Advice Solo Travel

“Where’s Your Boyfriend?” How To Handle Micro-Aggressions Towards Female Travelers

"Where's Your Boyfriend?" How To Handle Micro-Aggressions Towards Female Travelers

“You’re traveling alone?” a curious local asked me while I boarded a bus to southern Peru.

“Yup!” I respond.

“What does your boyfriend think?” he continues, unprompted.

“I don’t have one,” I reply, not as spunky as my initial response.

“Why don’t you have a boyfriend? You are attractive?”

Regardless of how well I speak his language, I don’t think I would still be able to explain that I prefer to travel alone, and I truly don’t need a boyfriend in order to do so.  

It wasn’t a big deal,  and I politely smiled and found my seat. I stared out the window as the bus began to move and tried to roll the microaggression off of me.

Micro-aggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.”

But, these are little comments that can build up over time, like salt on a wound. Micro-aggressions can frequently make people of marginalized groups feel confined to traditional social roles. Women can be faced with questions or assumptions that make them feel inferior or sexually objectified. We can begin to question our decisions; am I doing the right thing? Should I be focused on a career? Should I be having children?

These micro-aggressions can build up over time and hit you at your most vulnerable moment, where you find yourself calling your ex-boyfriend at 2am New York time shouting that you’re on the next flight to be with him and settle down in West Chester. The decisions we make as women to pave our own unconventional path by our own footprints and intentions can be scary. Then hearing other’s question our abilities or our choices can lead to doubt and inhibit us to go farther.

With a large upswing in women using their independence to travel more fiercely, there will always be those who tenaciously hold onto societal norms and question our ability to travel without the shadow of a man beside us. If you haven’t faced any yet, fantastic. And if they come up in the future, here is a handy little list of the most popular micro-aggressions and how to politely dismantle them.

“Why Don’t You Have A Boyfriend?”

This seems to be the most common one women face. It’s a personal favorite because as soon as I reply “I don’t have one” the inquisitor will quickly proposition the closest man with a pulse. Like either of us are that desperate. This seems to be the most common because women, historically, have been defined by the men in their lives. Our roles have been that of wives and mothers, confound to the home. We have needed permission from men to navigate the world, and to be able to make true decisions on our own is a relatively short-lived concept.

Your relationships status is not anyone else’s business, regardless of the cultural differences. There are women who travel without their husbands, who are intentionally single, or don’t prescribe to heterosexual relationships.

There are plenty of stories of women being wives and mothers, and we can begin to incorporate more options to the female experience.

What To Say:

  • If you are comfortable, take a moment to explain your situation.
  • “I would rather not discuss that.”
  • “I feel empowered by traveling on my own.”

“Isn’t That A Honeymoon Spot? Don’t You Want To Wait To Go With Someone?”

Sure, some places are traditionally thought of as more romantic or are swarming with honeymooners. But just because you are traveling solo does not mean that certain places are roped off to you. There is no need to wait to have someone to be with (unless you of your own volition want to) and limit the opportunities you have now to explore the world.

People go to beautiful places to honeymoon so they can bond before their next great adventure- there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that with yourself.

You can have times of self-care and reflection anywhere in the world and knowing how to have intimate moments with yourself is a valuable skill to hone.  

What To Say:  

  • “I enjoy traveling anywhere I go at my own leisure.”
  • “I’m treating myself!”
  • “I like doing exactly what I want to do.”
  • “None of my friends or family wants to go with me, but that is no reason to wait!”
  • “I thought this spot would be perfect to recharge in.”

“Won’t You Get Lonely? Don’t You Have Any Friends To Go With?”

People often believe that traveling alone is synonymous with being lonely, when they aren’t, which makes being alone look like it’s a problem, when it isn’t.

Being lonely is being saddened by your isolation, whereas being alone is being comfortable, if not joyful, that you are by yourself. If you have ever traveled alone, then you know how freeing it is and wonderful it can be at times to do exactly what you want to do at that moment. No need to compromise with someone else’s bucket list or impatiently wait for someone to get ready in the morning.

What To Say:

  • “I’m perfectly happy being alone for a while.”
  • “I enjoy my own company.”
  • “You don’t ask me that when I’m home. Why would you ask that when I travel?”

“You’re So Brave / Aren’t You Scared?”

