Table for One

“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.

“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.

  1. Oh, i dont just like this, I love it. I’ve been married 47 years, and when I travel I travel alone. My husband is mountains and Im ocean. I’ll go with him, because he likes the company. He doesn’t go with me because he gets bored very fast at the beach.
    Works for me.

    For five years running, in my early 50s, I spent a week every summer in Iowa City, Iowa, at the University, attending a Writer’s Festival. Alone. Drove 1300 miles each way on the Interstates. Alone.
    I told friends and they were appalled. ALONE? You mean he LETS you? I said, no, it isnt a case of anyone letting anyone do it, it’s a case of him being okay with it.
    Men were outraged, “you should never go alone, what if Something Happens?” I said, if something happens, I’ll deal with it. And if I behave myself, nothing will. Not too many people are going to notice a 50+ year old woman in bluejeans and tshirt in a line for the ladies’ room.

    Eating and reading in the food courts. Behaving as if she did this every day.

    It’s the woman clutching her purse and glaring at strangers that attracts the attention.

    I will admit, I had a little mental ticker tape line for anyone who might accost me: “my husband is waiting for me in the car”.

    I will disagree with you about the ‘single by choice”–not every woman is single because she chose to be. Often family, or circumstances, health or emotional problems–or time, gets in the way. But yeah, taking that into account, women who choose their own path have a special niche.

    Thank you for this post, it’s given me something to think about.

    • Hi there! Thanks so much! Glad you liked it… and I agree with you 100%. Those who enjoy traveling alone should do it – whether they’re married, single or anywhere in between. It’s good to get away and have time to yourself. Let people judge all they want – just keep doing you!
      As for the single by choice part – I probably didn’t explain myself well enough. What I mean is that I think that every woman has the option to settle. If you REALLY don’t want to be single, there are plenty of men who will take you in, so long as you’re willing to put up with the idiotic t-shirts and asinine questions. I don’t think that everyone who is single necessarily WANTS to be that way or remain that way – just that they’d rather wait for the right person than just be with anyone. So, single by choice. Temporarily single by choice? That’s my opinion, of course. And I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone in her mid-30s who has the opportunity to get out and meet people. I’m sure there are plenty of cases where that logic doesn’t apply.
      Again, thanks for reading. And thank you for linking my blog on your site. xo!

      • Most welcome. I figger, if I’m going to be reading here, I might as well link the two. It’s a lot easier to find you this way. =)

        My biggest concern was how the Mister would take it, and when I mentioned it (oh so casually) as in, “Im considering going to Iowa City for a writer’s conf. next summer” his only response was, “well, you’ll need my laptop. ”
        It does not get any easier than that. And not once did he suggest coming along to keep me company. (yay)

        What I do like about traveling alone is the same thing I like about shopping alone. You are ALONE. You pick the store, the restaurant, the aisles, the stuff to admire. You never feel you’re out buying or underbuying whomever you”re with, and when you get tired, or bored, you leave.

        That may have something to do with being an only child, too. We get creative with our alone time, there seems to be so much of it.

        • Amen. If I ever get married, I hope it’s to a man who says, “Well you’ll need my laptop,” when I tell him I’m heading out for a week or two. Sounds like you have a good one! xoxoxox

  2. This is just great. I love travelling alone and I have been partnered for over 40 years. It’s just like you said–it’s not at all boring! You inspire me to try to find more chances to do it.
    I have only one issue with what you wrote. The last line you spoke in the plural, i.e. for other single women too. I wish you had ended it “and that includes a partner” since for some single women, it’s never going to be a man!

    • Hi Nancy! Great point and a good reminder – thank you. Post is amended :)
      Also, just remembered that I owe you my itinerary. I’ll send it shortly. Would love to see you along the way… with or without Seth :)

      • Gosh.. What an exciting invitation. And so unlikely given the crush of work I have til June 15 this year. After that, I will be busy trying to get the Democrat elected president(whichever it is) as I am completely clear that non of the front runner Republicans will work for the people I care most about.
        So I will enjoy your travels vicariously and see you back in 2017!

        • Sounds great! Look forward to seeing you back in the States… unless a certain Republican gets elected, in which case, I won’t be coming back! Seriously.

  3. I love this post! I also choose to travel alone (and love, love it!). I choose to be single, because, let’s face it! I am not impressed with the options out there! =)

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