Recently on NPR, there was an interview with Laura Okmin (http://www.npr.org/2016/03/12/470176420/female-sportscasters-feel-staying-on-defensive-is-part-of-the-job), an NFL sideline reporter for Fox Sports, who discussed the implications of the Erin Andrews settlement, and some of the concerns of traveling as a woman both as a sportscaster and in general. As a woman who travels alone for work quite often, I found the interview very interesting. Much of what she described resonated with me – the feelings of fear when a man gets on my elevator and appears to be going to the same floor as I am, the concern about people just seeing that I’m alone. There are other things that I hate about traveling alone that she didn’t discuss, like the riding in a cab. I never feel more vulnerable while traveling as I do alone in a cab. Forget an Uber, which feels even scarier to me! And I’m sure there are things I do while traveling that Okmin would suggest are bad ideas during her travel boot camp for woman sportscasters. For example, I frequently go for a run in an unfamiliar area. Also, I really enjoy sitting at the bar to eat my meals. If my daughter were to one day tell me that she does these things, I know that I would probably tell her that they’re not the best idea, just as my father often expresses his concern about me doing so.
In addition to the safety concerns, there are other negatives that come with traveling. I miss my family, and sometimes I miss important kid-events, such as a band or choir concert, or a soccer game. Travel is exhausting, and I find I come home grumpy, having a hard time with re-entry into “regular life”. And there are work obligations that get ignored while I’m away, causing a backlog when I return. Finally, there is a stigma that comes with being the mommy that travels – although not necessarily always overt, people have made comments that imply I don’t take my family obligations seriously, or worse.
However, the statistician in me recognizes that there is risk-benefit trade-off. While I don’t think my fears about my safety are completely irrational, I do know that the statistics indicate that I am more likely to be injured, raped or murdered by someone known to me than through some chance encounter. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately 80% of all rapes were committed by someone known to the victim, with similar statistics for sexual assault. Over half of all murders are committed by someone known to the victim (US Department of Justice).
And there are benefits to travel. In addition to having mostly intellectual stimulus that are typically good for my professional growth (e.g. study section, conferences, study meetings), I also get to have mostly adult interactions for a short period of time. When I’m traveling, because I typically have fewer demands on my time, I’m able to find more opportunities to exercise than when I’m at home. I also get a tremendous amount of work done on airplanes and in hotel rooms. And when I catch up on whatever work reading I need to do, I often read for fun, something I do infrequently at home, since I tend to get so sucked into a book that I ignore everything else – a luxury I can’t afford on a regular basis. As for the stigma of being the traveling mommy, well, like many other things in my life, I see this as someone else’s problem. We are all responsible for the choices we make and their implications, and this is no exception. Does it sting? Occasionally. But judgment is just someone else reflecting their own insecurities, so I often feel pity towards those who judge me and just try (usually unsuccessfully) not to judge them in return. Finally, if I didn’t travel, I would never know the joy of coming home to my family, my bed and my home.
So for the time being, I think that the benefits outweigh the risks. And so I continue to choose a crazy travel schedule. Maybe one day, I’ll reconsider the data and choose otherwise, but for now, I’m just “trying to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can”.