Never Compromise Your Travel Ideals

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Image: Werner Kunz

About a year ago, while working at my last job, I found out that I might be sent to London for a week or so.  Though this would be a business trip, I was jumping-out-of-my-skin excited.

Oh, to spend more time in the great city of London, where I’ve only stayed for a few days at a time!  But even better: I had a ton of vacation days that I needed to use before the end of the year.  I could use a few to extend my European holiday.  To Paris, my favorite city in the world.  To Barcelona or Edinburgh or Rome.  Or to Amsterdam, where I hadn’t even been yet!

I made up my mind.  I’d go to Amsterdam for a few days after my London trip.  I’d visit Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh museum, eat rijsttafel and broodjes, shop in the Jordaan, ride a bike through a city for the first time ever.  Maybe I could even drop by Delft for some Vermeer worship.

So when I told my boyfriend at the time about my plans, I expected him to be happy.  From the first day we met, he knew that my dream was to travel the world alone.  I talked about it constantly, and he seemed excited about it.

But after “mm-hmm”-ing a number of times, he dropped the bomb:

“It’s not safe for a woman to travel alone.”

I beg your mother****ing pardon?

“I’ve traveled alone before.  You know that,” I told him.  “Including London, Paris, and all over Italy.”

“You haven’t been to Amsterdam,” he insisted.  “I have.  And Amsterdam is just crazy on every level.”

“I won’t go to the red light district alone at night,” I pointed out.  “I’ve researched, and I know that’s not the best idea.  But to completely write off the city?!”

“Where are you going to stay?”

“Probably The Flying Pig.”

“Do you have any idea how nuts hostels in Amsterdam are?  This trip is not safe.”

“If that’s not safe, then what did you think of my solo trip to Buenos Aires?”

He didn’t answer right away.  “I didn’t know you at the time.  But I probably wouldn’t have let you go.  You could have gotten yourself killed.”

“Oh my GOD.”

We went back and forth like this for quite a while until I thought of a compromise.

“What if I went to Paris instead?” I begged.  “I’ve been there several times, I speak the language, I know the city so well, and I’ve spent time there alone.”

“I don’t like it, but it’s better than Amsterdam.”

“Fine,” I acquiesced.  “I’ll go to Paris.”

Looking back at that conversation, I’m horrified.  How could I have allowed someone to exercise control like that over me?  Why would I have to offer a compromise for my own actions?

I knew, as you all know, that a three-day trip to Amsterdam would have been just as safe as a three-day trip to New York.  Maybe even safer.  I knew that I was right and that he was wrong, but I let him cancel my trip anyway.

To a place like this.

Image: Claudio.Ar

Well, that business trip never came to fruition.  And the relationship ended, for reasons that you can probably detect in the above exchange.

But I learned something important: never compromise your travel ideals.  This is the only life that you get.  How would your life be if you always kowtowed to other people’s wishes?

This could have snowballed into something terrible.  Five more years of acquiescing and my biggest adventure could have been returning to the same condo in Florida every year.

I’m not saying to ignore the advice of the important people in your life.  Take their words into consideration.  But chances are that you are much more well-versed in travel than them.  If you do your research and are committed to safety, it’s safe for a woman to travel alone almost anywhere.

If you’re going to cancel a travel adventure, cancel it for a good reason.  Not like this.

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43 thoughts on “Never Compromise Your Travel Ideals”

    1. I imagine my boyfriend will be a bit worried when I want to travel, but I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t tell me not to go. Great entry by the way 🙂

    2. Because there’s a lot of men going around in Argentina just like North America and it’s easy for female travelers to cheat on their husbands or boyfriends with local men. This is where xenophobia and racism comes into place. Even Argentine men won’t allow their wives or girlfriends to travel to America alone as well since there are a lot of men going around in North America too. North American and South American men are often overprotective and territorial. Foreign men talk to their women, they get their butts kicked.

  1. Oh man, the moment a man says whether or not he’ll “let” you do something, cut and run, dude. Cut and run. And, for what it’s worth, I spent several days and nights alone in Amsterdam when I was 18, and had a fantastic time. No less safe than Paris, New York, London, or any other world-class city!

