woman traveling alone

She’s prohibited in a few places, and frowned upon in many others. Some fear for her safety, others decide she is asking for trouble. Few cultures, if any, are totally comfortable with a woman traveling alone.

These days, she travels for her work, sometimes, and that is understandable. Other times, she is on her way to help aging parents, or to meet friends or family, and of course that makes sense. But what about the woman on a journey, a whole journey, by herself, simply for the sake of enjoying herself? At best, it seems odd to many.

Yet, she does exist, and she wants to go places.

Women have more money than in times past. They also have (on the average) more of a yen to travel. Spouses, relatives and friends may want to go, too, but when they don’t, women are opting to go alone. For many, joining a travel group provides an easier, and possibly safer, way to do this.

Now, I’ve always been someone who enjoys researching a destination and making my own plans. The internet allows for fabulous discoveries for someone willing to invest the time, and I prefer to move on my own schedule and get off the most-traveled path. But I also have always had someone, usually my husband, traveling with me, and I wonder if I am up to taking  similar trips, to a foreign country very different from my own, by myself.

I recently went to Peru, and did it with my first tour group.

There were a lot of considerations. I wasn’t traveling alone, but with my daughter, and I didn’t want the role of tour guide. I was concerned about our mutual safety, our poor grasp of Spanish, and the fairly daunting logistics of getting from Lima to Cuzco, dealing with a 12,000 elevation change, then navigating buses and trains through the Sacred Valley, and securing two of the carefully controlled tickets into Machu Picchu and then doing it all again in reverse to get home. I knew I could manage it, but it sounded more like work than fun.

So I used the internet to find a company called G Adventures, and read about their modestly priced, no-frills modular tour concept. It seemed to include them doing the hard part (clean yet cheap lodging, train tickets) and us handling our own arrival in Peru, shopping, dining and all extraneous activities. I liked the approach.

When our group of sixteen convened for the first time at a hotel in Lima, we were an eclectic mix of two mother-daughter combos, two sisters with one’s husband, a married couple, a pair of twenty-somethings, and five solos travelers. We hailed from Canada, the US, Germany and Australia.

Four of the solo people were men, and one was an independent young professional woman who impressed me with her approach. She’d always wanted to go to Peru, and finally accepted that it wasn’t a priority for anyone else she knew. So, here she was.

That’s the way to do it, I thought.

We had a great time in Peru, and the tour thing worked out quite well as this was one destination where having some help was wise. I took away more from this trip than happy memories and fine photos, however. I took away an idea.

You see, there are a lot of places in this world I want to go. Many of them do not interest my husband at all. Relatives and friends may be persuaded to go to some of these with me, but hey, I don’t think I’ve got anyone who wants to see Kyrgyzstan as bad as I do.

Guess what? G Adventures offers a trip there. They also do to Bhutan. And Cambodia. And Antarctica. And there are other companies like them. And maybe, after doing some of these, I’ll feel ready to tackle more difficult destinations on my own. And maybe not.

Either way, the world is my oyster, as long as my health and my funds hold out. You see, I came home from Peru with more than pretty scarves and coco candy. I came back with a plan; a plan of how to be a woman who travels alone.

Like Eating Crab

Some journeys are a juicy strawberry, sweet and easy to enjoy. (Think beach vacation at an all exclusive.) Others are more like eating vegetables of which you are not all that fond. You know that hiking like this is good for you, but you’re not having that much fun. Then there are chocolate cake travels, and glass of champagne ones. Some of the best feel more like a bowl of popcorn and a root beer on a lazy afternoon.

I like them all. I love to travel, and I do my best to embrace the types of joys my current journey has to offer. Last week, I went on what had to be an Alaskan king crab sort of trip.

That would be a journey in which one has to work to get what one is after. Long flights, language difficulties, bumpy roads or high seas can make this a kind of vacation that many would be loathe to take. But the reward is seldom seen beauty and unusual wonders, and sometimes, a sense of personal accomplishment.

My trip to Kenya was months in the planning. The journey needed multiple immunizations, 18 days worth of Malaria tablets (still taking them) and a visa. Then came a thirty-six hour journey which included three flights, two of them over eight hours long. Fourteen crying babies, two long layovers, and five bad airline meals later left me and my friends in a position to take an eight hour drive which, we learned once we arrived, was mostly over a highly-rutted, single-lane dirt road.

Crab style journeys are prone to unexpected problems, and ours had car engine trouble seven hours into this eight hour drive. We stood in the afternoon sun while our tour guide tinkered with a mysterious electrical problem and distant zebras and wildebeests looked on. Finally, one fellow traveler began an impromptu stand up yoga class. Oh, it felt so good to stretch.

Our guide finally parceled us out into other passing vans, and bit by bit we all arrived at our destination. To our surprise, it was not the budget camp we had been promised, and had researched and deemed as okay. It was a last minute substitute.

We received the least friendly welcome any of us has ever had at a place we paid to stay, then we were shown to tents lacking a single amenity (by amenity I mean a towel, lamp, table, bench or chair –these tents had nothing) and attempted to use attached bathrooms in which neither sink, shower, nor toilet worked. When I pulled down the mosquito net to go over my bed, it was filled with fist-sized holes only partly covered by assorted pieces of old duct tape. My tent mate broke into hysterical, exhausted laughter. This journey clearly was not going to come easy.

Our trusty guide was back with our broken car having his own problems and unavailable to help us. So, options being what they were, we made ourselves a round of gin and tonics and hoped for a better day tomorrow.

The days did get better, and the total experience ended up including a wealth of high points. I’ve put some of my favorite photos from the trip throughout this post.

What do you think? Was the total experience worth the initial effort? It was to me. But then again, crab legs are one of my favorite foods.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Replacing me with … and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)