This is a very tough question. I think m ore Americans (men and women) should be traveling everywhere in general. I honestly don’t think I could say one particular country. All I can say is it is great if we get out of our comfort zones a little when we travel and go places we may have stereotypes about. Go yourself and learn and your preconceived notions will likely change.
Which country did you find to be most challenging as a woman traveler? Why?
Some places may have seemed a bit tough when I first arrived, but then I learned how to handle that particular country. In Istanbul (which I loved and ended up unexpectedly living and working in), it was hard to simply walk around without being talked to/hit on/tried to be sold something at every turn. I wrote about it in this post
on my blog.
I learned how to say ‘no thank you’ in Turkish, which helped a little, but also one of the best things I learned everywhere was to take those exchanges with a grain of salt and use some humor. Constantly being talked to can get annoying, but if you laugh it off and even make them laugh…it’s much more fun and even heartwarming once you break down certain barriers.
When I arrived in Dubai, UAE (one of the most progressive of the Middle Eastern countries), I still felt a bit uncomfortable. I still felt very ‘looked at.’ Not sure if it was because I was alone or just because I looked foreign.
A male friend was meeting me there and I have to admit I was glad to be with him there. Not for any safety reasons, just for the comfortable feeling of being stared at less when escorted by a man.
Tell us about one of your best experiences with foreign men.
Hmmm…well there are a lot of jokes here, aren’t there? ….and some stories I won’t tell!
Suffice it to say, overall foreign men (and people in general) were wonderful to me. I find there to be many more advantages to traveling solo as a woman. Many think it’s scary or dangerous. Now granted, physically I am certainly weaker than a man. And if someone were to attack me, well that would just suck for me. But it would suck anywhere including here in Chicago where it is just as likely (or more) to happen. Thankfully, something like that has never happened to me anywhere in the world – at home or abroad.
But what has happened when I traveled solo? Locals helped me with my bag. Locals bought me dinner. Locals wanted to help the solo girl traveler. In some more conservative parts of the world, where perhaps a woman is usually less independent and rarely alone, people wanted to help me, to take care of me. That was a nice feeling. I never felt in danger or threatened. I felt welcomed and cared for.
It turns out, I mention Istanbul above as being challenging at first when I first arrived, but then it turned out to be a place where men definitely were warm and took care of me. A young guy, Mustafa, who worked at the hotel I
Travel Talk with Lisa Lubin.
was staying in took me on a walking tour and chatted with me every day. Murat owned a carpet store (from where I never bought a carpet) and literally lent me his spare mobile phone to use for a few months while I lived there. Yusuf worked at a local restaurant in Sultanahmet. On my very first night in Istanbul he suggested I could teach English there and introduced me to Steve who’d been doing it for seven years. That one introduction enabled me to stay for three months, find work and find an apartment where I cat sat for another teacher. And yet another,Tahir, took me to some islands outside of town for a day trip. And none of them wanted anything (and I seriously mean anything) in return. And those are just a few quick instances. There were many more. It was beautiful and they still remain my friends today.
Tell us about one of your worst experiences with foreign men.
I can really say there is nothing I could categorize as ‘worst.’ Some not so nice moments:
-A guy exposing himself to my friend and I in a park in Rome (this was 10+ years ago!)
-Feeling manipulated and taken advantage of by a guy in Romania.
-Being sometimes seen as an ‘easy’ western girl due to Hollywood movie stereotypes and unfortunately some other travelers who do go a little crazy partying, etc. during their holidays.
-A very short, vague story: I dated a guy in Italy for a time. There are the stereotypes of French or Italian lovers and oh…the fantasy to have a fling with a Latin man!
Well, let’s just say, when I was traveling, I was single. So I did date here and there. It was a fun part of traveling
single and nice to push myself to be free and open to meeting different kinds of people. But, in many cases, the fantasy was much better than reality.
I honestly did remember having a feeling that is a compliment to American men. All my adult life, I have enjoyed the feeling of being a strong woman and an equal partner in any relationship I have been in. For the first time, I had the feeling I was not. And I honestly felt more complimented, even more cherished by my American boyfriends as opposed to anyone I dated overseas.
There was a slight machismo thing going on and also a bit of a sexism that I wasn’t used to; not majorly, just a little. I could actually feel an unequalness, a disconnect and especially a diminished communication between partners. Now of course I didn’t date all of Europe (really!) so this is a very tiny experiment, but it was my experience.
5. Were you ever stereotyped abroad? What was that like?
Ah stereotypes. They are there for a reason and of course there is some grain of truth to all of them. But also, you cannot generalize. Everyone is different in every culture. I had the fortune (I think!) of hearing this a lot: “You don’t seem American.” Sort of an insult and a compliment all at the same time. I was told I seemed thin for an American. I am finally thin!
I was told I seemed too open minded.
For me, I found people confused with their own stereotypes of Americans. And I heard it all (read more here on my post to my fellow Americans
): We are all overly confident. We are fat. We are rich. We are too smiley and fake. We are naive. We are shortsighted when it comes to the rest of the world.
Are there these type of Americans? Absolutely. Just as there are these type of French or Japanese (well rarely fat!) or Germans. But what I also often heard was that someone had a stereotype of America, but did VISIT the USA and it changed their feelings. They now saw us as a very friendly, very hospitable people. I heard this over and over. And it is true.
Tell us about your greatest accomplishment during your travels.
Well, the greatest was taking the trip in the first place; making the real decision and taking the leap to do this crazy thing I’d never done before and do it for so long and do it completely alone. Now, five years later…my greatest accomplishment is…it has changed my life. I have developed wonderful relationships with friends I love all over the world. Good people who I connected with and bonded with and can reach out to in a moment’s notice.
And I am now tailoring my life and work to what I started to do on my trip. I have not gone back to my ‘old life’ or old full time job. I am creating a new life as I go along. While I was gone, my blog took off and I started to be a published writer & photographer in newspapers, magazines and other sites. I managed to find freelance jobs everywhere I went from PR to television production (my actual job) to writing to making sandwiches!
And now I am combining my life as a TV producer and a blogger and am launching my own video consulting business this summer. I am excited to be building a new life. And I wouldn’t be able to do any of it if it wasn’t for the new courage I’d gained from my travels allowing me to take bigger risks, to try new things, and to reap the rewards that life and more free time has to offer. Life is short. I don’t need to be rich. I am rich with friends and people I love. I am happier than I’ve ever been. Life is good.