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

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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?

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.

9 Comments for Women’s Travel E-Mail Roundtable, Part Nine: Girl Power, and the Get Up and Go

Anung 10.12.07 | 4:10 PM ET

I’m glad to know that the need to move and explore is not a strange thing my family thinks I’ll get over. Right now I’m studying abroad for the year in Ireland on a major no one thinks I’ll go anywhere with. I spent a year saving up for it. When i suprisingly got some extra I did the “irresponsible” thing and bought a SLR camera. There is a lot less busy work here that i have much more free time. Most everyone else that i know (or have met) here would rather go to the pub. The few times they go anywhere its with a group of other american students. They have to plan everything they’re doing and in which order. In a few weeks we have a week off. I’m spending half of mine alone in Greece. All I know is my plane and where I’m staying. I can spend days just wandering and taking pictures.

Thank you for writing that it is ok to travel alone and be the odd one out

Antrese 10.24.07 | 9:56 PM ET

I so understand the feeling of one foot in the door & the other out. In high school I went on an exchange program for 6 months. That was the seed. Fast forward through college and then several years in a corporate job to me on a plane taking my first (yes FIRST) vacation.

I was just starting to read Kerouac’s “On the Road” which in hindsight is kind of funny and a little prophetic. An elderly man sat next to me and commented on the book. I eventually became so interested in his story that I put the book down (I dont think I ever finished it now that I think about it).

As I listened to the stories of his travels I had my epiphany—I realized I was wasting my life and not truly living it. I was 4, maybe five years out of college and hadnt taken a single vacation day. My life changed on that flight. (I was only on that plane because my best friend poked and prodded and otherwise coerced me into going to Aspen where she was working the lifts. Yes, I had to be forced to go to Aspen to ski, that’s how deranged I was).

I started slowly with just the customary two weeks of travel here and there. But the seed was getting nourishment and it started growing. I was growing along with it.  I eventually quit my job and left for 4 months. I got back and couldn’t sit still so I did it again. I ran out of money so I went back to work for a few years.

The “problem” is that each time you travel, you are changed. If you think you can go back in time and be who you were before you left you cant. Its impossible. I could no longer sit in a cube and be content. I quit again this past April. I walked away from a really great job to follow my dreams. I am contemplating an extended trip ( a year). Actually to say Im “contemplating” is self delusional. I’m actively planning it. I cant imagine not doing it but I am still afraid of what happens when I get back.

Past experience tells me I will have grown in ways that cannot be imagined before hand. Past experience tells me I will land on my feet and be just fine on my return. Past experience tells me that the “risk” is greatly exaggerated and the returns far outweigh the risk. I’m still scared.

So I would encourage Kate (If that doesnt work, let me know and I will sick my best friend on her). Truthfully, she’ll go when shes ready and my guess is she already has her mind made up.

Lastly, I absolutely prefer to travel alone. People are much more likely to talk and to open up to one person than to a group.

Thanks for the great posts!

MargoWolf 12.27.07 | 10:00 PM ET

For Anung, I spent 125 days on my own in Ireland (2005) and made friends I hope to see this summer ‘08. You can get on a bus and go 100 miles in any direction, spend the day taking photos and return for the cost of an evening at a pub. And pubs in the country have fabulous and famous Irish
performers. But there are ruins all over
the country as well as rich history to go with them. You don’t need a crowd to go some where. And when you return you will have an adventure to tell. If you do this once per week at a cost of E30. or so, you will get to know Ireland. Why else did you go there??? MargoWolf

