This Erzu­rum na­tive (pop­u­la­tion 367,250) left her home­town in eastern Turkey when she was 17 and has since lived in six dif­fer­ent coun­tries and trav­elled to more than 30. Wher­ever she is go­ing, Özge Elif Öz­er­doesn’t be­lieve in let­ting fear pick her next d

Marie Claire (Malaysia) - - News -

Find out how an Erzu­rum na­tive has trav­elled the world alone and what’s she done, learnt and seen. An in­spir­ing story for those want­ing to break out from their shell.

WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? My top three fears are: 1) Cock­roaches, 2) Los­ing some­one I love, and 3) Be­ing trapped.

What about the fear of travel? I have won­dered why women from some coun­tries find trav­el­ling alone scarier than oth­ers. How do you ex­plain the dif­fer­ence be­tween the re­sponses of two Uber driv­ers’ to my love for trav­el­ling?

The first I met in New York and he was tak­ing me to the air­port. From my ac­cent and des­ti­na­tion, he gath­ered I was a tourist and asked me, “Where to next?” I said “Mi­ami, and then I don’t know…” Af­ter a 10-minute con­ver­sa­tion on where I have been that year, he com­mented, “That is so cool, you are like a globe trot­ter, a free spirit.”

About 10 months and six coun­tries af­ter that Uber ride, I got to bore another Uber driver with my travel tales – this time in Kuala Lumpur. At the end of our chat, he asked about my age, re­li­gion, and na­tion­al­ity, af­ter which he re­sponded: “Wow, how do your par­ents let you travel even though they are Mus­lims? Also, you are like a boy, you went to all those places with­out any­one… you are not a ‘nor­mal’ girl!” He said it all with a shocked smile. I did not take of­fence; in him, I heard my fa­ther’s wor­ried voice, my neigh­bour’s judg­ment, and the stereo­types that are com­mon in my home coun­try of Turkey.

It took me all the way back to my first trip alone and re­minded me of all the girls I have met on the rooftops of hos­tels, the queues at tem­ple en­trances, and more on the road. I cher­ished those women and the sto­ries they told me. I loved one of the girls’ sto­ries about eat­ing a cock­roach to over­come her fear – so much so, I ac­tu­ally told it to a guy whom I liked, as if it was my own ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m not proud of it, but it did hap­pen.

Th­ese women came from var­i­ous cor­ners of the world but as I scratched my mem­ory and re­called their tales, I re­alised that none of the ones I met were from Asia. Of course Asian women travel, but why does it seem, that there’s not as many of us out there trot­ting the globe on their own?

There are, of course, ob­vi­ous fac­tors like the coun­tries’ eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions and whether a so­ci­ety is more sav­ings- or spend­ing-driven, but I will leave those aside for now and fo­cus on my own ex­pe­ri­ence. As a Turk­ish woman who grew up in the eastern part of Turkey, I had my fair share of be­ing told what to do and not to do. I obeyed them as much as I could and may have even judged some­one who did not, as I did not know any bet­ter then.

The first time I trav­elled abroad was with my mum. We went to Tu­nisia. We pre-booked tours, met the coolest re­tired cou­ples, and had lots of rice with saffron.

If we are so scared of things that might hap­pen, we wouldn’t even be able to go get that snack we have been crav­ing for from the store just two blocks down.

When I came back, I was so ex­cited to share my ex­pe­ri­ences with my friends. One of them told me his fa­ther found it odd that my fa­ther let my mum and I travel alone. Wasn’t he wor­ried what other peo­ple would say, he asked.

I went to my mum and asked her, “Aren’t you wor­ried what oth­ers would say we travel two women alone? We shouldn’t go with­out brother or fa­ther next time!” A strong kid with a will to stand up against peer pres­sure, I clearly was not.

