Traveling alone is one thing.
Traveling alone as a WOMAN is another.
Traveling alone as a WOMAN OF COLOUR, well that’s sometimes a whole other minefield.
I could sit here and go on and on about my experiences as a woman of color (comment to let me know if you want my take) but I thought it’d be more fun to connect with other women of colour travel friends and ask them instead. While one’s experience is not reflective of all, the stories are eye-opening.
When picking a place to travel or being assigned to work internationally, do you conduct additional research on the city/country based on your sex, faith, or color?
“The research in these cases is focused mostly on dress codes, behavior, social norms, and interactions with the same/opposite sex.” – Mandy (@peach.punk), a Chinese-Canadian traveler, and photographer
“Not at all. I have not set foot in places that strike it necessary for me to be concerned about my safety.” – Josephine (@ohioisonfiiire), a 22-year-old Chinese born Canadian
“The only time I did research on my colour was when I was visiting Cannes, France in May in the year 2017. I say the year because the Paris attack occurred in 2015 and tension [against Muslims] still remained prevalent in the country.” – Sidrah (@sidrahkhatoon), a Canadian born veiled Muslim woman
“Yes definitely! When I pick a place to travel the first thing I do is Google “woman traveling alone to…. ” and read up reviews or watch other travel vlogs. I try to get a sense of the tourists there to know what to expect. If hijabi women are not the usual tourist in such a place, I worry about overt racism and how people may treat me.” – Leyan (@leyans), a Palestinian-Canadian Hijabi sociologist currently working in Istanbul
What are some macro or microaggressions of racism you have faced in your travels?
“Just outside the medina in Marrakech (with Josephine at the time), a street vendor tried to get our attention — when we ignored him, he said, “fuck you, go back to China.” – Mandy
“In Prishtina, Kosovo, a car with several men (maybe 18-25 years old?) drove by, slowed down with the windows unrolled, and yelled “Pachinko.” – Mandy
“When we say we’re from Canada, people always laugh and think we’re lying. Their response to us will often be “No! You look like you’re from India! I think automatically my brown skin has been associated with India, and it’s not just unique to my travels. Even in Canada, I think I’ve experienced people just assuming culturally I’m Indian”. -Jasmine (@jasminhusain), Guyanese-Canadian
“A random man came up to me at a bus station in Nis, Serbia, asking me where I’m from, eyes widening when the answer was not China and then telling me I speak very “good English”. – Josephine
“You’re being judged face value at airports and whatever the heck is in your bag and what I could potentially be hiding underneath my hijab. I pay the same amount for my flight ticket as the next guy, I should be treated with the same amount of respect too.” – Sidrah
“My brother’s and I actually got denied pizza once in France. We walked into a pizzeria and when they saw a bearded man, a Chinese lady, and a hijabi, the restaurant owner told us to leave and that we wouldn’t get served.” – Leyan
“Rome’s airport. It doesn’t matter if the metal detector goes off or not, I get taken into a room each time and my hijab is taken off and my hair is checked! I mean sure, check my hijab, but to check my hair? Are we checking for lice?” – Leyan
Have you ever been treated differently in the company of a white friend/travel buddy? How so?
“With the accompaniment of a white friend, it’s harder for [aggressions] to materialize — e.g. the idea that I’m from a Western country becomes much more plausible. No one has ever made comments about my ethnicity or questioned my Canadian identity while I’ve been in the presence of someone white.” – Mandy
“When I was in Jakarta, Indonesia, I was traveling with a white girl, blonde hair and blue eyes, we were approached constantly and everyone wanted me to help them take photos with my friend (I was not in the photos, only she was).” – Josephine
In France, my mother and I were going into town to do some shopping so I had asked a white friend to come with us. I kid you not, the entire time that this friend was with us, people were smiling and being so lovely. Once he left, we got the stares again! – Leyan
Have you ever faced situations where your color/faith has brought out positive experiences in your travels?
“I visited a Japanese izakaya while traveling alone through Nepal. One diner asked me whether I was Japanese — and though I wasn’t, I had been learning Japanese for a while and tried my best to converse with him. We ended up having a really nice conversation in broken Japanese and English — he later confided on social media that it was really nice for him to be able to speak his native language in a country that otherwise may have felt alienating…people are often exceedingly helpful when they see that I’m a young woman who’s sincerely and respectfully trying to communicate something.“ – Mandy
“I guess when you travel to a place of similarity, positive experiences are thrown at you. For example, going to Turkey and Morocco brought a sense of comfort as a Muslim in a Muslim country.” – Sidrah
“When I was in India, traveling for work. I was able to connect with my Indian team much better because I was in touch with my cultural heritage.” – Zeinab (@travellingmywaythroughfood), an Indian, British consultant/travel writer living in Australia
What do you do when you are faced with situations where racism is directed towards you (or people around you) while traveling? Do you deem it safe to address as unacceptable or respect your position as a guest in the country and carry on?
“I think addressing it without anger or antagonism, works best. That means taking a stance of educating people and being well-humored about it (which takes an inordinate amount of patience, I know).” – Mandy
“The most common question I get is whether or not I “speak Chinese” – which I understand what they’re asking, however, it does come as a mild surprise to some people that Chinese people speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, etc. and read and write Chinese. The oral communications differ in dialect but the reading and writing are universally understood because the same characters are used. And I enjoy telling people that and helping people learn one new thing a day.” – Josephine
“If it’s in a high-intensity situation where people are getting physically aggressive, I am respecting my position as a guest in the country and carrying on because there’s no way in hell I’m trying to get hurt over anything.” – Josephine
“If you’re experiencing direct racism in airports or airplanes from roles of authority try to be calm, tolerant and relieve yourself from the situation as soon as possible. Take note of the officer’s name and bring this attention to social media AFTER. People like that are pretty much trying to push your buttons to exercise their authoritative practices on you.” – Sidrah
Any advice you have for young WoC traveling solo?
“Every country has its good and bad eggs. Bad experiences don’t reflect national attitudes.” – Mandy
“Embrace the freedom of being able to choose what you want to do, when you want to do it. But it definitely is not for everyone, and if it’s not for you, no big deal.” – Josephine
“It’s not a mystery that this world can be an awful place for women but when you travel solo as a WOC you’re creating a narrative. The more of us do it, the more stories we will tell.” – Sidrah
“Do your research before getting to the country just to get an idea of where you’re going and to plan accordingly. Travel! See the world! Take every opportunity you can to fly away! – Leyan
“Always trust your gut, if it doesn’t feel right go back or take precautions” – Zeinab
I hope reading these interviews helps you realize that not all travel is the same. Our gender, faith, and ethnicity impact our interactions in many aspects of travel. If you’re a WoC, share your story in the comments or feel free to privately contact me here, I’d love to hear your perspective!
I’d like to thank all the amazing women who shared their stories with me. Follow their socials to keep up with their travel journeys and bless your feed with wanderlust.