10 Travel Tips for Adventure Ladies

In about a month, I’ll be leaving the U.S. to embark on the biggest adventure of my life: a 6-7 week trek through South America. Even though I’ve done a fair bit of traveling, mostly in Europe, I consider myself an amateur when it comes to adventure travel and backpacking. But as I plan for this trip, I can’t help but realize that I’ve picked up quite a few tips and tricks along the way–knowledge I’m excited to drop right here and now in this list of my Top 10 Travel Tips for Adventure Ladies.

1.  Use your body as a hiding place for valuables. Okay, I’m not going to go so far as to suggest hiding things in body cavities (not super hygienic, I’m told) but your body is the most secure space you’ve got. First of all, wear a money belt. I know they’re dorky and uncool and yes, they feel like a sweaty pad cushioning your pelvis, but they are effective when used correctly. First of all, do not store your walkabout money in there. It’s not a fanny pack. You are not a kangaroo. The only items in there should be your passport, a credit card and some cash for emergencies. Do NOT use it as a substitute for a wallet. Do not pull it out of your pants when making purchases. It’s supposed to be a secret, guys. That’s the whole point.

If you’re staying at hostels, learn to sleep with your valuables in your underwear. Or, at least learn to snuggle them while you’re sleeping. I developed a system where I’d put my wallet and money belt in my pillowcase under my head and shove my camera and iPod down by my lady castle for safekeeping. Traveling with a smart phone? Guess what! It’s your new boob pillow.

2. If you’re a lady who menstruates, get a menstrual cup. I’m pretty sure God created the menstrual cup as a way to apologize to women for the pain of childbirth and not being able to pee standing up. I’m not kidding around. Get one now. Traveling with a menstrual cup means that you don’t have to fill precious space in your bag with tampons. It means that you don’t have to figure out where to buy tampons in unfamiliar countries, or how to ask for them in a foreign language. They’re also perfect for camping, because who wants to pack up and carry out their used tampons? Not this girl. Oh, and they save you around $200 per year–money that you could be saving for your next adventure.

3.  Wet Wipes are the shit. Seriously. They are way better than hand sanitizer for those times when you want to touch food but can’t find a place to wash up. Wiping down your face, neck, and chest provides serious refreshment on those days when you’re touring in the hot sun. They also double as a shower when the hostel shower is out of order or the sink water smells mysteriously of bleach, or you’re spending the night on a train and would really like to stop smelling so bad. Just wipe down your armpits and crotchal area and you’ll feel like a new woman.

4. If you’re a lady who shaves, stop. I’m serious. Just stop shaving. You’re on vacation. You will never be so free from the pressures of the American beauty ideal. Embrace it. Let it grow. Give yourself a chance to feel what it’s like to grow out your natural leg hair. Discover what it’s like to have armpit hair. I promise you that no one around you will give a crap. Plus, when you return home, your impressive body hair will stand as a testamant to your badassery. Cherish it. You have the rest of your life to deal with stubble and razor burn.

6.  If you’re rocking the sexy nerd look with some sweet frames, bring a back-up pair. I’m serious. I have terrible sight and I wear my glasses every day.  When I was planning a 9-day trip to Belize, my dad warned me to bring a back-up pair. But I was like, “Naw, Dad, I’m fine.” After all, I take very good care of my glasses. I never lose them or break them. What could go wrong? (Oh, my hubris!) Well. One day in Belize I encountered a monkey, who immediately ran up to me and snatched my glasses off my face. Yes. So the moral of the story is that you should always bring back-up glasses because you never know when a monkey will appear and try to STEAL THINGS FROM YOUR FACE.

7.  Take care of the ounces and the pounds will take care of themselves. No, this has nothing to do with dieting. It’s about packing light. Literally. I first heard this phrase from some backpackers I met on the Appalachian Trail. They were explaining how they chose each item in their pack with special care. They chose the lightest tent. The lightest sleeping bag. The lightest shoes.** They chose the lightest toothbrush. Even if it’s only a matter of an ounce or two, those ounces add up. If you don’t want to be carrying around a super heavy pack — and trust me you don’t — pack light. Make a pile of everything you need. Then cut that pile in half. Then cut it in half again. (Don’t worry, if you realize you need something, you can always buy it.) Then, choose the lightest versions of all those things. It will be worth it.

