How Can Travel Empower Young Girls?

travel planning
Shutterstock / gorillaimages

In honor of International Day of the Girl, we’ve asked five female travel writers to write a letter to a younger version of herself, telling the girl tales of the experiences she can look forward to, and the lessons she will learn from travel.

Through stories of language lessons realized from crashing a car into a ditch in Spain, or the realization after visiting a Tanzanian village that it doesn’t matter if your jeans are trendy, these women reveal the educational power of travel, and how essential it is for every girl to explore the world.

Read the letters on AOL Travel>>

We’d also like to celebrate some of the adventurous women who pioneered new frontiers of exploration. A visit to these sites and others that celebrate women in travel may just fuel the dreams for the girls of a new generation.

Aviation fans can’t miss Amelia Earhart’s childhood home in Atchison, Kansas. Find out what to do while you’re here, plus where to eat and local tips. See the guide>>

Western women are some tough cookies, and you can learn about the cowgirls, pioneer women and other adventurers who cultivated the Wild West on a road trip through Texas and Oklahoma. See the route>>More International Day of the Girl Stories:

In sharing these stories we hope you are inspired to Raise Your Hand for girls’ education, helping us spread the word on this crucial effort.

Qatar Airways Makes Female Employees Seek Permission To Marry

qatar airways plane
thewamphyri, Flickr

Imagine having to ask your boss for permission before getting married. It sounds crazy, but it’s the reality for tens of thousands of Qatar Airways’ employees. A report by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) claims the airline abuses many of its employees’ basic labor rights, particularly in the case of female workers.

The ITF says the terms and conditions in a typical employee’s contract state that women must “obtain prior permission from the company” if they want to get married. It’s not clear what the consequences of tying the knot without getting the green light would be, but based on what happens if you fall pregnant, we’re guessing the outcome wouldn’t be good. Women who become pregnant are required to notify Qatar Airways as soon as they find out. If they don’t, it’s considered a breach of contract. And even if they do speak up — well, they could be fired anyway, according to the report.While labor laws in Qatar might be tough on workers, more than 90% of the airline’s employees are foreigners, which means they don’t enjoy the same work-related freedoms they would have in their home countries.

The news follows controversy over a Turkish Airlines policy change earlier this year, which forbade female flight attendants from wearing red lipstick, dark nail polish and silver eye makeup, as well as banning them from coloring their hair blonde or red.

Should Women Travel Alone? Of Course!

News of the death of an American woman vacationing in Turkey made headlines across the country, but her tragic death also raises an important question because the mother of two – who was missing for nearly two weeks before police found her body over the weekend – was traveling by herself.

So it begs the question, should women travel alone?

Heading off on a solo voyage naturally comes with some safety risks regardless of gender, but it does seem like women have it worse. For one thing, muggers and criminals may see solo women as walking targets since they’re less likely to fight back than a male. And for another, there are the cultural differences. While we might view women as being equal to men, there are many parts of the world where old-fashioned attitudes persist. In some countries, women that are traveling by themselves may be viewed as having “loose morals,” for want of a better term, and as a result, they may attract negative attention from men.

Traveling by yourself as a woman also means you may hesitate to do things you would otherwise jump at the chance to do if you were in a group. Got invited to a local party? Or asked back to someone’s house for dinner? These kinds of things can be great opportunities to immerse oneself in local culture, but as a solo woman, the opportunities come laced with risks. Even simply going out to enjoy local nightlife means having to contend with unwanted – and potentially dangerous – attention from men.On the other hand, solo travel comes with its benefits. Ask anyone who’s done it (myself included) and they’ll tell you that hitting the road on your own is extremely rewarding. Traveling by yourself successfully can be a real confidence booster, helping you realize you’re capable of much more than you thought. Solo travel also has a way of forcing you out of your shell. Even if you’re shy or quiet, you’ll meet so many more people – travelers and locals alike – since it’s a lot less daunting to approach and befriend a solo traveler than a big group of tourists. And let’s not forget that sometimes traveling alone is your only choice – if you don’t have anyone who’ll accompany you, it’s either go by yourself or don’t go at all.

At the end of the day though, here’s the best reason I can offer for traveling alone: you can do what you want, when you want, how you want. So while you might be faced with some obstacles, don’t let the risks put you off from making that amazing solo journey. Remember that bad things can happen to you anywhere, including in your hometown – so fear shouldn’t stop you from living your travel dreams. As long as you use some common sense and take a few precautions, you should be perfectly fine.

5 Quick Tips for Staying Safe

1. Start small. If you haven’t traveled by yourself before, start by visiting countries that are used to seeing women out and about on their own. For example, Australia, England and Scandinavia are all destinations that are accepting of female independence. They’re also culturally similar and easy to get around, making them a good starting point for newbie solo travelers.

2. Dress modestly. You don’t have to walk around in a burqa, but avoid wearing any kind of clothing that might draw unwanted attention. You also want to make sure you’re respecting the local culture by covering your shoulders or knees if that’s what’s expected. This is a thoughtful thing to do whether you’re by yourself or not.

3. Don’t say you’re alone. If you’re feeling vulnerable, avoid telling strangers that you’re traveling by yourself. Pretend that you’re meeting friends or better still, your husband. Wearing a fake wedding band can do wonders to deter unwanted suitors.

4. Avoid wandering around by yourself at night. Women are certainly going to be more vulnerable walking down dark, isolated streets. If you do want to go out in the evenings, stick to well-populated areas, don’t get too drunk, and have a plan for how to get back to your hotel.