  2. Let’s just say he lived in another century! Going to Amsterdam by yourself is not that big of a deal. There are some areas to avoid, just as there are areas to avoid in Boston or even Paris!

    Travel for yourself, not anyone else. It’s your choice to go to wherever you want, it’s your souvenirs to have and cherish.

    Way to go, girl!

      1. Maybe Germans, Scandinavians, French, or any other liberated Europeans won’t but Italians, Spaniards, Eastern Europeans, etc. would since they are very conservative.

      2. Nope, but my Mom does… Not specifically to Los Angeles, but about every place in the world I want to see 😉
        And my favourite alternative line: “I’m happy when you’re back in Germany. I know nothing can happen to you here”. Wouldn’t that be great? 🙂

    1. A very good point…things are not always black and white. It’s easy to say that you’d never let someone tell you that you couldn’t do something. But when it actually happens, and is far more subtle than you’d ever imagine, you might be inclined to believe that person.

  3. I think most men will have fears of their girlfriend/wife traveling alone, but if a guy is secure with himself and your relationship they will eventually understand. Those are the ones to keep around. 😉

    I went on a solo trip to Amsterdam for 4 days when I was 25 and while it is definitely a crazy town, I didn’t die. There was only one moment where I felt unsafe and that’s because I unknowingly went into a “bad” part of town alone. Amsterdam is a really fun place to visit, I hope you make it there soon!

  4. Well, at least you took this important lesson away from the experience, right? I can understand being horrified thinking back to that conversation; I would be, too. But, as has already been pointed out, sometimes we can turn a blind eye to issues like this in relationships that we really care about.

    Hopefully you’ll get to experience Amsterdam soon, on your own terms.

  5. Hmm…I think I am going to comment more along the lines of what Christy said above in saying that a significant other should not only trust your judgment and ability to take care of yourself but also support your wishes. Right after I got engaged I went to Brazil for a week by myself. My fiance (now husband) was very supportive. At the same time, I think that now if my husband said that he was not comfortable with me traveling somewhere I would definitely think twice about it, but it would be more about addressing his concerns and what’s best for BOTH of us. I don’t know if I can make a blanket statement about saying that I will never allow ANYONE to make me compromise my travel desires because many relationships are different. Granted if it was any of my boyfriends from my 20’s, I would have laughed and went to Amsterdam anyway. 🙂

  6. My wife and I just manipulate each others’ plans. Only time I was worried about her traveling alone was on her trip back to China…and I was more worried about how she’d be treated by customs than anything else (and that could’ve happened with or without me). Fortunately, no problems.

  7. This is a good lesson, one that I wished I’d learned earlier. I was 18 and I wanted to go backpacking, I’d done research, gotten an idea of how much it would cost. But my mother convinced me that I was too young and that it was too dangerous. I know she meant well, but listening to that advice is one of the only things I’ve ever regretted in my life. Everyone always has an opinion on how you should travel/live, sometimes you need to say “thanks for the concern, but I’m gonna do this.” I still haven’t taken that backpacking trip, but I know when I do nothing will stop me.

  8. “I beg your mother****ing pardon?”

    Sounds like something I would have said. Luckily hubby lets me be independent… he even said I should try and get a traveling job! But I know I’m lucky. I would have flipped out on the guy,

  9. Oh my God, “I wouldn’t LET you go”???? I’m surprised you didn’t smack him upside the head right then and there. It’s hard to believe there are still men out there who believe they are allowed to control what their girlfriends do or don’t do….I hate when other people say something isn’t safe, when the truth is, you have done your research and know way more about it than they do.

  10. “It’s not safe for a woman to travel alone.”

    OMG, bad 80s throwback – it’s like we’re in the middle of Hot Tub Time Machine!

    That said, the more I travel, the more I understand that it’s sometimes not EASY for a woman to travel alone, particularly in countries which (generalisation warning) have a preset idea “about” western women (hello Morocco, hello India).

    But Amsterdam??? My only worry about Amsterdam would be spending too much…

    Nice blog Kate, happy travels.

