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.

Packing with Heels: How to Save Space

I'm going to begin with the moral of the story: Do as I say, not as I do.

By this I mean that though I am writing a blog post about better packing practices, I am the world's worst overpacker. If I'm going to L.A. for the weekend, you better bet I'm going to bring four pairs of heels and twice that many dresses. I need options, people. And if I'm going to a cold weather locale and need heavy coats and boots, I practically need my own porter. So with that caveat, here are my packing tips as I originally published them in Go! Girl Guides for ensuring you don't pull out your back before you even get to the airport.

We all envision ourselves as the low maintenance traveler who can just throw a few things in a backpack and go. But for some of us (myself included), reality is a little less backpack, a little more backpack/purse/laptop case/roller bag… okay, large roller bag.

When traveling for an extended amount of time, not only is it easier to lug less around, but with those airline baggage fees, it’s cheaper. So while you may never be a backpack-only type of girl, with a few tips you can at least consolidate down to one carry-on size roller bag (and still bring along your favorite pair of heels too.)

  • Pre-Plan: Pack in advance of your trip- Simple advice but highly effective. I’ve been known to wait until an hour before I need to leave for the airport, and in a sheer panic, throw half my closet into my suitcase. But if I make a list and pack a couple of days before the trip, I give myself time to comb through the resulting madness and rationalize that there will be no need for canary yellow pumps or three LBDs.
  • Pack Smartly: Whenever possible, pack clothes with one color scheme in mind – neutrals like blacks, grays, whites are easiest, adding in touches of color with lightweight accessories like scarves. Outfits that can easily transition from day to night are necessary in order to avoid taking more than one change of clothes per day. Mix and Match to create more outfit opportunities for less space. Unless you are packing for a special occasion, toss out anything that doesn’t coordinate with more than one piece of clothing. In other words, a polka dot skirt that matches only one shirt you are bringing is probably a no go. (As a style aside, a polka dot skirt may be a no go anyway, but for entirely different reasons.)
  • FedEx It: When traveling through different seasons and climates and you will be in one place long enough to receive a package, do what I did: Three months in Europe took me from 50 degrees in Dublin to 90 degrees in Rome. Packing boots and flip flops – and everything in between – wasn’t an option. So I packed cool weather clothes in my suitcase to take with me until I left Ireland and England behind in May. Before I left, I packed a box full of summer clothes and shoes and enlisted a friend to ship them to me at an apartment I was renting for a couple of weeks in London. When the package arrived, I placed my jackets, sweaters and boots back in the same box and shipped it back to her.
  • Utilize Every Inch of Space: Pack heavier items in your suitcase first such as sweaters and jeans. They will be harder to stuff into your suitcase if you are short on space whereas tank tops and dresses can easily be placed on top or in any nook or cranny.
  • Use Your Heels: Stuff them with socks, underwear, bikinis, jewelry… anything small you can cram in there. Tall boots are even better – they can accommodate complete outfits if rolled up and stuffed inside. When packing, try to pack your heels so that they lay in your suitcase like they did when they arrived in the shoe box. This will help to save space. If you’re cramped, pack them so they stand vertically between your clothes, but be sure they’re protected from the sides by clothing so they won’t get damaged.

Space Savers

We all know the rolling-up-the-clothes trick. Not only does it save space, but it works double duty as a wrinkle alleviator. An even more effective way to pack is to invest less than $20 in Space Bags. Just pack a bag full of clothes, seal it and press down until you hear all the air has released from the one-way value. Your previously full bag of clothes becomes nearly flat, allowing you to pack almost twice as many clothes in your suitcase.

A Few Random Tips:

-Don’t forget that almost everywhere you go will have whatever you might need – and usually for cheaper than you could buy at home.

-Pack clothes that can usually withstand more than one wear like jeans or cargo pants.

-If your main concern is making sure you stick to one bag, wear your largest items on the plane. Don’t pack your winter coat; wear it. Same goes for your bulkiest pair of boots.

-Don’t take more than one piece of outerwear for the whole trip. You aren’t going to Fashion Week, after all. Unless you really are.  And then in that case, all these rules are out the window. You’re going to need those canary yellow heels.