By Emma Holding, The Croft Digital Editor
The Croft Magazine // Emma Holding talks about her South American dream based on a male friend's experience versus the reality of travelling solo as a woman
Before my trip to South America, I listened intently to my (male) friend’s top travel tips from his time there. I was in awe of his tales of untarnished skies in the Amazon rainforest and expansive Bolivian lakes that left me itching to go. Though I was, of course, aware that the stories I was being told were from a male perspective, and that I would be a female travelling solo, they nevertheless founded my expectations.
One of his stories has stuck with me. When in Argentina, he and a male companion got a bus somewhere to hike for the day. They were told the time of the last bus back, and that the next one wasn’t until morning. However, the most idyllic scene laid at the hike’s peak. After a few drinks, they resolved to stay up there and watch the sunset with one last beer - missing the last bus. Having to get back to their hostel that night, they decided to hitchhike back into town. He described it as one of the most breathtaking days of the whole trip. Granted, hitchhiking is dangerous for anyone - man or woman - but the day itself sounded like it had been plucked straight out of one of my dreams; wandering across the untouched landscape, far from the concerns of the city, watching the unobstructed sunset with a beer in hand.
When I was travelling by myself, reality kicked in. It was not the dream-world I’d imagined from my friend’s story. Knowing that I had to get transport home at the end of the day was always in the back of my mind. There was no chance of me hitchhiking in South America, or anywhere for that matter. Once, I accidentally took an unmarked taxi back from a bar in Cusco, left panicking in the back of a stranger’s rickety old car all the way back to my hostel. Luckily, I was fine - but it made me think twice.
I told myself that these precautions were making my experience somehow worse than his. I need to let myself go, loosen up, and enjoy my travels the way my friend did. However, the key difference between my own experience and the stories that my friend told me is the gender of the perspective. Perhaps I am too cautious because I am used to being cautious, taught to be constantly vigilant and aware. If you are anxious about walking home at night in your own city, it is natural to be even more so when travelling abroad.
I wanted to be more free-spirited, and travel seemed like the perfect opportunity for it, but there were always constant reminders that I had to stay safe. Unsurprisingly, it seems like this reminder is stronger in most women’s minds than in that of a man’s. I made small changes to my travels that men might not have to: booking hostels further in advance and beds in girls-only dorms, making my whereabouts known, not hitching a ride.
This is not to say I didn’t have an incredible time. I met wonderful, inspiring people and empowered myself by pushing my limits every day. I experienced peaceful nights in the rainforest with nothing but the gentle sounds of nature, followed by loud thunderstorms crashing over my head the next evening. I walked through sunshine and snowstorms in the Peruvian mountains. I wandered the markets and museums of cities I fell in love with. And I did it all as a woman.
My travels may not have been all hitchhiking and booze, but they were still amazing. One day, we’ll smash the patriarchy. But meanwhile, safe travels ladies.
Featured image: Epigram / Emma Holding
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