Women’s Travel E-Mail Roundtable, Part Nine: Girl Power, and the Get Up and Go
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 | 6:29 AM ET
From: Terry Ward
To: Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Catherine Watson and Liz Sinclair
Subject: Girl Power, and the Get Up and Go
I shouldn’t be surprised by how much I can relate to the woes and rewards we share as women travel writers—Stephanie’s pension talk-induced cold sweats, Catherine’s zoning out on HGTV and feeling like her feet are nailed to the ground when she first gets home and Liz’s claustrophobic feeling in the States are all sentiments I know well.
Still, it’s therapeutic to be hashing through all of this.
Because in between these e-mails, I continue to lead my very American life—downing mass amounts of coffee like it’s brain fuel and getting sidetracked from writing about destinations that now seem very distant by eBay browsing and breaking news of Florida wackiness on the Miami Herald.
Last night, I went to a Turkish restaurant, and was pleased by how authentic the food was. There was a Muslim woman in the head scarf and I wanted so badly to wish her a happy Ramadan, but I had to remind myself that my outward curiosity while traveling should be tamed to a certain degree here at home (am I wrong here?), where people don’t really like to be called out for being different. And I’m no different than the next guy. Because when we’re here, we’re all American.
If I hear someone speaking French in Orlando, I can barely keep myself from busting into their conversation with my own mangled version of the language, just for the chance to practice. And if my cabbie has a mini Koran dangling from his rearview mirror and a Middle Eastern accent, I’m always tempted to ask where he’s from (even if the response is almost always a guarded ‘New York’).
Still, the cultural experiences I seek out here at home don’t substitute for actually being ‘out there,’ and assuming my other personality, the one Catherine described.
And how lucky we are to be able to be out there—largely whenever and wherever we want—knowing that most women who decide to travel on their own aren’t doing it with the admitted legitimacy of it being a job, too.
For women with a lot more time, emotions and money invested in the American life than I can claim, I can imagine that it’s that much harder just to up and leave it all behind for what most people perceive as a wandering whim.
This week, an old friend from high school, Kate, got in touch by e-mail for my birthday and casually mentioned she was in a little wondering-where-her-life-is-going funk. She said she was thinking of going on a trip alone to South America, and perhaps volunteering. She hasn’t narrowed down a destination or the volunteer angle—it’s all just initial musings at this point—and I imagine she has some fears about what will be waiting for her when she comes back home if she were to leave for more than a week or two.
Kate’s a perpetually optimistic person with a huge social network and a great job, so I took her mention of the funk to heart. But in my hurried too-stressed-in-my-own-American-life response, I dashed off something to the effect of ‘GO, GO, GO,’ and clich? a la ‘You’ll never regret leaving your life here to travel.’
But when I think about it, how can I say that? After all, like all of us with one foot in and the other out the door, I am a woman divided. My life, my heart, is half here—and half everyplace else I’ve ever been.
So even if it’s impossible when we’re traveling to switch off the writer and researcher, can we talk just as travelers now, to share with our fellow females the joys—the sheer liberation—of traveling solo as a woman. Why it’s worth it. And I need your help here, ladies, because the writer in me is at a loss for words.
What kind of encouragement can we share with people like Kate, who are thinking about getting out there, about why the rewards are so much greater than any struggle along the way?