It’s Sunday night in New York City and I can be found editing a travel story, per usual. As I begin to search for imagery to pair with this evening’s guide for solo traveling females, I’m struck by a disconcerting reality: all the images popping up in my search look nothing like real women travelers. I journey from Shutterstock to Unsplash to Pixabay to Getty Images to Flickr and am offered a never-ending parade of twenty-something, fair-skinned, blonde-hair, skirt twirling models in stock photography that does not represent female travelers one bit.
I can chalk this biased view of female travelers to the stock image industry, but rather, I know it points to a much larger issue within the travel industry itself. If I search “Black female traveler,” I am served images of tribal women in Africa standing against huts. If I search “Latina traveler,” I am faced with curvaceous women—a lá Sophia Vergara—posed against a lacquered bar, wearing skin-tight dresses. If I search “older female traveler,” I am confronted with images of little old ladies in Vietnam villages. If I search “woman at airport,” I see a collection of women in high heels and red lipstick waiting for flights like they’ll be strutting the runway. If I search “female traveler,” the results prove completely devoid of diversity, of race, of age, of body type, of personality.
The issue with these images is both how brands and the travel industry have flocked to the archetype of the millennial female traveler, and how this portrayal grossly excludes most women today. Of course, tonight is not the first time I’ve been confronted by such a jarring reality of the travel industry and its idyllic portrayal of women. Afterall, when the majority of travel publications are founded and/or edited by men—despite women compromising more than 70 percent of the travel consumer base—it’s unsurprising that the female traveler is represented as sexy, young, white, and thin.
The personification of “the girl who travels”—made popular a few years back by a user-uploaded video set to the soundtrack of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’–keeps popping up in the travel industry. A girl who travels implies a young, free-spirited female who can’t be tamed by men and therefore is branded with a warning: Don’t fall in love with her.
“The girl who travels is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the travel industry; a bright, vivacious fairy that exists to entice men to journey abroad.”
The flaw in this archetype is how limiting it can be, and how dangerous an impact it can have on impressionable young girls. Travel is not about appearance, wardrobe, body type, skin color or hairstyle; rather, travel is a celebration of a culture and the authenticity that exists behind it. Travel exists to bolster humanity and connect us as a people.
The below photos capture real women who travel. Let these women be your role models. Let these women and their age, skin color, body types, and style be as beautiful as the destinations they are visiting. Let us stop celebrating the male-fantasized archetype of female travelers and let us define what it means to be a real woman who travels, on our own terms.