Travel News

On travelling solo as a small brown woman

Kia's sister received a cool welcome in a UK seaside town

“People think they can push me around – sometimes literally,” says Kia as she reflects on the trials of travelling solo

I am not one of those women who move through the world looking sleek, elegant, aloof and inscrutable. You know the ones. They’re usually wearing clothes that are ‘dry clean only’ and their wrists drip with expensive accessories. Men find them attractive but also a little frightening – as if they might turn you to stone if they deigned to look at you.

Nope. Instead, I have what has been described as “a sweet face”. Certainly, this has its benefits. I can get myself out of a low-level jam with a pleading smile (e.g. when I forgot my wallet and the bus driver let me on for free), or secure myself a discount when one isn’t usually available (e.g. when the guy at an iPhone repair store gave me his staff discount). 

On the flip side, having a “sweet face” has some drawbacks. I am sometimes patronised, belittled, ignored or bullied in ways I don’t think those with resting bitch face often are. It doesn’t help that I’m 5’2” and weigh about 100lbs. In short, people think they can push me around – sometimes literally.

This is partly why I don’t often enjoy travelling solo. Moving through the world as a small brown woman isn’t always easy. I specify ‘brown’ because Asian women are often seen as docile, meek, quiet and compliant. This stereotype emboldens certain people to treat us in ways they wouldn’t treat someone who looks like them. Basically, they think they can bully us without consequence. 

These ‘layers’ of identity are important. A woman. A brown woman. A small brown woman. Each layer tips the scales a little further against us. Of course, there are many layers that I haven’t experienced personally. Disability, for example. Or being visibly Muslim. My sister, who wears a headscarf, visited a seaside town in England last year and was made to feel deeply unwelcome by the locals, including one who barged her intentionally while she and her family walked on the beach.

Kia's sister received a cool welcome in a UK seaside town
Kia’s sister received a cool welcome in a UK seaside town

Sometimes, you have to steel yourself to do something as simple as taking a train or eating in a cafe or walking on a beach. I came to consider this recently when Peter went off to Alaska for five weeks to attempt to climb Denali. It was a good opportunity for me to plan a trip of my own, most likely travelling solo.

At first, I…

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