Recently I watched the film Into the Wild. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I thought it was an absolutely incredible film. It made me want to get up and go wander around the country, but here’s the thing, if we’re being totally honest, the only people that can safely do that, are white dudes.
I barely feel safe walking around my neighborhood at night, am I supposed to feel safe hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere? Hope that some kind hearted person picks me up off the side of the road and lets me stay the night at their place for nothing in return? Hell no. I constantly walk on the left side of the road because that way someone can’t drive up behind me and pull me straight into their car. I get yelled at by strangers when I’m walking in broad daylight. Now, what if I had my thumb up, asking for a ride? There’s probably a good chance that instead of just yelling, one of those men might actually stop. I don’t even want to think about what could happen next, but it’s enough to remind me that hitchhiking as a woman is probably a terrible idea.
We also cannot ignore the fact that race plays a huge role in this as well. Even if you don’t have civilians in the mix, the street is an increasingly dangerous place for people of color, especially black people. Black women are constantly harassed by police who assume they are prostitutes. Black men are being consistently shot and/or killed by police. Those are supposed to be the people protecting them. So if you can’t even trust the police to keep you safe, hitchhiking around the country, especially in rural or southern areas, is completely out of the question if you want to finish your trip alive.
So who does that leave? White dudes. White guys don’t walk down the street wondering if the police are going to make their trip home a living hell. White guys don’t walk down the street at night wondering if each alleyway holds a potential rapist. I envy that. I envy that more than I can possibly express. There are so many things I want to do in life, but I can’t because being a woman in this world holds so many dangers. Don’t even try being a trans woman and hitchhiking. Trans women of color are killed at an extremely high rate.
Watching Into the Wild fueled me with so much lust for travel, but it also filled me with a tinge of despair. Despair at the realization that the world isn’t as open and sprawling for me to explore as it is for some. The realization that if I want to travel the world, I have to take extreme precautions. The realization that traveling alone as a woman is a huge risk. It’s a tough pill to swallow. In my life I’ve had a lot of these realizations. Realizing that walking down the street is different for a woman than for a man. Realizing that being gay is something you have to be careful about letting people know. Realizing I might have to choose between coming out of the closet or getting good grades at a Catholic school. Worrying that people won’t think I’m funny if I’m gay, they’d just think I’m weird or creepy. Realizing that telling men who come on to me that I’m gay isn’t something that will make them back off, in fact sometimes it makes things worse.
All these realizations in mind, when I try to picture myself going on an epic cross country journey with just a backpack, I mostly just see myself in a ditch somewhere. To some it might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s a possibility I, and many others, have to consider very carefully. I know that traveling is extremely important to me when I think about my future, I just have to approach it differently than white guys do.