Solo Travel, Sexual Assault and the Conversation We’re Not Having

Among independent travelers under 35, a majority of those taking to the road are women. This often surprises people because our narrative surrounding female travel is one which is almost unavoidably linked with the dangers, risks and fears both real and imagined that go with travel. Every travel blogger who has spent any time engaged in conversations around travel or travel safety will have had to address and discuss the topic of female safety on the road. Similarly, every time there is a violent attack or high profile assault against a female traveler, or travelers, our assumptions and fears about female travel – particularly solo travel – are confirmed with a wave of articles and news coverage.

As a feminist, I’m a strong believer that conversations about sexual assault, sexual health and sexuality are an essential part of our narrative and a core topic that we must tackle and discuss more openly. As a man, I’m also acutely aware that the world I exist in, is a world that makes it difficult for me to fully understand the trials, risks, concerns and daily tribulations that women face. However, this also is often extended to mean that outside of general affirmation with whatever narrative is being put forward by women, I’m not allowed to weigh in on the topic or to offer my own critical voice.  In recent months, I’ve mentioned the topic outlined in this post in talks with other travelers and the response has been extremely mixed and skeptical.

Despite this, I believe that a core aspect of the travel+sexual assault+women’s safety discussion is missing: context. I view this as an extension of the overall safety discussion tied to travel/solo travel.  After all, when I look at and discuss travel, I also have to tackle the fears, particularly among Americans, that the world they’ll be exploring beyond America’s borders is much more dangerous and unsafe than the US. I have to work to educate people that the United States, and the city of Phoenix where I come from, are often far more dangerous than most of the destinations travelers might seek to explore and highlight that in many ways the individual who embarks on a reasonably well-thought out trip, even alone, is very likely more safe than an individual living and working within one of America’s great cities on a daily basis.

“That is part of what irks me about this discussion: being “alone” is not the issue. Travel abroad is not the issue. The issue is treatment of women. And we should be using this media spotlight to as a springboard to discussing how we can fix it.”

– Jodi of LegalNomads on Solo Travel 

To this end, I grow increasingly more confident that the narrative we have about women, travel, solo travel and sexual assault needs to change. Not because there is not a profound and utterly heartbreaking risk of women facing sexual assault while traveling, but because that risk is very likely on par with, or potentially even lower than, what they would be experiencing if they did not travel.  Which, to more explicitly state my belief, is that women traveling is no less risky and may even be safer than women going about their daily routine.

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to concretely say if this assumption is founded, or unfounded, in no small part because we know so little about sexual assault and because we lack any aggregate research on the reach and proliferation of sexual assault and harassment.  We do know that certain cultures have significantly higher levels of sexual harassment and others significantly higher levels of sexual assault. But we do not know if female travelers status as a cultural outside, makes them more or less susceptible. We also often neglect or misportray the sources of sexual assault because they are, to put it bluntly, complex and quite uncomfortable. One key element though that often re-surfaces is the tragic reality that a large portion of sexual assaults are not random attacks on a street or in a bar. They come from people who know the victim and are often perpetrated by individuals with whom the individual is or has engaged in a relationship with.

So, before I we get to far into the conversation, let’s look at what we do know pulled from some of the few global-facing sources.

FROM THE WHO (Fact sheet N°239, Updated January 2016):

  • Recent global prevalence figures indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
  • Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
  • Situations of conflict, post conflict and displacement may exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, and present additional forms of violence against women.
  • Between 15% of women in Japan and 71% of women in Ethiopia reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime
  • Between 0.3–11.5% of women reported sexual violence by someone other than a partner since the age of 15 years
  • The first sexual experience for many women was reported as forced – 17% of women in rural Tanzania, 24% in rural Peru, and 30% in rural Bangladesh reported that their first sexual experience was forced

 VISUALIZING RISK (UNODC/Tracy Hunter):

Rape_rates_per_100000_population_2010-2012

SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE US (WH Report):

