I hope Annie and I raise a daughter with the confidence to take on the world, but thinking about my kid – especially my daughter Harper – traveling as far and wide as I have, scares me a little. I’m not proud of thinking the “especially my daughter” thoughts. It seems wrong thinking that Harper would be any less capable of handling traveling solo than my yet-to-be born son, but I feel like there are just more challenges out there for girls. I sent a note to Rachel Friedman, author of The Good Girls Guide to Getting Lost, asking her to set me straight. She does so in this guest post.
Ladies and gentlemen, moms and dads, and girls, I present to you Rachel Friedman.
An Open Letter to the Parents of Daughters Who Wish to Travel the World
It’s me, Rachel. We haven’t formally met. I am not a licensed medical or psychological professional. I’m only a writer – a profession that requires little in the way of legitimate qualifications. Still, I hope you’ll hear me out. I’ve heard that your daughters – young women in their late teens and early twenties – have of late been considering the idea that they might be of the constitution and comportment to have some adventures. Maybe your daughter is a new high school graduate or in the middle of her college years or just graduated from some ivy-covered university where she spent hours poring over literature and philosophy and debating gender performance. Your daughter is educated and free-spirited and full of wonder, thanks in large part to the opportunities you have provided her.
Now, I know, parents, you wish for your daughters’ happiness. And what better way, you might be thinking, to secure her happiness than to secure her, well, her security. A good, steady job. A nice boyfriend or girlfriend. Early entry into a 401K plan. You might want these things for her. We are nearing graduation time after all and after graduation comes “real life.”
But your daughter has different ideas. She has developed a mind of her own during her studies, has gotten ideas from books that lead her to believe that perhaps another kind of education awaits her after graduation – the kind that involves leaping into the great unknown, of setting out on a journey. She has heard talk of cheap student fares and raucous hostels, whispered rumors of Incan ruins at dawn and dingoes at dusk. And she is intrigued. More than intrigued. Dear parents: brace yourselves: your daughter wants to travel the world.
I know you want to encourage her in this endeavor. You do. But you’re worried. Fair enough. It’s a daunting prospect to watch your daughter strap on a backpack and strut off to Europe or Australia or maybe even South America. First off, you’re worried she might get hurt. You’re good feminist parents who have raised an independent young woman who believes she can do anything. And she can. So maybe you’re feeling a little guilty for fretting more about her than you do would a son, who might get hurt, but who does not typically have the additional prospects of bodily violation. It would be naïve not to acknowledge that men and women move differently through the world. When I was with a man in South America, no local looked twice at me. When I was alone or with my female friend, my every move was catalogued with a series of whistles and whispered comments. Only once in my travels did this talk extend into anything physical, when I was groped on a street in Bolivia. I won’t lie: this was scary. Did it traumatize me? No. Did it upset me? Yes. Did it ultimately make me stronger? Absolutely. Your daughters are smart and they are capable. They will be cautious when necessary, just like they would in the U.S., and they will be okay.
You might be worried that if you let your daughter go abroad, she will never return home. Well, statistically speaking, most of us do come back to our home countries. It’s true that once your daughter is a well-seasoned traveler, the idea of residing in other countries might become more appealing to her. She might, as I did, meet a partner from another country and decide to navigate a life between two places, which is a rich and complicated life. But even if she decides to stay abroad, this will be her choice. It will be what makes her happy.
You might fear your globe-trotting daughter is “lost.” Your daughters’ friends who are staying in the U.S. already have great jobs in finance or as assistant teachers or they are entering graduate programs. But your daughter has chosen the life of a nomad. She is wandering aimlessly (at least, this is your impression) instead of settling into a career and utilizing her very expensive education. She’s falling behind her peers! No, she’s not. She’s getting a valuable second education whose importance cannot be overstated. If she comes home and gets a job at 25 instead of 22, she will only be better equipped with a diverse set of experiences and the marketable ability to interact with diverse sets of peoples. It is also less likely that she will wake up at 30 or 40 and realize she has spent decades at a job she hates. This is because in her early twenties she will have taken the necessary time to explore the world and herself, so her decisions about the direction of her life will be more thoughtful – less about what she should do than what she desires to do.
You want to keep your daughter close, to protect here. If she’s abroad and something goes wrong, you worry that you won’t be there to rescue her. You’re right. Travel in general, and the gap year(s) in particular, are about independence and self-reliance. You have done all you can to nurture and prepare your daughter. Now you have to let her go, out into the wide, wild world – out into her own glorious life.
A Daughter Who Has Traveled the World
Thanks Rachel! I’m sure I’ll re-read this over and over in the years to come. To all the traveling girls out there, I salute you.
If you liked what you read here, definitely check out Rachel’s new book The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost.