Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Everybody dies someday - At least I saw Provence first"
April 22, 2014 5:09 AM   Subscribe

"For most of my life my everyday choices were based on the assumption that I could not trust other people. I thought it was my job to foresee and prevent all harms from befalling me. [...] My life has been better since I've accepted two simple facts. ONE: everybody dies (sorry). TWO: I would like to live a little first." -- Don't let fear stop you from traveling, a cautionary comic by Natalie Nourigat, part of her webcomic/travel blog about living in France for a year. You may know Nourigat from her Oregon Book Award nominated autobio college comic Between Gears.
posted by MartinWisse (58 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's cool, but letting fear stop you from wearing headphones or texting on your phone while you walk through urban parks alone is a really good idea.
posted by thelonius at 5:43 AM on April 22 [6 favorites]


Everybody dies, but not everyone gets [ insert worst nightmare here ].
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:46 AM on April 22


Yeah, France is fine, the Darien Gap maybe not so much. Yay for her anyway, though.
posted by Segundus at 6:03 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I quit my job and bought a one way ticket to Guatemala a couple of years ago. I did all kinds of crazy stuff down there, but there were definitely times that I feel like I took one too many chances, mostly in Nicaragua. Falling off a sled down the side of a volcano, diving off a cliff into a river near deadly rapids, getting shitfaced drunk, hitchhiking with some random people, going to a random birthday party with strangers and then walking across town back to the hostel at 3am, getting stuck in a bus for 12 hours with no food, water or air conditioning, surrounded by angry protesting farmers, getting stuck in the mud in a van during a rain storm by a raging river.

Obviously I didn't die, but there were a few times where the possibility of dying was right in front of me in a way that it rarely is back at home.

Let me tell you, there was never a time, especially when I was looking at an 8 foot jump into a river when I thought, man I'm glad I made this decision to really live, even though I might die right now. I was mostly thinking, man, this would be a really stupid reason to get killed.

I guess what I'm saying is that while really living is a wonderful idea, I don't think that it's worth dying for.
posted by empath at 6:04 AM on April 22 [11 favorites]


I'm grateful for the term 'marché des biffins' picked up via the vide grenier site she links to. I really want to go and buy from those biffins.
posted by Segundus at 6:12 AM on April 22


I wish I'd had this sort of mindset when I was single and child-free. I've done more solo travel since my son's been born than ever before, but it's not the same as the kind of freedom you have when you're young. And yes, I did let worries about being a woman traveling alone stop me several times. I really wish we didn't live in a world where the keys between the fingers was such a common experience. That's why I plan on teaching my son to be a good, feminist man.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:17 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


My teenage son told me yesterday that someday he wants to go bungee jumping or that thing where you look like a flying squirrel and jump off high places. I started sobbing before he finished talking. My older daughter recently went for 10 days back to Cambodia where we have friends and family, but on her own at the hotel and travelling. I wept so much at the airport, it was ridiculous. I was glad for her to do this, but oh my god, reading these comics all I can think is You're Breaking Your Mother's Heart!
posted by viggorlijah at 6:20 AM on April 22


I think that people in here are missing the nuance that this webcomic was targeted predominantly towards women.

We women do have things we need to worry about when we travel (let's put it this way - my brother and I may have both researched trips to Morocco, but I doubt his research included "how to deal with street harrassment in Marrakesh"), but all too often other people use those things as an excuse to talk us women out of traveling solo. And sometimes we do ourselves. I once took a spontaneous trip in my 20's to surprise a friend who was working at a Ren Faire in Massachusetts; I had to take a bus partway there and then rented a car the rest of the way. I struck up a conversation with another woman on the bus, and when she heard I was traveling alone, she was shocked. "Aren't you scared of something happening to you?" she asked.

"No," I said, baffled. She was reacting as if I were hiking the Cumberland Pass in a tutu and heels. What the hell was there to be scared of in North Carver, Massachusetts?

This comic is for women like the one I met on the bus.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:30 AM on April 22 [30 favorites]


The culture of fear is real and gaining strength. I'm currently at my in-laws, and they have the TV on in the living room most of the time, and this exposes me to cable news and network morning talk shows and whatnot in a way I usually don't experience. And it is absolutely amazing to me how the TV teaches its viewers to be anxious and fearful about just about everything. The TV really is a fear machine and it wants to chain us all.

Now, taking stupid risks is stupid, but the world really is safer than we've been lead to believe, and there is such a thing as an acceptable risk, and there is no such thing as risk-free.

I enjoyed this comic very much. I had a moderately adventurous early 20s (nothing too crazy, but I have slept on the couches of internet acquaintances on other continents) and I think this was absolutely essential for my personal development and, well, my maturity, as I had anxious and fretful parents. I don't think I was really an adult person until I had these adventures.

I've always been aware that this was a marker of my privilege (economic, educational, but most of all gendered - I'm a tall, sturdy-looking white man who can usually pass for straight if he wants to), and I never feel comfortable waving the "take chances! live life! fuck risk!" flag, because that's easier for me to do because of my position within social structures that are beyond control. This comic comes from someone who has less of that privilege to fall back on, so the message feels more useful and vital.
posted by erlking at 6:42 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


viggorlijah, not to make you feel worse, but that kind of fear a parent shows their kids lasts a lot longer than you think. I've tried all my life to get my parents to let go and allow me to travel without grief and excessive worry/tears, but they still get almost hostile with sadness every time I announce a trip.*

In my youth, it prevented me from doing a lot of things that looking back would have been really good for me. I love them, but their (mainly my dad's) fear of risk and the unknown has haunted me for decades. It's only been in the last few years that I've decided that they can no longer make me feel guilty or sad because I'm traveling.

Let your children travel and show them a happy face upon leaving, it helps them return with glad hearts.

*I travel to normal places like Paris, Italy, and random beach places and don't do insane things like jump off of tall things, but the way my dad reacts you'd think I've announce I'm going to walk down the streets of Baghdad in a bikini.
posted by teleri025 at 6:47 AM on April 22 [12 favorites]


I love them, but their (mainly my dad's) fear of risk and the unknown has haunted me for decades.

Yes. This. The parent-pleasing phase of life has to come to an end one day. Why not today?
posted by thelonius at 6:58 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Lack of money keeps me from traveling.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:03 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


Lack of money keeps me from traveling.

It's not so much a lack of money as it a lack of security. Leaving work to go travel sounds awesome. Not having anything put back for retirement sounds.... terrifying.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:14 AM on April 22 [6 favorites]


My life has been better since I've accepted two simple facts. ONE: everybody dies (sorry). TWO: I would like to live a little first."

Having traveled a bit, I am often reminded of the scene in one of the Family Vacation films (recreated here) where Chevy Chase takes the family across the US to see the Grand Canyon... they finally arrive at the edge of the Canyon having survived a slew of zany adventures in the Family Truckster.. they get out of the car, walk to the edge, take in the view for a moment, and then he bounces on his knees three times and says, "OK, that's good. Let's go."

A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.
posted by three blind mice at 7:16 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


then he bounces on his knees three times and says, "OK, that's good. Let's go."

Yeah, but he did that because he just took a bunch of money from the hotel cash register.
posted by planetesimal at 7:19 AM on April 22 [4 favorites]


The security thing is why it's good to do this when you're young and dumb. I spent the first half of my twenties alternating between random jobs and traveling, and I'm glad I did. Now that I'm in my thirties and have a career I don't really want to walk away from, it's a lot less appealing.

I'm also really glad that, through a random set of circumstances, I was basically forced to travel by myself through Thailand for a week when I was 21. I wouldn't have done so by choice, but when I was out there, I realized that it's a lot safer than you'd think.

When I was leaving for my first big trip (6 months around Asia), people kept saying to my parents, "you're LETTING her go?" I was 23 at the time. And these were relatively progressive people. The way our culture tries to shelter women is just not healthy.
posted by lunasol at 7:22 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

That's likely attributable to a personal deficiency of your own, one not everyone else possesses.
posted by picea at 7:23 AM on April 22 [6 favorites]


Lack of money keeps me from traveling.

And a lack of enough vacation time to actually get away. I'd love to travel but I've never found a job that lets me do that.
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

Never been to the Grand Canyon, have you ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:30 AM on April 22 [7 favorites]


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

Depends why you travel doesn't it? If you're a checklist tourist, then your argument might be true.
The author of the piece seems to value meeting different people and learning about their cultures. That's not replaceable by a postcard.
posted by vacapinta at 7:30 AM on April 22 [6 favorites]


I've never gotten diarrhea from a postcard!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:32 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


Last fall I traveled by myself around Vietnam for two weeks. It was my first time in Asia. I have an old friend in HCMC who gave me advice and took me out in HCMC, but being on my own felt super safe. I didn't do anything remotely stupid though.

I was so scared for the month before I left that I had a permanently upset stomach, but once I got there everything was great. And it's not just scenery, it's people and culture and eating and generally having to get through the day. It probably would have been a little more fun if I had not been alone, but it wasn't so bad.

Recently I was trying to remember the name of a novel I thought I'd read, then I remembered it was my trip to Vietnam!
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:33 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

The Eiffel Tower looks exactly like all the photos you've ever seen of it. But walking up to it through the Champ de Mars; walking underneath it, and looking up; crossing the Seine to the Trocadero, to view it from Hitler's infamous vantage point; seeing it in the distance from the top of the Pompidou Centre with a thunderstorm behind it, or silhouetted in the afternoon sun from Montmartre: these are your memories, not some postcard photographer's. And even the most familiar, storied destinations in the world can surprise you.
posted by rory at 7:49 AM on April 22 [19 favorites]


And a lack of enough vacation time to actually get away. I'd love to travel but I've never found a job that lets me do that.

Yeah, I think that in the US, if you want to do serious, long-term travel, you have to make it a priority, and sacrifice other things like financial security - you have to be willing to quit your job, pretty much. When I was doing my long backpacking trips, I was always so envious of the Europeans with their two months of vacation.

And I think the long vacations also create a culture where travel is more normalized. It's still seen as a bit odd or eccentric in the US to do any travel that's longer or more off-the-beaten-path than a week on the beach or two weeks on a tour.
posted by lunasol at 7:54 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


I've known people in scary bad situations from travelling and taking mad risks, as well as having taken mad risks myself as a teenager travelling. It does come down to risk assessment, and you hope your kid can do that well - getting drunk at a bar at home is only slightly safer than getting drunk overseas, because while you might be alone, being a tourist is often protective due to the locals wanting to protect the tourist trade and people being often very kind to strangers.

Still, I hope my kids feel cautioned by my fearful love for them and if it costs them some of the wilder experiences of life, that would be an worthwhile trade.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:58 AM on April 22


The Eiffel Tower looks exactly like all the photos you've ever seen of it. But walking up to it through the Champ de Mars; walking underneath it, and looking up; crossing the Seine to the Trocadero, to view it from Hitler's infamous vantage point; seeing it in the distance from the top of the Pompidou Centre with a thunderstorm behind it, or silhouetted in the afternoon sun from Montmartre: these are your memories, not some postcard photographer's.

Yes. And then there's the fact that visiting the Eiffel Tower is just one part of one day of your trip. There's also the morning breakfast of fresh bread and cheese, the walk along cobbled streets, the popping into a store just because the display in the window was so beautiful you couldn't resist, the trying to navigate a subway system in a city you don't know, the stumbling on an outdoor market you didn't read about in your guidebook, the watching tourists from all over the world delight at the fact they're here, in Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower ...

There are a lot of spectacular things to see in the world, but for me, travel is not really about the sights. It's about getting to peek into a different way of living for a few days or weeks.
posted by lunasol at 7:59 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


> I did let worries about being a woman traveling alone stop me several times

Me too, far too much. I can also think of one time when I should have been more cautious -- everything turned out fine, but I walked into a dangerous situation for no good reason. I still have never been camping by myself because of some nebulous fear I picked up along the way.

It's something I keep in mind as I raise my kids. I hope they learn to balance curiosity and eagerness to see the world with common sense. I'm doing my best to teach them to go ahead and talk to strangers if they want, but don't get in a stranger's car. It's a tricky balance.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:02 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


It kills me that someone can create so much beauty with a few pens and make it look so easy. I wish I could do that.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:17 AM on April 22 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, thanks for the comment. Its so easy for me to get into the "culture of fear" and not stop to think how realistic it is. The idea that a woman would be afraid to travel in this country is terrible.

I think there's been a push towards more gender divide, in the workplace, in fashion, and in what are considered acceptable behaviors. I want to push back on those, especially on what is considered acceptable.
posted by rebent at 8:17 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


The linked comic and this thread remind me of three things related to travelling:

a) My fiancée and I travelled to Morocco this year and I was constantly overhearing relatives of mine and hers ahead of the date of departure cautioning her to be careful or telling horror stories that placed somewhere in the spectrum between anecdotal and urban legend. It's not that she (or I, for that matter) didn't need to be cautious. It's that this response formed the overwhelming percentage of discussion on the matter.