**This is why Crocs were invented, people. They were designed for backpackers because they weigh virtually nothing and protect you from stubbed toes when you’re walking around your campsite in the dark.

8. Perfect the art of the assertive “NO.” Tourists are targets, and as a lady, you are a double target. People will want to take advantage of you either by trying to sell you things at unreasonable prices, playing on your privileged-lady-heartstrings by begging for money, trying to steal your money, or sometimes by assaulting you. One of the best lines of defense is the assertive “NO.” Having been conditioned by The Patriarchy to always be pleasing, women are not always good at saying no. A lot of times we apologize when we say no, or we smile. Don’t do this. An assertive “NO” is loud, serious, and unapologetic. Hold your eyes steady and look right at the person bothering you/invading your space/following you/grabbing your arm. Say “No” loudly. Project. It should sound different from your usual conversational tone. Draw the sound up from down in your gut, round and deep. It should reverberate. Practice this in the mirror. Practice it a lot so that in the moment, when you might be scared or anxious, it will come as a reflex.

Of course, the assertive “NO” is not a safety guarantee, but it can be a good way to preempt situations by letting people know that you are not an easy target. Of course, if you feel unsafe you should always trust your instincts and try to remove yourself from dangerous situations and people as quickly as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

9. If something bad happens, seek help and support from friends and counselors from your home country. Every country/culture has its own way of handling or even recognizing sexual assault. Unfortunately, you may not get a helpful reaction from local authorities. (In some cultures, you might experience victim blaming/shaming, or encounter the attitude that sexual assault isn’t a big deal.) Get in touch with people you trust, people from home. If you can afford it, buy a phone card and call a crisis hotline from your home country. If you’re studying abroad, call up your university’s study abroad office or the counselor’s office. Go to an internet cafe and connect that way. Connect.

10. Don’t be afraid to take risks. As Jaclyn Friedman explains so well in her new book about sex, life is never without risk; we can only pick and choose which risks we feel are worth taking. For me, and probably for you, brave adventure lady, travel is worth the risks. On my most recent trip I got stung by fire ants, had a close-enough encounter with a coral snake, and my throat nearly closed up from a freak allergic reaction. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Travel is perhaps the best way to learn how to cope with things going wrong–anything from a cancelled flight to getting caught in a monsoon to getting robbed. When you get home, you will be able to handle anything. You will be a zen master.

Bad things happen in this world. Some of them might happen to you. But staying home doesn’t guarantee your safety, so you might as well see the world. Be brave. Make friends. Try the food.

Go forth, adventure ladies. Go forth.

Anti-feminist, anti-sex bloggers do not speak for me or my generation

Well, that pesky feminist-antagonizer is at it again. Susan Walsh, who only recently became “known” to the internet world for her vicious and nonsensical attack on Jaclyn Friedman, is now arguing against sex-positivism with another attack that specifically mentions Jacyln and Amanda Marcotte in the title, which is not surprising since that strategy paid off so well for her last time. Her post really doesn’t say much we don’t already know about her beliefs, but some of the arguments she is throwing out in the comments are so bizarre that they are hard to ignore.

Susan Walsh says:  I have no interest in where JF has sex, with how many people, or anything else. What I am interested in is her idea, that this model can work. If more than a few outliers were to actually adopt such a model, the economy, then society, would collapse. For this reason, it will always be the talk of the fringe.

I would love to see some data (from a credible source, mind you) that proves that “if the world were having casual sex” the economy, and then society, would collapse. Also, it would be great if you could show me some data proving that it’s only a few “outliers” who have embraced casual sex and sex-positivism. Consider it a challenge – anyone who can do it gets a cookie. (Hint: you’re never getting that cookie.)

