On Traveling Alone as a Woman

 

“If i didn’t define myself for myself I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me and eaten alive.” Audre Lorde

On December 26th this past year, I said goodbye to my good friend and travel companion and set out to see the world alone. The choice was an easy one for me, either go home or continue traveling solo.

There’s no way in hell I was ready to go home.

I am not a stranger to solitude. I’ve always felt the most at peace with a warm cup of coffee, a book, and silence. The next three months of backpacking from city to city didn’t seem much more daunting than all of the other times I sought refuge from the plague that is small talk and boring conversations.

For the first time in my life I was going to be able to do whatever I wanted, with no outside influences. It was such a profound experience to wake up in a new city almost every morning knowing that my day was completely my own. If I was lonely, I made friends. If I wanted to eat, I was already at the restaurant. If I wanted to leave, I left.

However, the more I talked about my time abroad, the more my departure seemed to disturb not only those who loved me but also those I had just met. Every time someone questioned my motives or drilled me on staying safe, I thought of other young adventurers, who to be honest had much more daring stories than I did. Nothing seems more cliche than an American college student backpacking through Europe — it’s not like I planned on climbing Everest without a Sherpa, guide, or friend.

My whole life I’ve heard courageous stories of young men venturing out to see the world. I barely even noticed the fact that they often embarked on their travels alone, it just seemed like a natural part of their process. I would watch Into the Wild and dream of the day when I too could live, even for a small amount of time, with only myself to rely on.

Now it seems like every time I check into a hostel, they have to ask multiple times if I’m sure I only need one bed. When I ask for a table for one, restaurant employees assume I made a mistake and give me two menus just in case. And perhaps the most interesting (and saddening) responses are from the other lone male travelers who can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that I would want to see the world with myself as my companion.

“But you’re beautiful,” one man comments as if looks are the only ideal characteristics of a travel partner. It did not even occur to him that I might not want the annoyance of another human impeding my journey.

“Aren’t you afraid someone is going to try to steal your organs?” shouted another man, who also happened to be journeying alone.

And perhaps the most insulting was from a hostel employee who said,  “I don’t understand what you are doing here.” As if backpacking alone is solely a male endeavor.

But how can they not see it? In these past three months, I have walked through Dracula’s castle, listened to the rain over medieval cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, surfed in the capital city of Morocco, and made friends with people from all over the world.

When my parents called, they double checked to make sure I was doing everything in my power to stay absolutely safe. They thought it was dangerous for me to be there. I disagree.

They tell to me to keep it a secret, to pretend my companion is just down the hall. But I’ve lived with this body my whole life — I know that the question “Are you here alone?” is exactly the same as “Are you traveling alone?” I hear the words no matter what continent I land in, no matter what street I walk down.

It’s funny because my “advice” about traveling alone as a woman does not sound all that different from the “advice” I would give for existing.

I think it’s dangerous for me to be anywhere. Every day, whether I am at home or in a new country I am a woman, and by its very definition I am not safe. I cannot walk down the street without wondering who might harm me. But I will not lock myself up in hopes, I will be shielded. Cages do not equal protection, they equal insanity.

I love this experience because no opinion matters but my own. Because when I wake up in the morning, it takes me a second to remember not only what city but also which country I’m in. Because when I need a friend, I have to make one. Because in the past month I have seen the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Morocco, and Romania. And because in the next month, England and France.

I love this type of travel because I can feel life coursing through my veins. It’s a high without drugs; it’s a thrill without stealing; it’s an orgasm without stimulation; it’s learning about yourself without pain. Confidence morphs from a daily choice into a necessity. I rely on no one but myself.

Before I sign off, however,  I want to clarify: I do not think travel is necessary for growth. To those who say, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page,” I scowl at them and say that privilege is not the only way to mature.

My point is that I refuse to let other people’s rules about my life crunch my dreams into a fallacy. I want my dreams to be so much bigger than the limits everyone else sets for me. I have learned so much on this journey and if I had listened to the world’s policing, I would never have lived my life the way I had always planned.

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