Yes, Morocco can be a shitty place to be a woman tourist in certain contexts and especially without a male travel partner--my fiancée knows this first hand because she'd already been to Fez before just with her friend (a woman) and could tell the difference. But reading any decent travel guide for your intended destination will give you 90% of the tools you need to make good decisions about safety. If my relatives can trust us to arrange hotels in Marrakech and plan out bus schedules to Essaouira then they should be able to trust her to dress with cultural appropriateness and for us to conduct ourselves safely. Saying to a woman "Oh, you're going to so-and-such? That's nice. But [DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER]" is not nearly as helpful as you might think it is.

b) The comic reminded me that I often find my favourite experiences of travelling is meeting other travellers and learning about them. Long bus rides with Manchester city councillors in Morocco or Australian social workers in shared cabs through Peruvian have been some of my fondest moments.

c) Yes, you can get the postcard at home but that's not the only point of travel. Calling it 'checkbox tourism' is a great descriptor. When I go somewhere, it's not about being authentically present at monuments (whatever 'authenticity' is) but about finally getting a real, personal cognative context for places that I get to take with me for the rest of my life. Being in the Maghreb gave me the ability to appreciate learning more about the Algerian war, the nation's various historical colonial strata, and even how urban geography tied into colonial and economic class systems and how that would come into play when conducting a campaign of guerilla warfare. This is information I would have easily glazed over and forgotten in a textbook. Heck, even just visit NYC and afterwards see how your appreciation and understanding changes when watching movies that are set there.
posted by whittaker at 8:31 AM on April 22 [7 favorites]


You can see great photos of the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, whatever. But nothing replaces talking to people who live different lives in a different culture. Nothing replaces the small differences you notice; you might read about England, but you visit and learn things no one writes about. You realize that countries in Europe are smaller and close together, unlike giant Canada, US, and Mexico. Most Canadians live nearish the border, most US Americans don't. Watching tv in another country, even if you don't speak the language, will still be an interesting experience.

I loved the framing that it's really as dangerous in the US or in your home town, more dangerous in many areas, so why not be in France? Any traveler should be non-stupid about safety; sadly, women are subject to additional dangers, but those dangers exist at home, as well as in other countries, to varying degrees. Might as well see the Grand Canyon.
posted by theora55 at 8:47 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

Wow. If you honestly think that, you're going to the wrong places.
posted by aught at 8:50 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

Honestly, there are five-minute sights. I've been to a couple of Famous Chinese Places (ruins, mostly, and god knows, the Great Wall at Badaling) where while it's cool to see it in person, it's...quick. (So obviously, plan your day around something other than Spending Hours At The Ming Tombs.)

When I lived in Beijing, a friend came to visit and we went to see a LOT of stuff. (It was great!) But anyway, we had been to some places early in the day, arrived at Tiantan/Temple of Heaven in the mid-afternoon and....pretty much spent about twenty minutes walking around it and gave up. "Too many halls," was my friend's verdict. Tiantan is beautiful and amazing and peaceful, but it's not exciting. I've been there and spent much longer walking around, but we were tired! So yeah, I think that depending on your mood and interests and the nature of the place, you can easily look at something and feel like "oh, eh, I saw it, it was like the postcard".

But on the other hand, there are umpteen gazillion things that take much longer than you'd think - Badachu was just about the best thing ever, I could have spent days there, and it was purely something I picked because I had time to kill. And if you don't go to a place, you can't spend time walking around the outskirts of it, getting a feel for the area, stopping for a snack, sitting around in a park. I had a great trip to Cleveland once, for instance, that was mostly just idly rambling around seeing such sights as there were, looking at the old buildings and riding the lil' tiny train. My friend still - ten years later - reminisces about how we walked through this big Russian market in Beijing and how he wishes he had some of those cabbage rolls we ate.
posted by Frowner at 9:28 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


(let's put it this way - my brother and I may have both researched trips to Morocco, but I doubt his research included "how to deal with street harrassment in Marrakesh")

True enough, though I have heard stories from ex-pat adolescent boys in North Africa....
posted by IndigoJones at 9:38 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Most of my life my everyday choices were based on the assumption that I could not trust other people.

I lived in that trap for a long time and in some ways I still do. It's just that now I willfully act as if other people are largely friendly and live in a constant state of mild delight when it turns out that they are.

A lot of travel destinations look just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see them in person.

With that minor edit I'm with you. I've travelled quite a bit and I seldom if ever use tourist destinations as anything other than waypoints. I certainly never bother with pictures of them; Someone with a better eye and better equipment has always taken a better picture than I ever will.

No, for me 99% of travel is the unexpected sights and adventures along the way. From a No Donkey Parking sign in Naxos to a Fugu-only restaurant in Kyoto (including dessert; the mind boggles) to a penguin colony living on top of a live minefield in the Falklands, all of the really cool things I've found were completely unexpected.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:39 AM on April 22


I've been going on domestic (US and border cities) trips alone since I was 20 and I always got "Don't you get bored/lonely?" as a reaction. The year I turned 30, I started going to Europe and now I get "Aren't you scared to be alone?" so much more often. I wonder if it is my age, the location/language or "world events". The solo traveling men I know don't get that question as much. My city's murder rate has been higher than many of the places I travel.

