a means of intimidation.  These are just examples of men I’ve actually known.  In America.  Where women have access to education and are protected by Title VII and aren’t beaten or stoned to death for choosing to marry the man they love instead of their cousin.

You are probably asking yourself what does any of this have to do with a website that is dedicated primarily to women’s travel? Plenty.

About 12 hours before the UCSB massacre, I read an article in the New York Times entitled “Women Alert to Travel’s Darker Side.”  The article presented one frightening scenario after another of women who have traveled internationally and then been raped or murdered by men.  One particularly disturbing quote came from a man in Istanbul, a shopkeeper in the same neighborhood where American tourist Sarai Sierra was murdered in 2013.  He said, “If the woman does not flirt, a man would not attempt to do anything, any harassment.  Everything starts with a woman.”

Despite the Turkish man’s attitude, my first impulse upon reading the article was to argue that the rate of female solo travelers has skyrocketed in the past several years such that it makes sense for the reports of crime against solo female travelers to have increased as well.  I also contemplated the fact that men traveling around the world are also victims of crime such as robberies and murders, but the spotlight often doesn’t fall on those incidents like it does with women.

What I couldn’t argue my way out of is the fact that it’s different for females and males traveling, especially solo.  I don’t like it.  I don’t even like admitting it.  But it is.

I’ve traveled solo to countries all over the world.  Before I travel, I read travel guides, travel magazines and travel blogs.  I post on travel forums and ask questions about issues like safety.  I contemplate secure neighborhoods and proximity to public transportation.  I decide whether I will be safe going out at night or whether I should do most of my activities during daylight.  I do all of the right things as a woman traveling solo.  But it doesn’t always make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been lucky.  I’ve never been the victim of a crime while traveling.  But I’ve felt unsafe - not all the time but many times.  I’ve been approached by men.  Relentlessly.  Men have called me names.  Men have whistled at me, yelled at me, cussed at me and have said lewd things to me.  Men have followed me down the street.  One man followed me up the elevator in my hotel in Madrid and down the hall outside of my hotel room.  Another man grabbed me in Paris (I screamed “NO!” and ran).  Men have asked me if I have a husband or a boyfriend.  Men have asked me why I’m not married.

All of this has taught me a lot as a solo female traveler.

I’ve learned to keep my eyes averted.  I've learned to be aware of my surroundings at all times.  I’ve learned not to stay out past dark.  I’ve learned to walk with my keys clutched in my hand to use as a weapon.  I’ve learned to cross the street whenever possible to avoid groups of men.  I’ve learned to tell any man who approaches me that I’m “going to meet my boyfriend” - when that most certainly is not the case if I’m traveling solo.  (This generally makes men back off immediately, by the way.  Which suggests they have more respect for this fictional boyfriend than for me.)  I’ve learned to very carefully consider my clothing choices while traveling.  I’ve learned to immediately go on the defensive when any man speaks to me - even men who may be perfectly kind and nice.  Basically, I’ve learned to be afraid. 

I host a Twitter chat on Thursdays dedicated to female travelers called #Adventuress.  The chats are open to both women and men, though understandably very few men participate.  A few weeks ago the topic was “Solo Travel.”  I wanted to give solo female travelers the opportunity to talk about their experiences and to give women who might be contemplating solo travel the opportunity to start a dialogue.  At one point I asked the question “What advice would you give to a new solo female traveler? Or what advice would you like to have?”

A man that has never participated in the #Adventuress chat suddenly chimed in with this answer:

Stop freaking?  I. Was. Furious.

Upon investigation, I discovered that this man is a self-proclaimed “permanent traveler.”  He has a large following (nearly 32,000) on Twitter.  He has traveled all over the world and has likely had many experiences with different cultures, people and viewpoints.  Except he doesn’t have a clue about being a solo female traveler, and his ignorance is an embarrassment both to him and to other men.  Yet he flaunted his “expertise” in my chat as if he knows what it’s like to be me or any other female going out into the world alone.

Because I encourage an open dialogue during my chat, I didn’t lash out the way I felt compelled to do.  I didn’t lash out at all, in fact, other than to politely express my opinion that many women need encouragement to travel alone.  Now in retrospect I wish I had lashed out.  He has no idea.  NO IDEA.