  • Women and girls are the vast majority of victims: nearly 1 in 5 women – or nearly 22 million – have been raped in their lifetimes .1 Men and boys, however, are also at risk: 1 in 71 men – or almost 1.6 million – have been raped during their lives.
  • Women of all races are targeted, but some are more vulnerable than others: 33.5% of multiracial women have been raped, as have 27% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, compared to 15% of Hispanic, 22% of Black, and 19% of White women.
  • Most victims know their assailants.
  • The vast majority (nearly 98%) of perpetrators are male.
  • Young people are especially at risk: nearly half of female survivors were raped before they were 18, and over one-quarter of male survivors were raped before they were 10. College students are particularly vulnerable: 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.
  • Repeat victimization is common: over a third of women who were raped as minors were also raped as adults.
  • The majority of rape and sexual assault victims are young – between the ages of 16 and 24. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 80% of female victims were raped before they turned 25, and almost half were raped before they were 18.11 Among men, 28% were raped before they were 10.12
  • College students are especially at risk: 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.

So, what can we draw from this? How can it flavor how we discuss female independent and solo travel? To me it re-affirms that as both a culture and as a civilization we have a heart-breaking and utterly unnecessary problem we’ve yet to properly face. One that is pervasive, destructive, and reaches into all aspects of the globe. It re-affirms that women live their daily lives going out of their way to keep themselves safe and working within the confines of social and geographic geographies to navigate their daily lives safely (eg: this piece).  But, what it also indicates, to me at least, is that contrary to the social narrative that has existed for more than a century, solo and independent female travel does not increase the risk of assault and sexual violence.  It also re-affirms my growing suspicion that it actually reduces these risks by eliminating some of the most-common offenders – the people women know.

Female fearfulness is a cultural construct, instituted and maintained by
both men and women in the interests of the dominant, male group. The
myth of female victimhood is emphasised in order to keep women under
control, so that they plan their activities, remain in view, tell where they
are going, how they are getting there, when they will be home
– Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman, pp. 355

Of course, there are confounding and complicating factors. The alcohol, bar, and at times drug-infused nature of the hostel scene fosters an environment that is not unlike that on college campuses – a hotbed for sexual assault. The widely differing cultural and sexual norms also create situations where added risks may arise. But, I think that we can discuss these as considerations that factor into independent and solo travel, without continuing to foster a sense of fear and intimidation that keeps women from striking out and exploring the world at large or leaves them constrained to desperately seeking for travel companions – male or otherwise – who can accompany them, often at the cost of rich and rewarding experiences while likely adding only minimal added safety – if any at all.

At the end of the day, I’ve seen the devastating impact of sexual and physical assaults. It is never simple. It is never deserved. It is never justified. It is long lasting. It is horrifying. It is rarely talked about and it is profoundly shameful that for as far as we have advanced as a species we continue to struggle with the simplest of things: a common respect for each other and each other’s bodies.  This post is about furthering that discussion and making sure that we seek to change the way we discuss travel in the context of sexual assault, harassment, and violence.

So, moving forward, what will my answer be when asked if it’s safe for women to travel solo or in pairs? It won’t be the standard simple yes. It’ll be yes, it is, at least in comparison to staying at home.  That key point of differentiation saddens me in and of itself, but is, I believe, a likelihood it’s long past time we accepted.

P.S. – In the time between when I wrote this post and published it, this article, “Why is travelling alone still considered a risky, frivolous pursuit for women?” at the Guardian was published. It’s a great write up by Laura Bates that also covers similar aspects of this issue.

David – 20 Years Later – Two Years of Family Travel

It was more than 20 years ago when my parents called my brother and I into the living room. At the time I was 10 or 11 and I vaguely remember being more than a little confused. We were going to go on an adventure. In my previous post, Reflecting On Two Years of Travelschooling – 20 Years Later, I shared my reflections on the trip.  But, part of what I think makes this story special is the opportunity to also contrast those recollections with those of my parents, Ed and Jo, alongside my brother, David.

As part of the prep for my post, I asked each of them to write down their own recollections and reflections on our trips. Focusing on the 1995 trip to Europe, but also elaborating where inclined about our 97 trip through the US. I asked them to write down their musings independently, without talking to each other and without reading my more in-depth piece. In this two-part post, I compile their thoughts and share them with you un-edited and in their own voice. Due to the extended nature of David’s response, I’ve made the decision to post it as a stand alone. View my mother and father’s responses here. You can also view David’s fantastic blog here.