I am not concerned about looking like a tourist. I sort of understand why people want to blend in, but aside from pickpocketing or getting ripped off, I don't think it should be such a big fear. I am walking near one of the most famous sites in your city and I have a camera. Yes, I am obviously from out of town. Why is that embarrassing? The fear should be appearing stupid or rude, not foreign. If people can't tell the difference, that is on them and not you.
posted by soelo at 9:42 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


Another one here who did some really stupid (as in life threatening things) travelling in her early 20s. I have to admit while many people told me it was risky to go to some of the places I did, I never felt 'I'm a woman, I can't do stuff on my own'. Looking back in hindsight, I am kind of amazed.

I think there is a real spectrum of 'acceptable risk' for people, and travel is only one part of that - I have met people who can not get their head around the idea of going to a restaurant and eating a meal on their own - something I do all the time. Yet there are probably things others think are totally normal and I would be 'woah, I don't think so.'
posted by Megami at 9:54 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I've traveled a lot, and the stupidest things I did were in Harvard Square. No matter where you go, there you are.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:07 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


I love this comic. I'm a young woman who has done a lot of solo travel in developing areas. It has enriched my life, opened my eyes to other ways of living, and given me amazing memories I can cherish for a long time.

Many, many people use fear as an excuse to avoid leaving their comfort zone. Many people use fear as a way to control women. I've traveled to "exotic" "dangerous" places in Africa and Asia where I faced less sexual harassment and theft than at my college campus, thanks very much.

It's important to be street smart, absolutely, but if women are never encouraged to be independent and adventurous, how can they develop real street smarts? The potentially dangerous situations I found myself in helped me become savvy and risk-aware, and to better realize when other people have suspect motivations. I'm glad so many young women these days are embracing solo travel and living abroad. 63% Peace Corps Volunteers are women! How cool is that!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:13 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


Never been to the Grand Canyon, have you ?

I found this especially true about the Grand Canyon. Don't get me wrong, I loved my trip there and I was happy I got to see it in person, but seeing it in person wasn't as big a deal as seeing Canyon de Chelly in person where you could really climb around and get inside and under things, interact more with the thing you were looking at.

I've traveled a lot, and the stupidest things I did were in Harvard Square.

Truth. I thought the best part of this comic was "Is the US safe for a young woman?" because no, it's not really and yet for many of us who live here, that's a bizarre question. I think for many people there's the acceptable risk issue personally but there's also the internal voice of random Other People in your life colonizing your brain and telling you that you're being stupid. My mom was one of those "Don't walk and eat a lollipop at the same time" anxious people and it's taken me a long time to unlearn some of her anxiety tics that were stupid (all men are dangerous) versus the ones that were smart (seatbelts).
posted by jessamyn at 10:19 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


We women do have things we need to worry about when we travel (let's put it this way - my brother and I may have both researched trips to Morocco, but I doubt his research included "how to deal with street harrassment in Marrakesh")

This reminds me of a story my sister and a friend of ours had from their visit to Morocco. At one point he and my sister were taking a cab to some tourist destination or another, when the cabbie asks our friend in French how much my sister costs. My sister, ahem, lets him know she can also speak French.
posted by Hoopo at 10:55 AM on April 22


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person

I think probably if you are just running off a check list of things to see, probably. But I don't know if a postcard can capture the feeling of sitting in a hammock on a balcony of a hostel built on the side of a mountain overlooking the beach in Costa Rica while cool, late summer rains roll over the pacific, hanging out with a bunch of backpackers all over the world, and the perfect song is playing on a small boom box, and the sun is setting.

Or of being in an after hours club on Nicaragua full of locals and tourists, dark, packed full of people, with no air conditioning and you're sweating, but you don't care, because goddamn, you had know idea that salsa and meringue music could be this good, and you walk out at dawn, looking like you fell in a swimming pool, and you're locked out of your hostel so you watch some kind of procession coming out of the cathedral, and some kid is setting off fireworks and you have no idea why.

The most boring part of travelling is looking at old cathedrals, ruins and mountains, IMO.

My favorite part of visiting Madrid was just sitting in front of a cafe near the Prado, watching people go by, and trying blood sausage for the first time, and finding it delicious. That was better for me than seeing the original Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado, which as you said, you can see online any time you want.

Travelling to me isn't really travelling unless you have time, which I understand is a luxury, because except for that brief time when I had no job and some money saved up and could just afford to not work, I've never had more than a couple of weeks of vacation a year, either. Being able to wake up in the morning, run into someone in the town square that you met at a hostel the week before and tag along with him because he's going to learn to surf in El Salvador and that sounds like fun is really the best part of long term travel. I was super jealous of all the people I met from Israel and Australia that could just take off for months at a time.