Years later, Turk­ish singer Nil Karaibrahimgil be­came the tar­get of so much love and hate right af­ter she re­leased her mu­sic video for The Free Girl. Ev­ery­one was sing­ing the song and talk­ing about her. It fea­tured a girl with a back­pack hitch­hik­ing her way around Turkey. It wasn’t an un­usual thing to see, con­sid­er­ing Turkey’s many touris­tic at­trac­tions but she was Turk­ish. We were all used to help­ing back­pack­ers who asked for di­rec­tion, with our bro­ken English, but this was dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple com­mented on that video, they said horrific things like “I hope she hitch­hikes my car so she knows what is com­ing” and “She’s not Turk­ish nor Mus­lim”.

As I scrolled through the com­ments, I read be­tween the lines. The mes­sages were clear: Women should not travel alone. It is not safe… She is too young, she should grow up and get mar­ried then she can travel with her hus­band… Isn’t she too old for that kind of ad­ven­ture? She is go­ing to end up em­bar­rass­ing her chil­dren… Well, she went to that coun­try alone, what did you think was go­ing to hap­pen?… At least go with a guy friend or your brother so we know you are safe. We trust you but we don’t trust the oth­ers.

We’ve all heard at least one of them at some point in our lives, and there prob­a­bly is truth in all of them. We’ve heard from our par­ents be­cause they were wor­ried; we’ve heard from that old neigh­bour who also com­mented how wrong it was for girls to play foot­ball – he was not wor­ried, he just needed a time ma­chine. We’ve even heard it from our best friends about how we shouldn’t visit a par­tic­u­lar coun­try if we do not want to be vic­tims of un­savoury ac­tiv­i­ties.

I loved how it seemed I was the one mak­ing the de­ci­sion to be­come a vic­tim for sim­ply book­ing a flight ticket.

There is dan­ger in ev­ery coun­try, in ev­ery place you have not been yet. If we are so scared of things that might hap­pen, we wouldn’t even be able to go get that snack we have been crav­ing for from the store just two blocks down.

I, too, did not be­lieve that I could just grab a back­pack and go. I thought I would lose some­thing and end up in a flood of tears. Well, I was right; I did lose a lot of things and cried a lot, but it was all worth it at the end. I’ve cried in air­ports, bus sta­tions, hos­tels, in the mid­dle of the streets, and at restau­rants. But the more I cried, the more con­fi­dent I got. It’s sim­i­lar to that feel­ing when you ride a bike or skate for the first time and you’re ter­ri­fied of fall­ing. Once you fall, you re­alise it’s not that painful.

I re­mem­ber cry­ing in the sub­urbs of Ahmed­abad, In­dia for los­ing my money to catch the train home. I cried my eyes out. I cried so hard, many peo­ple stopped look­ing at me; they were em­bar­rassed. Af­ter 30 min­utes or so, I started laugh­ing at my­self. I am pos­i­tive I freaked out a cou­ple of kids with my rapid tran­si­tion be­tween cry­ing and laugh­ing as I started to see the com­edy in my sit­u­a­tion. There must be a way out, I just needed to find it. I went home the next day, safe and sound, and more con­fi­dent than I was ever be­fore.

I’m not say­ing that there is no dan­ger in trav­el­ling alone or that it will al­ways end in laugh­ter but then again, is any­one com­pletely safe even in their own home or coun­tries? I have trav­elled to ex­tremely poor coun­tries yet got my bag stolen in a fancy area in Milan, Italy. I had to sit through a sex­ual as­sault tu­to­rial my mum made me at­tend be­fore I went to In­dia and when I came back to Is­tan­bul, I was nearly as­saulted with my mum in her house. That was when the tu­to­rial came handy.

This is life. We can let it scare and scar us, or we can take it on as a chal­lenge and see how ter­ri­fy­ing it can get. We can avoid the risks as much as we know, we can keep a pep­per spray in our bags, we can opt for morn­ing trains over night buses. What we can­not do is let fear or what the neigh­bours might say de­cide our next des­ti­na­tion – only the ticket prices or in­spi­ra­tion we got from that one book we read some time ago.


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