The Real Reason I Hate Traveling Alone.

Posted on
Mar 13, 2018
34

When I got home, I cried. Finally.

Rand hugged me, wore that same worried look he gets on his face when something goes wrong and he’s not there for it. For a long time I wondered what it was about me that meant the second I went on a trip on my own, things started to fall apart.

I figured it was something I was doing. But I’ve started to wonder if maybe I have that wrong. Maybe I have trouble when I travel without Rand for one very simple reason: a woman on her own is treated differently. Maybe the reason I hate traveling by myself has nothing to do with the fact that I’m traveling by myself.

I did my best. I shrugged off the drunk guy who loudly proclaimed that I was hot, over and over again at the airport bar. I didn’t look at him when he started talking in detail about my appearance. He liked my shirt. He he had many feelings about my face. A few frantic laughs escaped my mouth. His friend told me to just ignore him, and, never directly looking at either of them, I did.

They eventually walked away. You can’t bring a bottle of water through security, but you can bring a drunk asshole.

Traveling on my way from Albuquerque to Los Angeles on that same trip, a TSA agent yelled at me to take off my jacket.

I stared at him blankly. I was not wearing a jacket. I was wearing a hoodie – small, form-fitting, thinned from nearly a decade of wear. No one in their right mind would call it a jacket. I was wearing a camisole underneath it – not something that I planned on anyone seeing.

I was initially confused.

“I’m not wearing a jacket.”

“Ma’am, you need to remove it.”

“You mean my hoodie?”

“TAKE IT OFF.”

It is a scary thing to go through airport security under normal circumstances. The power deferential is too big. To be screamed at that you need to take off your clothes – not your coat, or your shoes, or your belt, but your actual clothes – by a dude who won’t deign to look you in the eye adds a level of bullshit that I can’t quite articulate. I stood, arms crossed tightly over my chest. Another agent stared at me for a long while, and I contemplated picking my nose to get him to shift his gaze. This thought, as I stood wearing a glorified sports bra, almost made me laugh. It gave me hope of some control in a situation where you have none.

 

The offending hoodie. Not pictured: the teeny tiny camisole I had on underneath it.

Waiting for my pat-down (I won’t go through the body scanners. For those that feel that this equates to me consenting to take off my hoodie, it doesn’t. I have literally had hundreds of pat-downs. I’ve never had to do so in a camisole), I was tempted to ask the agent what would have happened if I was part of any number of religious groups that don’t allow for bare arms. In the end, I said nothing. I just wanted to catch my flight home; it was completely within this agent’s power to stop me from doing that.

“I’d have contacted the ACLU, and I’d have sued him,” a colleague in the travel world told me when I recounted the story to her. I wrinkled my brow. I don’t have the resources – not in time, finances, or emotion – to sue someone for making me take off my sweater. But unless you have those things, there isn’t much recourse. You stare straight ahead, you take off your hoodie, you cry afterwards.

“You are doing a disservice to people who can’t speak up, who don’t have your privilege or your platform,” she said. And she’s not wrong: those of us with privilege and a microphone have an obligation to speak up for those that don’t. But are we obligated to speak up for ourselves even when we don’t feel safe doing so? Or when speaking up can make the situation worse?

“I know you have comebacks. I know you can put these guys in their place,” Rand told me, as I fired off a scathing reply to a piece of hate mail I received for my cinnamon roll piece. “But I worry …”

He trails off there. I know the things he’s worried about. The hackers who got into my Twitter account. The ones who’ve tried to hack this site. The threats I’ve gotten via the blog or by email. For a travel blog.

A scathing response is likely to provoke more rage than no response at all. I press my forehead against my desk. Sometimes, I have no answer. I want tell the drunk guy in the airport bar that he should spend the next four hours trying to piss in his own mouth and show him a diagram I made that he might find helpful. I want to give the TSA agent in Albuquerque a lesson ON WHAT A JACKET IS. I want to tell the guy who sent me an email about how I cuss too much to go fuck himself until he passes out from dehydration.

I am not going to do any of that.

I am grateful for the paradigm shift that is now allowing women to speak out against this bullshit. But I’m also empathetic of women who don’t say anything out of fear of incurring more wrath. We can’t condemn people for being quiet about their harassment if it’s not safe for them to be anything but quiet about their harassment. The burden that we’ve place on the abused and the harassed to speak up is out of step with where we are as a society. Sometimes we are understandably frightened of what might happen to us and our loved ones. And sometimes we speak up, and absolutely nothing happens. There are no consequences for our abusers; there are only consequences for us. They remain in power. They continue to climb the ranks. And worse still: they now know we’re going to be a problem for them.