As far as danger for women goes, though: Central America is a dangerous place, and you should not travel alone, especially at night, male or female. There's a pretty high risk of being robbed or of getting into a car accident, and women alone have more risks than that-- but I really feel like aside from a LOT of catcalling, a lot of the particular dangers of traveling (though perhaps not the particular dangers of being a woman) can be avoided with sensible precautions.

In the developed world, I'm not sure why women should be overly concerned about traveling at all, aside from the risks of sketchy guys at hostels. There's not anything more dangerous as a single woman in Paris than there is for a single woman in Manhattan, is there?
posted by empath at 12:16 PM on April 22


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

No way! Then you miss the fun of going into other countries' supermarkets and convenience stores!

Lurking in those shops is one of the best things about foreign travel: The unfamiliar brand names, the unexpected types of fast food, the different flavors of tea and soft drinks, the weird cartoon mascots, the photos of hot people for that country's version of sex-sells marketing, the shock of encountering a Dunkin Donuts or Tim Horton's kiosk, man I want to go traveling againnnn
posted by cadge at 12:58 PM on April 22 [11 favorites]


Lurking in those shops is one of the best things about foreign travel: The unfamiliar brand names, the unexpected types of fast food, the different flavors of tea and soft drinks, the weird cartoon mascots, the photos of hot people for that country's version of sex-sells marketing, the shock of encountering a Dunkin Donuts or Tim Horton's kiosk, man I want to go traveling againnnn

For me, it's the re-interpretation of the things from home that I dig so much. The French or Italian McDonalds, the Popeye's fried chicken on a military base in Italy, the epic proliferation of Subways in Puerto Rico. Plus any excuse to eat other ethnic foods in another part of the world. I think the happiest I've ever been has been eating a falafel in Italy outside of the oldest functioning theater listening to some Italian kids practice their English swear words.

Teenagers are teenagers everywhere.
posted by teleri025 at 1:21 PM on April 22


the weird cartoon mascots,

Oh man. This was one of my favorite parts of living in France. They are home to the most racist mascot still in use in the 2010s in a Western country (that I've encountered).

Anyway hell yes to traveling, no fear and such, but France is actually a really shitty place to be a woman and I regret staying there as long as I did because the attitude there is "get used to getting molested or else we'll get violent with you." It is genuinely shitty to be a woman in some places and it is pretty cool to be a rich white person who only has to visit those places. Doesn't mean you shouldn't visit them. Maybe you'll even change a few minds on the way if you're not afraid to connect with people and, of course, have your mind changed about some stuff.
posted by Mooseli at 2:18 PM on April 22


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

"The point of the journey is not to arrive" blah blah blah.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:54 PM on April 22


I liked this web comic in that it tells women (and other travellers) not to let their fear define them. Anyway, I'm a man and I've been groped on trains (and sometimes just on the street, in bars) more than a few times in Japan. Some guys are curious and must satiate their curiosity through tactile means. Other guys are creeps, while others are living with a cognitive impairment.

Highly fucking annoying, especially if you don't have the language skills to tell them to fuck off, and clobbering the offender will likely land you in the cop shop.

It's a big wide world out there, and in many places existence can be shitty at times for locals and foreigners alike. It's good to remember that as we waltz around in our tank tops, cargo shorts, and hiking boots.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:57 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I'm a guy. My Portland mom told me to "watch out for serial killers," when I spent a couple weeks in Chicago at age 27. That's a pretty good encapsulation of my childhood learning also. I'd like to say that I've totally, 100% overcome the anxiety disorder from my youth but that would be lying to myself.

I nearly had a panic attack trying to get my mom to drive me a few blocks and drop me off at the SE Fuller MAX station this past New Year's Eve because I just wanted to get to my friend's party and have some introvert quiet reflection time first on the MAX. She insisted on driving me the whole way because I could get stabbed at that station. We ended up at Clackamas Town Center because Google Maps was trying to direct her to drop me off on an I-205 on-ramp.

That anxiety attack is pretty darn ironic considering that I was cool as a goldarned cucumber when I was waiting for the DC Metro and I had a man pull a knife on me because I yelled at him to stop strangling his wife/girlfriend.

(By the way, if any of you meet my mom, please do not tell her that Metro story.)

There have been some articles about how women travel when they're young and single and men travel after marriage. The idea is that internationally, a young, middle/upperclass woman has social capital immediately because of looks. International travel doesn't interest me because I know that my social anxiety would preclude making any meaningful relationships and I don't want to be a touristic culture vulture.

