Gender and Age
LP: I’ve gotten occasional comments and criticism that the activities I partake in, or general style of travel, would not feel safe for solo female travelers. Susan and Daisann, I’m interested in hearing your perspective on safety for female travelers and how, if at all, you think that informs your work as travel writers.
DM: I hate the pigeonhole of “solo female traveler.” When I was writing the column I made a point of ignoring that trope as much as possible. I tried to write with strength from a woman’s point of view, and to make that voice the default one. My position is and was: Women travel alone, intrepidly, have for centuries, it’s normal, get over it, next!
Now that I’m in my early 60s I find that age has much more impact on how I experience travel than gender. Being older on the road is equal parts disconcerting, humbling and enlightening. It’s a whole new world. Fortunately I’m in good health and I can do all the same things I did when I was writing the column. But I can tell that the people I encounter along the way see and deal with me differently than when I was doing the column in my 40s. Sometimes that means I get treated extra nicely, especially in generation-conscious Asia. In other situations, though, it means I’m invisible and ignored or just don’t fit the profile.
Getting older has changed how I think about travel. Probably the worst thing about a long travel life is coming to grips with losing places you’ve loved. And, thanks to the column, I have a huge backlog of these places in my heart. How I wish I could revisit the New York of the early 1980s, walk through endless Balinese rice paddies in 1998, get lost in a prewar neighborhood in Shanghai in 2001.
SS: As a younger, female, solo traveler I had certain, specific concerns, of course. After the Frugal job I went on to write a column for the Los Angeles Times for women travelers, my aim chiefly being to get them to travel, to show it isn’t all that hard or lonely. Age has made me a stronger, more outgoing traveler. I really don’t think anyone would want to mess with me.
SK: Lucas, I had the same comments quite regularly, and actually did a piece on it, featuring Daisann and a few other veteran travelers from the other side of the (fuzzy) gender divide. Here was my takeaway: Of course there are differences in how men and women experience travel, and how they are treated, just as there are differences for L.G.B.T. versus straight travelers, travelers of different races and religions. But what I learned from those interviews was that there are far more differences among individual travelers regardless of gender than between male and female travelers as a whole. After doing that article, when a female reader would write to me and say something like “as a woman, I wouldn’t take the risk you did,” all I could think of was: plenty of men wouldn’t either.