Women’s Travel E-Mail Roundtable, Part Five: Settling Down on the Fringe
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.
10.09.07 | 3:26 PM ET
From: Terry Ward
To: Liz Sinclair, Stephanie Elizondo Griest and Catherine Watson
Subject: Settling Down on the Fringe
I am loving this dialog we’ve got going, and I realize that it has everything to do with why I love travel in general—for the way it immerses me in an ever-evolving learning experience, just by virtue of being myself in a situation completely outside of my usual domestic everyday.
Speaking of my domestic everyday here in Florida, it’s a different version than that of most of my friends.
Today, I turn 32.
I don’t own a house, I don’t have a kid (nor am I “trying”), I’m not married, I don’t even have a pet. And right now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I can basically get up and go at any given moment (as long as the rent’s paid), and often, I do. Sometimes I get the feeling my friends don’t even consider my profession, as a freelance writer, a “real job.” They say they envy it, sure. But they’re always bemused when I say how hard I’ve been working, or when I have to turn down an invitation due to my work load.
And while my friends and family have gotten used to my frequent departures—they’ve come to ask where I’m headed next before I have a chance to tell them—I still get the feeling that it makes people uncomfortable, this “traveling thing.” And I suppose it’s because they can’t relate.
For all the foreign situations I’ve found myself in—where the women and men I meet are confused by why a woman would travel alone—I can honestly say that I feel most Americans are equally perplexed.
I wrote my South Florida Sun-Sentinel column this month about how my boyfriend and I, having different interests, often pursue our travels apart. And how I enjoy traveling alone. And I actually got an e-mail from a male reader saying this: “People who really love each other don’t feel a deep desire to travel on their own.”
Typically, his e-mail was trying to sway me his direction—he wrote that he was ready to set off for Tahiti together with me. But I think his point of view on solo travel is not uncommon here in the States—that it implies something is wrong.
Catherine mentioned that she feels more outgoing, curious and a lot lower-maintenance when she is traveling in a meaningful way (for work, to help people) than she does at home.
When I return from a trip, I usually find myself in a funk because everything is so easy and expected, like there’s some unseen handbook guiding me through my every day—work, work out, wind down, repeat. And it bothers me to feel like I’m living with blinders on at home, when I am so much more automatically open to experiences everyplace else. Why is this?
There is the anonymity on the road, especially in conservative countries, where the sheer difference in cultural expectations allows me to let questions in the vein of “Why aren’t you married?” and “Why don’t you have kids?” roll right off me.
But back in the States, where most of my peers really don’t get why I would want to travel in lieu of what they see as building a life here, the constant reminders that my clock is ticking and my “eggs are getting old” aren’t as easily shaken off.
I agree with Catherine that I feel most vulnerable as a woman here at home. America is a violent country and I can feel it more here than almost every other place I’ve been—even if I have never been attacked myself.
But for me, at this moment, the vulnerability I feel as a woman in America is more of an emotional one.
Most of my closest friends are American. And most of my friends see my wanderlust as something I will eventually outgrow. I get the feeling they see me as a rebel—perhaps even an immature one—who will eventually come ‘round, and settle down. And as much as they say they admire my experiences (and I think they genuinely do), I get the feeling that they see something selfish in the way that I live my life. So when we’re together, I talk mostly about things that are relative, and I relegate my travels—my passion, my true interest—to my writing and my dreams, and to conversations with the few people who I know are on the same page.
When I travel alone here in the States, I feel more anonymous than I do anywhere else. I speak English with a neutral accent, I look as American as the next person (I always marvel at how pretty much anyone can fit in, physically, in this country—that’s a beautiful thing), so nobody really sees me as a traveler. It’s only really abroad that I feel my traveler identity recognized.
As a result, I feel trapped between cultures—between being American abroad, and un-American here at home. Fitting in everywhere and nowhere. Am I just being an overly dramatic woman, or does being a traveler—and especially being a woman traveler—put us on the fringe here in America? I think it does, but I also think I am finally learning to live with it—mostly because I cannot imagine changing the way I live, the way I travel, in favor of fitting in.