You’d think that in our times, when the world has witnessed women serving as heads of state, in combat forces, as astronauts venturing as far as space, and summiting the world’s highest peaks, the people you meet while traveling have had enough time to learn, process, and deal with the fact that women, even those with spouses, often travel solo for weeks or months at a time. As an often-solo traveler who now happens to be married, and continues to travel solo, I can hardly think of myself as an anomaly.
But the world has a funny way of showing you that your perceptions of its people, their ways of thinking, and cultures can be wrong. While most of my experiences of hearing random questions or comments related to my traveling solo while being married have been amusing at best, there have been times when they’ve crossed the line into the territory of the ridiculous and eventually into becoming downright infuriating, especially to me as a feminist who refuses to shut up and play along.
I’m never annoyed or offended when the curiosity comes from someone who lives in a culture vastly different from that of modern society; in fact, I’m only happy to answer their questions because I’m aware that it is opening up their world view to a new, hopefully progressive way of looking at women, their place in society, and relationships. In some small way, it’s telling them that it’s okay to want and dream about things that people in your society or culture don’t always aspire to, it’s okay to venture away from the norm, it’s okay to be different, even if it means raising a few eyebrows at first.
But during so many conversations on my travels, with people who on the surface have a seemingly modern way and view of life, I’ve often stared in utter disbelief when they’ve asked me things that to me should seem ridiculous to them even before they’ve let the words escape their mouths. I’ve come away scratching my head, wondering if this was really happening in the 21st century and the absurdity of it all.
So as a feminist and someone who encourages everyone to think carefully about the bullshit you might be implying by asking certain kinds of questions to a woman who travels solo even if she is in a relationship/married/ a mother, I’ve decided to pour my heart out in this post.
There might be some pointing and laughing as I recollect hostel stories of ignorant dude-bros, but for the most part, I’m going to do my best to tell you why some of these questions are hollow and do little but display a limited understanding of the way the world works today, and try to answer others, so you never have to ask me again.
#1: So, Where’s Your Husband?
More than once on solo trips, when I’ve mentioned during conversations as a passing fact that I happen to be married, the focus of the conversation has been thrown off by, “So, where’s your husband?” accompanied either by a grave look of concern, often by other women, or a challenging suspicious look, mostly by other men, as if my marriage were a figment of my imagination and my husband were someone I made up to ward off advances or to hide that I felt sorry about being single.
Though, sometimes the question is innocent, asked even before the speaker can think about it, almost like an impulse follow-up to my telling them that I am married, other times, on some level it implies that wives should always be accompanied by their husbands abroad, as if wives, like livestock, were owned by their husbands. It also implies that there’s something strange/not right/unnecessary about married women traveling solo.
Other times, when asked by persistent men or stupid dude-bros it implies that since my husband isn’t traveling with me, it’s okay to hit on me and I shouldn’t mind because clearly, I’m looking to be hit on by daring to travel without my husband.
#2: Does Your Husband Know What You’re Doing Right Now?
I know it’s hard to believe but there was this one time in the common area of a hostel in Barcelona that an Italian guy, who was too old to be staying there and spent all of his time trying to hook up with girls half his age, actually asked me this out loud as I sat enjoying beers with my hostel-mates. Everyone turned to look at him in disbelief, somebody exclaimed, “Dude, are you serious right now?” and I burst out laughing, as did the rest of the group. Red-faced, he said, “Oh well, I’m going for a walk.”
#3: How Can Your Husband Let You Travel Alone?
Just like #1, this question implies that wives are owned by husbands, or women are owned by their men- husbands or fathers.
It implies that a man’s approval is necessary and if you happen to be married, that approval has to come from your husband.
Even worse, it implies that a man should know better than being okay with his wife traveling the world on her own.
It implies that women can only do things when the men in their lives ‘let’ them. As if women can vote today because some old dude somewhere once said, “Oh yes, women, let us give you the right to vote beginning tomorrow”.
