The story behind #viajosola is simple in its horror: two female backpackers where attacked and killed in Ecuador by two men they were staying with. The hashtag and the corresponding story written on Facebook from the perspective of the victims responds to implications that the women invited trouble by traveling “alone” (though they traveled together) and for trusting two men they barely knew.
This is scary. And I won’t pretend that when meeting my AirBNB hosts or when I’ve over shot my destination and have to double back that I don’t feel afraid; stories like this make me anxious.
And yet, I am still a little insulted when I am lectured about being safe while I travel (that of which I’m getting much more). I know this annoyance is misplaced; that the people who are the most adamant about my safety, care about me and are scared for me.
Still, the rhetoric of warning women to keep safe annoys me. When “I wish you safe travels,” becomes “travel safe,” a well-wish takes the structure of a command. But any harm that befalls me is not my fault; I am not to blame for attacks on my person by others.
What I wear does not invite rape.
How stupid I choose to secure my belongings does not invite thieving.
No matter what I do, I am not inviting physical attack.
If I am robbed, if I am involved in a large-scale attack, or if I am put upon by strangers or new friends, is it my fault that I wasn’t kept safe?
Do I forgo my right to safety by choosing a life that others view as unsafe?
If something awful should befall me while I travel, will my injury be met with lectures of all the things I could have done to prevent it?
When my phone was stolen from my bag in Rio de Janeiro last January, my first emotion wasn’t fear or anger or even panic; it was shame. I went through all the things I had done with my phone before it disappeared from my bag, counted all the ways I could have better secured it. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I knew they would use the moment as a teachable one, highlighting my stupidity.
This is our human logic, though. I can only control my own actions, not the actions of others. So to get a more favorable result would require me to have changed something, to do something better. But my actions were not the negatives ones, so why are they subject to ridicule? Why plant seeds of doubt and deliver the rhetoric of responsibility to travelers? To women?
I’m afraid that this rhetoric makes the idea of traveling as I do seem impossible to some women. With all the things that are out of our control, how can we possibly control our safety? And if we can’t control our safety, does that mean we don’t have a right to travel?
What we should all really be afraid of is not traveling at all. To me, there are more dangers in the cave than in turning around to see why the shadows dance upon the cave wall.
The distilled truth is this: shit happens, but shit happens everywhere. So go and explore; I wish you safe travels.