As I ordered my breakfast in a far-flung beach town in Southern Africa a few weeks ago, I got talking to a guy around my age.
"Are you travelling alone?" he asked.
When I replied cheerily that I was, he muttered into his hands:
"Oh. That's brave."
He then proceeded to tell me about an alleged murder of a female tourist that happened along the coast a few months ago.
"So just don't walk along the beach alone at night or anything."
I stared at him. Was he for real? OK so perhaps my ponytail and playsuit screamed "innocent little girl!!" but this guy (incidentally only three years my senior) was talking to an extremely well travelled 30 year old who was fluent in the local language. Why did he feel the need to share this "wisdom"? Would he do so had I been a strapping lad of the same age?
Let's be real - it's because I am a woman.
So I let him into a secret. What he doesn't realise, is that girls my age have already spent many years sharpening a Spidey Sense for danger. We have developed this simply because we are navigating this world as women. Ever since we've been old enough to leave the house, we have been honing a goddamn state-of-the-art risk assessment system that is hard-wired into our brains. We learn to plan our journeys, watch our drinks, stay alert in the late night taxi and cross the road or duck into a shop when it seems like that guy has been following us for a little too long.
When we travel alone, that sixth sense only heightens. We book flights that arrive in the day time and hostels with 24 hour security, we follow the little blue GPS dot in Ubers along unfamiliar streets and tell the overly friendly bar man that our boyfriend is joining us a little later.
Do you know how exhausting that all is, dude? Can you see now why your mansplaining why I shouldn't walk along the beach at night alone is a little redundant?
That isn't to say I've got it sussed and my travel tricks keep me immune from danger. Terrible things can happen anywhere, at any time. But guess what - that's a threat we live with every day as women - no matter where in the world we are.
I know what you are thinking - cut the poor guy some slack! He just wanted to help you stay safe. But to me, his words only reinforced how little many men know about the lengths we go to in order to keep ourselves safe, day in, day out, and how capable we are of doing this.
Can I suggest we change the narrative?
Yes, solo female travellers are epically brave. But not because they are navigating the world alone, exposed and vulnerable - we've been doing that our whole bloody lives.
We are brave because we believe we can chase our dreams, just as any man would.
We are brave because we want to see the world and aren't prepared to wait for a man to show up and come with.
We are brave because we have chosen to shake off the stereotypes that limit us and instead assert that we are strong and capable and fearless.
So here's what I wish he'd said, when I replied that I was indeed travelling alone.
"Oh. That's awesome!"
Three words, one replaced, but an infinitely different meaning. Here, he'd imply that I am able to have an incredible time and keep myself safe, regardless of my gender.
What a brilliant thought.Suggest a correction