I’m a grown woman and have been since I turned 18. Since then, I’ve taken my own decisions and guess what, this might be shocking, haven’t needed anyone’s permission to travel, work, educate myself, or do as I please. That is what being an adult means, yes even for women, even married ones!
Think about it, would you ask a married woman with a job or career, “How can your husband let you work?”
Sounds absurd in today’s context, doesn’t it? The same reasoning applies to. “How can your husband let you travel?”
#4: How Can You Leave Your Husband to Travel?
The reason I hate this question is that implies that a woman’s husband/ marriage/ relationship/kids are at the very center of her existence and her choosing to travel solo is a conscious choice to abandon him/them so she can travel. It also implies that she must place being with and available for her husband above every other dream, aspiration, and priority in life.
Marriage is just one of many parts that makes a complete, fulfilled life. Modern women like me don’t think it’s the only important or even the most important part of our lives or happiness. Everything in our lives does not revolve around our spouses/marriages.
Like me, many married women find solo travel as a great time to enjoy some alone time, reconnect with who they are as individuals and a way back to their passions and creativity. When one feels so strongly about traveling alone, the right question to ask is: How can you not leave your husband to travel?
#5: Is Your Marriage in Trouble?
This question displays such a narrow, childish view of marriage, an institution that has evolved in so many ways through the times but is still viewed with such an archaic lens.
This question implies that for a marriage to be successful, spouses must never be apart. They must be so needy that they couldn’t do without each other. It assumes, unrealistically, that if the marriage were a happy one, there would be no need for a person in it to do anything by themselves that gave them a sense of fulfillment such as travel alone, or climb mountains, or learn a language, or write a book.
It assumes that a healthy marriage is built of two sorry-assed halves that become a complete entity only when they find and are with each other. That idea is hardly romantic, it’s lame, unrealistic and dangerous because it encourages unhealthy dependence. It’s pre-conceived bullshit like this that puts so many young people off the whole marriage/commitment thing.
The way I think of it is that spouses do not belong to each other, they belong only to themselves, and they are free to do as they please. You have to trust their actions are influenced by their love and loyalty but also by who they are as people and what their goals and dreams are made of.
We’re all individuals first and unless we acknowledge and nurture our individual passions and dreams and personalities, we’re never going to be able to make a healthy contribution to marriage or other relationships. To be in a happy relationship of any kind, one must first be a happy, content individual.
This question also makes a hidden assumption- that a woman traveling alone is doing so not for the sake of travel or her love for the intrepid or for adventure but to escape something- and if she’s married then it must be her marriage/husband, the center of her universe.
While many people travel to escape situations and gain some perspective or clarity, it’s wrong to presume marriage troubles for women who travel without their spouses. Stop putting people in boxes and do away with stereotyping them.
#6: Isn’t Traveling Solo Selfish?
Human beings are selfish. We spend our entire lives chasing our dream, our ideal career, life, family, and what have you. Everything that we do is a step in the direction of the pursuit of what we believe will make us happy/successful/rich.
While I can’t speak for other solo traveling women whose life situations I know nothing of, there’s nothing especially or unusually selfish about me traveling solo.
Get over it.
#7: Don’t You Miss Him?
This is such a stupid and highly inappropriate question that isn’t anyone else’s business. If you’ve been in any loving relationship in your life- your parents, family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, or spouse, you’re obviously going to miss them the longer you stay away.
But for spouses who like to travel solo, that is just a little technicality that is not big enough to make them not want to travel on their own. Our love for solo adventures/travels obviously trumps missing our spouses, or else we wouldn’t do it. While different couples work out differently what works for them, I don’t shy away from solo trips that are from a few weeks to a few months long. I know that I won’t be gone long-term and will return, so it gets easier to handle the missing bit.
#8: Isn’t Travel Better With Your Husband?