 

David Berger

BROTHER – David Berger

I wasn’t sure what was happening. I didn’t quite understand. We’d been talking as a family about a great adventure, about exploring the world and seeing new countries, but I wasn’t sure what it meant. I knew I’d need my favorite toys. We talked a lot about what to pack, what to do. I remember having to pack up my room, we were renting out the house… someone else was going to come and live in our house in Sedona. Someone else would stay in my room. I understood that I would not see my friends for a while, but I didn’t think about it much. It was all too exciting.

I was excited, new clothes, new backpacks, thinking about what I needed to take with me. We got our packs, and I remember watching Jo and Ed packing their big Osprey Packs, Dad’s highlander carrying the most important gear, the kitchen, and the necessities for travel. Mom’s strategically stuffed with the extra toys I knew I’d need. We started walking around the block, getting used to the heft of our packs. I remember thinking mine was big, but I was strong, I could carry it. There was a lot of encouragement from my brother and parents. We were going to do great, it was heavy, but we’d get used to it! We only walked around the block a couple of times. We’d learn the error of our ways later on.

We talked about Europe, we talked about our first destination. I remember talking about the trip, about what it would be like, as we walked around our neighborhood. The smell of the red earth, the dry Sedona air, and juniper pinions. I wanted to go and play, the pack was heavy, but it wasn’t too bad. Ma and Pa took a lot of our weight in their own bags, so we weren’t overburdened… Then it was time. We packed up and we headed out to Denver and then to Europe!

In Their Words – 20 Years Later – Two Years of Family Travel

It was more than 20 years ago when my parents called my brother and I into the living room. At the time I was 10 or 11 and I vaguely remember being more than a little confused. We were going to go on an adventure. In my previous post, Reflecting On Two Years of Travelschooling – 20 Years Later, I shared my reflections on the trip.  But, part of what I think makes this story special is the opportunity to also contrast those recollections with those of my parents, Ed and Jo, alongside my brother, David.

As part of the prep for my post, I asked each of them to write down their own recollections and reflections on our trips. Focusing on the 1995 trip to Europe, but also elaborating where inclined about our 97 trip through the US. I asked them to write down their musings independently, without talking to each other and without reading my more in-depth piece. In this post, I compile their thoughts and share them with you un-edited and in their own voice. Due to the extended nature of David’s response, I’ve made the decision to post it as a stand alone. Jump to it here.

Jo Berger

MOM – Jo Berger

As I think back to the time 20 years ago when Ed and I were contemplating a year of travel schooling abroad with our two sons, I find I don’t have a lot of planning memories. One thing I know for certain is that it was absolutely the best child-rearing, family-bonding, life-altering decision we ever made.

I had the good fortune to be raised in a family that valued education, history, literature, art, music and travel. As Ed and I raised our own family, we continued to instill those values in our own children. I had traveled to Italy in college twice to study Italian and art history. Ed and I had traveled there together before having a family. Ed had also traveled extensively on a year-long, around the world adventure. Both of us were teachers. As a result, we didn’t have a lot of fear about traveling abroad in Europe without a fixed itinerary and teaching the boys from experiences in the real world. We were pretty confident we could handle most anything that came our way.

Once we knew we wanted to do it, we had to figure out how we could afford it. We planned for a year-long break from working. We had some small savings to cover our airfare, our 3-month Eurail passes, and our travel gear. We were able to find renters for our house and we used that income to help defray our travel costs. Food was basically food no matter where we were. Ed managed most of those details as he is the one in our relationship who keeps track of the finances.

Road Trip USA – Colorado and Arizona in Color Photos

Grand skies, incredible nature. Delicious eats and dramatic mountain passes. Peaceful rivers and powerful inspiration for the imagination.  These are the traits, all bolstered by the sharp, clean, invigorating scent of mountain air kissed by the vanilla scent of a fresh summer rain and the vanilla perfume of Ponderosa pine trees.

The following are color photos taken during my two week road trip across northern Arizona (briefly) before settling in along the west fork of the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado.  Once we had our camp set, we used it as a base for exploring the San Juan Forest and surrounding area. The San Juan Mountain Range and the southern Colorado Rockies remain one of my favorite places in the world.

