I’m very lucky to have traveled abroad extensively—to Central America, Western and Central Europe, and the Middle East. I’m struck every time I leave the U.S. by how unusual I am as an exceptionally tall woman—not just by U.S. standards, but also by the standards of countries with much lower average heights.
I studied abroad in Spain for a semester in college and my host mother’s apartment was beautiful, but I felt like I was living in Lilliput. My bed (with a head and foot board) was too short, the kitchen chairs were too narrow, and my little mamá only came up to my shoulder. I had a wonderful time in Madrid, but I was simply living in a world not built for someone my size.
The story was much the same in Turkey and Jordan, though I felt singled out more often because I was not only tall, but also a Western girl. This photo of a young woman, taken in Istanbul by the incredible Scott Schuman—the man behind The Sartorialist—pretty much sums it up:
There was some occasional awkwardness, but by and large the Turks were friendly and accommodating and tried hard to project an image of progress and open-mindedness. In Jordan, however, I was catcalled and sometimes felt threatened on the street. I think that I was considered an outsider because of my nationality, gender, and style of dress, not so much because of my height, but being tall made it much more difficult to blend in in public.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love to travel and a few tense moments won’t stop me. Nor do I regret being who I am (a tall American woman) when I’m out of the country. Don’t shy away from the opportunity to explore the world because you might stand out or have to face some physical or cultural discomfort. But I do think it’s important to start a dialogue about the obstacles that women travelers (and all travelers) face abroad.
What are your thoughts?