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Twenty-Nine Women Answer the Question: Why Go Solo?

Excerpted by Melissa Santley

Twenty-nine women with their awe-inspiring stories of an adventure travel have contributed their experiences to a collection of essays in A Woman Alone. Each tale is a celebration of each woman's innate curiosity about the far reaches of our globe.

We have excerpted the beginnings of two adventures stories that a couple of very different women will go on. Diverse with each resounding voice accompanying each woman's solo experience, A Woman Alone will add fuel to your fire of hoping to wander the world all by your independent self.

Be Kind to the Muchachos

By Ginny NiCarthy

My favorite mode of travel is whichever one I'm experiencing at the moment: with friends, on a tour - or alone. Travel with others is always a challenge, a risky road on which many a romance, and some friendships, have foundered. But a trip fraught with disasters or swarm of mosquitoes can also create trench buddies. Years later, the drop of an ordinary phrase like ?bargain tour? or ?leaky roof? sends reminiscing travel companions into spasms of laughter that only those who were there can appreciate.

When you wander alone, you don't get that bonus of an increased intimate connection with friends. But you just might find another kind of treasure. On the road, alone, I often discover aspects of myself that surprise me, usually triggered by someone unexpectedly met, someone I'd never have paused long enough to truly see had I been with a friend or group. In real time, those encounters might last only as long as a butterfly's life. Yet the warmth of them, or the insight gained, or the irksome snag on my image of myself, lingers for years. On my first trip to Guatemala, that kind of gift came to me from Jorge.

An unruly array of exhaust-spewing, gear-grinding, parking, turning buses jockeyed for position. My bus had just pulled into some northern Guatemalan town, but the question was, which one? I hadn't heard an announcement, but I knew approximately how long it took to reach Huehue (short for Huehuetenango). I checked my watch, and figured this must be it. I left the bus, and I hadn't gathered my luggage or my wits when a stocky, dark-skinned man shouted from the top of another bus, his staccato voice charged with
frenetic energy.

"Mexico, si? Mexico? Mexico?"

Idly curious, I looked around to see whom he bellowed at, then slowly realized his words were aimed at me. His beefy arm was in the act of tossing one of my bags, retrieved from the roof of my bus, onto the top of another bus, apparently headed for Mexico City.

"No!" I shouted up to him.

Again he bellowed, "Mexico, si?"

"No!" I had been in Guatemala only a couple of weeks, had come from Mexico, and was nowhere near ready to go back yet. I pointed to the ground. "Aqui! Ahora! Por Favor!" Paltry through my Spanish vocabulary was, it felt good to snap out those words - Here! Now! Please! - which resounded in my ear like the three magic words in a fairy tale. The message registered. In a flash my prince of the moment reloaded the bags on his back and zoomed down the ladder.

Relieved, I waited to retrieve them, and planned to ask the young man for the name of a good cheap hotel. But my momentary serenity was ruptured as, stupefied, I watched him snatch two smaller bags from me, add them to his already formidable burden and, without a word, jog down the street, weaving in and out of the curb-to-curb people.

The Longest Short Trip

By Pramila Jayapal

It wasn't a big trip, the eight-hour journey from Seattle to the Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon. In fact, compared to the traveling I have done in my life, this should have been downright easy. It was just a drive to a beautiful mountain home where I would spend a week writing by myself, a short trip with no changes in time or language or food or oddly functions.

I've traveled for most of my life, to remote villages in Africa and shepherd encampments in the mountains of India. I've traveled to silently productive communities in the middle of deserts that mocked my previous notions of civilization. I've traveled with other people for companionship and as my own shepherd, trusting intuition over intention and chance over certainty.

At five years of age, I moved with my parents from India to Indonesia, a journey that seemed to my family like a brave venturing out into unfamiliar territory. I was too young to fear the journey but old enough to sense the excitement surrounding it.

Some years later, my parents took a vacation to Europe and sent my sister and me, with identity cards on chains around our necks, from Singapore to India to stay with our grandparents. We were ushered from plane to plane by friendly flight attendants and kept occupied with stick on airplane wings, decks of cards and cooing passengers. Perhaps it was then that we began to take for granted that we were safe in our travels and that we would always travel, whether to see our family or to journey on our own.

It was when I was sixteen, however, that I made what I consider to be my first real solo trip. I was going to college in the charmed land of America. It was the first time I would travel alone, but it was more than that. I was setting off on something, a new chapter of my life that I would have to forge myself. My parents would be thousands of miles away and I would see them only once a year, during he summer. My closest family would be my sister in Philadelphia, a few hours away from my school in Washington, D.C.

I arrived in America with two suitcases of cotton clothes, no socks or closed shoes, and sixteen years of very limited wisdom. As I would realize much later, the aloneness of the physical journey was miniscule compared to the aloneness of the trip I would take over the next fourteen years in America. This was a journey no one could travel with me. I would have to slither through unknown spaces and unexpected turns by myself, exploring a new country and culture that often seemed as strange to me as mine might have seemed to others.

I've analyzed and explored my first solo journey at length, a fourteen year trip that came to an end only after I returned to live in India for two years at the age of thirty. In my mind, I rolled my time in America around like weighty Chinese hand massage balls, trying to understand the feelings and experiences I had had of assimilating and differentiating. Only when returning to live in my birth country did I realize that in order to know the place we end up, we need to know the place we come from.

Traveling alone is not limited to overcoming obstacles and the freedom of location exploration, but the freedom of increasing your personal strength by taking the going it alone attitude. Twenty-nine women have all been asked at one point or another why they have traveled alone. After reading the twenty-nine incredible stories of these staunch and independent women, their answer can only be, why not?

 

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