I might be a little het up about this topic these days for my own dumb reasons, but it is interesting that there are a lot of self-serving feel-good sound bites about travel ("those who don't travel read only one page..,") but absolutely no reflection, even amongst social justice folks, on the privilege and wealth and environmental costs required to maintain an entertainment infrastructure that maybe the top 2% of the world utilizes.
posted by Skwirl at 3:49 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

You're correct that some things, like The Rosetta Stone, pretty much look just like they do in pictures.

But just looking at the picture won't also give you the experience of hearing a British college-age guy behind you getting his mind blown and saying "that's the Rosetta Stone! That's it! Right there!" over and over, and his awe is so contagious it rubs off on you and three other people around you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


I think that some people really have the desire to travel and the gift of doing it well. They have the ability to open up and connect with strangers, the confidence to make themselves understood in a language they don't speak at all, the curiosity to explore little out-of-the-way places. Others don't have this gift and wind up being postcard tourists, dutifully checking off the major sights in their guidebooks, never actually experiencing all those other delights of travel.

I think it's useful to know what kind of a traveller you are. Do you actually find it kind of boring? Try travelling with someone who really loves it and is excited by going different places, see if it rubs off or they help you discover something new. Are you hesitant and afraid not so much because you think you are in grave personal danger but because you're not very good at speaking to strangers in your own town, let alone somewhere completely different in another language? Organise a guide to help you do some of the hard communication things. Do you get completely exhausted looking at museums and cathedrals but quite like poking through odd stores? Chuck out the guidebook and explore the laneways.

There's no right way to travel. Not being discouraged by fear is definitely a helpful start, but there's a lot of other things to be gained by understanding what you really want to get out of your travels. Sometimes you can even achieve them by walking round your own town as if you are a stranger, actually looking for all those different things instead of taking it all for granted. That's actually one of the things I love most about travel - how much it makes me appreciate where I live.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:43 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Seriously, guys, I think we can all stop re-quoting three blind mice just to say 'but it's about the eeeexpeeeerieeennceeeee / you're doing it wrong"
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:54 PM on April 22



A lot of travel looks just like the postcard and you're not missing that much if you don't see it in person.

Wow. If you honestly think that, you're going to the wrong places.


I guess so. But really, Mars and Venus look pretty much like the postcards until you're right down in the dangerous quarters.
posted by bricoleur at 9:13 PM on April 22


In an effort to comply with nakedmolerats request, I'mma re-direct -

I've been thinking since yesterday about this, and realized that you know, I've done some really dumb things while travelling, which according to all naysayers are things that could have gotten me killed, or were at least profoundly dumb:
* I let a guy in a bar in Wicker Park pick me up and went back to his place.
* I went to Italy despite not knowing a lick of Italian.
* I flew to London on a total bargain-basement airline shortly after a volcano.
* I walked across 4 neighborhoods in New Orleans to get to the French Quarter when the streetcars shut down.
* I walked back across 2 neighborhoods in New Orleans trying to find a cab.
* On another trip, I walked the length of Bourbon Street clear down to the Marginy district before it was all that well-populated.
* During a cross-country solo road trip, I got lost at some point, pulled over for the night in a town with a population of 325 and checked into a hotel where the front desk clerk actually leered at me when he heard I was alone, and stayed there anyway.
* I hiked in the desert in Utah in July at noon with only a tiny 16-oz bottle of water.
* I visited New Orleans in August, was unused to the heat and started dehydrating.
* I ate in a really dodgy kebab place in Cork.
But the thing is - not only did I come out of all of those things okay, in most cases they were the catalyst for some of my best travel stories:
* The guy in Wicker Park fell asleep 30 seconds after getting off, and I was left to find my way out of his apartment complex alone and had to walk 2 blocks in search of a cab.
* Most people in Italy knew some English, and even if they didn't we could talk through sign language - like the woman who somehow managed to tell me "hot chocolate is a seasonal beverage so we don't serve it in spring" entirely through charades.
* Having flown to London via Iceland gave David Tennant something to tease me about when I met him at the stage door of a play I saw him in.
* Walking that far across New Orleans in search of food is what drove me to ask a cop for a restaurant recommendation, and he not only tipped me off to a great place, he gave me official NOPD mardi gras beads.
* I ran into that same cop sitting in a squad car while looking for a cab, and he gave me a free ride back to my hotel.
* Walking that far down Bourbon Street, away from the crowds, lead me to finally notice that the moon was out, which prompted me to sing "Moon Over Bourbon Street" there on the sidewalk as I made my way back.
* Stopping in the small town lead to me discovering the best small-town newspaper headline I've ever seen - "Tractor Accident Sends Local Man To Witchita."(The hotel guy? Did nothing after all.)
* The hiking I did in Utah was low-impact enough that the worst thing that happened while hiking was that I hallucinated for a split second that one cliff face had 100-foot flaming Hebrew letters on it, at which point I promptly got into the car and drove back to the visitor center, bought a half-gallon of water and drank it all on the spot.
* In New Orleans, all that happened when I started dehydrating was that I got a headache. The girl in the hostel from whom I borrowed an aspirin guessed why I had a headache and told me to drink more water. I was fine after that.
* I did get food poisoning from the kebab place, but I was staying with a friend and her mum, and so mum looked after me. I did end up inadvertently mooning her during one sprint to the bathroom, but my friend reassured me that "she's seen worse," which I'm still not sure whether I should take offense at.
My point being - yes, there is risk in the world. But there is risk in the world everywhere, including at home. And when we're looking at risky behavior a lot of times people look at the percentage of times that things go wrong; however, the percentage of times things don't go wrong is often bigger. A woman's ability to assess whether the guy she's letting pick her up is a safe gamble doesn't get switched off just because she's on vacation. Nor does her ability to judge whether a street is too dodgy to walk down alone at night, nor her ability to lock the door against a dodgy hotel clerk or neighbor.

