Freedom. Liberty. Emancipation. Independence. These concepts are the pillars of my life–the most important defining factors of who I am and what I stand for. Without freedom, I wouldn’t be the woman I’m today. I cherish my ability to make my own decisions, speak my mind, and live by my own standards. Yet my freedom is constantly being threatened; especially as I travel alone in countries where women are widely treated as second-class citizens. I often meet people who try to suppress me due to their perception of my status as an unmarried, self-employed, minority, solo traveling female in my late twenties. Societies around the globe have set standards about what lifestyles are acceptable for an emancipated woman like me to be living.
Last year I spent six months in the highly patriarchal society of India. I was often threatened that I would be putting my safety at risk if I went out after dark, traveled alone, or made local friends. This infuriated me and led me to question whether this advice came from a place of concern, or a desire to suppress my freedom. I was actually told by a male founder of a women’s empowerment NGO that I have “too much freedom.” How is that for a double standard?
Throughout the last three years of traveling full time, I’ve often found myself contemplating what freedom means to me. The topic comes up in conversation often with the women I meet through my travels who are in various phases and circumstances of life. These women come from near and far, they’ve been raised in a broad spectrum of societies and often have cultural norms very different than my own. Regardless of our differences we always form a sisterhood over our plight to explore the world and enjoy our birthright to do as we please. Freedom is at the core of our motivations to travel. We are tired of being questioned about why we chose to roam alone or prioritize travel over traditional career paths, settling down, getting married, and starting a family.
To celebrate International Women’s Day I asked 30 women from all corners of the globe to define freedom in their own words. Their responses had many correlations. These women want to live without fear. They want to be equal. They don’t want to explain their decisions. They want to be the captain of their own lives and valued for more than just their looks. They want no to be a full sentence and to be taken seriously. They want to love whomever they are lucky enough to fall in love with. They want female solo travel to be accepted, not questioned. They don’t need permission to live their lives by their own terms. They defined all of the aspects of freedom that I have struggled to put into words myself. Through their answers, I found that regardless of nationality or age, all women face similar troubles based purely on their gender. These definitions resonated with me and inspired me. After all, I too want to be free to choose not to wear a bra and not be burdened with male glares!
“Freedom means making the choices I want to make when I want to make them without fear.”–Angie of Where is Angiee, 25, Spain
“Freedom, to me, is when I, as a woman, no longer need a no-objection letter from my father/brother/future husband in order to travel.”–Christabel of Where’s Bel, 28, United Arab Emirates
“Freedom is being able to speak my mind, travel where I want to and dress how I like without receiving any judgment from strangers, friends or family.”–Justine of Wanderer of the World, 27, United Kingdom
“Freedom is authenticity, joy, and not having to look over my shoulder.”–Danielle Da Silva, 31, Canada
“Freedom means being able to not worry that I’ll be judged or criticized for my actions, look or thoughts.”–Latifa, 25, Kuwait
“Freedom is the opportunity to learn, grow, and make mistakes without any burden or fear of undue restrictions or consequences.”–Rosalie of Rosalie Goes, 23, Scotland
“Freedom means having the opportunity to, and being empowered enough to, make my own decisions.”–Gabby of Packs Light, 22, United Arab Emirates
“For me, freedom is being able to choose, at the age of 28, to stop pursuing a job I wasn’t enthusiastic about and to travel the world instead and figure out the rest when I get home.”–Katie, 29, United Kingdom
“Freedom means to have the liberty to speak, express your opinions, to travel, to work, to marry a person according to your own will, to be protected from the law against discrimination and trafficking.”–Elitsa, 38, Bulgaria
“Freedom is defining what you want in life and making it happen, no holding back!”–Kiara of Tiara with a K, 32, United States of America
“Freedom is to speak your mind on what is right and wrong, without worrying that someone will frown upon or deprive you of such right.”–Jean, 28, Hong Kong
“Freedom of thought, freedom of movement, freedom of choice, freedom of love, freedom of safety, freedom of travel, freedom of speech, freedom of race and the freedom to smile to know I am me free to be me.”–Daniela, 38, Australia
“Freedom is infinite; swim deep towards the unknown.”–Cristina of Cristina Ventura, 33, Brazil
“Freedom is when I don’t feel any chains preventing me from doing stuff.”–Vanessa, 27, Switzerland
“Freedom to me is doing exactly what I want to do regardless of what biases and expectations are put on me.”–Emma, 19, Finland
“Freedom to me is the ability to do things that generations of women before me didn’t have the opportunity to do. Thankfully, I have the ability to choose my life, speak my mind, and see the world.”–Dee of Dee Dot Life, 29, Kenya
“Freedom is to be free to choose your way of life and your job. Freedom is a great synonym for happiness!”–Estelle of Travel Ellair, 23, France
“Freedom is being able to get up and leave a situation I don’t like.”–Kristen, 26, Canada
“Freedom is being treated equally, regardless of my gender.”–Alex of Like a Local Travel, 25, Australia
“Freedom means to be able to think whatever and however you want without any governmental influences or interjections both consciously and subconsciously.”–Damaly, 30, United States of America
“Freedom is the feeling to have no restriction on our possibilities.”–Camille, 31, France
“Freedom, to me, is being able to hop on a plane, jump in the ocean, share my thoughts, and walk down the street without being frightened of persecution.”–Sarah of Places Well Go, 25, United States of America
“Freedom is that I decide what I want when I want it and only I need to understand the reasons why.”–Bri, 26, Australia
“Freedom is to be able to be myself without fear.”–Shoshi, 27, Israel
“Freedom is the ability to be the authentically me and without being vilified for it.”–Debbie of the LOCD Bella, 30, United States of America
“Freedom is the ability to say no without fear.”–Amanda, 26, Italy
“Freedom is to be free to make decisions about MY LIFE.”–Nadia, 28, Morocco
“Freedom is liberty and authenticity to act (responsibly), think and believe as you want, deserving the respect of everyone.”–Lourdes of Place OK, 44, Peru
“Freedom is not being stared at for not wearing a bra.”–Fana, 29, Malaysia
“Freedom is to be able to live your life as you want.”–Demi, 19, Netherlands
How are you celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day? Tell me in the comments, or share with us how you define freedom!