I not only wish I had spoken my mind, I wish I had a solution to suggest.  I know that #YesAllWomen will eventually die down.  The next mass crime spree or natural disaster will divert people’s attention from the UCSB massacre and the killer’s rationale behind it.  We will continue to hear stories about solo female travelers who are raped and killed on vacation.  Men will continue arguing that "not all men" act this way.  I don’t know what I can do except yet again try to start a dialogue.  I'm just a girl, after all.  But this time I’m prepared for battle.

Stick It to Me: A Guide to Travel Vaccinations

No one likes going to the doctor or taking medicine or getting shots. (Taking shots maybe…)

But if you’ve ever been seriously ill on vacation (Me. 2004. Antigua. E. Coli. Worst plane ride of my life culminating in me laying in the floor in customs followed by being wheel-chaired through the Charlotte airport), you know that if there was anything you could have done to prevent it ahead of time – or stop it in its tracks – you would have done so.

With illness prevention as a fact of travel life, the most important thing you can do is plan ahead.

Many vaccines must be given several weeks in advance in order to be at their height of efficacy or administered in a series over a period of days or weeks.

When determining what vaccines you need when, the two best places to start are the Center for Disease Control and your physician, ideally one who specializes in travel medicine. The CDC breaks vaccinations down into three categories: routine, recommended and required.

Routine

Routine vaccinations are those that all children and adults are recommended to have whether traveling or not. These include such vaccines as tetanus, diphtheria and measles/mumps/rubella, among others.

Consult with your doctor or look to your prior medical records to determine when your last round of vaccinations or boosters took place. (Another good starting point may be determining what your college or university required for immunizations upon admission.)

Do not overlook diseases such as polio that were eradicated in the United States and for which you may have received a vaccine as a child. Such diseases are still active in other parts of the world, and a booster to your original vaccine may be necessary.

Recommended

Recommended vaccinations cover diseases such as typhoid fever, Japanese encephalitis and even rabies, among many others.

Such vaccinations depend upon a variety of factors – where you are visiting, whether you will be spending time in rural areas, certain risks you may be taking while traveling, how long you are staying, the season of the year, your age and health condition and previous immunizations.

While the CDC offers guidelines by which you can look up the countries you will be visiting and their corresponding recommended vaccinations, this is likewise best discussed with a physician who specializes in travel medicine.

Required

The requisite you-aren’t-entering-this-country-without-that-vaccine vaccine is rare. In fact, there are currently only two such vaccines listed on the CDC’s website:  yellow fever and meningococcal meningitis.

The vaccination for yellow fever is required for travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. In order to enter countries requiring such vaccine, you will need to find an authorized clinic giving the vaccine who can issue a certificate of proof to that effect.

For meningococcal meningitis, the government of Saudi Arabia requires the vaccine for travelers entering the country during the Hajj Pilgrimage.

An Ounce of Prevention

Even when a vaccine isn’t available, there are many preventative measures you can take to ward off illnesses or put a stop to them once they start.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease for which there are several drugs to consider taking. The decision about which anti-malarial drug to choose is best made after a discussion with your physician weighing the side effects alongside the effectiveness.

Dengue fever, is also spread by mosquitoes, but unlike malaria, there are no magic pills. The best prevention is covering your arms and legs, sleeping under mosquito netting and using mosquito repellant containing DEET.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind before setting out on your journey:

  • Several weeks before your trip, begin taking a probiotic to help ward off any stomach issues while vacationing.
  • Educate yourself on foods to avoid in certain countries and when bottled water is a necessity.
  • Talk to your doctor about obtaining a prescription for an antibiotic to take with you as well as instructions for what symptoms to look for when considering taking the medicine.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a good first aid kit.
  • And as for the aforesaid taking shots, you are on your own with that hangover.

Ever had a health scare while traveling? How do you feel about vaccinations? Do you stay up-to-date or wing it?

I originally published this article in Go! Girl Guides.

Women in Travel Summit

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There is something about bringing a group of women together.  Especially bringing a group of women together who love to travel.  I first experienced this when I traveled to Bali in 2011 for a women's surf and yoga retreat.  I knew that it would be fun, but I didn't anticipate the way I would bond with other women who have the same passion for travel as I do.  I had an identical experience when I traveled to Morocco last year on a women's fitness retreat.

