I'm thrilled to be heading to Chicago this spring for the inaugural Women in Travel Summit, March 14-16 at the Palmer House Hilton. I'll be leading a presentation all about editing and also participating in a panel about budget travel - but more than anything I'm thrilled to meet so many inspiring travelers and writers! Hosted by the Go Girl Travel Network (the same team who brings the #girlstravel Twitter chat to life each Monday!), I can't imagine anyone who is more dedicated to sharing women's travel stories and experiences. I've been a a passionate fan of Go Girls' work ever since I first started writing and I'm always proud to work with them, be it through #girlstravel or contributing to their website. I can't wait to see what they plan for WITS!
Many people have asked me if female travelers and travel writers really need their own conference - and my answer is a resounding YES. One of my recent experiences illustrates how women face such unique travel conditions.
Many of you will probably recognize where this picture was taken. This is Brussels' Grand Place, a place often described as the most beautiful square in the world. I must say, I'm inclined to agree! It's just one of the reasons why I included Brussels - a clean, safe, diverse city - on my list of 10 amazing destinations for solo female travelers.
My most recent trip to Brussels saw me waking up before dawn to catch a flight to Istanbul. Hauling myself out of bed an extra 10 minutes early, I stopped in Grand Place to grab a few shots of its iconic buildings bathed in the low light. It wasn't long until I had some company. From the opposite side of the square I could hear a clearly inebriated gentleman approach. While I was just starting my day, his seemed to just be winding down and his incoherent shouts echoed around the square. While he didn't seem to pay any particular attention to me, an unflattering depiction of the gentler sex peppered his sodden shouts.
Instincts built up from years of travel told me this was the time to make a hasty escape before he realized he had an audience.
My instincts were soon in conflict with someone else's, namely my husband's, who was with me the whole time. His excellent French skills were able to translate the rude drunken shouts and - while vile - were certainly in the category of vague ranting, not direct threat. In fact, in the company of a man and with my safety assured, the situation shifted from a frighteningly anxious dilemma to just another example of the potency of local brews.
Safety, independence, communication, security - all the trademark concerns of female travel had flared up in less than a minute. While these concerns do not dominate my travels they are never entirely silenced either, even in some of safest countries in the world, even with my spouse at my side. Every decision I make - from where to sleep, what route to walk, which flight to catch, even what photos to take - has an extra layer of consideration that few male travelers have to take into account.
There are immeasurable joys woven into female travel and travel writing as well, like the time I had a cherry infused pedicure in Traverse City and I ended up getting some hot leads on a local (female!) ghost. Or sharing some secret giggles with a female customs official in Myanmar. Or bonding over late night chocolate pancakes with other travel bloggers in Sydney. And that is why I'm so happy to be part of the #WITS community, to connect with other women who travel and write and are making their own path in the world and who understand my experiences, my fears and dream, my hopes and my reservations.
I hope to see you all in Chicago!