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When a man steps onto the road, his journey begins.When a woman steps onto that same road, hers ends.” Even when women are portrayed as out in the world alone, there’s a twinge of pity.
(In case you had any doubt that traveling couples are the default, consider how most hotels and other travel bookings cater to pairs.) And if she seems to be having a good time, we’re even more confused. And, sure, there are still very real safety concerns in some parts of the country and the world.
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.
Staying at a boutique hotel where everyone got to know me was a real bonus.
My friends had called and arranged for a bottle of rosé and treats to be put in my room when I arrived, so the hotel knew it was my birthday and that I was traveling solo.
Early in the trip, it felt good to have a purpose: I’m going to wake up and walk to this neighborhood and do that. The first day, I went to a spa and to see a ballet.
The next day, I went to a cooking class and a few museums.
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.
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.