The Truth Behind Travel
“I hate you for traveling so much”, “ugh, you’re so lucky” ,“I’m so envious of your free-spirit”, “I’m so jealous of your life” – these are constant messages or comments I’ll get from friends and acquaintances. Although their intention may be complimenting, I find it quick-to-judge and presumptuous. You’ll find out why below.
Yes, travel is a privilege; however, there is no LUCK needed for buying a flight ticket and going somewhere. There is no LUCK required to work the different jobs in order to pay for those flights — traveling isn’t a one in a million chance to win the lottery. Traveling is simply planning and acting on your plans.
On the contrary, there are many girls and women out there, who aren’t allowed to travel alone. People will scare their daughters, sisters, or nieces, and tell them all these elaborate stories about all the horrifying things that could happen once they step outside the door. The funny thing is that these people who scare you, are acting out on their own ignorance: they have no direct experience of traveling in the world of ubiquitous 3G/4G internet, location services, Facebook check in’s, GPS tracking, Credit Card tracking, Couch Surfing and Air BnB’ing.
Good Girls Don’t Travel
Now, there is a different argument. The argument of the young girl who lives with her conservative family and has to be home every night by 8 or 9 pm. Good girls from good families don’t let their daughters wander off on their own. Good girls stay at home. It’s okay if the girls stay at home and while away their precious youth behind their computers watching all sorts of nonsense TV shows that inculcate their minds with drama, gossip, and materialism. Everything can be passed off “okay” as long as you’re home. I argue that keeping your daughter happy and satisfied by providing all the entertainment at home is doing more damage than good.
I do not want to start a religious argument but rather a cultural argument. Regardless of religion, you can be Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Christian - if you come from a traditional family, your freedom as a woman was put in the hands of your father, your brother, and eventually your husband. Sometimes, your immediate family might have been a little more accommodating to your freedom; however, in order to avoid chitter chatter and hearsay from relatives and neighbors, they quickly enforce orthodox ways unto you. They will try to calm you down with: “It’s not our fault, neither is it yours, it’s just in our culture sweetie. Learn to accept it.” You could respond with: “But mom, why would people think like that? Why should I live for them to put on a show, while I live with myself miserably?” Travel? What does that have to do with dishonor? Rumors? Hearsay? Wake up people, it’s 2016, not 1927.
A Little About Me
Growing up in a traditional family, I didn’t dare to dream of traveling by myself before I was married to a man who would provide his protection and companionship in dark and foreign lands. I thought it was impossible for a girl to go to an unfamiliar place by herself. Think of all the dangers that she could be exposed to: theft, rape, kidnap, having her kidneys ripped out for the human organ black market, or a real life replay of the famous scenario from the Hollywood movie TAKEN (where the girl is sold as an exotic slave dancer to an Arab sheikh). I was constantly fed stories about girls leaving the house and being forced into prostitution by evil people. And as usual, the evil people only targeted these girls because they were outside unaccompanied by a male figure and “available” in the first place. Somehow, everything is your fault.
More About Me
Like most Middle Eastern and Sub-continental families, I wasn’t allowed sleepovers or being anywhere outside the four walls of my house beyond 10pm. The night was evil and evil things happen at night and only at night, as if the day were completely immune to all these atrocities. Till today, when I stay at my grandmother’s house, she starts getting anxious as soon as I change into anything other than my PJs. “Where are you going?” “Why are you going?” “It’s too hot outside, no don’t go.” “You don’t know the ways.” “But I just made lunch for you.” She will literally do anything in her power to keep me in sight. It may have worked 5 years ago when I was younger and naïve but not today. I appreciate her care and worry but I simply assure her that times have changed.
I once asked my mother why she would fill my ear with frightening stories to deter me from traveling. Why I wasn’t allowed to apply for a university outside of my hometown that would require me to move out? When I graduated high school, I got accepted to the Academy of Arts in San Francisco but my parents refused to let me go. They guilt-tripped me into staying, listing all the benefits of living at home, and all the things they had provided for me. So I kept them happy, lived at home, did my chores and commuted to university everyday for 3.5 hours. Two years of university had passed, and I felt miserable every day.
How was I supposed to grow as a person if I was constantly hanging out with the same people doing the same things? Even at university, I hung out with the same crowd I went to highschool with — gathering in the same places, living in the same neighborhoods. I had met people in class and had offered to get together after school but campus friendships can only be sustained within campus vicinity. If you didn’t live on campus, it was extremely hard to remain friends with someone who did. I tried to join different social clubs and activity groups in order to meet like-minded people only to find out that most events were held after school hours, which meant that I would get home pretty late. I’d reach home by 10 or 11pm after taking a bus home from an event. I’d come home exhilarated for having gone to an event and having met new people, only to hear my dad express his displeasure with my late arrival. "What kind of a school is open till 11pm?" "What kind of events do you go to?" "No Dad, the event ended at 9 it just took me 2 hours to get home." "Why are the events held at night? Have they taken the morning away from you?" Sigh, I’d drag myself to my room long faced and teary eyed for having to constantly negotiate the clashing cultures.
The culture of my parents and the culture wherein I was trying to make something of myself were completely different. My parents didn’t know what networking events were, they didn’t do fundraisers and volunteer trips when they were growing up. It was very hard for them to understand that being outside the house didn’t necessarily equate to sex, drugs and rock&roll. It could simply be a study session with a friend at the 24-hour library the night before the exam. But the question was: “Why would you go to a library when we have given you your own room?” I love my parents to bits but I was speaking Greek and they were speaking Latin.
One night during March of 2013, I decided that I no longer wanted to live in Vancouver. I hated the city, the gloomy grey skies and the rich immigrant kids who would compete with each other on who could buy the fanciest car with daddy’s money. That was not the environment I wanted to be in. Moreover, I was still living at home and trying to negotiate cultural boundaries in a Western society. Every step forward resulted in 5 steps backward while taking a toll on my energy and optimism. I felt constrained and suffocated. You can’t keep a Wandering Albatross in a Canary's cage. I turned on my computer and decided to apply to McGill University in Montreal. Deadlines had already passed in the beginning of February, but I decided to try my luck anyway. That very night, I applied and paid the application fee. Were my grades good enough? Would they transfer all my credits from UBC? Were they still accepting applications that late in the first place? I waited.
In August 2013, I got my acceptance letter from McGill University. It was like they had given the world to me. I was ecstatic beyond measures but I was also extremely nervous. How was I supposed to break the news to my parents? How was I to support myself financially? How would I pay rent, food, and living expenses? School starts in 3 weeks, how am I going to pack, move to the other side of the country, find a place and find furniture in that span of time? All these questions popped into my mind as I entered a panic attack. This was the first time in life that I had to make an independent adult decision and stand by it. The decision wasn’t easy, and of course I was met with a lot of disagreement and obstacles; however on August 21st 2013, I moved to Montreal with 2 pieces of luggage and started living.
" Travel does not equate to indecency. Travel does not end in kidnap or murder. Travel will not break your bank. Travel is a way to self-growth and learning. The more you see, the more you know."
I am alive. I am free. I am a bird with a wingspan of the Earth’s circumference. I take every opportunity, and I am grateful for every day of my life. I have fought blood, sweat and tears to live this life. If I didn’t fight for it, I’d still be living at home waiting for a husband to come around and save me. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from one of the top universities in the world (while working 2 part-time jobs). Through McGill, I got a chance to live and work in India for 3 months where I conducted research and video-documented women in slums and rural communities — an absolute dream come true. You can read about it in a previous blogpost.
Ever since I left Vancouver 2 years ago, I have travelled to 35 different cities in 10 different countries (well, 19 cities in India itself) and I have taken enough photos to fill up 3 external hard-drives. I went to all these places without a brother or a husband – shame on me, right?
No, sorry but travel does not equate to indecency; travel does not end in kidnap or murder; travel will not break your bank; travel is a way to self-growth and learning; the more you see, the more you know. In fact, the more you put yourself out there, the more the opportunities you will have.
Take Charge and Bring Change
Change is always difficult to absorb—both for you and your family—but I promise you, no one can make that change other than you. No one and nothing should stand in the way of doing the things you want to do. Your parents may be upset with you at first but will love you no matter what you do (okay, maybe they won’t love you so much if you dance around a pole for a profession). You could be the next Celine Dion, Zaha Hadid, Coco Chanel or even the next Lily Singh but you cannot live your full potential if you let others make decisions for you.
What is it that you want to do? What is that very thing that makes your voice high-pitched and excited when you talk about it? If you want to achieve greatness, you should stop asking for permission. You are only young and healthy now, these are your most valuable days. Later, you might be able to pay thousands of dollars to look like a 20 year old, but no amount of money can give you the energy and drive of a 20 year old. This is your chance. Your chance is now. Seize the day my friend, seize away!
*This post has been an extremely cathartic process for me.
The description is very personal but at least you know that there was someone out there in your exact situation. I understand that a lot of women reading this may have different circumstances that may not avail travel at the moment; however, that does not stop me from fighting and creating a shift in our cultural paradigm that will allow more women—regardless of marital status—to travel.
Want to know me better? Follow me on instagram: minamohit / snapchat: minathemohit
Mina is a multimedia journalist currently based in London, U.K.
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