When I registered for the Women in Travel Summit (WITS), the first and only women's travel blogging conference, I didn't know what to expect. While I have been a freelance travel writer for several years, I'm relatively new to the blogging scene.  I had never attended a blogging conference, and I expected to be surrounded by women who had been blogging for years.  I definitely didn't anticipate any bonding moments.  We were there to learn from travel industry experts and engage in networking. 

That's not exactly what happened.

Don't get me wrong.  I did take seminars taught by travel industry experts, and I learned a lot - even more than I expected.  And I did engage in networking.  But it was so much more than that.  My first misconception was that I would be the only blogging novice.  Most of the women I spoke with at WITS had either just started travel blogs or were looking for inspiration to start their own.  My second - and more important - misconception was that there wouldn't be time or opportunity to get to know these women and bond with them over our common love for travel as I had experienced in the past.

WITS was held over St. Patrick's Day weekend at the historic Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, attracting over 150 women from as far away as Australia, China and the Canadian Arctic.  The conference began with a welcome party on Friday night.  Saturday morning kicked off with a breakfast and opening keynote speaker followed by a full day of sessions from which we could choose to attend such as "Finding a Job in the Travel Industry" and "How to Be a [Travel Blogging] Rockstar."  On Saturday night we had another party and Sunday morning we were back for more sessions.  WITS closed early afternoon on Sunday with a second keynote speaker. 

In addition to the scheduled activities, we had several moments to just be women hanging out in Chicago.  We walked through the throngs of people to see Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade.  We scoured the city for deep dish pizza.  We got lost walking around.  We took an impromptu limo ride to the WITS party on Saturday night.  We went out dancing.  We commiserated the next morning when we had only gotten four hours of sleep.  

And in between all of that, we talked about our common passion: travel.  We discussed how many states and countries we had each visited.  Our favorite places.  Our upcoming trips.  We rapidly took (and then compared) notes during our WITS sessions.  We talked about how we were going to incorporate what we had learned into our own blogs, businesses and travels.  We connected over the shared experience of feeling like we were at a crossroads in our lives - wanting to get away from our corporate jobs to travel or to start travel-related businesses and blogs.  

We sat through inspiring speeches together - the opening speech by Jeannie Mark (aka Nomadic Chick) and the closing speech by Evelyn Hannon (aka Journeywoman, the "Grandmother of Womens' Travel").  Evelyn's first solo trip to Europe 30 years ago paved the way for our own solo travels, and her travel writing starting 20 years ago paved the way for our own travel blogs.  One sentence during Jeannie's speech spoke to me more than any other and easily sums up the entire purpose of my blog:

"Women deserve to star in their own epic adventure."

Even though we were all just sitting in a hotel ballroom listening to Jeannie and Evelyn, we were engaged in the experience together.  Either Jeannie or Evelyn would say something that particularly resonated with this group of independent, oftentimes solo, female travelers, and we would look around at each other, smiling, nodding, even tearing up.  This was a collective experience. The stories they told could have been our own lives they were speaking of, the similarities were so striking. 

They were speaking my language.  They were speaking the language of all of the women in that hotel ballroom.  They were speaking the language of this sorority we've formed of all women travelers around the world.

WITS 2014 attendees at Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.

WITS 2014 attendees at Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.

Courtney Scott leading a seminar on being your own media professional.  Photo courtesy of WITS.

Courtney Scott leading a seminar on being your own media professional.  Photo courtesy of WITS.

Jeannie Mark giving the opening keynote speech.  Photo courtesy of WITS.

Jeannie Mark giving the opening keynote speech.  Photo courtesy of WITS.

Bayyina Black leading a seminar on vlogging.  Photo courtesy of WITS.

Bayyina Black leading a seminar on vlogging.  Photo courtesy of WITS.

Opening party on Friday night.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.

Opening party on Friday night.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.

WITS attendees on the first day of the conference.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.

WITS attendees on the first day of the conference.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.

Evelyn Hannon giving the closing keynote speech.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.

Evelyn Hannon giving the closing keynote speech.  Photo by Studio Noveau Photography.