Essay Travelling Alone

It’s telling that the State Department doesn’t offer “tips for men travelers.” I was surprised when, after I quit my job in 2010 and embarked on a 5,500-mile road trip around America, how many people expressed concern for my safety, as if every national park and Sonic Drive-In were little more than clubhouses for rapists and murderers.Like the act of going to a bar alone, traveling solo is a quick way to take the societal pulse about an independent woman. Then we feel a twinge of pity; she couldn’t find anyone who wanted to come along? By design, travelers are surrounded by total strangers — a population that women have been mostly socialized to fear.

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A more recent example (and in my humble opinion, a much better read) is Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.

While it’s ultimately an empowering tale, it’s another Oprah-endorsed female travel narrative that begins with more heartache and longing than wanderlust and curiosity.

Last month, ten years later, I embarked on the second solo international trip of my life.

A travel magazine sent me to Osaka for a week, and I had a great time eating squid pancakes and offending salesgirls by accidentally stepping into dressing rooms with my shoes on and Instagramming neon signs and getting drunk with weird businessmen.

The perception is that 20-year-old me is the norm when it comes to women traveling alone.

We might be accomplished professionals or on our third vacation to southeast Asia or just generally happy and confident out in the world alone, but the societal reflection is scared college girl who needs protecting.When a man steps onto the road, his journey begins.When a woman steps onto that same road, hers ends.” Even when women are portrayed as out in the world alone, there’s a twinge of pity.When you’re a solo traveler, your itinerary is your partner in crime.The first couple days were structured, and then, once I got more comfortable, it became free-flowing.I also ended up walking 15 miles one day — I’d never been to Paris before and I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was. When you have the time and space to figure things out, that’s a huge gift to yourself.The cooking class was run by a French-Canadian chef. There were eight students, and afterward everyone sat together and ate what we had made: salt-crusted roast chicken with mushroom sauce, duck fat potatoes, artichokes and a chocolate mousse tart. And it opens you up to more macro-conversations with yourself. I figured I’d bring books out to dinner, but then I realized you can use a book as a crutch.In a 2013 poll of travel agents (ok, I’m already a little skeptical because who uses a travel agent?but let’s roll with it), “agents reported that it’s much more common for woman to travel alone than men, with 73 percent of agents polled noting that more female travelers embark on solo trips than their male counterparts.” The average solo traveler is a 47-year-old female.After failing to land a summer newspaper internship, I impulse-bought a plane ticket I couldn’t afford. I was too scared I’d sound like an idiot ordering at restaurants, so I just bought bread and cheese from the grocery store and ate in public parks. I walked until my feet felt like they were going to fall off, then walked some more because I wasn’t sure how and where to relax.The deception was there from the start: For some reason I lied and told everyone it was a great deal. I told my parents I had enough money to see the trip through. I told my then-boyfriend I was super excited about it, that I knew how to have fun alone. I swore up and down that it wasn’t a big deal that I didn’t speak French or German or Hungarian and had no clue about the culture in most places I’d be traveling. I probably would have had a better time if I’d just owned up to being the naive American girl that everyone else saw.

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