  11. Sounds like you definitely made the right decision to move on from this guy! Travel is such a personal and prized commodity, not for someone else to try and make decisions for you on what is “best for you.”

  12. I totally agree with the sentiments here. My ex demanded I quit my job because it involved travel to apparently dicey places, but that’s the reason I loved it so much. She never got that side of me, and as the tantrums got worse I just had to end the relationship, as I knew in the long-term if we couldn’t agree on travel then there was no future as it is such a huge passion of mine (this was among many other reasons I hasten to add!).

    Obviously its nice to have people concerned about your welfare, but the moment you can’t go to places like Amsterdam for these reasons then it is just untenable. Good riddance and definitely its good to encourage people to stick to their ideals – if you don’t then in the long run you will regret it.

  13. I think loved ones fearing for your safety is rational, especially those who don’t travel much.. but not ‘letting’ you? I’m afraid this kind of thing happens a lot–people try to impose their own impressions of places they’ve never been on others. Sigh… it’s a lesson all travelers have to learn at some point I suppose.

  14. Funny, your ex sounds almost like my ex, who listed an upcoming trip I was taking alone to Southeast Asia as one of his reasons for ending the relationship. The trip didn’t even happen anyway. But, I can honestly say that the end of that relationship was one of the best things that ever happened to me- as I have my freedom back and have been planning my own long-term RTW trip ever since.

  15. This is a cool article. I have been lucky enough to be with a man who has let me go away for 3 and 6 months at a time to foreign places I never dreamed of living, and we long-distanced every time. Recently he spent almost 2 months farming/wwoofing in Ireland, and I was YELLING at him to go! I think it’s important to encourage a partner to travel – it opens horizons and when they return, the connection feels much stronger. As for your ex, he was freaking out about you going to western Europe of all places. I wonder what he would say if you chose The Congo or Iran or somewhere not very “safe”.

    1. Yes, he is definitely a keeper. 🙂 My man and I are breaking up because neither one of us wants to do long distance, and it will probably be quite sometime before we can be together again (long story), but we are enjoying our time together, and with the agreement that, if sometime from now we have a way to be together and still want to, we will work it out. 🙂

  16. I had a similar break-up with a boyfriend over my 3-month trip to south america, though mine was not as outright about the safety issues. I gave mine the boot, had an AMAZING trip and am glad you did too! I think, at least with my situation, he was a little jealous that I was going too..

  17. I’m so lucky my boyfriend encourages it. I mean, we are breaking up very soon for me to achieve this (I don’t do long-term long distance), since his goals require him to stay put for quite some time still, but this probably means that, if we want to, in the future, we can find a way to be together again. The fact that we respect each other enough to enjoy our time together, but let each other pursue our individual goals, this is what real love (not obsession) is all about, and I would like to get married one day, but not if I can’t have real love like I just described. I know so many men who say the same about women traveling alone. I’ve done it, not even close to as much as you yet, but enough to know they are full of sh*t. What a blessing, that break up huh? Look at you now. 🙂

    1. I actually met up with the guy in question a few weeks ago when I was in Boston. We had a nice catchup, and at the same time, clear confirmation that us breaking up was the right decision.

  18. It’s funny to see how non-Europeans think about travelling alone in Europe. It puts thing in perspective. I’m planning a road trip to the US alone and my parents had exactly the same reaction. “Alone?! That’s just not safe for a girl!”. But from all your reactions I can tell it’s not that big a deal 🙂
    Of course, I understand that they are concerned, they’re not very experienced travellers either, but it would be a lot easier if they were happy for me 🙂
    But I’ll convince them!!
    Thanks Kate for this great blog! Very helpful!