5. Take public transport. Taxis might be convenient, but being alone in a car with a stranger carries its risks – some travelers get mugged, or worse. Taking a crowded bus or subway might be more hassle, but there’s safety in numbers. Of course, this is a tough one to generalize since not all public transit stops are located in safe areas and not all taxi drivers are dodgy – at the end of the day you’ll have to listen to your gut about what’s safe and what’s not.

Do you think it’s a good idea for women to travel alone? Share your thoughts in the comments!

[Photo Credit: Flickr users Garry Knight; Daran Kandasamy]

Video Of The Day: ‘Half The Sky’ Visits Cambodia’s Toul Kork Road

Watch Meg Ryan Visits Cambodia’s Toul Kork Road on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Half the Sky” is more than a four-hour PBS documentary series; it is a movement to turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.

The documentary, which premiered earlier this month, is the film manifestation of the best-selling book by New York Times writers Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It follows Kristof and six American actresses as they travel to different countries in the developing world to explore issues facing women, from gender-based violence in Sierra Leone to sex slavery in Cambodia (featured in this clip).

The film swings from inspirational, to horrifying, to unspeakably sad. But while watching it will undoubtedly be a heavy experience, it will also be one that hopefully impels you to action – or at the very least provides a greater awareness of the things you witness in the places you travel.

The full documentary can currently be viewed only on PBS, but selected clips are available online.

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: Europe’s ‘Most Beautiful’ Women And Other Reasons To Love Bulgaria

hot bulgarian womenI had to go to Bulgaria just to see if Bill Bryson was full of crap. In his book, “Neither Here Nor There,” published in 1991, Bryson wrote, “Sofia has, without any doubt, the most beautiful women in Europe.” I was in college when I read the book, and at the tail end of the Cold War it seemed like an improbable assertion. We’d been led to believe that women behind the Iron Curtain were ugly, and, given the fact that our only exposure to them was watching the Olympics, where all we saw were women with hairy armpits named Olga who could powerlift 800 kilos, it was easy to believe the jingoistic Cold War propaganda.

But Bryson’s line about Bulgarian women stayed with me, and in 1997, when I was 24, I finally had a chance to see the place for myself on the tail end of a long overland trip that started in Portugal and concluded in central Turkey. For a young, single guy on a tight budget, Bulgaria was like paradise. In smaller cities and towns, you could get by quite comfortably on $10 per day.

A bed in someone’s home went for $5, you could eat out for a buck and big bottles of beer went for as little as 30 cents. There were cities filled with history, medieval monasteries to discover, beaches on the Black Sea, and of course, dark-haired, head-turning beauties everywhere. But were they, as Bryson insisted, the most beautiful women in Europe?The Internet is filled with contrived lists ranking the best-looking women and men around the world. A list of the top ten cities with the most beautiful women on Traveler’s Digest, for example, places Kiev at the top of the heap, but Varna, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea came in a very respectable fifth.
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Trying to quantify beauty on an international, comparative basis is, in a way, ridiculous because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But just about any seasoned traveler will tell you that they’ve been to a place where they found the locals to be simply irresistible. I’ve never heard any Western women rave about Central and Eastern European men, but there is something very compelling about the women in this region. (Traveler’s Digest’s list of top ten cities with the hottest men completely excludes this region.)

sexy bulgarian womanBut are Bulgarian women the best looking in Europe? I wouldn’t argue with Bryson or anyone else who makes that case but the competition is awfully fierce. I’ve been to a handful of countries around the world, which I won’t name, where I didn’t find members of the sex particularly attractive, but one can make a pretty compelling case that the women of almost any country in Europe are the most beautiful. If you don’t believe me, take a long walk through the streets of Belgrade, Kiev, Zagreb, Budapest, Copenhagen, Berlin, Rome or Madrid, and you’ll see what I mean.

After I joined the Foreign Service and was posted to Skopje, Macedonia, for two years as a married man, I found other reasons to love Bulgaria. After Bryson visited Sofia in 1990, he wrote, “I’m certain that if I come back to Sofia in five years, it will be full of Pizza Huts and Laura Ashleys and the streets will be clogged with BMW’s.” His timetable may have been a bit off, but he was basically right.

Sofia is a very interesting city but living in Skopje, I was most impressed by the fact that they had Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway. (Married men can still enjoy munchkins and foot-long meatball subs.) But my favorite places in Bulgaria were all outside the capital – I loved Veliko Tarnovo’s gracefully crumbling architecture, Varna’s tacky seaside charms, Melnik’s wineries, Blagoevgrad’s youthful energy, Koprivshtitsa’s colorful houses and Plovdiv’s sense of history.

bansko bulgarian gypsy bandBut the place that really hooked me was Bansko, a lively little town nestled in the Pirin Mountains in the southwest of the country. Bansko now hosts a World Cup ski race and it has plenty of hotels and bars, but it’s still a place where local farmers walk their cows through the streets, wedding processions take over the center on weekends and photos of the dead are plastered all over buildings.

Bansko’s bars alone make the place worth a visit. They serve the excellent Pirinsko beer on draught, dirt cheap, and feature live gypsy bands almost every night of the week. But what I liked best of all about Bansko, was the way I felt each time we visited: blissfully cut off from the wider world and all of its problems.

Read more from “A Traveler In The Foreign Service.”

(Photos courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis on Flickr and Dave Seminara)