Stefanie Benjamin, PhD - RESET Co-Initiator & Research Fellow
But … Is it safe though?
When I first shared with my parents that I would be traveling alone to New Zealand after my tourism conference in Australia … their voices over the phone sounded fearful and anxious, “Are you sure no other friends from your conference want to join you? … you know … like anybody?”
Even though I live alone, the thought of me traveling alone seemed problematic to them. I understand that I will always be their daughter, and they will always be worried, but I’m not the only woman on this ‘solo’ band wagon … the movement of women traveling alone has gained momentum. I won’t bore you with statistics or facts around why other women are traveling more than ever - so instead, check out these articles ‘Why so many women are traveling alone’, ‘Why Traveling Solo Might Be the Best Thing a Woman Can Do’, and ‘I Went on a Vacation By Myself, and It Changed My Life’. - or this list of academic journal publications from Google Scholar. In addition to numerous articles around traveling alone, multiple social media groups and professional travel organizations are also discussing the #SoloFemaleTravel movement. However, on the more negative and realistic side of traveling alone as a woman, fear-induced articles like this one, ‘Adventurous, Alone Attacked’ in conjunction with the reality of being raped, drugged, murdered, or tricked into sex trafficking, influence many women to stay home or travel in large groups. Exhibit A - my mother who purchased me a door stop alarm … which I did use once or twice. Thanks mom.
My personal experiences were not couched or infused with feelings of fear (well sometimes walking alone at night back to my AirBnB in the suburbs) but rather, a sense of excitement mixed with my stubborn touristic academic lens which, I had major difficulty taking off. Now I know my experiences of traveling alone might differ from other women’s narratives - since I do teach and research socio-cultural issues of tourism and have the privileges associated with being White, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered, American, no children, and having the discretionary income and time to travel (especially to a rather ‘safe’ destination like New Zealand where I spoke their language). For me, this was the first time in my life where I could actually financially afford to take a trip on my own. I wasn’t relying on my parents or a toxic ex-boyfriend … instead, after three years of working after my PhD, I was the one who saved up her money, taught extra summer courses (thanks online teaching!) and decided to venture to New Zealand to vacation the way that I chose. I was the captain of this ship now.
My own rules … just right
Traveling alone has its perks. As in the words of Cartman from South Park, ‘I do what I want.’ I was the person in charge. I chose where to stay, where to eat, what to do, when to wake up, which experience to have … it was me and me alone who designed my adventure. I flew into Queenstown in June, 2019 (yes - cold weather I know) and made my way to my first destination of Lake Wanaka. There I experienced the natural beauty of the town, ventured to wine tastings off the lake, and even got a new hair cut (bold move Benjamin). Note to self, don’t do that again.
I didn’t feel alone on this journey. I had the comforts of technology through face-time, WhatsApp, and social media to keep in touch and share my experiences with friends and family. I did feel though a sense of guilt of potentially contributing to ‘overtourism’ through sharing my photos through Instagram … but that is for another blog. I made friends along the way. Through the Inns I stayed at to the adventures I went on with the help of AirBnB experiences. Many of these conversations and dialogue would be, perhaps, more difficult if I was with a partner, friend, or family member. Instead, I sat at bars, conversed with locals, tourists, and industry workers to understand their perspectives and narratives of the world. But also chose to stay in occasionally to eat dessert for dinner while watching Netflix in order to re-charge my introvert/extrovert body.
The topic of conversation that inevitably arose during some of my conversations was - well you guessed it, around U.S. gun violence and U.S. politics - specifically, President Trump. Locals and tourists from all around the world were intrigued with why Americans voted this ‘reality television presence’ into office. Once I tried to explain the popular vote vs. the Electoral College and the racial history around that, they were even more perplexed and frustrated. A Malaysian family staying at my Inn in Queenstown started a conversation - yes , over copious amounts of South Island Pinot Noir wine - during our ‘happy hour.’ The elder gentleman of the family asked, ‘What the hell is wrong with the United States!? The whole world looks up to you … Trump has ruined the world! He is racist and cruel and shame on you America.’ This rhetoric continued on with other folks I met along the way. It got so heavy that I chose to escape with a wine tour in the Otago Valley, where luckily, I was surrounded by the comforts of dogs and local wine.
Throughout this journey of traveling alone, I realized that trying to escape reality was no longer an option. I still had major anxiety over climate change, especially my contribution toward emitting carbon with flying the long distance to New Zealand from the East Coast U.S.A. …. not to mention various emails and work deadlines that crowded my email inbox. Even though my ‘away message’ was up … I wasn’t truly away. I would like to suggest that maybe, we respect when someone’s ‘away message’ is up and allow them to bask in the well-deserved time alone while on vacation? But again … that is for another blog - ‘Technology is the death of me’ - #ICan’tStopCheckingMyEmails #FirstWorldProblems
As I wrap up this blog post, and finally jet-lag free (no joke took me one full week to recover) - I want to share how exciting this adventure was for me. I navigated, rather successfully, all my transportation - even re-routed some of my trip, made new friends, and was able to bring back three bottles of wine! Although I didn’t share all the details of my trip (yes there were some Lord of the Rings film-induced tours) … I have one major takeaway from this blog, especially for people who identify as women … GO TRAVEL ALONE! Or at least take yourself out to a dinner or a movie alone … Fall in love with yourself - Challenge yourself - Be comfortable with being uncomfortable - Enjoy the solitude of you. And at the end of it all, write a cheesy blog post inspiring others to venture alone … but just be smart about traveling as a woman. Kia ora!