The Liberating Power of Solo Travel As a Trans Woman

Solo travel as a transgender woman can be a joyful, liberating experience — here's one writer's experience.

Abeni Jones featured in photo collage
Photo: Kaitlyn Collins

Much of the writing about traveling while transgender is decidedly negative. I would know — I've written some of it. Travel as a trans person can be frustrating, heartbreaking, and even dangerous; from the indignities of airport TSA checkpoints to the constant stares in small towns to outright discrimination and violence, there's much to persuade one to simply remain safely and comfortably at home. But those struggles are not the whole story; solo travel as a transgender woman can also be an incredibly joyful, liberating experience.

Trans Invisibility

When I touch down at an airport or cross over into a city's limits, I have an opportunity I don't get at home: anonymity. I get to be just another face in the crowd, a stranger — an outsider because of my origin, not exclusively because of my gender.

One of the reasons gender transition can be a traumatic experience is because even supportive friends and loved ones knew you as a different person — often for much longer than they've known you as your current self. Despite their best efforts, they'll likely continue to think of you as that person until a considerable effort has been made or amount of time has passed. But when I introduce myself to someone in a new city or country, they only know the name, gender, and backstory I give them.

Abeni Jones, trans woman traveler in nature
Courtesy of Abeni Jones

Omission of unnecessary truths is a soothing reprieve from reality, but it gets better: There are also few, if any, consequences if I outright lie. To my new acquaintances, I'm a professional travel writer, a copyright lawyer, and a singer-songwriter. I essentially have carte blanche to creatively remake myself in every new location, to try on new identities if I choose — and then, whether or not it works, I'm off to the next location, nothing but a fabulous memory.

Trans visibility is a frequent media discourse item. But one of the primary joys, for me, of travel? Trans invisibility.

Activism Through Existence

Abeni Jones, trans woman traveler in nature
Courtesy of Abeni Jones

According to many mainstream narratives about trans lives, including much of that made by trans women ourselves, we're essentially doomed. We're destined to hardscrabble lives of ostracization and struggle, desperate for love, but unable to find it, and at consistent risk of murder. No wonder so many people are terrified their kids will be trans and want to prevent this by making it illegal. In February of this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called on the general public to report the parents of transgender minors receiving gender-affirming medical care, stating in a letter that it's "child abuse."

Depending on who you listen to, trans women of color have a life expectancy of only 30 or 35 years. Though this statistic is spread primarily by allies and even members of our community, it's not only untrue, but it's a damaging falsehood with major unintended consequences.

I've been thinking a lot about that statistic, lately. I turn 35 this year.

Just by not dying in the next few months, I'm providing a counter-narrative. By getting out into the world, I'm evidence that there's hope. I am a trans woman of color and I'm happy. I have a great job and am on vacation traveling the world. I occasionally have access to and enjoy nice things. By existing, I'm living proof that being trans isn't anywhere close to the worst thing that one can be. I always hope a young trans or questioning child will see me out and about, smiling, laughing, and thriving, and question what they've been taught.

The Beauty of Trans Embodiment

Abeni Jones, trans woman traveler in nature
Courtesy of Abeni Jones

I've been to Rome and Florence; to Santiago and Bogotá; to Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Washington, DC. But my favorite travel experiences have been far outside major cities.

Whether backpacking through Yosemite to the top of El Capitan, trekking through the jungles of Colombia to the "Lost City," or standing less than 30 meters from a herd of wild elephants in Mole National Park in Ghana, my primary motivation when traveling is to experience nature. Doing so both adds beauty to my life and reminds me of the power and pleasure of trans embodiment.

The aforementioned mainstream narrative also says trans people are all "born in the wrong body" and experience life-threatening body dysphoria. It's often even required to self-report as much in order to access transition-related medical care. Now, that is true for many of us. But not me. I love my trans body.

It takes me across the world. And by traveling, I write a love letter to my body just by being in it and continuing to walk the Earth. When I'm in nature, I'm at peace. There's no criminalization, no discrimination, no discourse. Just animals, trees, and mountains — and me, walking or hiking among them. I'm treated by nature as a human being without qualification. Active embodiment like this is, for me, the purest form of self-love.

I'm not interested in sugarcoating reality. I have countless extra preparation steps to make when I travel — for my own safety — that most cisgender people will never have to consider. And yet, I prioritize travel because in doing so I experience the joy and liberation those who hate me would love to see me denied. Traveling solo as a trans woman, like transition itself, carries risks. But it also carries exhilarating potential — and in both cases, taking the risk has always been worth it.

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