Essay Travelling Alone
Last month, ten years later, I embarked on the second solo international trip of my life.A travel magazine sent me to Osaka for a week, and I had a great time eating squid pancakes and offending salesgirls by accidentally stepping into dressing rooms with my shoes on and Instagramming neon signs and getting drunk with weird businessmen.As such, women on the road were already raped, already dead.Whereas a man on the road might be seen as potentially dangerous, potentially adventurous, or potentially hapless, in all cases the discourse is one of potential.
When I asked a friend of mine who’s an avid solo traveler — Colombia, India, Croatia — whether she worries about herself while running around the globe on her own, she replied, “I get the occasional pang about maybe getting acid thrown in my face or sexually assaulted when I travel to countries that have a high level of economic anxiety or disadvantage in addition to a strong patriarchal culture.The perception is that 20-year-old me is the norm when it comes to women traveling alone.We might be accomplished professionals or on our third vacation to southeast Asia or just generally happy and confident out in the world alone, but the societal reflection is scared college girl who needs protecting.What extremely sad event or life shakeup led her to take this solo trip?This could be called the Eat Pray Love effect — named for Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller about her global quest for spiritual wholeness in the wake of her divorce.I also ended up walking 15 miles one day — I’d never been to Paris before and I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was. When you have the time and space to figure things out, that’s a huge gift to yourself.The cooking class was run by a French-Canadian chef. There were eight students, and afterward everyone sat together and ate what we had made: salt-crusted roast chicken with mushroom sauce, duck fat potatoes, artichokes and a chocolate mousse tart. And it opens you up to more macro-conversations with yourself. I figured I’d bring books out to dinner, but then I realized you can use a book as a crutch. For the drama of it all, I flew overnight so that I landed in Paris on my actual birthday. Packing only a carry-on.) I stayed at the beautiful Hôtel Providence.There was also a great restaurant and bar, so when I came back at night, there were people around.After failing to land a summer newspaper internship, I impulse-bought a plane ticket I couldn’t afford. I was too scared I’d sound like an idiot ordering at restaurants, so I just bought bread and cheese from the grocery store and ate in public parks. I walked until my feet felt like they were going to fall off, then walked some more because I wasn’t sure how and where to relax.The deception was there from the start: For some reason I lied and told everyone it was a great deal. I told my parents I had enough money to see the trip through. I told my then-boyfriend I was super excited about it, that I knew how to have fun alone. I swore up and down that it wasn’t a big deal that I didn’t speak French or German or Hungarian and had no clue about the culture in most places I’d be traveling. I probably would have had a better time if I’d just owned up to being the naive American girl that everyone else saw.