“Are you with a gap year program or something? Oh, you’re backpacking alone? Isn’t it hard traveling on your own like this?”
“I bet it can get really lonely at times.”
“Your parents let you travel alone? Wow. I would never let my daughter do what you’re doing.”
“You couldn’t find any of your friends to come with you? No boyfriend from back home to join you?”
“What happened back at home?”
“Don’t you ever wish you had someone to share this experience this with though? Aren’t there times when you’re watching the sunset and you wish you had someone next to you?”
“Oh, so you’re on some ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey?”
These quotes are from conversations I’ve had with people in airports, bus stations, train stations and cafes. They’re reactions from both men and women of all different ages and from various backgrounds.
The question, “Are you traveling with anyone?’ has become as irritating to me as, “Where are you from?” I dread the responses that follow, “No, I’m traveling alone,” just as much as when I tell someone I’m from America.
Many people are surprised when I tell them I’m traveling alone — with the exception of the travelers I meet in hostels. I can’t help but wonder if my male counterparts receive the same reactions. I’m pretty sure they don’t.
Prior to leaving, yes I was scared to travel alone — but it had nothing to do with being a woman. I was scared because I doubted myself. I wasn’t sure if I had the skills to get myself from point A to point B alone in a foreign city where I didn’t speak the language. I doubted if I had the openness to truly experience humility while living in communities I haven’t been exposed to before. I questioned if I relied too much on friends and family in the past, that I’d fail to be independent in situations where being independent would matter the most.
In retrospect, I wonder if all that self-doubt stemmed from the stigmas that are attached to being a woman who is traveling on her own. Were those doubts my own fears, or did I feel them because subconsciously I felt like I was supposed to?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a solo female traveler since I’ve been reading Gloria Steinam’s memoir, On The Road. In her book, she discusses her experiences living a nomadic life and how that helped her become the activist she is today. She points out how men historically have always had the freedom to travel, while the same can’t be said for women. In the past, women left their homes because they didn’t have a choice — or if they did — they were leaving unhealthy situations and seeking a better life. Today, it continues to be a challenge for many women to travel due to work schedules and family responsibilities. This is precisely why Steinam says, “Perhaps, the most revolutionary act for a woman will be a self-willed journey — and to be welcomed when she comes home.”
Traveling is a huge privilege for both men and women. And I’m more aware now that not everyone has this opportunity — especially women. However, when I tell people I’m traveling alone their responses are typically far from flattering. Not once has someone said, “I hope my daughter, wife, girlfriend, or mom does that one day.” I’m not looking to be told I’m brave or courageous, but anything is better than someone assuming I’m really lonely wishing I had someone by my side all the time, because that’s not the case at all.