The second thing that caught my attention was this:

Hooking Up says:

Both Friedman and Marcotte are middle-aged so I imagine that aging, along with drinking the sex-positive kool aid for so many years, frees them to be detached. But it’s not a prescription for your average 20 something who still wants to experience “true love” and “bonding” – which comes with a bit of possessiveness as it’s territory.

Susan Walsh says:

@Hooking Up

Welcome, thanks for leaving a comment! It’s interesting that you raise the question of age. I’m finding that nearly all of the women I’m in opposition to on this issue are in their late 30s or 40s. I suspect they don’t want to know what is really going on for women on campus, or women in their 20s looking for “true love.” The truth is that when Marcotte and Friedman graduated from college, hookup culture was just taking hold. They’re a generation to old to be promoting no-strings sex to students.
I’m older still – but I don’t speak for myself, I speak for the women who come to me for support in a culture that is fairly hostile to relationships. We need to be objective and familiarize ourselves with the research, whether or not it fits with our political objectives. Failure to acknowledge failed policy continually puts a new generation of women at risk.

So apparently, women who are “middle-aged” (I’m not exactly sure when 30’s became middle aged) might be able to practice casual sex without emotional devastation, but only because they have, er, numbed to the pain or something? So apparently Jaclyn Friedman and Amanda Marcotte are “too old” to speak for young women. Susan Walsh, who is older still, however, claims that she can – and does – speak for young women.

The thing is, Jaclyn and Amanda never claimed to speak for young women. Jaclyn’s piece, My Sluthood, Myself, was so powerful in part because she spoke only for herself and was very careful to point out that sex and relationships are different for EVERYBODY and cannot be generalized. In fact, that is the basis of the idea of “sex-positivism” that Walsh thinks will destroy society.

Susan Walsh, however, does claim to speak for young women and that offends me. As a young woman. It’s easy to speak for the handful of young women you socialize with, and maybe even the ones who read your blog. Susan Walsh says she speaks for the young women that come to her, and that would be fine if she recognized the fact that she’s not speaking for ALL young women – just some. And that is why in my response, I would love to be able to say that I speak for my entire generation, but obviously I cannot.

But I can say that I personally disagree with Susan Walsh just about as vehemently as possible. I can also say that the young people I associate with and the young people who comment on my blog also disagree with Susan Walsh.

I believe that casual sex can be a healthy and fulfilling experience. I believe that women are no more likely than men to “get attached” to a sexual partner during a hookup, despite Walsh’s claims about oxytocin, which Heather Corinna does an excellent job of dismantling using actual research at Scarleteen. I believe that people can enjoy periods of causal sex and then still have perfectly healthy monogamous relationships down the road if that is what they so desire. I believe that people can have sex, casual or otherwise, with any number of partners without destroying their chances at “finding love.”

Oh, and I don’t believe that if the world embraced sex-positivism, the economy, and then society, would collapse.

I am 24 years old. It was my generation that all those New York Times articles referred to when they wrote about “hook up culture.” Hell, they were referring to me. During my college years, I was a sex educator and sex counselor for my fellow classmates. I wrote a sex column for the school newspaper. And if, for some reason, being 3 years out of college disqualifies me from being considered a “young woman,” I would like to share an excerpt from a piece I published in my school newspaper in 2006, when I was 20 years old.

I wrote this BEFORE I identified as a feminist, before I began reading sites like Feministing, before I had ever heard of Jaclyn Friedman, Amanda Marcotte, or  Jessica Valenti. These were the conclusions I came to as a young woman in college based on my own experiences, the experiences of my friends, and the experiences of those I counseled, not to mention the courses on sexuality and gender theory that I took.

From “Meditations on Hooking Up”

Even Sex and the City did an episode on women having sex like men where they posed the question: Is it even possible for women to have sex without emotional attachment? I think it is definitely possible. I think it is possible for the women to have sex without attachment, just as I also think women can get attached after having sex. Same goes for everyone else, of any gender. I also think the same person can have sex with one person and feel nothing, then have sex with another person and be unable to keep emotions out of it.