Flowers over Trout Lake

Trout Lake

See My Photo in National Geographic Nordics This Month

As an aspiring photographer and lifelong traveler there is one organization that, above all others, has fueled my imagination since I was a young boy. The images of majestic animals, exotic peoples, and grand cultural undertakings are part of the foundation which crafted the traveler I am today. Even in the modern digital age where most magazines are relegated to the end table at the dentist’s office or car dealership waiting room, National Geographic stands apart. Their more recent forays into digital have led to the sourcing and democratization of a process which brings to light captivating and inspiring photos on a regular basis – a process I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to partake in.

Open Roads and Changing Aspen – Weekly Travel Photo

With one arm resting half-in, half-out of the diver’s side window of  our white Chevy Crew Cab pickup truck the wind raced over my skin, cooling it, while tugging gently at my arm hairs. A periodic errant gust would collide with my skin before diverting inward to tickle my face and fill my ears with the sound of the fresh black tarmac whizzing by beneath rugged truck tires. My eyes locked forward on the road, one hand on the wheel casually navigating the high mountain two-lane highway that threaded through the passes near Silverton in south-western Colorado.

Men, It Is Long Past Time to Study Abroad

The Scottish Perch

Despite these massive surges in the number of students studying abroad, it turns out the majority of western exchange students are women. This has left educators and study abroad students alike asking themselves, “Where are the men?”

The study abroad population is increasing rapidly. Over the past ten years the number of students studying abroad has nearly doubled. In 1996‐7 there were 99,448 US undergrads studying abroad. Fourteen years later, in 2011, that number grew to 273,996; almost three times the amount. Meanwhile, the ERASMUS (European) exchange program increased from 144,037 students in 2004-5 to 252,827 for the 2011-12 academic year; almost doubling over a seven-year period.

Existing research has found that roughly two thirds of American exchange students are female, while data for Europe indicates that on average, 65% of the study abroad population is comprised of women. In some countries, such as Romania and Poland, 71% and 68% respectively of exchange students are female (These figures and others are explored in-depth in my Master’s thesis).

While this should concern everyone, it should be especially disconcerting for men as it means that a huge slice of the male population is missing out on the life and perspective-changing experiences that come from study abroad.  In our global economy, men that fail to study abroad will be significantly less competitive than their female counterparts and they will make decisions based on a highly limited world view.

What I find concerning is just how little specialized information is available for men.  We have developed a western cultural narrative that assumes that travel is inherently more dangerous and challenging for women, and that as a result it is women that need to be the primary focus and recipients of the resources dedicated to encouraging young people to travel. While I whole-heartedly embrace resources that support and inspire young women to travel I also know that young men have been neglected. In our rush to enable and empower young women we have overlooked and failed to address the very real needs of young men.  As a result their significant fears have not been addressed,  and the special set of challenges they face have been ignored or dismissed as insignificant.

1. Men, it’s time to admit we are afraid

Western society has clear rules for what it expects from males.  Machismo/masculine culture is drilled into us from before we can walk.  To be a man it is essential that we be strong, resilient, independent, and self sufficient. We’re told on a daily basis, “Man up“, “Get things done“, “Don’t be a sissy“, and  “It’ll be fine, just rub some dirt on it“.   A failure to do so not only feels like an internal failing, but quite often has very real social costs among our peers and with women.  For many of us, we learn at an early age that it is better to feign apathy than admit that we need help.  Admitting fear is acceptable, kinda, but only if it’s delivered in combination with arrogance and mastery.  While these cultural norms provide men with a set of skills and an internal drive that can be a huge asset, it also opens us up to a lot of harm and missed opportunities. We go to the doctor less, we act out to distract people from things that make us uncomfortable, we fail to ask questions in class, and in the case of study abroad – we scrap, delay, or abandon exploring study abroad all together. There are some great resources out there dedicated to facilitating improved conversation in this area and improving cross-gender discussions when it comes to how to interact. One is The Good Men Project, which has awesome posts like “Why We as Women Need to Ease Up On Men,” and “What If He Cries?” but these projects are few and far between with little-to-no tie to travel or study abroad.

Over the past decade I’ve struggled with overcoming my own fears, embracing the study abroad experience, traveling independently, and simultaneously been involved in encouraging more people to study and go abroad.  As I reflect on the conversations I had in the lead-up to both my six week summer study abroad trip in 2004 and the two-year full degree Master’s program I recently completed in Denmark, I find myself confident that one of the primary reasons there are so few of us studying abroad is because … it is scary.

