As a young female traveler, I’ve noticed that people tend to react in a variety of interesting ways when you tell them you’re going to be traveling alone.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Are you looking to meet a traveling boyfriend?”
“Will you really be safe there all by yourself?”
I imagine these reactions aren’t dissimilar to those any male would receive, but somehow, I still get the feeling that the underlying meaning in these questions is more suspicious than curious and is motivated solely by the fact of my femininity. It may be 2014 and we may have Feminism, Post-Feminism and probably by now Post-Post-Feminism, but somehow this subject still merits specialized discussion. On the brink of embarking on another solo travel stint, some reflection on the matter is in order.
At the end of my semester studying abroad in Italy, I planned to spend about a week wandering Rome by myself to cap off my experience in Italy before returning to the states the day after Christmas. The hype that preceded that little week was enough to make me want to pull my hair out. I guess I had expected that everyone would be praising my newfound bravado and be in awe of my independence. What I really got was a lot of confusion. I even had one person go so far as to tell me it was basically just a bad idea to spend Christmas alone in Rome. People were as bold as to ask if I was considering changing my flight so I could leave Italy at the same time as everyone else from my program.
Defiant and stubborn as I can be, I defended my choice to the end and went anyway. The encouragement of one amazing woman, my History of Italian Art professor, Antonella, was enough to affirm that I was making the right choice and gave me the impetus to go through with it. I’ll never forget how her bright voice exclaimed, “Fantastico, Christina!” and the stark contrast it provided to the discouraging remarks of others.
As much as I’d like to say the trip went off without a hitch and that I proved everyone wrong entirely, I have to admit I got really lonely at times and I got lost many times, and was once even scared for my safety. However, my determination to experience Rome prevailed and I made it back to Ohio feeling as if I could conquer the world. I may never get the chance to spend Christmas in Rome again and I’ll always look back on my decision to go as a turning point in my life. I decided I no longer needed the approval of everyone and that I was going to live my life regardless of other peoples’ small ideas for me.
All this to say, I’m still channeling Antonella and other visionary females like her that have inspired me to go on this next journey. Going it alone can certainly be more challenging and yet I will continue to firmly believe that it will always be rewarding. So, yes, I will sometimes go alone, not because I don’t enjoy traveling with good friends, but because there is nothing like the freedom of being completely unknown in a completely new place. There is just no feeling like it in the world. Suddenly, you answer to no one and you are solely responsible for your own happiness and experiences and this is absolutely terrifying and marvelous. Traveling the world leaves marks on us, carving into who we are and reshaping us while at the same time providing a mirror through which we can reflect and discover who we truly are at the core, and most of the time, the result is something more beautiful than before.
To read more:
Check out this blog post Adventurous Kate: Why Travel Safety is Different for Women and Buzz Feed’s polemical 29 Things Women Avoid Doing Because We Fear For Our Safety. I’ve also just finished an inspirational anthology of short stories written by solo female travelers that I highly recommend, Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo.