Women’s Travel Email Roundtable, Part One: ‘He My HUSBAND!’

Speaker's Corner: Four accomplished travelers -- Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Liz Sinclair, Terry Ward and Catherine Watson -- talk about the rewards and perils of hitting the road alone as a woman

10.08.07 | 10:49 AM ET

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From: Terry Ward
To: Catherine Watson, Liz Sinclair and Stephanie Elizondo Griest
Subject: “He My HUSBAND!”

The first time I traveled sola abroad as a woman, it was to one of the more challenging regions. I had gone to visit my friend Clara in Amman, Jordan in the summer of 2001 when I decided to travel alone for a few days to the Sinai Peninsula. Clara loaded me on the tourist-friendly bus (the expensive one—the one with air-conditioning), advised me to avoid eye contact with random men and bid me farewell.

No sooner had we pulled away from the city, the hills of Palestine and Israel shimmering out the windows, did a man move into the seat next to me.

Not wanting to be unfriendly but wary of the cultural rules, I pushed my body as close to the window as I could and tried to politely answer his questions, of the usual, “Where you from, where you go?” genre.

The bus was full, and I noticed a veiled woman two rows back, baby in her lap, leaning forward and listening to our conversation with increasing ire.

“Don’t worry about her,” said the man, tiny nod her direction,  “She doesn’t know English.”

He leaned in closer as I receded further into the nook between the seat and plate glass and tried to appear lost in the scenery.

“Welcome, you are very welcome in Jordan,” he kept saying, offering his services as my personal guide in Amman and stealthily attempting to slide his phone number my direction, as I murmured, “No, thank you’s,” out the corner of my mouth.

Then the woman leaned forward, madly waving my way, and belted out “He my HUSBAND!’ The whole bus craned at the commotion as I tried to disappear and the man stared innocently ahead, pretending he had never so much as spoken to me.

It was the most uncomfortable bus ride of my life, and I had no idea how I’d gotten myself into that situation—other than the fact that I was foreign and female and sitting alone.

I’ve had a few other negative experiences in that same vein, traveling alone as a woman, and they are by no means relegated to the Middle East. But despite that fact, I find my gender more of an advantage than a disadvantage while traveling.

From Indonesia and Thailand to Central America and New Zealand, people—and not just men, I’m talking women, too, and entire families—have invited me to dinner, welcomed me to pitch a tent in their backyards, offered to find me jobs and more. And while I have not accepted all the offers, the opportunities are always there.

Was I just being my usual friendly self when I got upgraded from an economy car to an Audi at that rental counter in France, or did my ‘charmante’ attempts at the language and perhaps an unconsciously batted eyelash or two sway a favor from the male attendant?

Certainly cultural doors open to me when traveling, and I meet people I would never ordinarily meet, because I am a foreigner—and, often, I know, because I’m a woman. It is hard for me to distinguish one advantage from the other sometimes.

But is the latter somehow using my femininity as a means to an end? And should I feel guilty for doing so?

World Hum contributing editor Terry Ward writes for The Washington Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel and AOL. A story she wrote about a women-run guesthouse in Rajasthan, India was selected as notable travel writing for the 2006 edition of the "Best American Travel Writing" series. She is based in Florida.

Catherine Watson is the former travel editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year and the author of two collections of travel essays, the new Home on the Road -- Further Dispatches from the Ends of the Earth, and Roads Less Traveled -- Dispatches from the Ends of the Earth. She recently wrote the World Hum story Where the Roads Diverged.

Stephanie Elizondo Griest has mingled with the Russian Mafiya, polished Chinese propaganda and belly danced with Cuban rumba queens. She is the author of Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, as well as Not Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines, and the guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go

Australia-based Liz Sinclair is living in Bali, learning Indonesian, volunteering as a grant writer for a maternal and child health center for the poor and writing about Australia and Asia, with an emphasis on Indonesia and interfaith issues. She wrote Why I am Still Going to Bali for World Hum, and has written for The Melbourne Age, The Big Issue, Australia, The Brunei Times, The Evening Standard and Islands magazine.

8 Comments for Women’s Travel Email Roundtable, Part One: ‘He My HUSBAND!’

MargoWolf 01.04.08 | 4:46 AM ET

Terry, My first week in Kinvara, County Galway, I spent time on the village quay making bracelets with silver and turquoise and leather bags of Elk skin. I met a man, early on, who owned one of the wooden boats in the little harbor. He was married and talkative. I did not see him again until the Galway Hookers/Kinvara Boat Festival and Races. Some how, over these five weeks I had become the interloper. Other people I befriended and still communicate with, said"Remember, Kinvara is a small place and there is always gossip.” Plus I was the outsider. 95% of my experience in Kinvara was great. And I found how similar we are how being a woman alone can be viewed in a poor light by some while it will also bring wonderful people into your life as well. I expect this can happen anywhere.MargoWolf

travel to melbourne 03.05.08 | 12:20 PM ET

hi .. great post !

MargoWolf 03.05.08 | 12:43 PM ET

Thank-you, Down Under. One day I hope to see your great land, I meet Aussies in the West and they are fun and friendly. Happy
Trails, MW

music 03.28.08 | 2:38 PM ET

added your site to favorites!

MargoWolf 03.28.08 | 10:46 PM ET

Me? Really?

karthik cmouli 04.12.08 | 9:52 PM ET

Sorry to learn about your experiences in traveling, and the one in the bus, there was not much you could have done to avoid that. But the fact of the matter is that no matter where you travel, people are always bound ot be too curious about you and all that anyone can do is to grit ones teeth and wish that they would disappear, literally!

автомоб& 07.29.08 | 6:29 PM ET

This is the most spiritual site that I ever saw!))

Sohbet 10.15.08 | 9:01 PM ET


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