MargoWolf 12.30.07 | 5:36 AM ET

For Antrese. I do believe in traveling alone and have 90% of the time and it is
rewarding and brings me into contact with
the best side of people. I do not spend time in cities; they are for structured experiences that cost a lot of money. Day trips to specific places in cities cost less and help build your knowledge and ability to get around whether by public
transpo, bicycle or motorvehicle. Yes,
do go out on your own and be streetwise in the countryside and aware of what is around you. I camp and travel light. In the USA I have my truck and all the comforts of home in my topper on back. I
Love to be comfortable.But in Ireland and beyond I use buses and carry my things and establish myself out of a village (Killaloe in Clare or Kinvara in
Galway). I use a tent in a private camp
ground where I can get clean water to cook and shower and hand wash clothes. I
stay in an area to meet and make friends and to take short trips to places I want to see or to festivals and towns to get things I need. I love villages. I use the local post and get mail from friends at home. I find web cafes and send and get emails for quick communication. You do not have to feel ‘alone’. You can tell the local Garda (police) who you are and ask them if they can steer you away from problem areas and just let them be aware of you if it helps you feel secure. An English speaking country is a comfort and easier to learn about. I want to tackle France, Spain and Italy
next and I will apply what I have already learned to them as well. Good luck to all ladies on the road all over the world. Freedom is glorious. Keep a
written or photographic journal, stick in local fliers and pamphlets. Make your own food to keep expenses down; markets are great and fresh food will keep you healthy. Carry a water purifier, small, less expensive so you will stay free of
any bugs. Go! You will love yourself more and become the person you want to be. MargoWolf

MargoWolf 01.04.08 | 3:50 AM ET

For Anung, Have you gone to Greece? How was it? Do you feel you have cut the umbilical cord and found your confidence? I hope you writein here again and tell us. If this site is operating this way
over the Spring,Summer and Fall, I want to
keep in touch with readers and share. I am
a journalist/photographer by degree and experience. The internet and my apple
are still being absorbed into my life, as are my digital still and video cameras. As a formerly old fashioned
journalist and photog I want to start
doing documentary film on subjects I am
most familiar with; sailing, horses, traditional music, and travel itself. Life in motion under my own steam is as
addicting as good coffee and chocolate.
At 58, I have a background that sustains me and still much to learn and more to explore. Is there anyone out there who is thinking of expatriation and work on their own overseas? As I travel I design
and make jewelry and leather bags that I
can sell at markets or in busy spots. My
handiwork has brought me friendships and
deepened my love for many places from the Rocky Mountains to Ireland. I am not a ‘hippy’ and am very involved with environmental/wildlife advocacy. The
weather every year has been taking me by surprise. Finding coolness in the heat has been my biggest challenge. My first
time in Ireland I never thought I would get so sunburned. It seems I search for the perfect climate now as much as for beauty and experience. Being out in the world makes you aware of everything. Minute details. It is breathing in all the senses.I do hope more women write…MargoWolf

Anung 01.06.08 | 11:49 AM ET

Greece was great. i made myself go mostly blind. i left things open so i could change plans whenever i wanted, which i did a few times. i found a part of myself. im confident in my ability to take care of myself. next semester i’ll be doing more trips. a few small weekends to france, denmark. a longer one all around the islands. if i can i want to see about a trip to somewhere in asia.

im an amateur photographer and writer. i would like to use these in my travels.

MargoWolf 01.06.08 | 5:33 PM ET

Anung! Great to hear from you! I have never been to Greece and realize if ever I go it will be in winter. Asthma keeps me from the summers in warmer places. What was it like weather-wise? Were you comfortable outside? Were there some good days for walking? I am curious. You have
done as you wanted and benefit from that.
In early June I will be visiting friends in Kinvara, County Galway, and returning there between side trips and a run to the continent. Leave a message or post at
the Kinvara Post if you come through and we can have tea or a Guiness.MargoWolf

Anung 01.06.08 | 10:39 PM ET

the weather was pretty good. some nice cool days. plenty of sun. it was nice to get up in the mornings sometime and just sit at the beach or a bench. there are some cheach, and clean, places to stay. especially on the islands. the islands, mykanos was one of my favorites, and most of athens are good places to walk. most of the museums and places like that are free on sundays. at least when i was there.
ive finally convinced my family to come and visit me in ireland at the end of school year. so in the biginning of june i should be showing them around there and other countries. i’ll hit you up if i get the chance.

MargoWolf 01.14.08 | 10:17 AM ET

For Anung,
  I will be in Kinvara in mid August for the Galway Hookers Festival and wooden boat races. The Balinasloe Horse Fair is
the second week of October, or earlier; nine days of
horse sales and events-I will be there
for the entire Fair. Feakle has an “International Traditional Music Festival”
in late July, I believe. That one I hope to be at this time.The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is about Aug 20. So many things going on. I will be writing and filming.
Best of luck, MargoWolf

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