I remember sitting on a bus in Sicily with my friend, Veronica. We were headed to the beach—it was a beautiful, hot day and the bus was crowded. All of a sudden, Veronica cried out—the man next to her had been touching her inappropriately.
“That is not acceptable,” she stated. “There are young girls here.” She pointed to the back of the bus.
She was right. She was happy to stand up in order to let the younger girls know that this behavior was not okay, but she was a native Sicilian. I wondered how I would have reacted as a foreigner if I had been in her seat…the one right next to me.
It’s inevitable that as a solo, female traveler that you will encounter some sexism on the road. Many cultures that we choose to travel to have deeply embedded ways of viewing women and although many are trying to change their perspectives, there are still some individuals rooted in the old way of thinking.
So how do we combat sexism while traveling? Especially when we don’t want to make waves? We’re taught as foreigners that we should “keep our heads down,” and be careful traveling as a young woman. But that also shouldn’t mean that we have to deal with behavior that makes us feel diminished as human beings.
While you don’t have to pull a Veronica and announce to the whole bus that she had been assaulted, you should be able to draw boundaries. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you have the right to tell them no and to leave you alone. Sometimes, a single word can be powerful enough to make someone realize that what they are doing is not okay.
Don’t assume that rules against sexual harassment are the same in all countries.
Fortunately, the United States has come around on sexual harassment laws for women, but not all countries have yet. Before you head abroad, you might want to research what the laws are where you are traveling—especially as a single woman traveling alone.
Know that sexual harassment is not a reflection of you.
Many young women who experience sexual harassment often blame themselves, but this should not be the case. Remember, the reason why someone has chosen to harass you can be based on a lot a factors—most not even relating to you as an individual. Don’t blame yourself. If you are being a responsible traveler, you shouldn’t feel bad what you’ve done.
Because Veronica spoke out, the rest of the people on the bus complained and the man got kicked off. It’s a small lesson, but the fact that something was done about it shows that sexual harassment can be combatted while traveling.