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.

(For more on my trip to Peru see What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you and History at its most exciting.)

Choosy?

I’m starting to write fiction again, after a break of almost exactly one year. It is taking everything I’ve got to get the momentum back. One technique I am using is to reread short pieces I’ve written over the years that never got used anywhere.

I found this and it seemed perfect for this blog. It’s slightly fictionalized truth, and the memory on which it is based still makes me smile. I hope that it will make others smile as well.

Memory is such a strange beast. Words meant to touch your heart may evoke a small swell of emotion at the time, but often they don’t last. It’s the stupid pun, or the offensive joke or the offhand remark that stung a bit at the time that replays itself over and over. Or sometimes, it comes back to you ten years later, out of the blue.

cold mountainI am outside of a bar in Evergreen Colorado. It is biting, winter-mountain cold. Closing time has passed, the glasses have been cleared and the bar wiped down. That’s the drab part of cocktail waitressing. I grab my coat, and the late hour and brisk wind hurry me towards my little rented place across the road.

“Hey, honey.”

Loud, the voice of a big man, it carries from some distance away. Was he waiting for me, watching? Or did he just randomly look up from unlocking his car and feel like making drunken trouble.

“Why don’t you and me go home and warm each other up?”

I walk faster and I don’t look. This is my usual response to unwanted male attention. Ignore it and it will go away. It usually works.

“Hey. I’m TALKING to you.”

I walk faster. Look straight ahead harder.

“I know you hear me. ANSWER me, damnit.”

I can’t walk any faster but I do focus harder on the pavement.

Finally he yells in disgust “You didn’t have to be so choosy, bitch.” He laughs. “I wasn’t.”

With relief I hear him close his car door and start his engine. With more relief I watch him drive away.

I am still scared and embarrassed when I finally reach my own front door. The next several nights I leave the bar with friends who see me safely home.

11Ten years later, I’m walking down a windy street in Chicago. I hear him again, clear as a sound in the cold mountain night air.

“You didn’t have to be so choosy, bitch. I wasn’t.”

And I stop. I turn straight towards him, a memory shadow in the dark distance. I yell back to him. “Yeah, I don’t think your mother was particularly choosy either.”

The murky outline of his body registers surprise. I add with firm clarity “In fact, you look to me like you come from a long line of people who weren’t particularly choosy.”

I turn and walk on with unhurried confidence and he fades into memory. Go figure. I never walk down a cold dark street quite as afraid again.