Q. Do you think that vulnerability is a natural part of many people’s narratives of growth resulting from travel?
Whether travelers acknowledge their vulnerability or not is up to them. It depends on the situation. I’ve grown from uncomfortable travel situations where I wasn’t necessarily vulnerable, but more often than not, I was aware of my own vulnerability. I’ve learned to embrace it, and consequently, I’ve grown more.
Travel makes you confront yourself by putting you in situations you never thought you’d be in, and in that sense, I believe that we can learn so much from our own vulnerability.
It depends on your identity. My male friends will never think about which side of the street they have to walk on. I do because I don’t want to deal with catcalls, even if most men genuinely catcall because they think they are flattering us. As a woman who deals with catcalls, I’m able to relate to other women’s vulnerability and understand how my women of color friends here and back home feel when they are objectified.
In Boston, I’d almost never get cat called, whereas I’ve heard skeezy men say “Mmm, chocolate!” To my black friends while walking down the street with me. Their bodies are racialized and objectified in ways that I didn’t understand until I came to Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, the tables have turned because I’m seen as exotic and objectified because I’m white, so men feel the need to compliment my whiteness and comment on it, when it’s not flattering-it’s offensive because it reduces me to a woman who is valuable only because of her looks.
Walking in the street places me in a relatively vulnerable situation, but as a traveler, I am able to think critically about how I am treated versus how someone else may be treated because of their gender and racial identity.
Walking down the street may make me uncomfortable, but I don’t let my vulnerability stop me from traveling.
Whether it’s walking down the street or recovering from a long-distance breakup, traveling has made me uncomfortable. We can choose to avoid these situations for so long, but we can always choose to grow from them.