Sometimes travelling alone is an anomaly. I get that. When I first landed in Athens, I climbed aboard an airport taxi with an older driver whose first question was, “Why are you alone?” He was genuinely perplexed. I could tell by his concern that he couldn’t understand how I’d find such an experience enjoyable. It was Greece — everything centers on family life there, and so the question wasn’t so offensive.
But I get the question all the time, from friends and strangers alike. Travelling alone as a woman shouldn’t be an anomaly. It implies that we are in harm’s way — that what we are doing is risky. Everything is risky. Life is risky. I appreciate the well meaning, but I like travelling solo. So many opportunities arise when you’re open to them.
This question bothers me because it assumes that “settling down” is the proper way to live. I’m supposed to have a home on Cookie Cutter Lane with five babies and a shiny new Subaru. I should be home on Friday nights making dips and pairing them with cocktails. My parents really, really want grandkids.
No, I will not settle, not for anything. Maybe one day I’ll get married and pop out a child or two, but I will not settle. The role of matriarch and wife is very different for me. It does not involve coupon clipping or Saturday morning soccer coaching. If that’s the life you want and love, that’s awesome. But it’s not for everyone, and it will never be for me. That old American dream? It’s dead. Freedom is my dream.
I recently posted a message on Facebook about how I was planning on volunteering in Bangalore. Within 30 minutes, I had several people message me to tell me that India treats its women like garbage, and if I go there, I’ll surely end up in a ditch somewhere with my throat slit.
Every country has its problems, but to rule out an entire nation because of a few grisly stories is insane. India has more than a billion people. It’s true that women can have terrible experiences in India, or any other country, but I’ve known more than a handful of women who have travelled such destinations alone, and have never experienced disaster. Bad things can happen anywhere. Generally, people are good.
Yes, I worry. Every time I have to walk back to my hotel or hostel after sunset, I worry a stranger will snatch me in the alleyway. Every time I get into a taxi alone, I worry the driver will have sinister motives.
But you know what? It’s the exact same fear I have when I’m home in Canada. There has never been an evening when I’ve walked home alone without having my keys out to stab somebody in the eyeball if they make a pass at me. To think that I am just as safe at home is ignorant. Being targeted because I’m a woman is a constant concern, but it’s not going to hold me back. It’s funny how people overlook the issues at home because of what they know from the media.
On my six-month trip around the Balkans, everyone assumed I was running from a failed relationship, or some other disaster in my life. They were partially right. I was broken hearted, and I was seeking release. But I was also fleeing a conventional life. I was fleeing boredom and tedium and routine. I hated that people assumed my motivation for travel was escaping a life back home, as if I couldn’t get out there and carpe diem the crap out of life on my own.
On the other hand, if broken hearts are a way to see the world, so be it. While hiking around Santorini, a girl named Milly asked me if I were single. I said I was, and that I had no real intention of dating anyone anytime soon. We stood at the edge of the caldera watching the sun dip into the Aegean Sea, and we were silent for some time. She finally said, “I see a lot of girls travelling to get over failed relationships. I think it makes them braver.” One can only hope.
There’s always a tinge of judgment in a waiter’s voice when the question is asked. I’ve embraced dining alone over the past year or so, and I’ve grown to love it. I bring a book or a magazine, or I sit and observe. In Kotor Bay, Montenegro, a waiter served me a cappuccino with a chocolate heart drawn into the creamy froth. He pointed to a man near the door. “For you,” the waiter said. The man at the door waved. And then we got to talking, which, as it turns out, is a lot easier when you’re alone. Eating alone does not make me a spinster.
Yes. Don’t we all? I’ve spent nights curled up in a sleeping bag inside my cave on Santorini island, homesick for my friends and family. But then there are nights surrounded by new friends at the hostel bar, and you realize loneliness is just a concept.
Even if I was dating someone, it doesn’t mean he’d be on the trip with me. And if I had to sit around on my ass waiting for my indecisive friends to figure out their travel plans, I’d never get anywhere. I do have friends. I swear.