What happened when I actually tried travelling solo
The whole blogosphere is full of solo female travellers gushing about how liberating / empowering / amazing it is to go on adventures alone. But what about the downside of solo female travel? After travelling by myself or with girlfriends for a while now, I found that the biggest detriment to enjoying the experience is having to deal with men creeping on you left and right.
There is hardly a day that creeps won’t leave you in peace. From getting cat-called and eyefucked and chatted up (even by security no less) in Jerusalem (I was covered from head to toe) to getting grabbed by the waist and shoulders as I conversed with other women in an upscale bar in Seminyak, I’m about to share just a few of my stories with you.
Story #1: Surfing in Siargao
“Saan galing?” (Where are they from?)
“Dito Pinas” (Here, Philippines)
“Iba talaga pag Filipina! (haha)” (There’s really no beating Filipinas, haha)
Story #2: Surfing in Canggu, Bali
A couple of days ago I was doing a sunset session with my sister in Batu Bolong. When we returned the surf boards to the rental place in front of the beach, the group of guys sitting around stared openly and did the usual spiel: “where are you from? Haha I thought you were Indonesian bla bla,” *stare stare stare* *saying something in Bahasa* *laughter* *more staring* ‘Why are you so beautiful?” “Asians are really the sweetest”
Again it’s an insignificant encounter but now that my sister left Bali do I really want to go back there alone? I could, but it’s not nice to have to feel that discomfort and dread of being stared at with looks that makes my skin crawl.
It’s only a look, just brush it off. Easy to say but try dealing with it all the time. It discourages you from doing things that will put you in the line of sight of people you just don’t want attention from.
Post edit: I went to another surf rental spot and hired an instructor for my last sunset in Bali, and it was amazing 🙂 My surf instructor still hit on me in the end, asked for my number, invited me to party and drink after the session, and told me to come back at 7am the next morning for another lesson.
Story #3: Salsa in Peru
I think I’m just about to give up dancing now because I’m tired of ugly sweaty men trying to kiss me in the middle of the dance floor. I’m tired of guys touching me inappropriately while dancing, I’m tired of having stinky breaths on my face and sweaty hands of undesirable people on my skin.
I love dancing. I love salsa, bachata, merengue, tango, you name it. It was my new year’s resolution to get better at this, so I took classes and put up with all the old Chinese men in Hong Kong leading me on the dance floor. But every time I try to go dancing, I’m inundated by predatory males who want more than to dance with me. So should I stop dancing? I think it’s unfair because I love doing it and guys should be more respectful. But realistically to keep doing it means having to keep dealing with distasteful and uncomfortable situations.
It happened in Cusco, Peru. I was excited because they had a latino dancing nightlife which is hard to come by in Asia. Again, the dance instructor took a liking to me and basically stuck to me song after song. I was happy at first because I got to practice with someone really good, but at some point during a bachata tutorial he tried to kiss me and I said no firmly. He stopped dancing with me after that and never asked me again. I was so rattled that I didn’t want to dance again that night and just went home.
Story #3: The Airbnb host in Bali
I first talked about Matt, the French guy, in my Canggu Diaries. The situation escalated since then to the point where I was seriously considering throwing away all the money I paid in advance for the Airbnb villa in Bali just so I could avoid him and his attentions.
Why, why can’t I just chill out in the villa I paid good money for without having to deal with a French guy who won’t stop bugging me? I’m held hostage because he’s the caretaker of this place and has the keys to my room, the keys to my scooter, and takes care of everything here. At first he was inviting me to the beach, to go rafting, giving me gifts in the form of fruit, pestering me on WhatsApp… in the end since I rejected him he either ignores me or sends me messages about how rude I am.
The ridiculous thing is that first he started hitting on me, and then on my friend when she stayed for 3-4 days in Canggu (same thing: invited her to massage, sauna, etc.). When she left he refocused his attentions on me again. I wonder if he does this to all his guests, but I doubt it. He told me from the beginning how much he ‘liked Asian people’… ugh.
Again it’s been suggested that it’s also my fault for not being firm enough or expressive enough with my ‘no’s’. That not replying is not sufficient. But in the first place, why do I have to be subjected to this? Other travellers aren’t pestered as regularly. And if I’m averse to confrontation, it’s just hell for me to keep having to spell it out time after time.
Now I can’t even hang out in the main house anymore because he’s always walking around half naked. My Bali trip has been slightly poisoned by how uncomfortable I am in the place where I sleep, wake up, shower, and break my fast.
Story #4: Uber drivers in Tel Aviv
Can I get a taxi ride in peace? No.
This happened on more than one occasion. There was one old and heavyset Uber driver who had a son living in Seattle. At first I appreciated his friendliness. He asked me if I liked Tel Aviv and I said I really loved the city.
“Why don’t you move here then”
“Oh, haha, well I would need to get a visa…”
“No problem I take care of you”
“You have husband?”
