Women’s Travel E-Mail Roundtable, Part Eleven: (De)Parting Words

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.

10.12.07 | 7:14 AM ET

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From: Liz Sinclair
To: Terry Ward, Catherine Watson and Stephanie Elizondo Griest
Subject: (De)Parting Words

What a great baton to be handed in this roundtable relay! I really hate to see this discussion come to an end. We’ve explored so much territory.

My advice to women (or men) wanting to travel solo? In a word, GO!

But be prepared to change. Be prepared to face all your strengths and weaknesses. The illusion of a nice, safe world where nothing bad or scary ever happens to you, and everything is under your control, is just that—an illusion. So be warned. When you get back “home” you will find that things you didn’t see before are now glaringly obvious, and things you didn’t hear before, you now listen to. But you’ll also find that little things don’t irritate you anymore, you’re more flexible and adaptable at work, in your relationships, with your family, you feel more accepting and tolerant. You may find, as we four have found, that you change so much that you are no longer satisfied with the status quo. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Travel for me used to be about exploring all those big unknown questions “out there.” Are humans more alike than different? What drives us? What do we fear? What do we love? But over the years, travel has become more of a spiritual experience for me. Now it’s about exploring my fears, my potential. The more I travel, the more I open up to life’s possibilities, to other people. I have had the most extraordinary, life-affirming encounters with strangers. I have friends all over the globe. The more I learn about other ways of seeing the world, other ways of living, the more I learn about myself. I trust myself more. I have a lot more confidence. I am more relaxed, flexible, adaptable, content. I don’t need someone or something else to make me happy. I’ve become a writer and feel like it’s a gift from the divine. It always comes back to me. Traveling and travel writing are intensely personal experiences. The best travel writers? The ones that move you to tears or give you that “aha” moment by going deep within themselves.

The down side? I have had my limits challenged and pushed. I have been terrified. I have cried myself to sleep. I have been cheated and lied to and robbed and betrayed by people I thought were friends. I have felt very, very alone. I have been intensely angry. I have been sad. I have been humbled and ashamed and embarrassed.

Travel has also allowed me to reclaim my sense of being American. Weird, huh?  Since I no longer live there. As critical as I am of the American government’s solipsistic foreign policy, (and is it a coincidence that the current President never owned a passport before he was elected?), I am proud to say I’m American when I’m traveling overseas. (I actually know of an American ambassador who pretends he’s Canadian in public.) I don’t mind the debates. After all, I’m out here to represent my culture as well. I’ve gotten a lot of “aha” moments, like the Melbourne man who told me that he understood more about America, talking to me for half an hour on the day after 9/11, than he ever did in forty years previously. The personal connection matters and it matters intensely. I am really excited that a man may get into the White House who spent five years of his early life living in a third world country.

Stephanie’s will comment is a great idea. I’ve also found that making out your will helps allay travel fears. I discovered this by accident. I planned to make a will before a trip to Bali right after the second bombings. I delayed, and delayed, and wound up making out a kit will on the plane to Denpasar, asking two very amused Qantas attendants to be my witnesses. Since then, I have gone to a lawyer and drawn up a proper will. It’s funny how contemplating your death can give you great peace of mind. It’s as though facing the greatest fear of all makes the others, like solo traveling, seem lesser.

My advice to Kate? You are choosing a really good way to get out of a rut, to explore the world and yourself, by living in another culture, being forced to learn another language and by helping others without asking anything in return. Kate, you don’t realize this now, but you are going to change a lot of people’s minds about Americans and you will grow and stretch in ways you can’t even imagine now. I understand your fear is very palpable. Believe me, I’ve been there. We all have. But that’s just your first lesson If you’re feeling that this trip is something you want/need to do, trust your instincts. You know what, Kate? Right now, living in Bali, being a volunteer, supporting myself on work that fulfills me, I have felt so much love, and so loved, that I have actually cried from happiness. This has all come about because twelve years ago, I started traveling solo.

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.

2 Comments for Women’s Travel E-Mail Roundtable, Part Eleven: (De)Parting Words

Eva Holland 10.12.07 | 11:41 AM ET

Thanks very much to all of you! I’ve really enjoyed following along.

MargoWolf 01.04.08 | 10:11 AM ET

Dear Liz,
  Your experiences have really been humbling to me. You have been hurt on the road. That is always the possibility. That is the scarey part. If someone hurts me will I come through it? If I am robbed will I be covered? If someone betrays me will I be able to take it alone? My old motto;Do what you will but hurt no one: will it suffice? I want work but I want legal work. Our economy here is diving for
mud. Will another president be enough to
recover our integrity? Should I do an absentee ballot? Will it be counted?
What lies in wait for me? Sights and smells and sounds from other cultures I
have dreamt of for decades. I have accident insurance if I don’t live through something. I think a will is wise. Will there be a way to share my
travels with people at this site or will it dissolve one of these days? Be well and take care out there. I will look for your work in print. This was good for me.
Thanks to all of you.
PS I read Lowell Thomas, too.

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