But having sex without emotion is not having sex like a man. And having sex with attachment is not having sex like a woman. Its having sex like a human, and we are all capable of an entire spectrum of emotional responses, or lack thereof.

But Walsh would like you to believe that her cohort is the mainstream and all us sex positive people are on the fringe. She included a poll on her blog post, the results of which I’m sure she’ll include in her follow-up post. How much do you want to bet the results back up her position?

After my last exchange with Walsh, I swore to myself that I would not let myself get baited and that I would take the high road. Or, that if I was going to be snarky, I would at least do it in a mature fashion. I admit that a previous dig at her for being afraid sluts were coming to steal her husband was a tad immature – and sadly, I’m the one she’s referring to when she wrote: “Until now, sex pos fems have portrayed dissenters primarily as women who are afraid that the ‘sluts are stealing all the menz.’ A favorite theme in their attacks on me was that I fear losing my husband to a woman like Friedman.” But at least I know when I’m being immature. It’s ironic – as it turns out – that it was me, a 24 year old, who stooped to her level, rather than the other way around.

Unlike Walsh, I do not claim to be able to speak for entire generations or entire genders. I do not claim to know what kind of sex is best for everybody else. I do not make wild, outlandish statements without data to back them up. I have respect for scholarly research, and take the time to evaluate a source’s credibility and bias. I do not respond to reasoned criticism by saying “nah, nah, I got more comments than you.” And I do not presume to believe that polling my own blog audience would give me a representative sampling of public opinion.

So no, I cannot speak for all young women and disprove Walsh’s ideas about my generation’s beliefs about sex and relationships. But I can add my own voice to the mix, and invite others to as well.

The reality is that people of all generations and of all genders have a diverse array of beliefs about sex and relationships. And that, in a nutshell, is why I believe in a sex positive model that validates that diversity of belief.

But if I were hard-pressed to make a generalization, I would argue that there is one thing MOST of us can agree on: that “If more than a few outliers were to actually adopt such a model, the economy, then society, would collapse…” is a load of crap.

My sluthood, my hero, and my gag order

A couple days ago, I took a quick breather to catch up on some blogs on my phone. Sitting on the porch outside the craziness of a conference full of hungry people, I found and read Jaclyn Friendman’s earth-shattering piece, My Sluthood, Myself. This piece hit me like nothing has in months – years. Perhaps it was because I read it 10 hours into a hectic 13 hour day at work, or perhaps it was because Jaclyn’s honesty was so raw and pure, but My Sluthood, Myself left me holding back tears and whispering “thank you.”

In an act of bravery both fierce and shocking, Jaclyn wrote: “Last summer, I suffered the breakup of a relationship I’d thought would be permanent. Since then, I’ve had sexual interactions of the orgasmic kind with 9 different people, none of which I was ever in a committed relationship with.” The piece goes on to explain how “sluthood” saved her from the “rock and a hard place” dichotomy of serious relationships she wasn’t ready for, or celibacy. Sluthood gave her another choice. She writes:

I’m telling you this because sluthood saved me. Sluthood gave me the time and space to nurse a shattered heart. It gave me a place where I could exist in pieces, some of me craving touch, some of me still too tender to even expose to the light. Sluthood healed the part of me that felt my body and my desires were grotesque after two years in a libido-mismatched partnership. Now I felt hot, wanted, powerful. My desire and enthusiasm was an asset, not an unintended weapon. Even now, with more time passed, now, when I am actually ready for and wanting a more emotional connection, sluthood keeps me centered. It keeps me from confusing desire and affection with something deeper. It means I have another choice besides celibacy and settling. It means I won’t enter another committed relationship just to satisfy my basic need for sex and affection. It gives me more choices, it makes room for relationships to evolve organically, to take the shape they will before anyone defines them.

