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August 3, 2022

Why we should raise our daughters to be travelers

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.

I was about 12 years old when I went on my first trip abroad. It was with a language program in elementary school and  I didn’t want to go but my parents signed me up for it anyways. They took us to Germany for a month, where we had to stay with families scattered in small villages so we can learn proper German. My parents accompanied me to the little bus that took us to Muhlhausen. I was crying, begging them to not send me away.

When I look back at this now, 20 years later I understand why my parents sent me away – they hoped I will learn some amazing German skills there that will help me to get a good job and a good salary later. The wold was very different then in Hungary. This did not happen. Actually, the whole experience was miserable. Our teacher stayed in another village and 3 of us were left with families in a nearby village, 2 of us in another. We didn’t speak German and our host families didn’t speak Hungarian, nor was there any other common language. We kept calling our teacher for help but she never picked up the house phone, when we met her she told us to solve our problems on our own because we were annoying. Back then, there was no Google translate or other translating apps to help us, in fact we didn’t even have mobile phones.

So I totally failed at advancing at my German knowledge then but I gained something I find more valuable. The sense of freedom and the taste of my own power being able to survive so far from home, where I know no one and can’t get anyone to understand me. This turned into some kind of thirst for travel and adventure over the years, even if I upsetted my family and friends by backpacking alone in countries most of the people would not let any women go alone. There were certainly times when I was alone, lonely, harassed by men on the streets or being followed, fell ill or was scared to leave my awful room at night, rather starved but too uncomfortable to get myself some food from the shady streets.

I think that I reached my nadir when I was doubled over with stomach cramps after sitting on a toilet for 4 days suffering from Delhi-belly stylishly in New Delhi, trying to get myself together so I can make it to the train station on time and asking for help from a group of missionaries, who surprisingly refused me. And yet…the feeling of accomplishment I had when I made it to the station, catched the right train, survived the trip without an accident and arriving in Rishikésh, the joy I felt when realizing what I had done—nothing compared to that feeling of overcoming every obstacle in my way.

I would happily have traveled with a friend or a partner, but no one wanted to go where I did or how I did. As I told my sister later, you can’t wait for someone to share your travels—either you go alone or not at all. My sister just turned 16 and she just started to open up to the world. Though she is from the same parents, she was raised very differently from me. Actually, both of my sister were. None of them were forced out of their cocoon to see the world and learn new things, hence both of them became the opposite of me. My 27 years old sister never stepped over the borders of Hungary even though our village is literally right next to the Croatian boarder with the next Croatian town being closer than the closest Hungarian town. So I thought to myself, I can’t let my little sister grow up to be the same. I feel somewhat responsible for her growth and instead of clipping her wings, I want to help her to open them and learn to fly.

I do not have children, but I know if I ever have a daughter I will sell her the joys of travel since she’ll be born. I would take her on road trips and weekend getaways or camping in the mountains. I’ll encourage her to study abroad, sign up for summer school programs or even get student jobs in other countries, take gap year. Of course, I would worry about her and I would worry about my traveling sons, too. But boys seem to seek for adventures early on on their own, while our society tells to girls not to do boyish things like climbing a tree, we teach them it’s not safe to go on a long bike ride around the country neighborhood alone and tell them scary stories to keep them by the side of their mother’s skirt. In reality, girls are born with the same kind of curiosity for the world as boys and they should be able to set out on their own adventures to dive deep into their souls that will eventually lead them to the very wild woman they are supposed to become. So we should let them, of course not recklessly but let them blossom from every trip, every new country, every opportunity to talk to people and to see for herself what the world is like. Because travel changes people—it did me, I am sure. Overcoming fears, taking a chance, trying new things—they all expand our understanding of ourselves and of the world.

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