This is a hard topic to write about, but I was encouraged to share my thoughts after talking this out with other female travelers on this topic. While I try to use this blog to focus on positive things, I also want to be real in sharing the less glamorous parts of traveling so far. I hope sharing my experience here will help support and validate others going through the same thing.
It’s 6 weeks into my gap year trip, and the biggest struggle so far has been dealing with male harassment. When I walk down the street, it’s virtually impossible to go a block without a dozen eyes staring at me (almost all men). Many of them will try and talk to me, make inappropriate comments, hit on me, and not leave me alone when I say no. It’s been difficult losing my anonymity, knowing that dozens of people are examining my face, my body, my hair, my dress, how I walk, what I say…and since it’s almost entirely men giving me the stares, I can’t help but think it’s in a perverted way.
In terms of comments, I get everything from:
- “You from Japan? Your eyes small!”
- “Ni hao ma!”
- “[gibberish in made-up Chinese]”
- “You so beautiful madam”
- “Why you alone? Where’s your husband?”
- “[pointing at me and speaking to their friend in a language I can’t understand]”
…You get the picture.
I know most of these men don’t mean to be inappropriate – most of them are genuinely curious and are trying to be friendly. I also understand there is a culture gap around what’s appropriate to say to women (#metoo has not come to this part of the world yet). But all my effort trying to understand the man’s point of view does little to change the fact that this is uncomfortable AF from my side. I originally responded to everyone who tried to talk to me to avoid being rude, but over time I just ignore these men to protect my emotions. If a woman or child talks to me, I’ll still respond.
And by the way, ignoring these men means they’ll repeat the comment even louder 2-3x times…they are very persistent.
I know every female traveler deals with this, but I think being an Asian woman intensifies the harassment because there aren’t a lot of solo travelers who look like me. And I get it – when I come across a woman-of-color who’s traveling alone, I also do a double-take. But that translates into even more men staring, examining, and picking me apart with endless questions about my background.
I could tolerate this if this happened a few times a day. But the frequency makes this really difficult…in big cities, I get a comment literally every 30 seconds (not exaggerating). After 6 weeks, this has taken a toll and I’ve had a few emotional breakdowns over this. It’s getting to the point where I need to give myself a pep talk every time I leave the door…
I dealt with this in the past, so I was prepared to some extent, but after 6 weeks it’s more of a struggle than past trips which were only 2 weeks at a time. I’ve tried to mitigate this by dressing more conservatively – most days I cover my legs and my shoulders. Absolutely no cleavage. But frankly, it’s barely made a difference.
Fortunately, the harassment in Cambodia/Sri Lanka has not been worse than other countries I’ve been to (Kenya was the worst by far as there were instances of physical harassment). I’m extremely grateful that I’ve stayed physically safe on this trip so far.
Sometimes I feel guilty for getting so worked up over this – I don’t want to sound like a social justice warrior who expects the rest of the world to behave as westerners do…I keep telling myself to suck it up, as this is just the way the world works and this is the price I need to pay to go on this amazing trip.
But the few times I’ve voiced my frustration to other travelers have made a huge difference in helping me feel validated. I realized I was not alone; literally every other female traveler goes through this. Talking about it helped me find the courage to continue tolerating it. Because that’s really all I can do…tolerate this, protect my emotions, and support others.
If other women out there are going through this, I want to say you are not alone! You are not the problem and so many others feel the same way. It’s 100% okay to feel uncomfortable, frustrated, and helpless. I hear you and I feel for you. You will find the courage to continue your amazing trip.