The risk of lost social capital is significant, and there are virtually no resources available for men to help us address our fears. If you google, “Is it dangerous for men to travel alone?” of the 10 results on the first page, three are gender neutral, and seven are for women despite the search terms used. Similarly, when reading up on solo travel and travel in general, guides are written in gender neutral language or almost exclusively for female travelers. A prime example of this is the BBC’s recent piece “Should women avoid solo travel?.” This is a fantastic piece but, it drives home the point that there is a massive void when it comes to resources for men. Simply put, it implies a culture where men are the dominant travelers and can take care of themselves. While this is deeply ingrained in virtually all of us, myself included, this is a myth.

The reality is that we are every bit as scared of studying abroad as women.  In some cases even more so, because we lack outlets to ask questions and to get re-assurance that our fears are acceptable and common place.  Preparing for and embarking on a study abroad or solo travel trip is something that inherently relies on seeking out exterior information.  You need to find resources, do your research, and ask questions so you know what to expect. This involves admitting what you don’t know, and accepting that you have a bag full of rational and irrational fears that must be addressed.  It is informative to watch men’s faces during a study abroad information session and the look of muted relief that sweeps over them when one of the guys finally steps forward and asks a question they’ve all been itching to know, but were afraid to ask; to risk being judged harshly or appearing overly soft.

We also have to accept and work to improve the support network available to most young men.  While many women are able to share their fears and uncertainties about study abroad with family and friends, it is often a much more guarded discussion for men. Relatively simple things such as a fear of foreign foods, or having to navigate and use buses, trains and planes, are often the types of topics that many men will only discuss with their closest friends at the end of a long night full of beer.

It is important that young men understand that there is nothing shameful about these fears. We do not have to be completely self-sufficient. We can admit our uncertainty.  The alternative is that we find excuses, miss deadlines, or dismiss study abroad as something that we don’t have time for leading us to miss out on an incredibly important life experience.   Those organizing and running study abroad programs must become more pro-active in their efforts to reach and engage young men while realizing that the stoic and self-reliant mask they present covers a boiling mass of uncertainty and layers upon layers of rationalizations and excuses.

2. Added dangers exist for men

Study abroad and solo travel are, in general, extremely safe.  In reality they are often far safer than an identical period of time spent at home, especially if you’re from a major metropolitan area.  That being said, there are some added concerns that are worth being mindful of, particularly because study abroad and solo travel usually include large amounts of alcohol and bar culture. When discussing study abroad and solo travel safety, the present discussion revolves almost entirely around women’s safety and risk of kidnapping and rape.  While these concerns are extremely relevant and valuable, the temptation to assume that men have it easy is misleading and a disservice to the discussion.

One area that is rarely discussed, but much on the minds of young men, is the threat of fights while abroad.  I suspect that this is due in part because our cultural ‘mancode’ dictates that a man that is involved in a fight and loses will be eager to keep the details to himself, while a man that is involved in a fight and wins will be automatically assumed to be the aggressor and somehow responsible for the fight. This places men in a difficult no-win position, and one which encourages silence and the avoidance of the topic all together similar to what researchers have documented when exploring the reporting of domestic violence.

I’m a tall guy, and while that often works to my advantage in discouraging confrontation, it also makes me a target. Despite that, I’ve never been engaged in a direct confrontation that escalated beyond a push or two while living and traveling in more than 40 countries.  That being said, small confrontations and the threat of violence are a relatively normal part of a night out and/or bar culture. While I’ve managed to avoid major conflicts, the sight of guys at hostels sporting a black eye or bruised lip isn’t exactly an uncommon one.  While I think these incidents are less common while studying abroad than at home, men face a significantly increased risk of being assaulted compared to their female counterparts.  This risk is compounded dramatically in social and club situations where men are expected to serve as a buffer and safe zone for their female counterparts when they find they’re tired of dancing, talking to a guy, or want a break.

The risk of sexual assault and of getting drugged, while dramatically reduced compared to women, is still present and a very real risk. I know numerous men who have been drugged for a variety of reasons which ranged from exploitation, to robbery, to sexual assault, and perhaps most commonly, by other men interested in removing competition. While, thankfully, I have never experienced any of those, I have been aggressively grabbed and groped by both men and women more often than I care to recall.