“I take care of you, marry you, give you visa”
“Oh haha no thanks”
On another occasion as I was getting out of the Uber in Abraham Hostel, the driver got out as well and asked me if I would have a drink with him that evening. I muttered a ‘no thanks’ and ran away from him as fast as I could.
Story #5: On Asian girls either being prostitutes or transgenders
“All the Asian girls here are either prostitutes or ladyboys,” said an Australian to me at one point in Bali.
My sister and I felt particularly excluded in Bali as it seems like everyone here in June is white. I’m not sure where all the Asians are (do Asians not like drinking and dancing as much as white people or are we going to all the wrong places?) – but people here are 90% white. I’m talking about in cafes, in the beaches, restaurants, and bars. If that’s all they’ve encountered of Asian women, no wonder nobody talks to us like normal people here when they all casually talk to each other.
Disclaimer: I have nothing at all against transgenders / transsexuals, I’m just referring to the derogatory way some men use the term as if it were an insult.
Story #6: Walking around in London alone
I got followed by a man driving a car walking on a street in the middle of the day. He kept hollering at me from the car until I ran into a cafe.
Story #7: Biking in the Rice Terraces
It’s not just foreign guys in Bali. Indonesian men have hollered comments to us as my sister and I would pass. One time we were in the rice fields riding our bicycles, which had laminated signs in front saying ‘bike for rent’. A local tour guide read the signs as we crossed paths and said aloud, ‘bikes for rent. Also for rent…?’ My sister death stared him until he caught himself and stopped.
Story #8: The yoga instructor in Hong Kong
I can’t even go to yoga in peace. I went to a class once where I thought the instructor – an Australian male yogi – was giving me more attention than normal, adjusting my pose and pressing down on my body several times during the class. Now, this is completely standard during yoga, but afterwards of course he starts texting me and making conversation ultimately inviting me out. I could never go back to his class again, no matter how well the time slots fit with my schedule.
Story #9: Chinese men in Lima
Tiffany and I were going through the Cathedral museum in Lima’s historical district when a group of Chinese men started following us around. “Where are you from?” Again was the question. They kept trying to chat us up until we had to zip through the whole exhibition trying to avoid them. I wish I had been able to take my time unbothered to enjoy the elaborate interiors and artwork in Lima’s cathedral, but no. Men got in the way once again.
Story #10: More moments in Bali
Last night as I was trying to catch a cab on the street by myself, a group of local Indonesians were hanging out by their motorbikes waiting to be hired. “Sexyyy!!” One shouted at me, while the others burst into laughter. Yep, just another second of many in my everyday life travelling solo. Should I just burn my wardrobe and wear a burqa so I can live in peace?
We tried going to salsa night in Seminyak – a place called Hacienda. I was sitting nursing my drink staring at the casually horrible dance floor before me, dominated by dodgy men and women, save for one stellar and superfit foreign couple who looked like they danced professionally. I already decided that I wasn’t going to dance that night and said no to everyone who asked.
One small bald-but-young guy held out his hand to me. “Dance?” he asked.
I sat there hesitating and then he decided to step up and grab the drink from my hand. “Put this down,” he barked at me, pulling at my cup. “Put this there!”
“What?! No I’m not going to dance with you because you’re rude,” I snapped. “Don’t order me around.”
He left to dance with someone else then came back later on. “What happened there?” He said. “Sorry if you were mad, just relax.” He touched my shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” I said, aggravated, and tried to shake his hand off. “Do you treat all women like this or just Asian girls?” I blustered.
“I travelled all over the world,” he boomed with his distinct Italian accent. “You’re the only one who has a violent reaction, I treat all girls like this!”
Classic male tactic, make the woman feel like they’re overreacting and in the wrong for feeling the way they feel. I remember a British ex once complained – when I was upset that he stayed out too late and took too many substances – that he was the only one who had to “deal with this grief” because he was “the only one with an Asian bird” (’cause all the other girlfriends of his mates were British’). I wish I had retorted then: why doesn’t he get with someone like them instead of someone like me? But I was too young to really understand that I really don’t need to put up with these kinds of statements from any man.
I’m sure there are a lot of factors that lead up to the way men interact with me as a solo Asian female traveller.
- Image of Asian women abroad (gold diggers, mail-order brides, sex workers, etc.)
- Socio-economic situation of the average Asian woman, particularly Southeast Asian women, which make us seem poorer and weaker and easier to take advantage of
- Cultural norms in Asia (gender inequality, patriarchal society) that make Asian girls more ‘submissive’ to men
- Communication patterns (Asian girls aren’t as assertive, not good at saying no, etc)
I’m not really writing this with an academic approach (obviously), just free writing from my villa bedroom in Canggu. Is it worth delving into more as a phenomenon?
Have any of your travels been marred or negatively affected by attention from the opposite sex? How do you deal with uncomfortable situations when you travel solo? Do you think this is the norm for female travellers across the board? Should I just give up and travel with men?