By Raegan Whiteside
My sister and I like to play a game with my dad which isn’t even really a game. We ask him to tell us a story about his life and he tells us a story. Sometimes we ask him to repeat certain stories and sometimes we discover new ones that we have never heard before, always learning more about the crazy, adventure-filled life my dad lives. From stories of his adventures on the Appalachian Trail, to pranks he played on his friends in his childhood, to an incident involving a four wheeler and a snowsled, my dad has lived a life far from boring. One of my favorite stories is when my dad and his friends camped out under an overpass on a small highway in the Midwest when they were in high school. And that’s the whole story. No crazy plot twists or scary turn of events—these young men just wanted to do something adventurous, and they did without a second thought about it. The carefreeness and spontaneity of the whole experience awed me from a young age and still does today. This story that I have my dad retell has always felt like just that, a story, because society has taught me that this experience is fictional for someone like me—a female.
I’ve constantly been told by the media, family members, teachers and even strangers that women can’t travel alone. “It’s too dangerous,” “You won’t be able to defend yourself if something happens,” “Oh gosh, what if something happens?!” Whether it’s in the United States, a destination overseas or even a 45 minute car drive from where I live, a woman traveling alone has always been perceived by me as an impossibility. While people think it’s bold to imagine a woman traveling in broad daylight, a woman traveling at night is just crazy talk in their eyes.
From a young age, however, I also learned the name Amelia Earhart—the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. For me, this name meant that maybe traveling wasn’t out of the question. Now I know the names Elspeth Beard, the first woman to ride a motorcycle across the world; Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest and the first woman to reach the top of all seven summits; Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, the first woman to sail solo around the world, and countless other women. Women who overcome all the doubts, hesitations and straight out no’s that are told to them and dare to say “yes” anyway.
Growing up with an older sister, we were always told to stick together. If one of us wanted to go to the park in our neighborhood, the other had to go, too. If one of us had to go to the bathroom in a store, the other had to go, too. It wasn’t until I got my driver’s license that I had the freedom to travel by myself, and even then it was only within town limits.
I always accepted these restrictions because I wasn’t naive to the world around me. I saw the newspapers and television coverage of the appalling events involving women and children. But I’ve always had an urge to go. When I got to college and heard stories about study abroad, I quickly gained blinders with travel being the only objective in my vision. I took the first chance I could, and after my freshman year I studied abroad for a month in Ireland.
I finally tasted the freedom of travel and after that short month I was hungry for more. It wasn’t long until I found another opportunity to travel and took it—this time for a full semester in London. There were a lot of reasons to stay and a lot of voices telling me not to leave Charleston, but there was a part of me screaming to go—to go adventure, to learn and just to travel. I chose that voice and when I did, I chose me.
The world can be a scary place, there’s no doubt about that. Horrible incidents and situations happen to women every day, all over the world. But wouldn’t it be scarier if women never got to experience the amazing and life-altering consequences of travel? Wouldn’t it be more dangerous if women never learned a different way of life? Who would they be if they never experienced a new culture, saw ancient and stunning architecture, or tasted authentic food in an authentic restaurant? Wouldn’t it be more shocking if women never became stronger, smarter, more intuitive, brave, wholesome, independent, open-minded, curious, and so much more because they couldn’t travel? Who would I have been if I hadn’t traveled to Ireland? Or if I hadn’t traveled around Europe and lived in the multicultural city of London for the past five months? What would be different in my life if I was able to sleep under an overpass in high school? Maybe I would have had a life-changing thought or idea as I fell asleep that night listening to the cars drive by and watching the stars.
Women aren’t scared of traveling. Society is scared of women traveling because when women travel they become empowered, and when women become empowered they don’t listen to the world constantly telling them “no.” They become the Amelias, Elspeths, Junkos and Krystynas of the world, and they demand to go. They demand to make waves. They demand to be heard and to be seen. Do you hear a voice inside demanding to travel, learn and grow? Well, there is no time like the present.
Yes, you read that right—THE PRESENT. No more, “college is the only time to travel,” “I won’t be able to travel until retirement,” “I have too many responsibilities, I can’t just up and leave,” or “I can’t afford to go to another country.” These are excuses that society tells women in order to keep us stagnant and unchanging. But a tree doesn’t stop changing once it’s fully grown. Leaves fall; new leaves take their place; sometimes flowers bloom on the branches and sometimes a swing or birdhouse is added to its limbs. Women aren’t done changing and blooming, either, once they hit adulthood or a certain age. The difference between women and trees is that women are given the ability to move. They are given legs to wander, minds to learn and keep hold of new memories, eyes to take in beautiful sights and hearts to strengthen with compassion for others around the world.
Women are given these gifts the same as men. Women can—and should—travel the same as men. Women can bloom the same as men. So, go. Sleep under that overpass, travel to the next town over or to a country halfway around the world. Just go and never stop going. Raegan Whiteside is a rising senior at the College of Charleston majoring in English and Women’s and Gender Studies and minoring in Spanish. She just got back from a semester abroad, living in London and traveling around Europe. Currently, Raegan is back in Charleston and interning at Skirt magazine for the summer, though she suspects her travels are far from over.