Again, I want to reiterate that most of these threats are the same exact threats we would face and experience in bars in our home cities.  As someone who did my undergraduate program in Phoenix, Arizona, I find that most of my time spent studying/living/traveling abroad is dramatically safer. But, if we want more men to study abroad, we need to discuss these risks and threats in the same way we treat those posed to women.

3. Study abroad – Not just hookups and adventure sports

We live in a media culture that has made the study abroad experience the near exclusive domain of romantic comedies and chick flicks.  From an early age women grow up on stories depicting deeply charming and romantic travel experiences in far off and exotic places.  They are encouraged to see study abroad as an opportunity to seek love, to enjoy incredible food, and to immerse themselves in art, music, and culture.

For heterosexual men the cultural message is far less engaging and not nearly as compelling.  While there are messages to go abroad these often depict men already settled into their careers.  Other alternatives tell us that travel internationally should revolve around sex with exotic internationals (eg: Eurotrip) or the pursuit of adrenaline-fueled activities such as skydiving, bungee jumping, and downhill snowboarding (which are hardly study-centric activities).

The message we get is fairly clear:  Study abroad is only kinda, sorta, maybe for men and even then only high-testosterone adrenaline addicts or head-in-the-clouds whimsical lit-nerds. Those messages are complete and absolute pigswill.  Study abroad is for everyone. Seriously. Everyone.

4. It won’t jeopardize your career

As men, we experience a significant amount of familial and cultural pressure to start our careers and to focus on career-related activities from day one.  Travel is conveyed as something to be done after we complete our studies and succeed. For those with a passion for travel, it is implied that we should find a career that includes large amounts of business travel and use it as our platform for discovering the world.

Again, this is grossly inaccurate and something that is starting to change. Already employers report that they are looking for candidates that have international experience and have studied or traveled abroad over an extended period of time.  This is because they feel that those who have tend to be more adaptable, flexible, able to live effectively in a variety of cultural contexts. In many ways, study abroad is becoming an essential component of the undergraduate experience – on par with taking on a student internship.  It teaches many of the same skills, while also honing a student’s self confidence, independence, and global perspective.  Study abroad matures individuals and builds improved resilience and character while diversifying the student’s world view.

Where many men have historically bypassed study abroad out of financial concerns, or fear of lost opportunities to network or add work experience to their resumes, employers are increasingly viewing study abroad as a key sign of employability.  So, while this in no way means that young men should choose study abroad in place of an internship or career development opportunity, the two should be explored in tandem.  Outdated perceptions that study abroad was a sign of a student escaping from academic work, or taking an academic vacation are now out of date and have largely been abandoned. So much so that we are starting to see many university programs incorporating mandatory exchange periods as part of their curriculum.

Long story short: Men, if you don’t want to blow your future, it’s time to study abroad.

5. Socializing isn’t easy

Depending on where you sit on the nature/nurture debate you can attribute men’s social behaviors to a variety of different sources. Regardless, at the end of the day we tend to be less social than our female counterparts.  This can make establishing new social networks and connections particularly challenging and nerve-wracking when debating the prospect of study abroad.

If you are shy and one of the primary things holding you back is a fear that you won’t be able to make new friends during your exchange, don’t worry.  Travel is an incredible tool for breaking out of your shell and developing new friendships and conversational abilities.  Even if you suffer brutal social anxiety, the opportunity to experiment, explore, and reach out to a peer group of students who are in the same boat, and locals who are deeply curious about where you are from and why you chose their city, is invaluable.

As men we need to be honest with ourselves, accept that we’re not all natural athletes looking to join sports clubs or die-hard Magic the Gathering gamers. We have to accept that socializing while abroad is a huge fear for many guys as they consider taking a trip and re-affirm that while it won’t be easy, it won’t be as difficult or brutally uncomfortable as we might fear. Sure, there will be nights spent alone on Facebook, but far more often you’ll have a group of fellow exchange students with much more in common with you than a group of people 100 times the size back home.