  19. Reading this has made me kind of emotional… let me tell you why in a nutshell. In the summer of 2012 I did a two-month USA road trip coast to coast, and when I got back to the UK I just KNEW I had to go travelling again, but this time I wanted a much bigger challange; India and Thailand. Whilst I was working to save up for my trip which was going to happen in the January of 2013, I met a guy and in spite of him not being my type or anything I thought I’d give him a go, mainly due to boredom. I was with this guy for five months in total, and I could tell he was pretty controlling and possessive. Then the conversation came where he told me he didn’t want to ‘let’ me go away by myself. After countless arguments, he convinced me that I was being unreasonable, and that no boyfriend would be ok with that kind of trip solo. Eventually I compromised begrudgingly agreeing that he could meet me in Thailand. After he had booked it, the relationship got worse… he was putting even more restrictions on me and we were arguing a lot more. Four days before I was due to go to India, we went out for a meal and both of us were drinking, but he was much drunker whilst I was just a bit tipsy… We began arguing when we got back to his place so I told him I was breaking up with him, and to cut a long story short, he became very physical. I didn’t end up with any major injuries but psychologically it was the stuff of nightmares 🙁 He did this all in the hopes that I would be so screwed up that I wouldn’t be able to go to India. I couldn’t let him win, so the a couple of days later I went to the police, told them everything and went to India as planned. Whilst I was in India I saw some of the most beautiful things and went to the most beautiful places, but the dark cloud of what had happened and the effect it would have on my Thailand trip was ever-present. I ended up cancelling Thailand because he refused to cancel his trip even though he knew he wasn’t going to go, he knew that unless he cancelled, the police had advised me not to go for my own safety. He was still trying to control me! And he succeeded, as I lost my dream to travel to Thailand, and the money I had spent on the trip as my insurance wouldn’t cover my circumstances 🙁 I was heartbroken. So after India, I came back to the UK, got my ex convicted and re-saved the money. In a week’s time I will be going to Bali on a four-month trip of Southeast Asia which will finish in Thailand 🙂 That guy, that scumbag, ruined my trip to Thailand because I LET HIM IN when I didn’t want to… I compromised on something I really wasn’t happy to budge on, because he wanted to be a part of every aspect of my life, changing my travel ideals. Never again 🙂

    Love and hugs
    Gabriella x

      1. Thanks Kate 🙂 Strangely, I saw that nasty guy’s brother in town today by chance and I felt so strong in comparison to the last time I saw him (which was in court). I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I’m just so psyched to use that strength during my travels 🙂 You are a major inspiration, hon, so thank you 🙂


  20. Hi Kate, I found your site a couple of weeks ago and now I’m doing a retrospective and reading all of your old posts.

    It’s funny, because Amsterdam was the first and only time I’ve ever traveled solo. In 2010 when I was 22 I was visiting a friend in Barcelona (my first time to Europe) and on a whim I decided to go to Amsterdam by myself. I did zero research, didn’t even have the right clothes (no jacket, no pants), and had practically no money.

    And I won’t lie, it was scary! Not because Amsterdam is crazy–it’s not, but because I was alone, in another country, with no pants! I definitely didn’t go out at night, which was okay because it was July and sunset was at, like, 8:30. When I left, I had to take a 2:30am bus five blocks from my hotel to the train to get back to Schipol. I was standing on a dark, abandoned street corner at 2:20am, by myself, in a pair of shorts.

    Because of various responsibilities, I haven’t had the opportunity to travel solo again, but I will never forget how proud I was of that little, solo-travel victory. It taught me a lot about myself. So I appreciate what you have to say about not compromising your travel ideals as a woman traveling solo.

    Your blog is tremendously inspiring and I love what you have to say! Keep up the great work!

  21. I’ve been to Amsterdam, stayed at the Flying Pig, and gone to the Red Light District at night… I would not remotely be concerned about a woman doing that alone. Just keep your wits about you like anywhere else.

    I agree with taking what people say into account, but sometimes with a grain of salt. I went to Panama in January and so many people were like “Oh, is that safe?”. I felt incredibly safe in Panama by just being generally careful.

  22. I dreamed about India all my life and when I got 30 years old, I thought: Hey, what am I waiting for!
    So I told my boyfriend at that time that I was going to quit my job 6 months from now and fulfill that dream. He got soooooo upset! I don’t understand how can someone who loves you cannot support your dreams. So I left, twice: the boyfriend AND to India! :o)

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