A year ago, I returned from one of the most exhilarating adventures of my (admittedly short) life—a six-week solo backpacking trip through parts of the Middle East and Europe. It started with a learning lab in Israel/Palestine with a group of lovely strangers-turned-friends at The Global Immersion Project, an organization equipping the church to live into its vocation of peacemaking. I transitioned into wandering alone throughout the region and ended my pilgrimage with a jaunt in the Swiss Alps. While this trip was significant in many ways for me personally, it was meaningful for my marriage as well.
One thing I learned from Global Immersion is that conflict is an opportunity to “get creative in love.” Comparatively, responding with violence (including control, manipulation, and coercion) requires little imagination. Throughout our experience, we often paused to consider how we could “get creative in love” within the personal and social conflicts we encounter every day. During one such moment, I expressed to a new friend that the conflict regarding gender in religious spaces—such as the controversy over the roles of men and women in the church, home, and society—is one I’ve felt compelled to engage. However, I haven’t always known how to engage it meaningfully or creatively.
After a few days wandering solo, I realized the journey itself was a creative engagement of this gender conflict. I shared in a group video chat with some of my new friends, “I don’t want young women to believe once they get married, they have to throw away their dreams and aspirations. I hope this solo adventure serves to remind women of their inherent power and freedom. Marriage should be an empowering and liberating experience for both men and women, not an oppressive one.” So for me, that particular trip became a way for me to creatively respond to—and resist—oppressive ideas about gender and marriage.
I believe “solo female travel” of different sorts can be one of many creative ways to engage and challenge oppressive realities in the world that women routinely face. Below I address three common myths regarding gender, why I consider them oppressive, and how solo adventuring can be a creative engagement of each.
Myth #1: Women need Men to Lead them
Every time an atrocious crime is committed, whether against a Kindergarten classroom or a bible study group in an AME church, I inevitably find conversations in my news feeds about fatherlessness and the lack of male leadership. It’s interesting that I typically see this conversation occur in response to violent crimes committed by white male perpetrators, but that is a discussion for another time. In reality, male leadership has been the modus operandi for most of our global history. Perhaps the problem is when men have dominated the leadership landscape, they have historically used violence and coercion to control outcomes for their personal benefit. I’m not suggesting that men are inherently more violent than women or that the presence of a father in the home isn’t important, but the premise that “if men would just rise up and lead, our world wouldn’t be in the shape that it’s in” is basically proven by over 6,000 years of human civilization to be completely false. Of course, if you believe in a different sort of leadership that could heal the world’s traumas as I do, perhaps women are just as capable of participating in that leadership and transformation…?
When a woman travels solo, she subverts patriarchal power structures imposed upon society. She operates within a budget and on a schedule she designs by and for herself. As an exciting or challenging opportunity presents itself, she chooses to forge her own path consulting only her wit and wisdom—no permission required. In the wilderness, she is her own leader.
Myth #2: Women need Men to Provide for them.
Let’s get a few things straight… Keeping anyone (other than children) financially dependent upon another person is a really bad idea. Moreover, restricting a woman’s access to financial resources is controlling and abusive. Lastly, any couple who can afford to have one partner staying at home is living a rather privileged lifestyle. To prescribe this lifestyle as “God’s standard” is to say the poor and underprivileged, or anyone living in an area with a relatively high cost of living, cannot achieve or deliberately chooses to disregard “God’s standards.” I hope you can see how problematic that is. It is just as noble for a woman to contribute to the financial stability of a family as it is for a man.
Frankly, it’s annoying that we go straight to finances when we think of provision. Let’s just be real. There are quite a few things that contribute to the health and positivity of a relationship that we could call “provision.” For instance, my marriage has been enriched by the cross-cultural experiences and relationships that both my husband and I bring to our relationship. Anything that makes for a happy, healthy spouse contributes to the overall health of a marriage. Many people, women included, find sources of healing and transformation in the wilderness. If a woman finds these experiences to be especially enjoyable and empowering, that’s a resource that contributes to a relationship, not something that detracts from it.
Myth #3: Women need Men to Protect them
82% of domestic violence survivors are women.
39% of female homicides are committed by an intimate partner as compared to 2.8% of male homicides.
Nearly 1 in 4 women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44.
I could go on. These well-documented facts don’t discriminate; intimate partner violence is just as prevalent in evangelicalism as anywhere else. Being part of a religious community often has the effect of keeping women in abusive relationships because of dangerous theologies that elevate the status and well-being of a husband over a wife. The point is this: substantial evidence suggests women aren’t any more safe—or “protected”—inside a marriage than they are outside of one.
That said, there are risks and dangers women have to navigate when traveling solo that men largely don’t encounter, both abroad and in USAmerican cities. However, these risks are widespread precisely because we’ve tolerated a world hostile to women. If you are “concerned” about the risks posed to women traveling alone, please do your part in dismantling the misogyny that engenders hostility toward women rather than perpetuating it by restricting women from traveling alone.
Women are not fragile; we are resilient and courageous. When women adventure alone, we confront the violence repeatedly committed against our bodies by engaging foreign spaces with our physical presence. Instead of shrinking back, we proclaim with our very bodies this is a space we get to occupy, too. Though we may have to deal with strangers’ leering eyes and insufferable proposals, we choose love over fear, carrying ourselves with both grace and grit.
The Privilege of Travel
I want to acknowledge that travel itself, especially abroad, is an activity engaged mostly by the privileged. Recently, my husband and I ventured into the backcountry of Chile for a week in Patagonia on one of the most famous (read: busy) treks in the region. I counted two people of color in five days. This is something that I feel strongly about, but I’ve been encouraged recently to see more conversation and action taking place concerning equal access to the wilderness. I believe that solo travel, wilderness adventures in particular, can be especially empowering for women of color, albeit in vastly different ways than for us white folk.
I still want to encourage every woman I know to travel by yourself once in your lifetime, whenever resources and circumstances allow. It doesn’t have to be a weeks-long trip to the other side of the world to be meaningful. It could be a few days exploring a new city or the backcountry of a favorite national park. It could be a deeply spiritual pilgrimage or a relaxing retreat. However you choose to participate, I think you’ll find it to be an empowering and liberating experience that enriches your relationships and contributes to the healing and transformation of the world.
 Catalano, Shannon, Ph.D. Special Report. “Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization, 1993–2011.” Bureau of Justice Statistics; 2013.
 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2003.
 Barrier, Patricia A., M.D., M.P.H. “Domestic Violence.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 73.3 (1998): 271-74.