“There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” or so the saying goes.
Except that there is and I should know because I’ve been asked a lot of them lately, the most popular being: “Don’t you get bored traveling by yourself?”
The answer is no.
No to the man wearing a t-shirt reading “Everything I do is perfect” who started our conversation by accusing me of packing too many shoes. Spending two weeks in Cape Town by myself does not bore me any more than having only one pair of sandals.
No to the guitar player at the tapas bar who waltzed over to my table during his break and said, “I’m Ernesto. Sorry, I smoke. Aren’t you sad to eat alone?” I’m not, but don’t worry – it usually only takes 15 minutes for someone to wave a cigarette in my face and ask to join me.
And no to the man from Johannesburg whose girlfriend kicked off our Segway tour by demanding to know when it would be over. I assume he was asking because he was curious if he could be having a better time on his own.
I think so – but then again, I’m biased. I don’t just like traveling alone, I prefer it. I enjoy the freedom of it – to come and go as I please and spend as much or as little time on the nerdiest of interests and the guiltiest of pleasures. I like eating when I’m hungry, sleeping when I’m tired, and packing the rest of the hours with whatever it is I feel like doing. When traveling alone, the only person I need to answer to is me – and that’s a refreshing change of pace for someone whose time is too often dictated by other people.
Traveling alone is something that I started doing because I had to. In my twenties, I held a series of jobs that sent me packing all over the country. Along the way, I got used to sightseeing by myself and dining alone. I started tacking on an extra day or weekend to each business trip and eventually got to making a full vacation out of some of my assignments. By the time I was 30, I thought nothing of spending a week or two on my own in a new place – be it for business or for pleasure.
Which brings us to present day: I’m three weeks into a year-long trip that, if it goes according to plan, will take me through twelve countries in five continents. I’m not sure what the next 11 months will bring, but I know this much: People will keep asking why I’m alone, if I’m bored and where I’m keeping all my shoes if not in my boyfriend’s suitcase.
The waiter suggested several times that I might be more comfortable eating breakfast inside. "Miss, it's raining," is how he put it. I said, "Where I'm from, this is a beautiful day." A perfect day, really, when all you have to do is eat scrambled eggs on the balcony. #southafrica #durban #travel #rainyday #rainraingoaway
“So what is it,” Mr. Perfect shouted across the patio as he was served his breakfast last week in Cape Town. “Divorce or mid life crisis?”
“Excuse me?” I asked, looking up from my book.
“Are you going through a divorce or having a mid-life crisis?” he repeated. “I figure it has to be one or the other.”
“It’s neither,” I said. “Not like it’s any of your business. And I could ask you the same thing about why you’re wearing that t-shirt.”
If there is one thing we could all learn from this guy, it’s that the best way to rise above an insult is to treat it as a compliment.
“I bought this for myself,” he said with a smile. “I don’t have a problem with confidence.”
Except that he almost certainly does, of course. If not with his personally than at least with women who have it in spades. Who but an insecure man would assume that the only reason a woman might take a trip alone is if her husband kicked her to the curb or she realized she was about to die?
Let the record show that this guy was American – a hedge fund manager from DC. The only cultural issue at play was that he comes from the world of finance, one in which every single woman like me is supposed to be dying to meet the likes of a man like him.
“I know you’re trying to read,” he said. “But I think you’ll enjoy our conversation even more. What do you have planned for the rest of the day?”
Had he been less irritating, I might have answered him honestly and invited him to join me. Because the truth is, I wouldn’t mind some company every now and then. Good company, that is. But that’s hard to come by.
Much like traveling alone, I don’t mind being alone. “Single by choice” is what people are calling it today. It’s a newly created category of women who are simply doing what they want: putting off marriage, having children on their own, prioritizing their careers, or otherwise not following the traditional path of settling down by the time they’re 30. Most people agree that “single by choice” women aren’t actively choosing not to find a partner, so much as they’re not impressed by their options. One need look no further than the next table to understand what that means.
There’s plenty being written about “single by choice” women and how we, as a group, hold unprecedented power over just about everything: economic growth; the recovery of the housing market; the future of the workforce; the outcome of the election. Suddenly, the media can’t get enough of us. Every issue is being examined through the lens of a young, educated, single woman – and, quite frankly, it’s about time.
I’d like to think that reporters keep filing the stories about single women because they finally realize that we have something to say. We’re informed. We’re interesting. And we’re giving good answers. That’s what happens when you have a few decades to gather your thoughts.
Despite being a little resentful of how long it took everyone to pay attention, I’m all too happy to have the media give a little more air time to the untapped power of single women. I just hope that somewhere in this conversation we come to realize that women could be capable of even more if only our employers would pay us fairly, the banks were more willing to give us loans and idiots would stop wasting our time with questions about shoes when what really want to do is read a damn book.
Because here’s the thing about single women: We are not bored. We are not in crisis. We are not waiting for anything or anyone. We are doing exactly what we want, and when we find something we want to do more – and that includes a man* – we’ll do that too.
You can put that on a t-shirt.
*That also includes a woman or any other consenting adult. Single by choice… emphasis on the choice.