I have gotten this question while I have been actively traveling for months, and people still seem incredulous. I can see their brains scanning through all of the unfortunate things that can happen to me when I am alone. But am I supposed to pause my life for potential risks that I would be facing?  Am I supposed to stay at home and find myself crying uncontrollably during an Anthony Bourdain episode because my urge to travel hasn’t been satiated? No one grew without taking some risks.

This question is laden with double standards because I highly doubt that men are told that they are brave for traveling solo. Being brave is expected of men, and it isn’t of women. It is assumed that men can probably handle themselves, whereas women are historically perceived as unable to defend themselves and are vulnerable to attacks. The limitations of the female strength are only a societal pressure- not a personal one. We need to travel solo to show the world evidence of our strength + wit to travel safely alone.

So women traveling alone are seen as brave, and honestly, it is. But the challenges that most solo travelers have faced are not someone attempting to attack me but having to work through their internal issues and grow as an individual in ways that they can’t at home. So yes, it is brave of us to travel alone.

I have also found that the world is often more protective than predatory and people tend to watch out for you, whether you know it or not, when you are traveling alone. People recognize the risks that you might face and keep an eye out for you.

What To Say:

  • “Bad things happen everywhere. Am I not supposed to take risks?”
  • “I’ve researched where I’m going and know how to take care of myself.”
  • “Do you worry about my safety when I am home? The world is dangerous for women in general, regardless of whether I’m traveling or at home.”
  • “Why are you surprised that I am brave?”
  • “Would you say the same thing to a guy?”
  • “Do you doubt my strength?”

Unwanted Sexual Advances Or Comments About Your Looks

Just because you are alone does not mean that anyone has the right to solicit unwanted sexual advances. Enthusiastic consent is the same in every language.

This also goes for when people (men) make comments on your looks. Your looks have nothing to do with your ability to travel safely and independently. Your looks should not influence how great of a time you have. Regardless of your size, don’t believe that your body has any influence on whether you are able to travel safely and happily.

What To Say:

  • Thank you (or nothing) and then walk away. If there is someone making you uncomfortable just separate yourself from them and start talking to someone else nearby.

Isn’t That Irresponsible ForYour Age?

No one is in any position to question how someone else chooses to live their life. However, if you are “too young” people might be questioning your choice to start a career late or “all the good men will be taken” by the time you’re done traveling. If you are too old you could, again, ruin potential growth in your career or miss the time to have children. Like our life is defined by the work that we do, not the peace that we find or the experiences we have.

We can always get another job, but we can not get our youth, energy, or time back. These are finite resources.  

I think that travel allows times of deep reflection of where you are going in life, and it is an opportunity to find some clarity and direction, regardless of your age.

Additionally, everyone chooses what to do with their money and time differently, if your savings is going to a plane ticket instead of a college fund, don’t think that your choices are wrong because everyone is doing different things with their money.

Fun fact: It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, how successful or not, we are all faking it to a certain extent. None of us truly know what we are doing. Those who flaunt success might have used work to escape the inner issues that harbor within them, the issues that show themselves day one of traveling alone. So get out, become better.

What To Say:  

  • “You spend your money on your house and your children. I spend it on myself and travel.”
  • “Travel is a priority to me.”
  • “I can always get another job.”
  • “I need some time to refocus and re-center.”

Conclusion

Don’t let the micro-aggressions get you down. Personally, I think for the majority of these questions come from ignorance – not malice.

We are still told stories about what “women” and “men” are supposed to be like, and when we see people outside of those roles, people question it. That is why it is imperative for us as solo female travelers to go out and show the world our strength and abilities to explore the unknown parts of the world independently. Let’s rewrite our story.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Travelling Tam January 24, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    Love how you have confronted this. Getting questions about why I am travelling lone or where my husband/partner is is probably my no.1 pet hate travelling and is a sure fire way to get me wound up in a split second. I usually say I do not need a man to travel thank you and visibly look annoyed so they drop it, yet when I feel threatened sometimes I just have to pretend I have a boyfriend, or worse, that I am on my way to meeting him. Always find it so strange how the threat of a non existent man has more power than my words and will. Anyway, thank you for posting this, it’s an important topic.

  • Reply Andreia Esteves January 28, 2019 at 7:38 am

    This is such an important topic. Luckily I don’t come across too many people that make rude remarks such as those you’ve mentioned.

  • Reply Liesbeth Long February 10, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Turning 50 this year and leaving my hubby of 28 years behind to travel solo to Europe for 11 weeks. Thanks for the ‘heads up’. I will now be armed with a nice list of come backs. Thanks!

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