Ten Tips for Women Traveling Alone
By: Ansley Hayes
Decide you are old and smart enough to travel alone-a short weekend trip to see a friend in another state. Save money for a month and google “how to buy a plane ticket.” Take a few moments at the Delta checkout counter to imagine an elaborate escape plan should you be targeted at the Atlanta airport as a potential victim of human trafficking. Decide you won’t take an Ativan until you get to the terminal, even though your worst anxiety will happen in the security checkpoint, wondering if the TSA agent will be a man who pats you down with his palms tucked into your flesh, the pads of his fingers unbearable. Remember you are not afraid of flying, just of all the things that could happen on the way to the plane.
Book your ticket. Change your seat twice in two hours to avoid another flight like the one when you were 12 and on a plane to Nevada, stuck between two sweating men who talked over your head and took up both armrests with their salt ham forearms and elbowed you hard in the ribs 13 times in four hours and sucked in all the good air assigned to seat 24E. Pray you sit next to a grandma on her way somewhere warm who needs help opening the cryptic foil of her peanut packet.
Get excited for your trip, but do not tell your mother where you are going until you are already on the plane. Her worry is your worry, a dowry saved since you were big enough to get lost in the grocery store. Forget the plan and tell her three days before you leave. Read her texts: “So you’re trying to give me a heart attack.” “Why do you need to leave the state?” “Give me all your travel info and call me three times a day.” “Be careful and alert always.” “Don’t drink too much, don’t go to private homes, always tell me where you are.”
Explain to your mother that her worries are unfounded, because after all, the friend you’re going to see is a man and this means you will be protected. Read her texts. “What does your boyfriend think about this?” “Will you be sharing a bed?” “Is there something wrong with you and your boyfriend?” “Why are you going all the way to Texas to visit a boy?”
Tell your mother this is a brave new world different from hers. Tell her gender matters less and we’re all blurring lines, that you can have friends who are men and this does not mean you are not a good woman. Tell her how your friend was raised by his mother, respects women, writes music, cares about you. Tell her you are not afraid of all the things that might happen to you in Texas.
One day before you leave have a panic attack before bed after a poisonous thought spends the day leeching into all the soft parts of you. “What if my friend rapes me?” Hold on to your sheets and grab your Ativan while you chant statistics like a prayer. 1 in 6 women. 80 percent younger than 30. 73 percent of rapists are known to the victim. 38 percent are friends with the victim. Try not to let the fear win, drown it out with the same facts you told your mother. He was raised by his mother, he plays music, he feels like your cousin, he cares about you. Remind yourself you have an anxiety disorder and sleep as well as you can.
Tell your sister thank you for driving you to the airport. Listen to her 22-year-old feelings about relationships. “Do you think he will leave me if I ask him not to watch porn?” Tell her all men watch porn. Well not all men, your friend in Texas doesn’t, but most men watch porn and there’s nothing we can do about it. “That’s crap, you know” she says. “Yeah I know but what can we do about it?” Spend the rest of the drive talking about your childhood cat instead of the patriarchy. Give her a hug at the gate and tell her “I love you.”
Walk into the airport. Get through security. Watch your kidnapping and groping fears fail to materialize. Talk to the grandmother seated next to you on the plane about how her husband just died. Offer to open her peanut packet. Listen to her tell you that she misses her husband, but now that she’s alone some of her oldest dreams are coming true.
Land in Texas. Meet your friend outside. Let him hug you and tell you how happy he is to see you, how lonely he is in this big old state, how wonderful it is to spend four days with a good friend. Relax in his arms and walk to the car. Feel guilty for thinking he could be a rapist. Text your mother. “In Texas. Safe. Love you.”
Drink beer with your friend without fear. Listen to his panicked 24-year-old feelings about the past and the future. “What if I never meet another girl like her?” Tell him there are worse things to be afraid of. Tell him there are so many fish in the sea and some of them are girl fish and they travel in schools because they are bigger and safer when their bodies overlap. Girl fish who swim in schools reflect light like a sheet of tin. Together, girl fishes keep swimming.