Yes, I am here by myself. No, I am not upset about this.
When I tell people that I travel by myself for work (I’m a travel editor, after all), I am met with mixed responses, from, “Oh, cool!” (the general and normal response to hearing about anyone’s job) to, “WHAT? YOU GO ALONE???” (usually from men! Not all men–but enough of them for it to be a noticeable trend).
There are a thousand million reasons a woman (or any person) might choose to travel alone. I, personally, travel by myself frequently for work. I’ve grown to love it, and over the past three years, I’ve become quite content with extended periods of alone time–it’s taught me to truly enjoy my own company and, most importantly, to trust myself in new situations and places.
As I went on more frequent solo trips (and posted updates to my personal Instagram account), I noticed a common occurrence: people–sorry, men, it was absolutely always men–asking me very leading questions about how it must feel to travel alone. And if it wasn’t a question, it was a direct statement as to how I must be feeling (i.e. “You must be so lonely being there by yourself!”).
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This made me think about the politics of being alone. As far as being “uncoupled,” there is a lot of stigma in it for women. Historically, women have been looked down upon by society for being unpartnered. Derogatory terms such as “spinsters” and “old maids,” are reserved for unwed women of a certain age, while uncoupled older men, on the other hand, are referred to as “bachelors” or, say, “silver foxes.” The framing of these titular discrepancies, though not particularly nefarious, illuminates another lens of patriarchy—one where solitary women are to be pitied or scorned, while men are celebrated.
So, I have decided to go ahead and compile and answer a few of those leading questions about how it must feel to travel alone—the ones I have actually been asked, by various men–here.
You often go on romantic vacations alone. Does this upset you?
When I am asked this question, I answer straight away that it’s not a vacation I’m taking—it’s work. I highly doubt that a man traveling solo (business or otherwise) would, A.) be asked whether or not he’s sad to be solo in a destination because it’s considered “romantic” or B.) be asked this question at all.
It seems inherently sexist that women are asked when traveling solo if she is upset about visiting a “romantic” location sans partner because the concept of romance, in general, is a thing people assume women to be obsessed with, or at the very least, predisposed by.
Sad and solitary are not the same thing, actually.
Secondly–what? Wait, so just because I’m alone in a place deemed “romantic” (which, sorry, can be literally anywhere—something is romantic if you are experiencing romance), you assume that I am… upset about being by myself? I am enjoying this beautiful place I don’t live in! Also, let’s talk some more about the term “romantic,” please. Just because something is considered “romantic” doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t experience it without a partner. Yes, Venice is very romantic and a perfect setting for couples. However, I don’t define myself by relationship status, and therefore do not define an entire city by it–no matter how much of a “perfect honeymoon locale” it may be to some. Romance is subjective, and only an adjective you can use to describe something when you’re in a certain state of mind. As I’m not in that state of mind on these trips, I’m not moping about Venice like, “Wow, this place is garbage because I’m uncoupled,” but rather I’m walking around with an open-mouthed, weird grin saying, “This place is pretty and I don’t live here!”
INSIDER TIPGoing on a gondola ride with a partner is equally as dumb/amazing as going on one by yourself.
Why didn’t you bring a plus one?
For obvious reasons, to start: my friends, family, and potential +1s have jobs and they understandably can’t necessarily drop everything and pay a bunch of money to go with me to wherever my work is sending me or I am choosing to explore for a couple of days. Also, when I am traveling for work, I’m… well, I’m working! It’s very different than going on a vacation in that I need to be professional when I’m there and I can’t put a friend’s enjoyment as a top priority, so it’s generally easier to go it alone anyway.
It seems like your work is very solitary. Is that sad for you?
Literally, a man asked me this on a first date. Yikes! To you, sir, I say: Well, first of all, stay away from me. That is quite the projection! And second of all: Sad and solitary are not the same thing, actually. During these “solitary” times, I am teaching myself how to get around in the world and do so without anybody’s help. During these “solitary” times, I am writing and creating. During these “solitary” times, I am thinking and being and learning and enjoying my surroundings, and also making myself laugh and having a REAL good time, because, actually, as it turns out, I am pretty damn fun, even when I’m by myself. Traveling alone helped teach me to enjoy spending time by myself, which was something that I didn’t always know how to do. So, no, it’s not sad. It’s actually pretty rewarding.
Oh, and in many cases, during these “solitary” times—and I cannot state this enough—I AM WORKING. People take business trips all the time. Why would it be sad? Why wouldn’t it be exciting or affirming of my own personal success or whatever?
Why did you come [to this destination] alone? Don’t you have friends?
My friends are at home, man, and I plan on hanging out with them when I get back into town. Good lord.
Don’t you feel unsafe traveling by yourself?
Again, this is not a question I could see someone asking a man, but this time, I (unfortunately) understand why: Women traveling by themselves are much more vulnerable than men in terms of safety, as there are countless horror stories from women (who did not even necessarily put themselves in “harms way”) being attacked while traveling. But traveling by myself has taught me many safety lessons and made me a much more cautious traveler. However, the answer to this question is: Yes! I do feel unsafe while traveling alone—not all the time, but periodically. Thing is, I also feel unsafe walking down the street in my own city periodically, as well, so this doesn’t just apply to travel, unfortunately. Feeling unsafe in certain places or at certain times is just part of being a woman.
At the end of the day, as my mother always told me, “We’re all in this together, by ourselves.”
Is it usually men that make me question my safety during these times? Nine times out of ten, yes—that’s been my experience. As it shouldn’t be our responsibility as women to have to go to extra measures to keep ourselves safe while traveling alone, we don’t have any other choice. Because we also shouldn’t have to forgo the ability to see the world.
Wait, I Have Something Else to Say
Let me get one thing straight: People need to stop pairing being alone (and traveling alone) with loneliness. It’s very important for anyone to learn how to be alone–and, honestly, traveling alone teaches you a lot, and QUICK. At the end of the day, as my mother always told me, “We’re all in this together, by ourselves.” As important as it is to cultivate meaningful relationships and connections with other people, it is equally as important to nurture one with yourself. Traveling alone has had a big hand in my own journey of learning how to trust myself, and it’s shown me that I am capable of figuring out many a dire situation.
I’ve been lost in the middle of the night in foreign cities. I’ve missed flights and thought I was to be completely stranded somewhere. I have been in situations that Past-Me would’ve assumed I would be so stressed out that I would’ve just straight up fainted, but you know what? I didn’t. Perhaps, at first, I did it kicking and screaming (a.k.a. crying a lot) but over time I stopped kicking, screaming, AND crying, and learned to pull myself together and just get it done. This lesson is invaluable. This lesson stays with me for the rest of my life.
So, now, whenever I get a comment from a dude about how I must be sad while traveling alone, I always say the same thing: Hahaha. No, dude. I’m fine.