And she writes:

I’m telling you this because sluthood requires support. Because any woman who indulges these urges carries with her a lifetime of censure and threat. That’s a loud chorus to overcome. A slut needs a posse who finds her exploits almost as delicious as she finds them herself, who cares about her safety and her stories and her happiness but not one whit about her virtue. A slut alone is a slut in difficulty, possibly in danger.

And here is where I have to stop. I can no longer continue to write how I feel. I cannot type the words that explain why her words resonate so deeply with me, and elicit such an emotional response from me. As I am typing this right now, I am starting to cry.

I am not Jaclyn Friedman. I am not the director of an organization. I am not the author of a renowned book. I am not a feminist celebrity. I do not have job stability. I do not have the privilege of discussing my “personal business” on the internet, no matter how much I want to. It is already enough of a professional risk to keep this blog – a blog about (gasp!) feminism and (gasp!) sexual health – nevermind discuss my sex life or my feelings about sexuality. I can’t. I am censored. I am voiceless. My Sluthood, Myself gave me, and women like me, a voice.

Women may have the right to vote, to work, to wear what they like, but we still do not have the freedom to speak openly about our sexuality, especially if it does not fit within the lines of what our patriarchal culture deems appropriate. We don’t have the freedom to challenge assumptions, like the assumption that sluthood is a sign of emotional disturbance or evil. We do not have the freedom to explain how sluthood can be healing, uplifting, empowering – or to explain how women that ultimately are looking for love and monogamy can still find periods of sluthood fulfilling.

Jaclyn is in a position to do so, but giving voice to something like sluthood is no small thing. She has, in effect, put herself on the line for the rest of us, ready to take the brunt of the slut-shaming that inevitably would follow. Like this bucket of thinly-veiled feminist-hatred from “Life Coach” Stuart Schneiderman:

In a sense Friedman is martyring herself for a cause, and attempting to lure young women into going home with men they don’t know to explore their sexuality and liberate themselves from….

Friedman does not say it, but women who engage in these behaviors most often liberate themselves from their modesty and dignity. But why quibble.

Friedman is not martyring herself for just any cause. She is a card-carrying feminist and is helping to recruit young women into her own cause.

For anyone who is still puzzled by how it happens that so many young women have chosen to participate in the hookup culture, Friedman provides more evidence that feminists have been encouraging the behavior. Not all feminists, of course, but more than enough to influence young women.

Mr. Schneiderman believes in shame. His latest book argues for the use of “the concept of shame as a basis for a reinvigoration of American political and moral values.” (Really.) It should be no surprise that he manages to roll together all the stigmas that women like *us* (is it even safe to say “us?”) face: the doctrine of “feminine modesty,” slut-shaming, the idea that feminists are dangerous “recruiters” of young women, etc. And he blames it all on Jaclyn, my hero, the one who was brave enough to give me a voice.

She wrote:

I’m telling you this because juries still think women who even look like they might possibly be sluts are “asking for it.” I’m telling you this because some people still think it’s OK to drive a teenage girl to suicide because she was probably a slut. I’m telling you this because our policymakers would rather girls get sometimes-fatal diseases than be perceived as condoning sluthood. I’m telling you this because it’s important for everyone to understand: Sluthood isn’t a disease, or a wrong path, or a trend that’s ruining our youth. It isn’t just for detached, unemotional women who “fuck like men,” (as if that actually meant something), consequences be damned. It isn’t ever inevitable that sluthood should inspire violence or shame. Sluthood isn’t just a choice we should let women make because women should be free to make even “bad” choices. It’s a choice we should all have access to because it has the potential to be liberating. Healing. Soul-fulfilling. I’m telling you this because sluthood saved me, in a small but life-altering way, and I want it to be available to you if you ever think it could save you, too. Or if you want it for any other reason at all. And because even if you don’t ever want sluthood for yourself, you’re going to be called upon to support a slut. I’m telling you this because when that happens, I want you to say yes.

Schneiderman is wrong about Jaclyn being a martyr. She is not, because we will not let her be taken down by the bullshit he and other small-minded individuals spew. I – we – are her posse, and she will not go through this alone.