In the years since, I feel a jolt of excitement whenever I hear about a woman traveling alone, whether she’s a single woman surfing in Costa Rica or a married journalist dropping into a war zone or a mother going to the wilds of Africa, discovering what quiet sounds like when it unfolds around her. Such exotic forays are out of reach for many people – including me, for most of my life. But I also think you can take a day hike by yourself, you can travel to the lake by yourself. And what you find is a reassurance that you can stand on your own in the world.
There is a poignant scene near the end of “Wild.” Cheryl Strayed’s mother is close to death, and she tells her daughter, “I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life … I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone else’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.”
God, that moment cut me. Boyfriends are nice, and careers are important, but I think this is all I’ve ever been after: to just be me.
I can’t travel much these days. I don’t have the money. I have a cat I love beyond all reason, who is old and tired. But I also found that I had to stop moving every time I grew uncomfortable. Being in the driver’s seat of your own life is grand, but it requires knowing when you are out of gas. I try to keep a traveler’s eyes. I take expeditions to strange suburbs. I take expeditions to the 7-11. (Behold: Corn Nuts in their native environment!) After years of movement, my challenge now is to sit still.
But I also try to hold on to the girl who was young and stupid enough to believe in foolish adventures, the girl who was equal parts ready to fall in love with you and hurl a ball peen hammer into your front windshield. I had a strength I did not realize, but one I did not forget. When I am restless and defeated and scared again, I tell myself this: that the greatest trip of my life came because I did not get the things I wanted.
From this terrific article, “Every woman should travel alone” by Sarah Hepola in Salon.
I travelled to the Philippines alone and it was wonderful but I spent quite a bit of it thinking about how I might die and how long it would take my family to find out that I was dead. Not that the poor old Philippines is particularly dangerous but I took some significant risks at times.