Being a woman and traveling on your own should not be a terrifying thing. But sometimes it is. The shit that happened on this trip was minor. It was every day stuff. I see women dealing with bigger issues on an everyday basis; hell, I’ve dealt with bigger issues. But even the things that “aren’t that big a deal” are shrouded with the worry that things could take a turn for the worst. So I never relax. I say this as a very, very privileged woman. I never fucking relax when I’m traveling alone.

“I want you to be okay when you’re on the road by yourself,” Rand says to me when I get home, and I nod. I want that, too. I know he feels guilty, because he was a thousand miles away and couldn’t do anything to help. And I want to tell him that I was right there, and I couldn’t do anything, either.


Also published on Medium.

Leave a Comment

  • Cindy K

    I travel alone all the time – for business. Most of the time I am OK, but I am not relaxed. I am always HYPER aware of my surroundings. I have my routine… don’t engage, don’t make eye contact, wear your headphones… but not too loud cause you need to hear what is going on, walk fast. It sucks…. cause why should I have to do that? In regards to your TSA experience…. I have to say the EXACT same thing happened to me in a small regional airport in North Carolina. “Ma’am you need to remove your jacket.” What?! this is my sweatshirt… form fitting, small. Its not a jacket and like you, I had on a tank top (very tight) underneath. I was extremely uncomfortable taking it off. I was very angry, but I needed to catch my flight…. Once I got through and I was re-combobulating myself…I decided to say something. Very politely I explained why I was upset. The woman I was talking to told me that she understood I was upset… but it was policy. I sighed. I left. I went to my gate. And I added one more thing to my routine…. do not wear that sweatshirt when traveling….

  • Yup. I no longer wear a skirt when I’m traveling alone, because apparently deplaning is the perfect time for some guy to stick his hand up your skirt in the chaos and everyone’s like “well what do you want us to do?” :

    • Miu

      I’m not wearing skirts also because of the possibility of having a pat-down which they also do at the inside of your legs and I don’t really want to test how they do it when wearing a skirt.

      • Daisiemae

        Several people, including Sommer Gentry, a mathematics professor at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, have reported TSA inserting fingers and objects into their vagina during pat downs while they were wearing a skirt or dress.

  • wyrdgrrl

    A hoodie is a type of jacket, IMO. Most people who wear hoodies (the kind that zip up front) wear something underneath, so I think it’s reasonable that the TSA jerk (for he was being a jerk) assumed you had a shirt underneath and wasn’t asking you to get naked in public.

    • Everywhereist

      You know what makes me incredibly sad? I knew I was going to get comments like these. And I told myself I wouldn’t let them anger me, but it still does. Because there were men going through security with hoodies just like these. The issue is that I shouldn’t have to take it off, period.

      • wyrdgrrl

        I agree with you (and think you’re awesome, FWIW). You shouldn’t have to take off the the hoodie, ESPECIALLY if the rules weren’t being enforced equally and some people (men or women) weren’t told to take them me. My entire and only point was that “a hoodie is a type of jacket”.

        • Jules Egan

          If it zips in the front, it’s fair game period. It’s unfortunate you feel the way you do and that traveling is different for women. I travel alone often and definitely feel the need to be more vigilant and aware than when I’m with my husband. Things need to change, no question, but you can choose to be a victim and allow it to affect you the way it does or be a warrior and fight for change IN THE MOMENT. Tell the drunk to FUCK OFF, tell TSA they can pat you down or plan ahead better. You cry/they win. I’ve bought your book and followed your blog religiously for years and I find you wonderfully funny but when you post stories of being bullied or mistreated it drives me bananas because I don’t get the sense that you defend yourself. That piece of shit grabbing and shaking your seat on the plane caused you to break down in tears again. Where is the warrior that lives inside you that comes out so powerfully in your writing? Why isn’t she standing up for you when it’s time? I’d have whipped around and told that bully to knock it the fuck off and maybe even said “you wanna dance asshole? Let’s do this” he probably would have been so shocked at being called out and stood up to that he would have knocked it off. Either way, I’d love to one day read about you speaking up for yourself when these things occur rather than remaining silent, crying, or waiting to write about it later. That solves absolutely nothing. I’m sure you will lash out at me here or delete this but either way, I felt the need to express my frustrations at what seems to be a lack of action on your part when bullshit is happening that you don’t deserve.

