My eyes squinted, adjusting to the sunlight as I wearily stepped through the sliding airport doors, pulling my luggage and making my way towards the taxi stand.
I was surprised to see a woman emerge from the drivers seat, a light pink scarf adorned her head. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I had seen correctly. Not many women cabbies in general (only 2% of the world’s taxi drivers are women) and certainly even less in a predominantly Islamic country so it’s fair to guess she is a minority in the Malaysian transportation service arena.
Bleary-eyed from my early flight I opened the door and slid across to the driver’s side, the sun had already penetrated the black leather and it warmed my back as I sunk down into the benched seat.
“You lonely?” The driver asked.
“Lonely?” I questioned, thinking in my half awake state I had misheard her.
“Yes, lonely,” she retorted quickly. “Where’s your husband?”
“If you see him tell him I’ve been looking for him,” I muttered to myself, gazing out the window at the early morning traffic zooming by us as we merged into the lane heading into town.
I thought for a moment, “Oh you mean am I ALONE,” I responded clearly. “Yes, I’m alone… but I’m not lonely.”
It’s a common theme being a single women traveling solo. The questions are constant. Are you by yourself? Isn’t it dangerous? Are you lonely? Where is your husband? Or the comments, for me like nails on a chalkboard, “Oh dear, please be safe” or “I could never do that” and the ever popular “Just be careful” implying I’m recklessly traveling the world, throwing good judgement to the wayside.
At first I tried to hold in the eye rolls when answering these types of questions and then after a while I had a realization. These questions and comments are only in response to the unknown and I can’t take offense to any of them. It’s a foreign concept for most people to venture out to unknown territories on your own and it’s with that uncertainty that people react in different ways to the things they are unsure of, often times coming from a place of fear.
For me however, this is the exact reason I go in the first place. That’s part of the exciting aspect of solo travel, to embrace the unknown.
There are several truths that I’ve come to know since embarking on my own. The truth is that I’m a solo traveler wherever I am. At home or abroad I’m still a single woman, no matter where you put me. I’m aware that there’s a difference between being in your home country versus being abroad but the point is that regardless of where I am, I still have to take precautions and be smart because the fact is that I’m taking care of myself. The place I happen to be in at the time doesn’t change that. You have to be responsible for yourself no matter how many people you know. Friends and family can be geographically close to you, but I’ve found I can still get the support I need from those same people even with physical distance in my way.
The truth is that I’d have to take a cab alone whether I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I take the same precautions as I would living by myself in America as I do when I’m away. It’s each short cab ride, a hike, an unusual destination, or new adventure that makes the next one that much easier and feels more routine. It’s each time I share my story that creates a conversation, normalizing what I do and potentially encouraging others to do something similar. Maybe it starts with something small, it doesn’t have to be an around the world trip but it gets people engaged in thinking differently. I love nothing more than finding a new friend, a good Samaritan or surprising encounter when I’m in a place that people may initially think of as ‘scary’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘unsafe’. It has given me the chance to see the good in people on a global level and appreciate that contrary to what some people believe, there is a lot of decency in the world.
I’ve been a solo traveler for over two years now and I’ve become wiser, stronger, more capable and confident from being independent on the road. I think it helps in my own small way to break down stereotypes that exist. One’s that happen within myself, in people’s perception of women and views about some of the countries that I’ve bested on my own.
We continued our journey to town from the airport, mostly in silence. After getting lost trying to find my hostel (I know, I know, insert women are bad drivers joke here) we pulled to the curb on the corner.
“You’re brave,” she said to me as I handed her my Ringgit and pulled my luggage over to the dilapidated side walk.
“Well,” I paused, “I think you’re brave too.”
~ ~ This story was inspired by the #WomensLives Campaign I’m involved with this year. PRI & SheKnows Media have partnered for an initiative to focus on women’s issues through social media. Read more about the project HERE