|Miss Australia and a Qantas flight attendant. Image: Qantas|
It’s Amsterdam in the early 70s. In a cheap hotel she realises she’s lost the key to her suitcase. The ‘porters’ (for want of a better word) suggest she wander the nearby streets in search of a locksmith.
She’s 24 years old, is used to the familiar bustle of Manila and the gentle beauty of Okinawa and she’s alone in a strange city.
After a few enquiries in an (un)common English, she meets a man who offers to come back to her hotel room and unlock her bag.
She says yes.
A few years later, at just over five feet, a slight mini-skirted Filipina lugs her suitcase through Frankfurt Airport. Unused to escalators, she trips.
Far from loved ones, tired of travelling alone, suffering from jet lag and shock, she considers going home.
A man offers to drive her to his apartment to recover from her wounds before promising he will take her to her hotel.
She says yes.
. . .
My mother tells me her travel stories cavalierly, from the safe distance that forty years between the event and the retelling can afford.
I’m shocked. After all, this is the woman who forces me to call every time I make the half hour journey home from her house.
Obviously, it all turned out well:
The locksmith did go back to her hotel room, but the only crime he committed was charging the exorbitant fee most locksmiths charge. And the German Good Samaritan was just that. After getting her cleaned up, he made her coffee, drove her to her hotel and refused the offered money for his efforts.
“It was a different time back then,” she said. Translation: no way am I to follow in her footsteps. Because I’m a girl.
Travelling through the glass ceiling
“The reality is women will never be able to travel as easily as men do,” Planeterra* executive director Paula Vlamings says.
“But that should not deter women from hitting the road.”
Travelling alone can be difficult for anyone, regardless of gender. Ms Vlamings suggests travellers “always listen to the local knowledge, understand the conditions and cultural norms before you go, and try to be as smart about your choices as possible”.
Here are some more tips for safe solo travel:
1. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
2. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
3. Don’t flash. Leave the diamond jewellery at home. The whole point of travel is to see rather than be seen. Okay, so there are exceptions to that (Kardashians). Use your discretion.
4. Pay in small bills. Ask for small bills when you change money so you’re not constantly looking to break a big note.
5. Make use of technology. I’ll admit I’d rather use public transport or walk than take a cab when travelling – I feel more in control of where I’m going. But as my phone is a camera, a GPS and, well, a phone, if ever I feel like the situation is getting dicey, I can take a picture of the driver’s details and follow our route on the GPS.
So my mum was pretty lucky. Things could have gone very wrong for her. But trusting in the kindness of strangers is part of the whole reason we travel. Just be smart.
And always let your mum know where you are. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!
*Planeterra is a non-profit organisation that strives for sustainable community development through travel.