This post was contributed by Molly Welsh.
I haven’t long returned to England after a week in Athens, Greece. I spent the long days reading in the sun, eating salads drizzled in olive oil and wandering ancient ruins under a small but apparent influence of red wine. Later, the sun would set over the Acropolis and I would find myself relaxing into the arms of newfound friends, not knowing if or when we would meet again.
This was not my first time traveling alone but for reasons surrounding graduation and breakups, it sure seemed like it. I arrived in my peculiar bright orange Airbnb, staring at the walls of grand oil paintings of wolves, owls and bears. Then, somewhere between the dropping of bags to the floor and peering through the curtains to loud traffic, I thought, “Well, I guess I’m here“.
I could reveal a lot about my adventures in Athens with my rather unprofessional or arguably unconventional tour guide Alec, and the parties of my rumbustious, sociable neighbour for the week, Katerina. However, those stories are physically padlocked inside the pages of my travel journal. Instead, I find myself relaying the usual lines of “Oh wow, the heat was amazing” and “The Plaka district was so picturesque” over coffee. And it’s not that those things aren’t true, it’s just that visiting another country is so much more than the photos posted to Instagram.
For all of the romanticism and Valencia filters associated with solo travel, there does exist a more tentative and bewildering side of sexist attitudes.
As a woman, the unfortunate truth is that I have been subject to catcalls my entire life. Being on holiday was no different. At no point did I feel unsafe in Athens, never far from caring people who would jump to my rescue if needed. But I did feel uncomfortable at whistles from speeding cars and wet kisses shot at me from the other side of the street.
After a week of this, I admittedly felt ashamed and embarrassed. Was my body to blame? No. I’m a female with breasts, hips and a butt. (Surprise!) These men know that yelling “Blondie” at me will not get them my number, so why do they do it? It made me think that for as progressive as this past decade has been, there is still a while to go before gender equality is achieved.
I guess I had become comfortable back home working in a prominently female industry, surrounded by a friendship group of strong and independent women. I had forgotten the prevalence of sexist behaviour. For all that travel has taught me, I thank it for opening my eyes to the efforts that must still be made in this world. This does not mean to say that we should all put ourselves in danger and raise a finger or start a fight every time that we are catcalled. But it does mean to say that travel is educational.
So, why not start up a civil debate with the next person you share a hostel dorm with? Why not volunteer on a project abroad? Donate money to a local women’s refuge? Or better yet, show your latest holiday romance how powerful and commanding females can be (if you know what I mean). Every morning you wake up, every trip you embark on, every person you meet, is an opportunity to make an effort.
To clarify, I’m not saying that the world is a bad place. It truly is safe to travel alone. In fact, exploring solo is the exact type of empowerment we need to experience as females. From learning to read a map when it’s not on Google, to asking a complete stranger if they wanted to join me at the Thission open-air cinema, I know that I have left Athens a more confident and capable individual.
So, please know that for every catcall I was a victim of, there were ten slow kisses that tasted like honey, five purple bruises from drunken encounters with Athenian cobbles and one romantic dinner that led to so much more.
And if I am to end this article on one positive note, it is this: Alec is definitely a feminist.
Meet Molly: A born and raised Brit who recently graduated with a degree in Culture, Literature and Politics. In her spare time, you can find her participating in art therapy workshops surrounding body image issues or writing for her blog, through which she hopes to encourage females to solo travel for it is the type of empowerment that all women need to experience. She will be moving to Ávila, Spain in September to teach English. Keep up with her new adventures on IG.