          • Everywhereist

            Jules –

            I’m not going to delete your comment or “lash out” as you suggested I do. I do think it’s interesting that in your eyes, if I defend myself I’m “lashing out” and if I don’t, I’m “choosing to be a victim.” You’ve created a lose-lose situation for me. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter, and I’m going to leave your comment up and serve as its own indictment.

    • Brad Granath

      Yeah, no, we know he’s a jerk because he works for the TSA. And we know TSA employees are leering butholes. QeD.

  • Chuck Fouts

    My wife has told me many similar stories about being out in public without me. She says the crowd parts in front of me in a way that it never does for her. Also, no one seems to make the same kind of comments to her when I am around as when I am not. For the first few years I didn’t think I could make that kind of difference. Now that I know better I probably make a face similar to Rand’s.

  • Tammy Burns

    I’ve had airport security tell me to take off a sweater as well. Not even a zip-up hoodie, but an actual pull-over-my-head sweatshirt. Underneath I only had on a see-through-level-of-thin white camisole. They just barked at me while I was confused about having to pull my shirt over my head in order to go through security. I’ve never forgotten it, and now I specifically dress for flights knowing I’m probably going to have to strip down at some point… although part of me wants to do the total opposite and wear nothing under a hoodie next time, so that when they order me to take it off, I can stand there in just a bra in front of horrified families.

    • Everywhereist

      I am honestly considering doing this next time.

      • Brad Granath

        Indeed. Gotta plan it for a time when being detained won’t interfere with plans. I bring prefilled anonymized comment cards with me. But in a lot of airports they took the collection boxes away.

  • Stacy Egan

    TSA has become more and more ridiculous. For as much as you travel, have you done TSA pre-check? I think it would save you a lot of grief. I don’t like to go through body scanners either (because I’m currently pregnant), and I have a “uniform” of sorts. Unfortunately, anything with buttons or zippers is just flagged as an outer layer, so I just plan on not wearing it through security. TSA drives my husband totally nuts too. Sometimes people that are attracted to those positions are just on a power trip…but I’m really sorry you were uncomfortable.

    • Brad Granath

      It’s not just some people. It’s systemic.

    • Daisiemae

      Pre check does not guarantee that you will not be subjected to a pat down. MANY people have reported being subjected to pat downs even though they have pre check.

  • Cristy

    Part of me wonders how often the hoodie incidents happen that leave women who are wearing nothing more than a bra or bra-type shirt having to flash public just to get through security. And how often this doesn’t happen the second a male insignificant other or traveling companion speaks up about the inappropriateness of said request.

    It’s sad we had to be careful about our attire when we are alone while traveling. I understand the strategies for avoiding these incidents because I use them regularly, but I know most men aren’t aware that strategies like this even exist. Equally sad is that assholes are given priority over someone’s safety.

    Thank for writing this. May your next travel experience be the polar opposite.

  • Emily Postal

    I do the same thing when this happens to me. I don’t say anything, because I don’t want my day/flight/routine to be interrupted, and because I don’t want to be the entitled bitch who won’t do what the authority figure is asking her to do, and because I don’t want to risk that the man I am calling out will become angry or dangerous. And I feel angry, and I cry later, and I add yet another system or practice in place that limits my behavior in order to feel safer (don’t wear tank tops under sweatshirts, don’t sit at a bar alone without a book, don’t walk home at night with headphones on, don’t wear a skirt on the subway. It goes on) I think what’s worst is that all the well-intended advice people say afterward- speak up then, don’t wear that then, etc. are things I already tell myself and then get furious that I have to even think about it. We shouldn’t have to speak up. We shouldn’t need to take off our clothes for the TSA, but much more importantly, we shouldn’t have to feel so goddamn uncomfortable and leered at when we do. And we sure as fuck should feel a whole lot more safe when in a goddamn airport.
    Thanks for writing this. And go Alaska Airlines.

