I'm Getting Married, But I'll Travel Alone For The Rest of My Life
People look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them I have a partner, but I want to travel alone. Why would I still be searching for something when I've already found love?
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I sat on the beach watching the sun sink below the horizon when the downpour started. I ran into the jungle for protection.
The jungle in Nosara, Costa Rica extends up to the very point where the beach begins. No hotels, restaurants, or houses are allowed upon the coast. A tiny corner of the world where preservation has won.
Arriving back on the main road, I snuck into Beach Dog, a little restaurant without walls. I watched the rain fall, feeling the moisture as intensely as if I were still standing in the rain.
Effie, a blonde girl around my age, sat alone a few seats away reading a book.
“What are you reading?” I asked. She looked thrilled that I talked to her. The sign of another solo traveler.
Within a few minutes, we knew all about each other. We were both traveling alone. She was British, I was American. She’d arrived just that day, I’d already been there for a week. She was single, and I was in a relationship.
“Why isn’t he here?” She said.
Ahh, the question. The question I get again, and again, and as I’m asked it, I read my new friends faces: Relationship trouble? He cheated? You cheated? You’re not happy. He’s not happy. You’re in the middle of a break up and you came here to soul search.
And then I say the truth:
“Because I like traveling alone.”
I’m not sure why the statement feels so revolutionary. Society is full of stories about women traveling alone, whether its Wild, Eat Pray Love, or the edgier, funnier What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. The common thread is consistent: Women travel alone when they are single.
Women who travel alone, we are taught, are searching for something. We are incomplete, and through traveling, we can find what we need to complete ourselves, at which point we will be eligible for a partner.
But what if I am already complete? What if I want, simply, an adventure?
Men who travel alone are allowed this rare pleasure seldom granted to women: Adventure! They’re allowed to travel because it’s fun! And not because they are enriching themselves for the benefit of their sexual partner of whom they are not yet worthy.
Beyond the obvious sexism, there’s another clear reason why men are granted this joy of life: It’s a lot safer to travel alone as a man. Women traveling alone are taking a massive risk. Of course, it must be out of a desperate need to fulfill our souls, because otherwise, we’d be crazy to risk our lives for… fun? It’s also important to note that I’m writing this as a white cis women. Women of color traveling to certain countries and trans and non-binary women face even more of a threat.
Maybe it’s just the Sagittarius in me, maybe it’s my commitment to making choices consistent with my truths, but I will travel alone for the rest of my life.
Yep, I will risk my life for fun! Is this insane?! Maybe! (Although I’d argue no, it’s not like America is particularly safe these days.)
Not only will I keep traveling alone, but I encourage every woman I know to do it too. Embrace the unknown, invite growth. If it scares you, start with something structured, like Habitat for Humanity, a group travel program like Flash Pack, or a retreat (hint, hint).
Traveling alone has helped me trust myself. Driving a 12-passenger van alone (don’t ask) down flooded dirt roads in the jungle of Costa Rica during a downpour wasn’t an awesome experience as it was happening, but the confidence I felt coming out of that experience was insane. I’m a fucking badass who can do anything! Sure, I did Facetime my partner prior to plunging the van into a river of undetermined depth because it was the only way to the other side of the road, but I still did it. Traveling throws me into a state of true presence. It reminds me that my intuition is the strongest guide I’ll ever have. The doubt and insecurity can take a fucking chill pill.
Solo travel has also helped me find my people. You constantly make new friends solo traveling. Or at least you can if you want to. Typically, I stay in youth hostels (many have options for private rooms now, but you can still take advantage of the social vibe). There are also great hotels that have popular bars, restaurants, or host classes or events. I’ve gotten local internships. I’ve hosted retreats with strangers. And of course, I’ve simply chatted up people I met in restaurants or bars.
Meeting so many new people traveling has opened me up to wildly unexpected connections. I’ve gotten really good at looking through somebody’s facade — I don’t care if you’re cool on Instagram or you have trendy clothes — I wanna see your soul.
