In high spirits after having dinner in London with old friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time, I jumped off the Tube at Bond Street Station, waved goodbye to my friend Poli and made my way back to the hotel where I was staying.
The bellhop held open the heavy wooden doors and I stepped inside the lobby. It was just past midnight but the hotel was empty, and the clip-clopping of my heels on the marble floor echoed throughout the building. Deep in thought, I made it halfway up the carpeted stairs when I realised that someone was following me and shouting in my direction. Alarmed, I turned around and was met with a Concierge who squared up in front of me as if to assert his authority.
“Are you a guest at this hotel Madam? If so, I’ll need to see your room card. If you’re joining someone, can you please tell me his name and room number? We can’t have unregistered guests staying at the hotel”
Taken aback, I didn’t really handle the situation the way that I wish I had. “Erm yes, yes I am” I stuttered as I fumbled around in my handbag trying to find my door pass among the clutter while he stood watching impatiently as if this “search” was just a front to save face. I retrieved the door pass from a sea of pens, foreign currency and subway ticket stubs, handed it to him for closer inspection and then went on my way, self consciously zipping up my coat as I climbed the rest of the stairs.
(For the record, and since I know we live in a society of “victim blaming,” I was dressed conservatively - a long skirt, a trench coat and heels; though I am a believer of the school of thought that women should be entitled to dress as they please without being victims of ignorance and prejudice).
Sitting in my hotel room, my shock soon transformed to fury and as much as I tried to get to sleep, I couldn’t rest thinking about the concierge. I called my friend, I ranted on Twitter, and then eventually, at 3am I threw on my hotel slippers and gown and shuffled to the Reception desk. I explained the situation to the man that greeted me and without an apology, was met with an indifferent response of “Well Ma’am, it really is at the Concierge’s discretion as to who he decides to stop for security reasons”. Bewildered, I shuffled back to my room assuring myself I’d write a strongly worded email of complaint in the morning. (The funny thing about this situation was, I was in town reviewing the hotel as a Travel Writer!)
The situation was humiliating, and not representative of how you expect to be treated as a guest of a luxury hotel; however the worst part about this experience was that this type of thing has happened to me before. Several times actually, though admittedly this was the most confrontational.
There just seems to be something about a woman that takes care of her appearance being by herself in certain locations that rubs people up the wrong way. As though it is completely out of the question that she could be in a luxury hotel by herself as a result of her own successes. As though just because she isn’t donning a backpack and staying in a hostel, she couldn’t possibly be a solo traveller. As though a woman wearing makeup couldn’t possibly have an interest in history, culture, and world issues.
As a woman in her late twenties who earns her own money and prefers the comforts of a hotel to the chaos of an eight person backpacker’s hostel dorm, I am no stranger to this ignorance. I have received plenty of lecherous looks from males thinking that I was on sale, and disapproving looks from females about my lack of self-respect.
To feel eyes burning into you, silently judging you because of this untrue and ignorant assumption is probably one of the most humiliating feelings in the world. It knocks your confidence, causes you to be hypercritical of yourself, your appearance, and your surroundings, and almost makes you feel ashamed as if you were actually there soliciting.
My experiences are not just restricted to hotel stays. Living in Seoul, white women are somewhat fetishised and to satisfy this “demand” there are plenty of Russian prostitutes on hand. I cannot count the number of times that I have been approached and offered money for sex in Korea. Most of the time, I was dressed in the most unflattering attire and buying groceries or doing the recycling.
I can’t exactly go around with a billboard attached to me that states my accolades and the intricacies of my resume but I wish that people could be open minded about the fact that there are many plausible reasons why a young woman may be sitting in a hotel lounge at 7pm, scribbling on her notepad by herself that don’t involve selling sex.
Obviously not everyone I encounter while travelling alone makes this assumption about me (at least I hope they don’t!), but it’s happened enough that I felt the need to share it. I am a huge ambassador for solo female travel and I strongly believe that every woman should try it at least once in her life. These incidents were in the minority, but maybe my sharing this here will provide some comfort to anyone that has experienced the same (or if they do in the future, and then they don’t have to go through the same “what is it about my appearance?” self-analysing process that I did.)
Melissa Douglas is a full time Travel Writer and Blogger who has been traveling the World solo for 6 years and believes in pushing the boundaries of solo female travel. She blogs at www.highheelsandabackpack.com.