If I'd let the naysayers try to dissuade me from traveling alone, or taking those chances, I'd have missed out on all those stories above - and the odds were actually more so in favor of my having those experiences than they were in favor of something bad happening, and even in the case where things did go awry, the worst impacts on me were a headache, a couple hours of throwing up, and some momentary embarrassment. Small price to pay for some great stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:41 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


* Most people in Italy knew some English, and even if they didn't we could talk through sign language - like the woman who somehow managed to tell me "hot chocolate is a seasonal beverage so we don't serve it in spring" entirely through charades.

Oooh I met that woman! We had a conversation every morning for a week about the weather and our favorite foods completely through gestures and some extremely broken Italian and English. We actually got quite close and she gave me a hug when I told her it was my last day in Vicenza. Either that or she thought I was dying soon.

I think the biggest issue in our culture is that we remain steadfastly convinced that bad things happen because it's *your* fault. This leads to a really weird view of risk where if you do something dangerous and nothing bad happens it's because you are a good person and did something right. But if you do something risky and something bad happens, it's totally all your fault for ever taking the risk.

This message is quadrupled if you're a woman and I think that's the best part of the comic. It points out the absurdity of the "your fault" factor and emphasizes that bad shit some times just happens. Even if you are "safe" and a good person. So why stress so much about meeting other people's view of "safe?"
posted by teleri025 at 8:02 AM on April 25


Seriously, guys, I think we can all stop re-quoting three blind mice just to say 'but it's about the eeeexpeeeerieeennceeeee / you're doing it wrong"

It's not particularly about three blind mice. It's not even about all the experiences. It's about a few mind-bending, life-changing, noun-hyphenating, universe-altering experiences that were in no way epic in scale and yet were so profound that we can't pass up the chance to reminisce about the events surrounding them if given the slightest chance.

So really, thank you three blind mice.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:55 AM on April 25


Can I just chime in, belatedly, that the Grand Canyon is amazing?

Yes, if you drive up to it, get out of your car, stand at the edge for five minutes and then drive away, it's going to be a *meh* experience.

But it's so far from anything else, anyway, why would you do that? You've taken the time to get there... Watch a sunset. Watch a sunrise. Take a hike down into the canyon if you have a day; take a hike along the rim if you only have a few hours. If you can get out of the mindset that you're late for something else and take the time to think about this leetle river carving out this massive canyon, and then watch the Redwall sandstone light up when the sun hits the rim... It's not so *meh* anymore.
posted by cognition at 6:04 PM on April 26


If anyone here gets a chance to visit Uluru (Ayers' Rock), do so. It's just as amazing in reality as it is in the pictures. You can see it from miles and miles away, because the plain is so flat, and when you get up close it's a huge monolith with ochre and salmon curves going in and out. At sunrise and sunset it's lit up in ruby and vermillion light, while the desert around it turns golden. AAA+++ WOULD SEE AGAIN.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:43 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


I actually didn't think the Grand Canyon was All That, to be honest. But going there gave me the chance to look around the rest of the area, which was how I also saw Glen Canyon, which I caught during a thunderstorm and its aftermath and the sight of a rainbow over it throwing gold and blue and violet over the ochre and red there already. Or Zion Canyon, which had the funkiest-looking plants growing in it I've ever seen - mountain mahogany, which looked for all the world like someone shook a down feather pillow out all over a bush.

Maybe the big attractions are worth it and maybe not - but who knows what else you will see on the way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on May 9


« Older The Shirt on Your Back....  |  A Browser Extension That Repla... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments