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HerReport says you're missing out on solo travel

WomenWerk: Hi AnnaMarie! We love your travel blog HerReport - tell us about it and why you started it:

AnnaMarie: I first caught the travel bug while studying journalism in Morocco in 2012, and I've since traveled nearly 50 countries and counting. I was reporting on the Westernization of Moroccan consumer mentality and the ways in which Western designers were fundamentally appropriating Moroccan culture, marketing and profiting off of its aesthetic as their own and leaving authentic Moroccan designers working in relative obscurity in their own country. I ended up following a fashion designer around for months, working with her in her studio, an abandoned slaughterhouse, and traveling with her to Casablanca Fashion Week. I always sort of thought I'd become a fashion journalist someday, but I realized that I wasn't interested in fashion. What drew me to this story, my first truly reported piece of journalism, were the people.

I went on to pitch the story to a number of publications including Vogue Italia at the time, which I thought would be my big break. Ultimately, the story—which inevitably became a human interest piece more than a fashion piece—didn't quite fit the voice of any publication I'd pitched. It wasn't necessarily relevant or deemed interesting for Western readers. But I thought, if no one else was going to tell this story, I would do it myself.

Enter: Her Report. I launched Her Report, which quickly became my passion project. I began traveling all over the world to share women's stories, interviewing sex workers in Indonesia, surviving victims of the Rwandan genocide, demonstrators protesting sexual harassment in Argentina, and organizations fighting for women's rights to their own bodies in Hungary and against homophobia in Belize and to stop gendercide in Taiwan.

Through the dissemination of underreported stories of women worldwide, Her Report came to serve as a catalyst for critical conversations with the intention of ensuing, transcendent change.

I left my full-time editorial job in December and began freelancing and blogging full time, writing about my journey and women's issues around the world as I traveled. But traveling totally alone, I’ve heard a lot of “That’s a dangerous country—especially for a woman.” And, “How do you do that alone as a woman?” And, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get raped, or trafficked, or drugged, or murdered, or kidnapped, or attacked, or robbed or just lost?” Too often, women writers are relegated to topics of safety and style and savvy. Therefore, Her Report has also since evolved into a curation of raw and revelatory travel memoirs, travel advice and travel resources for likeminded visionaries who refuse to fixate on fear for the solo female traveler. So as I journey to unearth women’s stories, I also share how and why to do what I’m doing: exploring the world.

WomenWerk: What are your tips and advice for women who might be apprehensive about solo travel?

AnnaMarie: Contrary to popular belief, 72 percent of American women are interested in solo travel, and those who pursue it are doing so more adventurously. In fact, The Travel Industry Association of America reports that 20- to 70-year-old women make up three-quarters of those embarking on nature, adventure and cultural journeys, and the average adventure traveler is actually a 47-year-old woman. But the preconceived notion that traveling solo as a woman should be ill-advised is pervasive.

As women, we are dauntless protagonists of our own inimitable lives but are nonetheless conditioned to fear the same horror stories. Women are constantly inured to what could happen if we travel alone. We’re told to tolerate life as passive victims of traditions among boys who will be boys. And, in an age of endemic terrorist attacks, insurgency and a spate of pandemic diseases, only exacerbated by the objectification of our bodies as weapons of war, global gendercide, sex trafficking and “locker room talk,” solo travel is seldom advised.

When conditioned fear couples with a dwindling hope for deliverance in a world that promotes an agenda that too often negates our own, we become perpetually paralyzed by the thralldom of “what if.” What if we are taken? What if we do get raped? The politics of life with a vagina becomes the bane of our existence. But the reality is that there are bad people everywhere, and bad things can happen anywhere. You can't live your life in fear of what could happen "over there," because the perhaps harrowing fact is that it could happen "over here."

All you can do is be smart, as you would be anywhere. That includes knowing where your US embassies are located in the case of an emergency, keeping copies of your passport and identification on you in case they're lost or stolen and stashing hidden cash in different places (like your tampons box or in rolled up socks) in case your wallet gets lost or stolen. If you have an itinerary, let someone back home know where you'll be and what you'll be doing.

I won't be the one to tell you not to walk alone at night or not to dress a specific way—that's been beaten into all of us since day one, and I'm not about victim blaming. What I will tell you is to be respectful of each culture, not because you're a woman but because you're traveling to learn and assimilate, whether or not you agree with how life operates. That doesn't mean to be passive, but it does mean to be mindful.

Otherwise, just try to learn some of the local languages so you have an easier time navigating (and because doing so is respectful), and trust your intuition. You've made it this far in life! Besides, I can confidently say that the world is inherently good and, for the most part, people are kind and welcoming and helpful.

What do you find beneficial about traveling alone? What are your pros and cons and advice for solo beginner travelers?

The only con I can think of is feeling lonely, but I'm a firm believer in the notion that loneliness is nothing but a mindset. When you're alone, you've everyone to meet. Plus, you're not restricted by friends' fears, inabilities or apprehensions, or confined to their itineraries, so you can do whatever you want, with whomever you want, whenever you want—and that's hugely liberating.

Besides, our responses to opportunities are too often molded and, therefore, actually tempered by the company we keep. When you travel with familiar faces, you might seldom break out of your comfort zone. You could easily become a bystander instead of someone who actively engages. When you travel alone and make friends of strangers, it opens you up to experiences that ultimately culture you—like learning about religions you've never practiced or tasting foods you've never tried.

But perhaps the biggest pro of traveling solo is that I don't think anything revives a childlike sense of wonder like being in a place where you've only the most rudimentary sense of things. You're forced to communicate in ways beyond words, which beautifully connects humans on a level that doesn't divide us by native tongue. And you discover your own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, comforts and discomforts when you've only yourself on which to rely. The little things, like crossing the street in Hanoi's dizzying motorbike traffic or surviving your first overnight bus journey in India without peeing yourself from all the unsolicited chai tea you were fed, become massive victories.

WomenWerk: What has been the most empowering destination during your travel journey and why?

AnnaMarie: Nepal has by far been one of the most empowering destinations I've traveled to date because I'd never pushed myself so far outside of my comfort zone before—neither physically nor mentally. While I'd never hiked a day in my life, I decided to trek through the Himalayas to cover a story on the scarcity of female trekking guides. In four days, I climbed 3,210 meters in the Annapurna region, sleeping in remote village teahouses along the way with my guide, Shobha, of Black Stork Treks. She kept telling me to "make confidence," and though my body felt like Jell-O, at times I couldn't catch my breath, I was pulling blood-sucking leeches off of my ankles and out of my hair in thunderstorms, and I slid and fell in cow dung a time or two along the way, finishing that trek was the most accomplished I'd ever felt. I met the most inspiring people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities along the trails, with whom I shared stories and words of affirmation over fires at night. And I realized how grateful and privileged I am for my health and the freedom I'm afforded to take the time to go off the grid. It was an incredibly challenging but beautiful journey in one of the most breathtaking, peaceful places on the planet, and it made me confident that I can do anything if I set my mind to it.

When we hear travel, we think flight tickets, hotel costs, excursion costs… What are your tips when it comes to budgeting? Any good websites, apps, tips?

I always travel on a budget by keeping flexible with my travel dates and using search engines like SkyScanner, which allows you to search the cheapest destination by the cheapest month or time of year, and Momondo, which also allows you to search the cheapest destination for your intended travel dates. You always want to search in incognito mode so airlines don't jack up the prices as you close and reopen tabs. Rome2Rio is another super handy app that gives your most convenient and cost-effective routes from getting from Point A to Point B, as well, if ground travel or ferries are options, too.

I also save money on accommodations by staying in hostel dorms, where I can meet more people, or by CouchSurfing, an international network of travelers who open their homes to one another free of charge. I've been using Airbnb a lot lately, too, because I find that you get more bang for your buck (space, kitchens, laundry, etc.) than you might in a hotel room.

Then, of course, there are some money-saving tips like using a credit card that could earn you travel rewards (I use Capital One's Venture Rewards Card, where I get two points for every dollar spent on travel), using a international fee-free debit card (and avoiding multiple ATM charges), and exhausting your options when exchanging money so you get the best rate possible.

WomenWerk: What are the top three items you always have in your traveling bag?

AnnaMarie: I never leave without my Skyroam (the portable Wi-Fi device I rely on when I'm working from remote places or planes, trains and... tuk tuks), a global outlet adapter and my journal where I answer the same three questions every day: some way I pushed myself that scared me, someone who made me think critically/differently on a matter, and something that made me genuinely smile or laugh that day.

There are so many travel Instagram accounts? What are your two favorites?

As a blogger and influencer, I follow a whole host of others for lifestyle photography that really whets my wanderlust. I appreciate how they share their journeys and are personal and engaged with followers via stories and such. But as a journalist, I'm primarily really drawn to accounts like that of @CNTraveler and @AFAR that take the self out of it—the kind of content that captures pure respect for a destination or its people.

You have visited Sri Lanka, Rajasthan, Nepal, Dubai, Thailand, Cambodia, we name it, you’ve been there. But we are curious, What is next? What places do you currently consider goals? What is next for you and Her Report?

When I was in college supposed to be studying for finals, I made myself the most ridiculously exhaustive travel bucket list with almost every country in the world, and something I'd like to check off in each place. I usually travel pretty freely, since I ultimately want to go everywhere. But some of the countries that most excite me include South Africa, where I think I'd like to cage dive with sharks, Peru, where I'm itching to hike Macchu Picchu, and Australia, where I'd love to road trip the east coast and camp in the outback. I'm currently traveling a ton for work, however, (on an airplane from Vancouver to Nashville now!) but I'll be backpacking Central and South America in no planned order for the next few months.


Thoughts? Suggestions? @WomenWerk #WWBlog

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