Albanian society, like many others, is patriarchal and doesn’t provide a lot of space to follow dreams (unless sleeping) or understanding for those who think and act differently from the established expectations for many centuries now. These expectations are even expressed all the time, either explicitly or implicitly through questions, comments, jokes, or irony. Boys and girls alike fall prey of this mindset in this society by creating a template to be followed by all – getting an education, getting a job, getting married, having children – and if you don’t follow this path than something is not okay with you. However, girls/women suffer this continuous societal pressure the most, and in particular those, like myself, who refuse to obey these unwritten rules and to live against their wishes and dreams.
I’ve always loved traveling and getting familiar with other cultures. When I was young, I’ve read a lot and this way I traveled through the world in my mind. By the time, and especially after my first trip outside Balkans, I came to realize how important it is to also be physically in another country from the one you grew up. Regardless the difficulties with visa and the non-recognition of Kosovo from many world countries, I’ve managed to visit 28 countries (during the last 6 years) and I am always planning my next trip.
Given the society I live in, no matter the very modern appearance, the comments or reactions towards me, and I believe other women travelers alike, are numerous. Three of the most frequent reactions I get, both from those I know for a long time and those I meet through acquaintances or in social networks, are: “When will you stop traveling?”, “How are you traveling solo?”, and “How can you afford to travel this much?”. My most common responses, which I often say with humor, are “When I die”, “I’m just going to the airport/bus station and I’m getting on a plane/bus” and “I have a Sugar dady”. Of course that the truth is deeper than these responses which know are at the tip of my tongue; however, I’ve learned to turn this kind of questions and comments that I keep receiving from people in humor or to overcome them in silence since as an expression goes “those who understand don’t need explaining, those who don’t understand no explanation is enough”.
To travel is to get to know yourself and the world. On my travels, I’ve learned more about the world and people that I’ve learned during my education. I have also learned how the world perceives us (if they recognize us) and what do they think of Kosovo and its citizens. The more I travel, I feel that I don’t know much about the world and people and the desire to travel, even more, to visit more countries, to get to know even more people of different countries, to have more unforgettable experiences, to taste food and traditional drinks of the countries I visit flourishes within me.
Traveling makes one see the world differently and helps them overcome the prejudices that society makes up about nations, religions, or other certain societal differences. When one travels solo, this becomes much easier and more powerful because you meet more people than when you travel with friends or family. Solo traveling creates various opportunities to get to know yourself and your skills. However, it is not easy to be an Albanian girl from Kosovo and to travel solo. There are a thousand questions and prejudices that the society creates about you. You should be courageous and have a thick skin to challenge a patriarchal society such as our Albanian society, in which a woman can’t have wishes, dreams, or hopes, and that only marriage (followed by children) complete her and make her accomplished in life. In a society where people judge you only by name, appearance, clothes, solo traveling is almost unimaginable. I’ve heard many stories when women were judged and weren’t believed that they’re traveling solo by implying that someone is awaiting her in the place she’s going or that she’s lying. I even had personal cases when at customs I was asked why was I solo traveling and why not with a female friend (for male friends is not even thought of as an option). I don’t believe men are asked these questions; I’d be surprised to hear such a story.
On the other hand, a man is always seen as someone behind a women traveler as a potential sponsor, either boyfriend, lover, husband, or father. According to the Albanian mindset, there should for sure be a man who finances a girl or a woman. It cannot be grasped or accepted that a woman can work and take care of herself, to travel solo, and not to be sponsored (in any potential meaning of the word you can come up with). Reality is different and this society should accept it as soon as possible. Albanian women are capable of taking care of themselves, they are brave to fight for making their dreams come true, and they help each other when needed. About two months ago I created a Facebook group for Albanian girls and women who love traveling in order to exchange information among ourselves (since some information are hardly found online) and for this short time, there are over 300 members.
Women nowadays work and take care of themselves, they are independent to express and realize their wishes and dreams without necessarily needing a man figure behind them, whoever that man is. Thus, before judging a woman living against the societal expectations or what the society calls “normal life path”, take a deep breath, release the breath, and mind your own business!
This article was published in the Albanian language in the yearly supplement “Koha për Gratë” (Time for Women) in Koha Ditore newspaper, which is published by Kosovar Gender Studies Center in honor of the International Women’s Day.