Why I Don’t Stay Home

Straight out of graduate school, in my twenties I married a European and lived, taught, and traveled throughout Europe for several years. My love of traveling outlasted my marriage. I was hooked. However, meeting someone to do this adventuring with was difficult. Just finding someone with whom to go to my choice of movie who likes to sit as close up to the screen as myopic me does is hard enough. Finding a travel buddy compatible in time, money, wanderlust, choices of destination, and personality is one of life’s greater challenges.

Growing up in the fifties, I was well indoctrinated to believe that one was a very odd number and that I would never be o.k. until I met my better half, as they used to say. Everyone said traveling on your own as a woman was too difficult, scary, lonely, even dangerous. You would have no one to share your happy times with. You would feel like a stray bird on Noah’s Ark.

For some years I stayed home. Finally, I tried out my single flight wings at a Club Med in Mexico and on an organized rafting trip on the Colorado River. Once I went to Guatemala with a friend of a friend that I met at a party. She was the director of a major travel company, had lots of information on Guatemala, and made all our basic arrangements: flights, routing, hotels. She was another single woman with wanderlust. She had time and money. She was bright and seemed pleasant enough–i.e. not overtly prone to crying jags or screaming. We hated each other. Like a military commander, she would make a list each morning of exactly where we would go and what we would be doing each moment of the coming hours. At meals, she ordered always the least expensive items, although she actually earned a good deal more money than I did, and not only would not split the check but, using a calculator, she would divide tax and tip proportionately to her lesser bill. She hated that I spoke with strangers, making new friends easily. Perhaps worst of all, she was an early to bed early to rise type. I, on the other hand, love the music of the night and can do very nicely, thank you, without roosters and early bird tweets. In fact, I wear earplugs and a black face mask to protect me from such dawnlike hazards.

When I travel, I like to have some idea of itinerary and a program. But I open each day like a Christmas morning gift. Even though I know it is going to be a book or a bicycle or something to wear, I don’t know exactly which book or what kind of bike or how the sweater will feel and look on me. I may meet someone who says: “Hey, come home to my pueblo and have lunch with my 109 year old grandmother and me.” And I’ll cancel my plane or train reservation and go. Maybe a handsome Pakistani actor and I bump into each other underwater in a hotel swimming pool in Tel Aviv and end up making love intermittently for days, with breaks for his shoots and my writing and sightseeing. So I leave for Jericho a few days later; no walls come tumbling down. I can do whatever I want because I am traveling alone.

Alone: that has such a fallacious ring to it. Such a negative connotation. Like the “childless” versus “childfree” of the feminist seventies. If you are a traveler (not a tourist, but a traveler: that is, to experience as much of the world as possible in your four score years and ten or whatever is not a choice but a necessity like oxygen) and you are sufficiently blessed to have a soul mate, who is compatible in interests, personality, and resources, you are extremely fortunate.

But even then, you will probably not meet that fascinating gay Scottish retired millionaire farmer who invites you to sail with him from Cannes to Porto Fino for a month. Why not? Because you will be otherwise occupied, no doubt happily, with your soulmate. You will not be sitting alone in an off season St. Tropez restaurant on the harbor, enjoying a bucket of mussels in wine and garlic sauce accompanied by a nicely chilled Sancerre which the above mentioned retired farmer sends to your table because he also is eating alone that evening. So you end up learning about fox hunting in Scotland and the extreme joys of sailing the French and Italian Mediterranean in a yacht.

I am also not guaranteeing you may not be at risk or sometimes feel a bit odd and alone. When I was chloroformed and robbed on a midnight train in Ferrara, Italy, maybe it would have been easier to have been traveling with someone. But actually my wonderful and hospitable friends in southern Italy, my next port in the storm, soothed away most of my cares with some good pasta and wine, as well as loaning me some cash and helping me get replacement credit cards. Once at New Year’s in Guatemala City, an obnoxious small hotel owner gave away my room–in which I was already living–to a drunken, nasty friend of hers when there was not another hotel room to be found in the whole city, so I had to swallow my rage and pride and share my room with this chain-smoking harridan. Possibly if I had been with a man there in macho-land this experience would not have befallen me. On the other hand, maybe it would have and on top of finding ourselves homeless–because we wouldn’t have been able to share the room with another woman–I would possibly have had an enraged or whining male person on my hands.

What am I saying here? I’m not knocking the joys and security of home and hearth. My own nest in San Francisco is very important to me and I cocoon away a good part of every year there. Family, friends, true–even semi-true love–yes, wonderful. But we all pays our money and takes our choice. I’ll pay my single supplement, anytime.
© Diane LeBow

Published in Skirt Magazine, May 2005