Yes, Me Too.
I was walking back alone from a museum on a rainy day in Leon, Nicaragua. I stopped under a tin roof and sat on some steps waiting for the rain to ease up. I started picking my nails.
A guy on a motorcycle pulled over on the other side of the street to get out of the rain too. Weird because he had a rain suit on, but it was raining hard. He stood under a tin roof. A lady with an umbrella walked past. I stayed alert but relaxed a little. I looked down at my nails, back up, and it came into focus. The guy was staring at me while jacking off in the middle of the damn street.
I felt so violated, disgusted and shocked. I rushed across the intersection in the rain to find the nearest restaurant or public place while thinking who else has he done that too? Could it have been worse? Does he have a daughter? I didn’t look back until I was a block away at a restaurant entrance. He was gone. Off he went on his motorcycle, without consequence.
Traveling solo scares the shit out of girls because of stories like mine.
Stories worse than mine. But this is not a Nicaragua story or a scary solo travel story. This is the story of being a woman.
When I told my current boyfriend what happened he felt like it wasn’t safe in Nicaragua. One of my best friends and fellow vet traveler promptly reminded me that this could’ve happened anywhere. In a NYC subway or on a beach in South Carolina. She’s right. In fact, it has.
It's happened to me in the US too, and sadly most of my girl friends on Facebook too.
I grew up in Miami and went to all ages clubs somewhat frequently. When I was 17, I went to one with some friends, my boyfriend at the time and his friends. I had a white tank top on and a cute yellow jean pleated skirt (well maybe the color choice was questionable).
As I walked through the crowd behind a guy friend, a random guy behind me put his hand up my skirt for a full ass grab, skin to skin. My instincts took over. Infuriated, I grabbed his wrist, turned around and yanked him forward. Then I yelled in his face until my guy friend came over and got in on the action. They both were kicked out. But I felt OK about it because I confronted him.
It doesn’t matter whether we're with our partner or in another country, unfortunately, sexual harassment can happen anywhere at any time of day.
This fact is why it’s so important that people are speaking up about it on social media with #metoo. It’s important that those who are innocent know what’s going on and those that have experienced it don’t feel alone or guilty or ashamed. What happened or how you reacted is not your fault. Forcing anything sexual on someone is not OK. It’s a huge problem. We cannot accept it or brush it away any longer.
At the same time I wouldn't want the fear of sexual harassment to stop us from doing what we want to, wearing what we want to or acting how we want to. We can’t let the fear of something possibly happening stop us from living our lives. I won't let it stop me from traveling, or traveling solo, and I wouldn’t want fear to stop other women from traveling solo when there's so much to gain from it.
We must continue do us, in spite of the state of the world, in spite of the potential of sexual harassment.
I will not let my experiences stop me from doing what brings me joy. Solo travel in particular gives me inspiration, growth and self-love. It’s an adventure that I will never stop doing, ever.
Instead what I’ll do is educate myself on cultural nuances so I know things like personal space in India is not the same as in America. I’ll practice travel safety tips so I can disguise my pepper spray and drop kick a guy. Most importantly, I’ll learn to trust my gut more and doubt myself less. I will travel smart. I will remain optimistic, believing that people are good.
The last thing I want to do is let my existence as a woman stop me from traveling on my own and writing my own story. I hope you agree with me. I hope you chose to continue to live your life and doing the things you love despite the ugly reality that society has some serious work to do.