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I'm A Young Woman Who Loves To Travel Alone -- Here's Why

HuffPost logo HuffPost 29/04/2016 Refinery29

© Provided by The Huffington Post The sunburnt earth, a dusty red in the midday heat, taunted me. Dandelion weeds grew in the unlikeliest of places, nestled in the cracks of a cinder block wall, between the spokes of a long-retired bicycle wheel. I was squatting, making my own shade. Sobbing.

In the town of Olinda, in northeast Brazil, I was halfway through a four-month, solo surfing exploration down the Central and South American coastline. I was frustrated, physically exhausted, and crumbling. I had just left the condo I intended to stay in for the duration of Carnival, the annual pre-Easter celebrations, because it didn't feel right. My flatmates, fellow tourists, were simply too eager to party. My gut told me something bad was going to happen, and I wasn't going to wait around to find out.

Pacing at the local bus stop, I ferociously ripped out the dandelion weeds, fighting through tears. A group of glass-eyed teenage boys in neon Nike shirts eyed me, amused. It was at that moment that I realised everywhere in Olinda would be sold out for Carnival. I knew my host in Maceió, my next destination, was flexible, so I hoped to head there early. But I had no way of contacting him, no way of knowing if he was even there. So I waited and waited for a ride out of town.

Except the bus out of town never came. It was Carnival, and the long-haul buses weren't running.

This was far from the surfing adventure I had imagined.

A weepy mess, I realised I had unwittingly attached a huge amount of symbolism to my present condition; I seemed to lack some innate characteristic that this particular journey demanded. I was failing. And then the sun began to lower in the sky.

I was travelling with two surfboards, a duffel bag, three cameras, five lenses, and a laptop - over 200 pounds of gear. It was now dusk, and there was no place to go and no bus in sight.
Was I foolish for travelling alone? Should I have just stayed home?

No, I told myself, I belong here.

Last month, the bodies of two Argentine backpackers, Marina Menegazzo, 21, and María José Coni, 22, were found stuffed in plastic bags and dumped on the beach in Montañita, on Ecuador's Pacific coast. According to media reports, the two women were raped and killed by two men, who reportedly said they were going to help the women with accommodation.

The news was heartbreaking. These women were seeing the world, and I'm certain, learning about themselves in the process. But the aftermath of their deaths was arguably even more tragic.

The response that emerged on social media was upsetting, yet all too familiar: Menegazzo and Coni were blamed for their own murders. Many online commenters suggested that by travelling "alone" - without the company of men - the women had invited trouble.

Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta responded to the victim-blaming by penning a Facebook post from the imagined perspective of Menegazzo and Coni as they were being raped and murdered. "But worse than death was the humiliation which came after," the post reads. As of March 23, it has been shared more than 730,000 times.

Ricocheting through social media platforms, women worldwide have responded to the criticism and victim-shaming with #viajosola, or "I travel alone."

They have posted pictures, explaining why it's necessary for them to see the world, and defending their right to explore without harassment or discrimination.

Māuruuru Tahiti. #alexgoestotahiti #sunsets

A photo posted by Alexandra Cheney (@alexandracheney) on

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