Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Travel as a solo female

When a girl reaches her forties she just disappears! No longer do men turn and look, or try and catch your eye, it's more a momentary glance as they pass just in case there's something living under that pile of old skin!

But the great thing is, it doesn't really matter. Not being the object of every man's desire has alot of advantages as well, particularly when it comes to overseas travel. A woman of my age is obviously a mother, or even a grandmother egads!, so is treated with a deal of respect that no nineteen year old western chick is going to get no matter how conservatively they dress.

Ah yes dress codes. Go to a religious country and you are expected to dress conservatively. But add in hormones to that mix and well, sex wins every time. A young girl is hard wired to attract a mate and she just can't help putting out all sorts of signals that attract men to her like flies. It's the little gestures, the way the clothes are put together, the makeup, the whole ensemble. Us older ladies, well I think although we dress well, there isn't that imperative to find a mate and it shows in the way we communicate on a daily basis.

Now for all you young girls who may be deeply offended by the idea that you are ruled by your hormones, I can only say that with over twenty years of keen observation of human behaviour and an examination of my own behaviour during my younger years that we really aren't much removed from the great apes afterall. You'll laugh about it when you get to my age, but right now, well you take yourself far too seriously!

Which gets me onto the other great advantage of age, which is that you become comfortable with yourself. Both with your expanding waistline and with who you are and why you're here. Those are things you grapple with in your twenties, and often one of the reasons many people travel in that decade of their life. That'd be just before they find a mate and settle down to make their own little apes...

Being comfortable within your own skin means being open to many opportunities when travelling that aren't always there when younger. Initiating conversations with local people, of either sex, is much easier as an older, confident woman than it was as a younger self obsessed lass. And both women and men appear to have ease in initiating conversations with me as well. Invitations to people's homes don't feel threatening, and nor do offers of help from men. I'm not a threat to anyone, I appear interested in their lives in a genuine way, and I find doors opening everywhere as a result. And a good experience isn't ruined by a furtive grope!!

There is always the issue of the opportunistic male who has a go at getting the leg over. They've heard that us western women have sex before marriage and they know someone who managed to get a lay from a german/japanese/insert your chosen nationality tourist so why not give it a try? Having a bit of age and experience behind you allows an older woman to firstly pick up the cues pretty early and secondly, manage to respectfully rebut (or enjoy if that's your bent) the advance when he at last gets up the courage to ask. At my age I'm flattered, and find these occasional episodes amusing rather than offensive. It's only if they continue to persist that I'll get annoyed, but that rarely happens.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a fat, sexless, wrinkled old crone. I'm perfectly capable of enjoying a good romp when and if the opportunity presents. But concerns over my own attractiveness to the opposite sex doesn't rule me in a way that affects my interactions with others when travelling, and I think this is something that makes travel as an older solo female so much easier.

I've also noticed that solo female travellers in my age group aren't uncommon in many of the countries I've travelled in. Many older local women seem to travel alone, to visit other family members, or to take products to markets, so there are often other women my age on the buses/boats/trains with whom I have had very interesting conversations. We don't stand out as such an enigma, unlike the young western woman who any self respecting person knows should be chaperoned!!

I'll never forget travelling through Pakistan as a 25 year old woman, dressed in a shalwar chemise with my head covered in a shawl, doing my best to behave like a good conservative girl. Arriving in villages we were the only women at all on the streets, so we stuck out like sore thumbs. Swimming in a hotel pool in Lahore the men in our group chaperoned us up the ladder to prevent us being goosed by the gawking local lads, and a walk through the markets in Peshawar ended in a rather nasty grope, a chase to apprehend the grinning perpetrator, and an embarrassed young me insisting that I didn't want them to stone him for what he had done. He was ordered to kiss my feet and declare he was my brother, supposedly a declaration of respect. The overall experience reinforced why I'd felt more comfortable travelling in a group in that country, and coloured my perceptions of those people for a long time. Only as an older woman do I understand that I was a victim of both my age and the local perceptions of women travelling in those areas, and that it was nothing more than opportunistic behaviour from sexually repressed young men. What offended me deeply then, is now just an amusing anecdote, and if someone groped me again (I should be so lucky!) I'd probably punch em out and forget about it. But only after I'd ordered them to stone him to death!!

Now that would make a mighty fine story at a dinner party....

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