Excerpt from...Traveling Solo: Willow Woman on the Road

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Changing Perceptions

The year is 1991. A woman in her early 30’s embarks on another solo adventure. She can barely contain her excitement. This is a trip that she’s been dreaming about since girlhood. She’s going to the Grand Canyon! While boarding the airplane bound for Phoenix, AZ, she notices there are couples and family groups everywhere she looks. A young couple is seated two rows behind. They give the impression that they are on their honeymoon. Across the aisle from her window seat, the woman spies an elderly couple sitting companionably holding hands. There is a curly haired young boy about 6 or 7, a little girl a few years younger and their mother in the row ahead. The woman seems to be the only person traveling alone.

The cabin has the air of happy expectation of people beginning a much anticipated vaction. The flight is uneventful and she watches the in-flight movie, entering the world of Idgie and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes. The flight lands safely and the passengers disembark, moving as if a herd gathering luggage and picking up rental cars. The parade of cars heads out on the West Exit to Sky Harbor Blvd. and I-10 West then onto to I-17 North for the first stop on the tourist itinerary, Oak Creek Canyon.

The people of the Philadelphia to Phoenix flight are now familiar faces yet few acknowledge one another as the cars arrive and depart each attraction about the same time. A few hours later, the cars thin as the passengers head in separate directions locating hotels and other destinations. The woman parks her rental and walks toward the cliff dwelling ruins in Montezuma’s Castle National Park. She recognizes the newlyweds who are strolling back to the parking lot. The man points at her and says, “There goes fancy pants” to which his wife replies, “I wonder why she’s alone.” ‘She’ gives the comment little thought as she marvels at the cliff dwellings and wonders what her lifestyle would have been like if she lived there all those years ago.

Travel forward 15 years to 2006. The woman is boarding another airplane on the beginning of her latest solo sojourn. As she watches the other passengers board, she notices that a large number of the group seem to be traveling solo as well. She remembers what she calls the fancy pants incident and wonders about the newlyweds. Did they stay together? Did the young woman ever travel by herself? Would she make the same remark today?

Women who enjoy traveling alone are sometimes looked upon as a sort of super women who face incredible dangers and seemingly insurmountable obstacles on a daily basis while traveling. Yes, there are risks inherent in travel and some of which increase when traveling alone but other’s fears can be blown way out of proportion.

Many female solo travelers report that they are rarely nervous or fearful while traveling alone. Charlene from Gilbert, AZ, is typical, having never been nervous about solo travel. “In fact, when other people comment to me about how scary it is to travel alone, and ask me how I deal with the fear, I just don’t know what they are talking about.”

“I guess a lot of women are wussies,” writes Jan from Marble, CO, “and a lot of men think all women are wussies. They can't believe I 'dare' sleep in a campground by myself or that I have the 'courage' to just travel across the country, not knowing where I'm going to live, what I'm going to do for a living, etc.”

Jan’s perception is that people think there is much for a woman traveling alone to fear. “Frankly, I don’t get it. I just always assumed the best, and that I'd be able to take care of myself regardless of what happened. And I did.”

A sense of humor helps Guylaine from Ontario, Canada when she’s confronted with the ideals of some cultures “I find that the reactions of locals to me can be quite funny. In Malaysia, for example, whenever I entered a restaurant alone, the staff would ask me 'where is your husband?' When I said, 'no husband', they would ask, 'Where is your group?' In Singapore, on the very first day I arrived, I got lost and an elderly gentleman scolded me for traveling solo as a woman and insisted on walking me.”

Jenny from Arlington, MA has traveled extensively around the world. “I often found disbelief that I, as a single woman, would venture so far from home alone. This happened primarily in the south (U.S.) and in Egypt, Jordan, and Eastern Europe. In Western Europe and the west of the U.S., people took my traveling alone quite in stride.”

This is a great time to be a woman traveling alone! Economic and social realities have changed the outlook of people who would otherwise stay at home and those who would launch businesses to support them. Many travel professionals cater to solo travelers. Organizations abound throughout the United States and on the Internet. There are singles cruises and destinations as well as solo travel classes at community education organizations, and activity such as hiking and skiing oriented clubs that afford the opportunity to join a group for fun or to learn skills for future adventures. See the Resources section for more information.

Traveling Solo: Willow Woman on the Road
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