Sometimes this question tells me that the person has already made up their mind and answered it in their heads. It tells me that they think that solo travel is for losers who have no one to go with them or loners who’d rather be by themselves. It tells me that they’re wondering why anyone would travel alone when they have a husband they can take with them.
It tells me that they’re restricting the idea of travel, in their heads, to a holiday and for them, a holiday isn’t complete unless you have someone to go with.
Of course, it indicates a total lack of understanding what solo travel is- meeting new people on the road, learning about different cultures and immersing yourself in new ways of life, or developing your passions while traveling- such as cooking, writing, sketching, art, or language learning.
Some of us like to travel by ourselves because we’re not distracted by the company, or lazy because of it, and our experiences are richer when we’re on our own. Some of us do it because our spouses don’t enjoy the same style of travel or might have jobs or careers that don’t let them get away for as long as we’d like. Sometimes, it could be a combination of the two.
Personally, I like solo travel better than any other kind- whether it’s with my husband or a group of friends. I enjoy the freedom to make of each day exactly as I please, to hike for days just for my love of the outdoors, to live like a local in new places, and to immerse myself in new experiences with the kind of singularity and unaccountability that solo travel offers.
Moreover, I have this obsessive need to seek out remote places, to go as far as I can afford to and manage to safely, to hike in the most remote and wild places I’m physically fit enough to, and my husband doesn’t have this need- so I’d hate to force him or worse, guilt him into doing these things when he didn’t love them as much as I did or hated doing them.
I’m unapologetically addicted to that kind of travel and the highs it brings- it makes my personality shine through like nothing else and helps me carry some of that travel-inspired fairy dust back into my daily life back home where I’m cooped up indoors behind a laptop screen, writing till my wrists hurt, filing invoices, and generally being boring and nerdy. It’s an important reminder of those other more interesting, adventurous, and spontaneous parts of who I am as a person.
#9: You’re So Brave To Travel Without Your Husband
You can call me brave for going zip lining when I have a fear of heights, you can call me brave for hiking alone on remote islands and sure, you can call me brave for sleeping soundly in old creaky, wooden houses where the wind hurls the windows open and the leaves outside make rustling noises as if to challenge your guts (even I surprised myself there), but don’t tell me I’m brave to travel without my husband.
One, there’s no kind of danger that my husband can protect me from that I cannot handle fully well on my own. Two, are you really going to tell me it’s brave of an educated, English-speaking, confident woman to hop on a flight, arrive in a new city, stay someplace she can book online in advance after reading reviews, navigate new cities with Google Maps, communicate with Google Translate, and do everything she needs with the help of an app on her phone?
The women who train to summit Everest are brave, the women who fight patriarchy in rural communities around the world are brave, the women who build small-businesses to bring their families out of poverty- they’re brave. But me, who can afford to travel, and so I do, I’m hardly brave. I’m just privileged and I make the most of my opportunities to do what I love.
#10: A Beautiful Girl Like You Shouldn’t Be On Her Own
This is such a condescending, sexist remark, and it is so irritating because usually the person who makes it has no idea how offensive it- to them it sounds like a compliment. It implies that a beautiful woman is a moving target, at risk because of her gender, and so a woman must find a man to accompany and protect her. It tells her that in some weird, fucked up way, being attacked or attracting unwanted attention is her fault- because she is attractive.
Everywhere around the world, people get mugged, attacked or assaulted, irrespective of their gender and physical appearance, and that has little to do with how they look and more to do with the intention of the attacker and their need to assert power and control. Women are attacked in their own homes and cities, often by people they know and trust, so really that has nothing to do with traveling alone. The sad truth is that women are viewed as the weaker sex and are thought of as vulnerable, and the only way to fight that is by us women doing exactly as we please and asserting our strength, survival skills, and our ability to take care of ourselves.
So that was me, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one- if you’re married and like to travel solo, I’d love to hear if you get asked questions like this and how you deal with them. Tell me the funny, ridiculous, annoying, and the downright stupid ones!