  • drolfX

    It is really easy to say what she should have done in the moment.. Her post is a reflection on what happened after contemplating the situations she was unexpectedly put into. I would not engage with a drunk either. It is not wise and could escalate the harassment. One of my dear friends repeats a wise AA saying often,” Pause when agitated.” Engaging with the TSA can get you put off of your flight. I think she did the right thing. I will never forget her post with the picture of someone’s foot on her armrest on the plane. Most people put in that position would react quite differently. Geraldine reacted with humor and grace.

    • Everywhereist

      Thank you so much for this.

      • drolfX

        😉

    • Brad Granath

      Because the TSA doesn’t want to leer at them. Pretty straightforward. Occam’s razor, folks. We’ve been giving TSA the benefits of all our collective doubts for more than 15 years.

      Fucking #TimesUp

  • Amanda Tatro

    Thank you for sharing. I travel frequently for work and find the experience in the US so much more frustrating than in Europe. I’m saddened by all of the comments below about how many of, myself included, have changed things we do, don’t wear that jacket, always be ready to be exposed in the lowest layer you’re wearing, etc. I know that many people consider things like this when they travel but wearing slip on shoes instead of tie shoes is far from the same as being prepared to stand in public in very little clothing and feel vulnerable.

    I’m also incredibly saddened for the victim blaming that comes in some of the comments or that you felt for not speaking up and that you write about in your next post about the dog. To me these are central to how we treat people. Sure we all have responsibility but when someone else’s poor behavior impacts us, its not our responsibility to have avoided it or managed it. Its theirs not to have behaved badly in the first place.

    Wishing you a better traveling experience next time and a more conscious travel environment for all of us in the future!

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  • itstoospicy

    To me it’s not always fear that stops me from speaking up – it’s just sheer weariness, or needing to get home on time, or the deisre to think about something else. If I lost it on every creepy airport turd or powerhungry TSA agent or my douche colleague that calls his wife a bitch every time she calls I would have way less time to focus on the things that bring me joy or make my life run smoothly because that shit happens all. The. Time. It takes a lot of emotional energy to get fired up enough to start that conversation, steer though it safely and come out the other side – which usually isn’t for a few hours because I’m replaying the conversation over and over in my head, wondering whether I should have said this or that. So instead sometimes I smile and divert the conversation or just stand around in my dingy old camisole staring into the middle distance or leave as soon as possible, because that’s all I have the space for in that moment.

    I’m trying to feel better about making the choice to disengage but I admit it’s difficult when I know even doing that is a luxury.

  • Brad Granath

    TSA is hands down the worst domestic,
    Federal Agency in the government. They’re beyond inefective, and staffed with the worst dregs of ‘former’ law enforcement/military/criminals. The only things they’re actually good at is stealing items from passengers, loudly leering at people, and not spending a goddamn cent on staffing.

    takingsenseaway.wordpress.com

    This shit hasn’t changed one bit from 2013 and can only have gotten worse, since they’ve done absolutely nothing to change.

    It really sucks that you have to interact with them so much for work.

  • Conscious Ness

    A lot of the security guys are pigs. I knew someone who worked there and he would say that a lot of them look in the scanners when women step up and make nasty comments about them. And the code names that the guy below mentioned – all true. Bad Karma for them.

    It’s why I always wear an athletic t-shirt under jackets when I travel, because you know they have to ask you to take off anything with a hood and zipper. If a guy was wearing what you were wearing, he would be asked to take it off too. However, most guys are wearing t-shirts under their hoodies and girls wear camisoles. It’s just how the dress differs in most societies. It’s sad.

  • jeremyjesm

    awesome post! I also hate traveling alone which looks like a madman I am not a professional traveler, but I want to travel somewhere to go, then I like to go with my friends and cousins. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

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  • I’ve been single for a couple of years now (I’m in the middle of my thirties and love traveling). So I’m kinda “forced” to travel alone often and I learned to deal with it.

    • Everywhereist

      My biggest issue with traveling alone is the inherent sexism and abuse I deal with as a woman.

  • Your reason is valid, but i totally disagree to travelling alone, because recently i went to Dubai and travel in dubai city bus tour it was an amazing tour for me. but when i was travelling. i was miss my partner to share my thought about places. i like this blog. thank you for sharing this.

  • Alyssa Heberlig

    Ugh. TSA. They are the bane of my existence as a travel agent. Them and the airlines in general. This is an interesting post though. I wrote the exact opposite of this post, “Why it is Good to Travel Alone”. Looks like traveling alone isn’t for everyone.

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