Back in July, my father gifted a book titled A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe. I had never heard of the book before but the concept intrigued me for obvious reasons. Thanks to my book project I did not have a chance to read the book until the first week of this month.
As I read the book, I compared my own travels to those of the women in this book. That comparison inspired this post. I gleaned a few nuggets of reflection: technology advancement, writing inspiration, and relationship change.
After reading a significant portion of the book, I wondered when all of these essays had been written. Some aspects of travel remain timeless, but others? Others scream with outdated evidence. The book was published in 2001, 16 years ago. Technology has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Technology, in all my trips enables me to carry out a successful trip in so many ways. I read these accounts of trips carried out before the advent of smartphones, popular travel websites like tripadvisor or portable and reliable GPS technology and concluded that I woul dlikely have never undertaken such a trip, much less undertaken such a trip on my own. I have undertaken two significant solo trips and relied significantly on technology. Although I had yet to purchase a smartphone prior to my 2011 trip to England, I used tripadvisor and viator to find places to see and mapquest to print off specific direction. This past summer, I exploited current travel technology to its fullest: smartphone GPS, tripadvisor, airbnb, and digital camera for frequent and prolific picture taking. Reflection helped me realize just how much I rely on technology while traveling, just how much technology has changed travel.
I also noticed another common theme, writing, specifically writing as a profession. For the most part, the women whose essays appear in this collection make a living putting pen to paper in some fashion or another. They routinely filled their travels with thoughts of writing, inspiration for writing and actual writing. This might be the aspect of travel I enjoy the most even I seem to always run out of time since I spend every moment possible making memories I have often daydreamed of being some sort of travel journalists getting paid to do two things I love – travel and write.
Last, but not least, came the relationship example. Clearly, with the title, “A Woman Alone,” a good portion of the essays would end up focused on relationships. A few mentioned building relationships with strangers they met along the way. Far more described journeys undertaken as a means of catharsis after a messy divorce or as a means to prove one’s worth as a human being despite a perpetual state of singlehood. The vast majority of the essayists declared their unabashed preference for solo travel eschewing the companionship of others for whom they would have to alter or modify their trips. (Lest anyone think my brush too broad, I acknowledge the inclusion of at least five or so essays written by women who found themselves unexpectedly alone of their trip.) This concept gave me the most trouble as I read and tried to engage with each author. I have had both experiences – solo travel and group travel yet I would never totally eschew one for the other, especially group travel. Nothing would incline me to forge ahead with exclusive solo travel. I have done it before and enjoyed every minute. I enjoyed traveling at my pace, seeing destinations of my own choice and all the other things the essayists mentioned. Yet, I have a distinct memory from my life-changing trip to the UK six years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed and savored every moment of the trip yet I felt like something was missing. I realized after I returned home that I was missing someone to share those experiences with; I could not wait to return to the UK, this time with Mom along for the ride.
Unlike many of the essayists in this collection, or at least what they portrayed in their essays, I have no desire to travel to prove anything, to prove my worth. All that has been decided already. I travel for the experience, to trod where history has trod and to share that thrill with others. Sharing such experiences with someone close to you broadens and deepens every moment. It gives you the gift of an additional set of senses and perspectives. That’s the richness I seek.
Next summer, summer 2019, I plan to take off on another adventure, a grander, more expansive trip than I have ever taken. What started as an idea to finally see the Iberian Peninsula – Spain and Portugal – morphed into a minimum three week adventure starting with a flight into Frankfurt and a path winding through Alsace, France, Zurich and Geneva, Switzerland, Marseilles, France, Guernica, Barcelona, Toledo, Madrid, and Córdoba, Spain, Gibraltar (technically part of the United Kingdom) and finishing in Lisbon. There also may or may not be a short jaunt over to Lichtenstein as well, which puts the country total at seven if anyone counts.
Of course, as I read this book, I contemplated the aforementioned grand adventure. THe school year permits long blocks of vacation like this; my normal traveling partners have no such flexibility. I thought about the prospect of undertaking this trip on my own, daunting yes, but I know I could handle it. I would prefer, unlike many of the essayists in this compilation, to travel with someone to share and someone who would enrich the experiences. A year and a half line in between. We shall see what the future holds.