6. Parental support

In conversations with female friends it has become apparent to me that the playing field isn’t equal when it comes to parental support for travel and study abroad. While the student need and benefit from study abroad is equal regardless of gender, there are far too many cases where financial and social support from parents is decidedly lopsided.  While I’ve been very lucky and had folks that prioritized travel, I have many peers who have found that where their parents were willing to support and pay for their daughters to study abroad, there were decidedly different levels of support and social pressures placed on their sons.  It’s impossible to know how much of this stems from cultural norms and expectations that young men should be able to support and provide for themselves, and how much of it is simply based in young women being more vocal about how important study abroad is to them.  I’m in no way implying or seeking to lessen the efforts of the countless women who go about researching, pursuing, and financing their study abroad all on their own.  I’m simply noting observations I’ve had shared by men and women alike, that while women often have to make a stronger case for their safety when seeking parental support, that support, particularly financially, tends to be more available for women than men.

7. The money is out there

Unfortunately, study abroad isn’t cheap.  While every penny invested is 100% worth it, it’s true that a solo trip done on the cheap can run you about half the cost of a study abroad exchange.  Of course, the tradeoff is that you don’t receive the academic credits, and you miss out on opportunities for scholarships, grants, and funding. When weighing the options available to you, you should keep in mind that because study abroad is typically based in one or two centralized locations you will get a much better feeling for the community and culture as opposed to typical budget travel which covers 10-15 times as many destinations. Also consider that each type of study abroad is different, just as study abroad and general travel are different.  For added discussion on the topic see my post exploring long vs. short term study abroad here.

Lastly, it is extremely important that men be pro-active in pursuing scholarships, tuition waivers, and financial aid for study abroad opportunities.  While this is more relevant for American, Canadian, British and Australian readers, it is equally relevant for European readers who may seek to supplement the ERASMUS fee.  There are a wealth of resources available to help you make your study abroad experience possible, you will just need to seek them out and be pro-active in asking for the funds.  Again, this all comes down to asking for help often, and in a wide variety of places.

Final thoughts

Recent growth in study abroad is exciting and representative of how the world is changing as new technologies continue to reduce costs, bridge communication barriers, and provide new opportunities for self discovery and exploration.   Men benefit immensely from the study abroad experience. More than that though, it is of the utmost importance that we strive for relative equal representation within the study abroad community because both genders have so much to contribute. The chance to explore the world, cultures, and foods as part of a group not only creates a more well-rounded exchange experience, it provides a significantly safer one.

As we push forward, it is important that we all do our part to re-frame the discussion surrounding men, study abroad, and independent travel.  The challenges young men face are not limited to their own decisions and experiences. They are representative of the sum of the cultural messages and resources that shape the study abroad environment. It is up to all of us to help create a more supportive and transparent dialogue that helps young men feel comfortable and capable when exploring study abroad options.

We also need to change the way we handle and discuss these types of posts. In researching this post, I discussed the topic with a number of other male peers and bloggers. Many expressed agreement that the topic needed to be addressed, but felt as though any attempt to do so would immediately be met with aggression, allegations of sexism, or seen as an attempt to belittle the challenges and gains women have made in higher education and study abroad over the past few decades. This is not my intention and I know there are large groups of women who are every bit as concerned by the gender gap as I am and working doggedly to help bridge it. Still, I publish this post with some apprehension.

It would be fantastic if men who have made the jump and chosen to study abroad or embark on a solo travel trip would share some of their own stories, their experiences, and their fears in bridging the gap between the concept of going abroad and the reality of making it happen.

 

Backyard Lilies – Weekly Travel Photo

Lilies in Bloom

We often venture far from home in the pursuit of discovering gorgeous destinations.  Yet, there are times when we have to pause and smell the roses.  Or in this case, the sweet scent of fresh rain-kissed air shortly after a mild summer thunderstorm.

While back in Arizona at my folks’ place I had the pleasure of catching the lilies on our small goldfish pond in bloom just after a brief rain.  This photo is the result.  There’s something about the look of raindrops on lily pads that always brings a smile to my face.  Perhaps its just the love of water that is hardwired into my body and mind. Then, of course, there is the enchanting sight of perfect lily blooms to go with it. Regardless, I’m always impressed by the incredible garden my parents have cultivated. A wonderful reminder to not only enjoy the wonderful things we discover on the road, but to pause and enjoy magical moments as they occur closer to home.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.