By Caitlin Kelly
By now, I may be the only woman who hasn’t yet read “Wild” the best-seller by Cheryl Strayed about her hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail alone; the film, starring Reese Witherspoon, was recently released.
I was intrigued by this piece about it in New York magazine:
Granted, men, too, sometimes seek out extreme environments in response to psychic wounds, in life as well as in literature. But for them, the wound is optional; men are free to undertake an adventure without needing trauma (or anything else) to legitimize it. By contrast, a woman’s decision to detach herself from conventional society always requires justification. Women can, of course, go out exploring for pleasure or work or intellectual curiosity or the good of humanity or just for the hell of it — but we can’t count to ten before someone asks if we miss our family, or accuses us of abandoning our domestic obligations.
I’ll soon be alone in Europe for several weeks, the first time I’ve been there alone in a long time. I’m excited. I love my husband, our home, the college students I teach, but to live untethered! Even for a while…
My mother, now sadly confined to a small room in a nursing home, spent years traveling the world alone — from Afghanistan to India to Peru to the South Pacific. Freed from the need to work for a living or own property, with only one (grown) child and no husband or partner, the world was literally hers for the taking.
She taught me, by example, to behave appropriately when in other cultures (I wore long skirts in Tunisia and a wedding ring in Istanbul); to manage frugally; to tuck a chair beneath the door handle in a dicey hotel.
It’s a life-changing experience for a girl or woman to travel alone — and yes, I’m very aware, this is a real privilege — having the money to do so, the mobility to do so safely, the freedom from family responsibilities and/or even paid vacation from your job, something Americans still (!) have no legal right to.
(As a full-time freelancer, I make this sort of time off a major priority above any other sort of spending and can take as much time, as often as I want, as I and my business can afford.)
Some women are eager to travel, and some prefer the ease, freedom and solitude of doing it alone. (Others find the notion terrifying and don’t even eat out or go to a movie by themselves when living in their own country.)
Almost every day since I posted them, readers have come to these posts about how to travel safely alone while female. Here’s one — the 10 lessons you’ll learn by traveling alone.
And this, with twelve tips for doing so safely and enjoyably. (I’ve been to 39 countries, many of them alone, including Turkey, Kenya, Mexico.)
I traveled alone for four months when I was 22, after graduating from university. I flew from my home in Toronto into Lisbon in March, spent a few weeks traveling through Evora and Beja, then crossed into Spain at Huelva, meeting a gorgeous young British man standing on the train platform. We spent two weeks on the road together in Spain before I went on to Venice and Florence alone, then back to France, Spain and Lisbon for my return flight.
The kind one can only have — and allow for — when alone:
The Frenchman who met me aboard a ferry back from Ibiza who invited me back to his family’s apartment for a few days.
The German journalist in Barcelona who lent me her weekend home in Sitges.
The young Portuguese couple heading home to Lisbon who — yes, really — invited me into their Lisbon apartment the week of their wedding and asked me to photograph it. (I did.)
One of my favorite books of all time, recently also made into a film, is “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson, who wandered across the Australian outback in 1977, journeying with her dog and four camels.
Or consider Isabella Bird or Gertrude Bell or Nellie Bly…brave women of much earlier generations who ventured into the world.
It is deeply freeing (in many places, not all!) for a woman to wander, and to wander alone.
Women, in many places, are inevitably bound by social conventions; in some countries, if you’re out in public without a husband, child or parent, you’re considered fair game for sexual approaches, or worse.
But we’re so often judged as valuable solely by our tireless service to others — the woman who wanders off alone is often derided as selfish.
How dare she!?
The very first time Broadside was chosen for Freshly Pressed was this, my defense of Elizabeth Gilbert and her best-seller “Eat, Pray Love” — another paean to a woman’s journey of global and self-exploration.
As I wrote then, I think the chicken-necking and finger-waving was deeply, viciously envious:
Her choice challenges safer, more conventional choices. Instead of demonizing her free spirit, why not celebrate it? We can’t. What if everyone behaved that way?
Guys are allowed this freedom. We expect it of them.
Look at Thelma and Louise, a raucous road movie — until the women have to drive off a cliff to atone for all that independent fun.
Yes, caring for other people is noble, loving, generous, etc.
But so is caring for ourselves.
Have you ever journeyed by yourself?
Dd you enjoy it?
Did it change how you feel or think?