10 years ago this week, I embarked on a journey that was both terrifying and exciting – my first solo travel adventure. I was originally supposed to be going on a 3 month trek around western Europe with my best gal pal, but she got a boyfriend instead and decided not to come with. I think at that point in my life I hadn’t even been on so much as a weekend trip to Vancouver by myself, so the thought of travelling alone for 3 months scared the crap out of me. Thankfully my family convinced me that rather than cancelling the trip, I should consider shortening it slightly instead. 2 months solo seemed far less daunting than 3 months, with an added bonus that my family decided to join me for the first two weeks of my trip. And that’s how I ended up spending a month and a half travelling through France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland all by myself.
This was one of the happiest accidents in my young life and I will forever be grateful to that friend for not coming along, because travelling alone is one of the most joyful things that I do with my life. Since then I’ve gone on many solo travels, from small weekend getaways to Seattle, moving to Los Angeles for a year, and month long adventures through Mexico. I love being able to explore on my own schedule, and being alone forces you to put yourself out there. I’ve made so many friends out of random strangers that I never would have met if I hadn’t been by myself and looking to make conversation with someone. And above all it’s a really empowering feeling. Being somewhere new and trying to figure out where you’re going can be a bit stressful and complicated, and being able to figure that out on your own is really satisfying. In the past few years I’ve been trying to treat most of my trips more like artist residencies. Travelling always sparks new ideas for my work, so getting to experience a new place by myself is fundamental to my art practice.
I could go on and on about the benfits of solo travel for days, but there are also some frustrations that come from being a solo traveller, particularly a female solo traveller. There are of course safety concerns, as well as having to deal with other people’s stress and concern about your safety. Something that I was not expecting to deal with was the condescending attitude that some people have towards women travelling alone. In particular, what I call the “Eat Pray Love” effect.
I have no beef whatsoever with the book Eat Pray Love. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s work, I’ve read several of her books including Eat Pray Love. It’s the story of a woman going through a transitional period of her life, the ending of her marriage, trying to find her identity all over again, and using a year long travelling experience to do so. It’s a great story. But I have found the more I solo travel, the more people equate my trips to the story. Before I went to Mexico for a month, I was talking to some friends about the trip and one turned to another and said “She’s doing Eat Pray Love, but in Mexico.” And upon my return from that same trip, I had a someone ask me how being back from Mexico was. My response was that things were good and I was settling back into work, and their reply was something like “Yeah it’s difficult when people come back from these Eat Pray Love type of trips and expect their life to be totally different but it’s the same.” Even during my trip in Mexico, I had someone ask me “So where’s your boyfriend? Or are you working through something?” as if those were the only options, either travelling with my boyfriend or travelling alone in order to fix myself.
What really bothers me about these comments is that they seem to always be directed at female travelers . Maybe I’m wrong, but I find it hard to believe that there are many men out there who, when they tell their friends they’re going to go travel by themselves, receive a response like “Oh you’re gonna go do Eat Pray Love!” When I think of Eat Pray Love, I think of someone escaping a life they’re not happy with in order to find themselves. That’s a great reason to go travelling, but it’s disappointing that my experience has been that people feel that’s the only reason a woman would want to go travelling by herself. I went to Mexico because winter is cold, I’d never been to Mexico, it’s cheap and I wanted to hang out in the sun and paint for a month. It had nothing to do with finding myself or escaping. I don’t think of my life as something I have to escape from, I think of travelling as a beautiful addition to an already beautiful life. The assumption that if I’m travelling alone, I must be trying to find myself or mend my broken heart, reminds me that people have a problem with women choosing to do something purely for their own pleasure, and that equally breaks my heart and boils my blood. Having recently returned from a month long solo trip - van living and camping on Vancouver island - I was relieved to not receive any of these kinds of comments. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s because that trip had a clearly defined purpose. I was travelling around teaching painting classes and popping up in different boutiques and galleries to sell my work. It was part leisure, but mostly a work trip.
I wanted to share this experience because I can’t be the only woman who has received and been irked by these sorts of remarks before. And I want anyone reading to know that if you are going through some shit and want to deal with it by travelling, I think that’s amazing. Speaking from experience, travelling is a great way to mend a broken heart. But if you want to go on a trek around the world simply because it would bring you happiness and pleasure, that’s a completely legitimate reason too. You do not need to wait for a grand, cathartic moment to make a beautiful adventure happen for yourself.