But the safety issue is real.
Before I leave for a solo trip, I do always panic and beg my partner to buy a last-minute ticket. I won’t lie to you. There is that.
I’m addicted to solo travel, but also, a man physically assaulted me when I was traveling alone in India in 2010, in what was an attempted sexual assault. I ran for an hour to get away before my body relaxed and the tears flowed. They never mention that about fear. That it comes later. That adrenaline doesn’t let it emerge until you are safe. It’s one of the many ways our bodies are magic.
After my summer traveling alone in India, I didn’t leave the country again for 8 years (but I did go to Maui twice, with friends and with an ex, which should count as another country and only doesn’t because of US imperialism).
During this time, I decided I would never travel without a man again. Dad, boyfriend, brother, I don’t care, as long as I’m not traveling alone. Who cares if it’s my favorite thing in the world? This just isn’t a world where a woman can travel alone.
But after years of staying put, my body ached with a desire to see the world again. No, I couldn’t change the reality of the world we live in, but with a lot of thoughtful planning, I could get back up and try again. After all, sexual assault is a daily threat for any woman living in any country. It really has nothing to do with traveling.
So, finally, I got on a plane and I left the country. First, with my partner on a vacation to Mexico. Then, with friends on a trip to Colombia. And finally, alone, for a month in Bali. I picked Bali because, unlike India, it’s a place that’s full of solo female travelers (thank you, Eat, Pray, Love). The economy depends on tourism, and Balinese culture is famously welcoming and friendly. It was the perfect re-entry.
The plan to fall in love with traveling again worked. I became 100% hooked. When I found out I needed to fly through Hong Kong in order to get a flight home, I even extended my layover, booked a hostel, and traveled in Hong Kong alone for a week.
The night before I left for Bali, however, the fear crept back in. It happened again more recently, too, the night before leaving for Costa Rica alone in 2021. Something bad is going to happen if I go on this trip. I felt the panic in my bones. It had been 11 years since India, but my body still held onto that fear it once felt.
Not letting the fear win is a choice. I must actively choose to push past it. And, when I do, it is worth it. Because you know how long the fears lasts?
Up until the second I arrive to where I’m going. Once I’m there, I’m overcome with joy and fear is a memory. Thank god I didn’t listen to fear, I think, surfing in Nosara, or riding a motorbike past rice paddies in Bali, or getting caught in a rainstorm on a boat in Colombia, or eating street tacos with strangers in Mexico City.
On my second night in Bali, I sat on the beach with another solo female traveler who I’d never think to befriend back home. She was younger than me, a former collegiate athlete. She straightened her hair everyday, whereas mine was in a messy, unwashed bun. But I knew that none of those things mattered. Here, she was a friend.
When she asked about my relationship I tried explaining it: I’m pretty sure he’s “the one,” but I also want to spend months away from him adventuring on my own. He understands that, so I think we’re soulmates.
I see her face thinking: This is really weird, but she manages to say something like, “But don’t you wish he was here?” Of course I miss him. But I love missing him. I love coming home. And I love the trips we do plan together, too.
For women, finding love is often considered the end of our journey, the last thing for which we must search. But having a partnership does not mean that my commitment to enriching my own soul is over. My soul is mine. And it craves adventure, freedom and solitude as much as it craves love and partnership. It craves the strength I feel when I face the fear, say fuck you to it, and move forward standing on my own two feet.
“I told somebody about you recently,” a friend said to me over dinner a few months ago. “I was like ‘I have this friend who just picks up and leaves whenever she wants, and I think it’s the coolest thing.’”
It reminds me how unusual it is to live the way I do, how it scares me to know that I’ll always crave escape. But hearing her say that flatters me as well. It reminds me how rare it is for anybody to not consider their partner their last stop on the search for living a full life. How much work it takes to commit yourself to actually do what you want in your lifetime. I receive her words. It is cool, I think. It’s pretty fucking cool.
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