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Flirting and Flinging: Balancing Romance and Safety Abroad

In April of this year, Sir Richard Branson, chairman and founder of Virgin Group, announced that on his Virgin America flights, passengers will soon be able to flirt with one another by buying each other drinks and snacks via the in-flight entertainment system.  As Branson summarizes, “I’m not a betting man, but I’d say your chance of deplaning with a plus-one are at least 50 percent.”

Reaction to the so-called ‘service’ on the company’s YouTube channel has been overwhelmingly negative.  As one commenter sarcastically observes, “Because hitting on people in an enclosed space where nobody can possibly leave if they’re made to feel uncomfortable for several hours is obviously a really good idea.”

The Vacation Hookup has been discussed so frequently it almost becomes a cliché — a foregone conclusion.  Women’s magazines advise you to pack condoms and Plan B in your suitcase for trips to countries where these products might not be readily available and rom-coms are packed with these sand and sun-filled flings.

I think all of us can acknowledge that while traveling we make slightly more reckless choices — eating fatty cheeses even though our cholesterol is high; drinking a pitcher of margaritas at the hotel restaurant because we don’t have to drive anywhere; putting on sequins and too much black eyeliner and sweating it out to techno pop at a local discotheque.  Precisely because our vacation clock is ticking we try things we wouldn’t at home.

During a good portion of my solo travelling life I’ve been single but I’ve never been interested in the away from home mingle.  Not that I’m shy by any means.  This Go Girl often finds herself talking to new people whether at home or abroad.  But, most of the time, these are other women and their children — not grown men.  In my experience, men who feel confident enough to approach unfamiliar women (especially when they are alone and/or clearly touring) embody a ‘stranger danger’ that has me looking for the nearest safe exit.

In Stratford, Ontario for the Shakespeare Festival with fellow alumni and current students from my alma mater, Carthage College, I recaptured a bit of my college day youth with a trip to a loft space called the Othello Club (Shakespeare puns run rampant in that town) where there were strobe lights and overpriced drinks a plenty.  Now I’m no prude, but methinks when a man ‘grinds’ a few inches behind a woman without her consent (and despite her efforts to move away) then puts his hand on her waist we’ve kicked up the dust past flirting territory and driven 60 miles an hour right along into sexual harassment junction.

My Shakespeare action figure accompanied me on my adventures in Stratford.

My Shakespeare action figure accompanied me on my adventures in Stratford.  He got a little tipsy.

It may be me, Go Girls.  It may be my past, which is by no means untouched by male anger and violence, and it may be my personal brand of feminism, which focuses attention largely on sexual abuse and domestic violence.  But I have a problem with this.  I have a problem with a man in New Orleans following me down a side street and asking me what I was doing in town and if I wanted to come back to his hotel room to hear him play his saxophone.  I have a problem with that kind of aggressive arrogance.

None of the men I’ve encountered traveling alone or with small groups have ever tried to use force on me, and therefore I’m luckier than many women.  When you travel, and especially when you travel alone, you may not be trapped in a 25-row flying steel box, where jet-setting lotharios can send you bags of Rold Gold with strings attached, but you are out of your element.

Oftentimes, you’re without at-hand transportation (having left your car at home) and you’re walking down streets with reputations that may not have reached you in your trip planning.  You may not know the locations of the local emergency facilities.  You may be in the dark about the health status of even the most consensual of partners, and depending on just how foreign the environment, the laws protecting women from various forms of non-consensual encounters may not be as exacting as one would expect.

On the other hand, me saying that flirting and flinging on vacation are examples of risky behavior is like saying, ‘be afraid, keep being afraid, and if something happens to you, it’s your fault because you stopped being afraid.’  There’s a fine line between safety tips and victim-blaming.  Furthermore, life, and I dare to say most especially a woman’s life, carries a certain amount of de facto risk.  Eventually a woman has to find her comfortable level of informed risk to even consider changing out of sweatpants and leaving the house, let alone traveling solo.

Children’s book author Katherine Paterson once wrote, “To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”

Go Girls, how do you balance adventure and safety abroad?  Any experiences (good or bad) with vacation hook-ups you’d like to share?  Join the conversation!

Ann Santori
Blogger and podcaster
Ann Santori is a B.A. graduate in English Literature and Political Science from Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. She was born and (partially) raised in Chicago, IL before moving to the suburbs and therefore igniting her life-long desire to travel far beyond towns where the only thing open past 9pm is the IHOP.

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