Women’s Travel E-Mail Roundtable, Part Ten: Ode to the Mother Road

Speaker's Corner: All this week, four accomplished travelers -- Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Liz Sinclair, Terry Ward and Catherine Watson -- talk about the rewards and perils of hitting the road alone as a woman.

10.11.07 | 3:29 PM ET

imageMore e-mails: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

From: Stephanie Elizondo Griest
To: Terry Ward, Catherine Watson and Liz Sinclair
Subject: Ode to the Mother Road

Thanks, Terry, for the assignment: convincing Kate and every woman out there to hit the road sola, at least once in life.

I have spent much of 2007 crisscrossing the nation, holding Traveling Sola workshops for women. The first question I always ask is: “Who here has wanderlust?” Every hand blasts skyward. Then I ask: “So why are we here instead of out there?” The responses are myriad, but they boil down to this: “We are waiting” and “We are afraid.”

First, the waiting. Traveling is highly subject to postponement. We wait until we finish school before commencing our big adventure. We wait until we’ve paid off our college loans. Until we’ve paid off our mortgage. Until our kids (dogs/ferrets/ferns) are grown. Until we’ve retired. Until a travel partner comes along.

At some point, we must ask ourselves: Is that day ever going to come? And will we still be wanderlusty when it does?

The time to travel is when you have the desire, the dream, the hunger. The time to travel is when you pass the night poring over blogs like this. The time to travel is now. And—to paraphrase Thalia Zepatos—if you are waiting to find that perfect travel partner, take a look in the mirror and get out your passport.

Now for the Fear Factor. This one is huge. As women, we worry about getting lost. About growing lonely. About being mugged, kidnapped, raped. I have embarked on six major journeys and—in the days before my departure—was terrified I might never return. How did I overcome fear? By writing a will. That’s right. At the ripe age of 33, I have six versions of my will, neatly labeled and tucked in a drawer. Somehow, writing those final farewells frees my mind and enables me to go.

The scariest part of traveling is everything you must do prior to boarding that plane: carving out the time, shoving your belongings into storage, quitting your job, buying your ticket. But once you are physically on that plane, you’re golden. You’re ordering gin and
tonics, flipping through guidebooks, drawing up plans, dreaming. And then you’re stepping off that plane and beholding the jungle, the ocean, the mountains. The glorious people you’ll soon be meeting. Before you know it, you’re traveling; you’re transcendent. You have joined Mother Road.

Be forewarned that traveling will alter you in profound ways. Upon returning home from a four-year journey around the communist bloc, I discovered that all of the identities I’d spent a lifetime cultivating had peeled off one by one. My vegetarianism drowned in
a bowl of yak penis soup in China. I compromised my feminism by allowing a Russian boyfriend to treat me badly. I never felt less Latina than in Cuba, where my Tex-Mex Spanish was barely intelligible to the people with whom I so badly wanted to connect.

But that’s what Mother Road does best. She pushes you to your physical, spiritual and psychological limits—then nudges you one step further. She teaches you to be self-reliant and self-sufficient, which in turn makes you self-confident. Under her guise, you’ll
soon be strolling the world’s passageways with confidence. You’ll understand the difference between being alone and being lonely, and will grow more selective of your company.

So GO! Far. Wide. Now.

World Hum contributing editor Terry Ward writes for The Washington Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel and AOL. A story she wrote about a women-run guesthouse in Rajasthan, India was selected as notable travel writing for the 2006 edition of the "Best American Travel Writing" series. She is based in Florida.

Catherine Watson is the former travel editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year and the author of two collections of travel essays, the new Home on the Road -- Further Dispatches from the Ends of the Earth, and Roads Less Traveled -- Dispatches from the Ends of the Earth. She recently wrote the World Hum story Where the Roads Diverged.

Stephanie Elizondo Griest has mingled with the Russian Mafiya, polished Chinese propaganda and belly danced with Cuban rumba queens. She is the author of Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, as well as Not Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines, and the guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go

Australia-based Liz Sinclair is living in Bali, learning Indonesian, volunteering as a grant writer for a maternal and child health center for the poor and writing about Australia and Asia, with an emphasis on Indonesia and interfaith issues. She wrote Why I am Still Going to Bali for World Hum, and has written for The Melbourne Age, The Big Issue, Australia, The Brunei Times, The Evening Standard and Islands magazine.

4 Comments for Women’s Travel E-Mail Roundtable, Part Ten: Ode to the Mother Road

Rainfield 10.12.07 | 1:40 AM ET

i have read several of your article..
now i am really admire you and maybe a little bit jealous, heehee, cuz you are doing what exactly i want to, i believe i will do that some day though.

MargoWolf 01.04.08 | 9:41 AM ET

Dear Stephanie,
  I am so glad to be past the point of going out on my own (Living on my own at 18) and traveling the East coast then to the Rockies. I took a friend once and we
parted badly. Another friend wanted to leave and go home to get married. I stayed. Now the prospect looms ahead when Roger tells me I can take the Apple laptop
even though having such an expensive and
stealable piece of electronics bothers me. I am used to caring for and protecting my cameras and film. But this laptop could make me self sufficient and
mobile and free and that is seductive.
If I sell my pickup I can buy a small motorcycle in Europe. Then I would be looking for a place to winter because doing the warm months is easy. Unless there is another heat wave. Will my cats be OK with Roger? Will I be OK? What if my mother dies while I am over there? My
cats can come to France…I will be 59 in July and I want a future, a new life in another or other countries. If I could I would bring my Irish friends to the US and show them my favorite places.
Hell, I want to show my best friends here the places I love. They do travel but not far or long. But I am going to see more of everything and stay as long as possible. That could be a while. You get paid to encourage women to travel.
You have seminars for women who want to travel alone but don’t or have not. They
pay you. Lucky you. Me, too. I love the road.MargoWolf

Jim Bisnett 05.14.08 | 11:30 AM ET

Your article hit a note with me regarding the “procrastination” aspect of travel.  There always seems to be something to delay a trip or adventure. Maybe the key is to actually schedule the journey so that particular block of time is accounted for.

Adventure Art Travel 09.03.08 | 2:35 PM ET

The strangest thing that several women travellers have told me concerns McDonald’s restaurants.  Its not often that they receive good press, but its been said many times that when in travelling solo in strange cities and feeling vunurable for whatever reason McDonalds restruants are usually an oasis of calm and perceived safety, plus of course they usually have the best air con in town !

Great articles BTW, and what a way to lose your vegetarianism !

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.