Why I Travel Alone as a Woman
April 6, 2016 ~ Demetra Szatkowski
I will admit that travel for me is a type of escape. Some people turn to drugs, some people watch TV and zone out, some people do cleanses and yoga when they need to de-stress. I just leave. This may or may not be a healthy option, and is something I wonder about pretty frequently.
But for me, there is some sort of strange irony in the fact that the only way I find total peace is by putting myself in situations where I could potentially get so overwhelmed that acceptance ends up being the only sane option. It is the only way I find clarity about my life, where things finally make so much sense that I can make decisions I need to make. There is nothing more calming to me than being in a place where I have never been, where nobody knows who or where I am. Where anything that happens is out of my control. It is an immediate cathartic relief. It reminds me that the world is so huge, and that people are kind and vastly different, and that everything is so much bigger than me. There are so many things I could be worrying about that instead it just forces me to be extremely present and not worry at all.
I did, in the beginning. I still liked going, but I worried about planes crashing and people attacking me and being robbed or hurt or dying. I still can feel it in a different way, now, where it's like I remember how I would have previously felt in this situation, but the feelings don't quite reach me anymore. I hear them, but they don't affect me. As soon as I travel - and it can be anywhere, even just an hour away for the weekend - I feel an immediate relief as daily influences and stressors just disappear. The plane takes off, the car drives away, and my mind feels sharper, I feel relaxed and happier, and the world feels incredible again.
I'm not sure why this is. Home is triggering for me, as it is for everyone, I suppose. Home pushes me back into being more like the person I grew up as instead of the person I am turning into. Twenty-three is a weird age to be. Parts of me still feel and react like a child and parts of me feel like a completely independent adult.
I also think I just like being in situations where I can be away from the things society typically expects of me. I like being in places where it doesn't matter if I'm covered in dirt and sweat and barefoot and can't shower. I like not worrying about what I look like, not having to look "presentable." I like going exactly where I want when I want. I like being able to change my mind if I want to. I like the idea of being a girl and going places alone because that is what we are taught not to do and that idea is so fucking stifling.
So I always liked leaving. Always liked to see new places, to fly on planes, to move around. But I didn't always trust that it was safe. The more I leave on my own, the more I hear arguments about why I shouldn't really be going places by myself, especially as a girl, especially with blonde hair, especially when I don't know anyone around. "The world is so dangerous." "Be careful of ______" "You're young and naive." "The world is not like it used to be."
The problem with that is if I listened to the news and to people around me I would believe that all of this was true.
But. My experience over and over again has shown me otherwise. (And this isn't just me. People who travel frequently have been discovering this forever - it's nothing new.)
Why do I feel okay talking to strangers? Why do I feel comfortable asking random people to watch my bags in the airport? Why will I sleep in someone's house I've never met before? Why will I put myself in situations where I could potentially be harmed?
Because the risk is worth the lessons these things teach.
Because I don't choose to live in a world where I have to be afraid to do things I want to do.
Because risk is relative.
In Greece, a woman I had just met who spoke no English pulled my hand down the street into her house and fed me lunch and wine for no reason at all.
In a refugee camp, Middle Eastern men brought me food and helped me carry things and made me laugh over and over again.
In Maine, I called a phone number a man on the Couchsurfing website gave me. He couldn't host me, but I could call his friends. A woman answered my random phone call and said of course I could stay at her house that night. I had my own room and she made me breakfast in the morning.
In New York, I stayed with a couple who hosted a potluck dinner at their house that night. I met all their friends and was up until 2 am. They left me alone in the apartment the next day, trusting me with everything they had.
In Greece, I hitchhiked everywhere I went. Maybe not something I would do in America, but something I learned to handle nonetheless, as I got friendly rides everywhere I needed to go.
I know. It only takes one time, one bad experience, one scary encounter. But this is the difference: I do not choose to live my life from that place of fear. If I have to live in a world where I cannot do things I want to do, where I cannot trust people my intuition tells me I can, then I do not want to live in that world at all. That was a decision I made when deciding to still go to Greece after the Paris attacks. I do not ever want to choose fear over inclusion and equality and trust. If that means I eventually risk a bad experience*, I accept that, because it means I was also able to experience all of the crazy good.
Risk is an inescapable part of life. The world is fluid. It changes. When you drive a car, you risk crashing. When you love people, you risk them leaving. When you make a choice, it might be wrong. When you trust all people, you risk some being untrustworthy.
People in the world are good. People in the world are kind. Not all. But so many. When we choose to live in fear of the world, we isolate ourselves and each other.
It's not worth it.
* I would hope it goes without saying that there is a difference between being open and being stupid. I am still very aware of my own safety. But, our definitions of safety may vary :)