Oh the struggle is real. Why can’t a generation X woman (I loathe the term “middle-aged”) find adventure in her life without all the awkwardness? Isn’t it normal to have a mid-life gap year type thing?
Let Me Explain
I love to travel. Queue eye roll. Yes this is a vapid statement considering travel is the new black. What I’m trying to say is that the progression of growing up in a traveling family to what I’m doing now is not a shock to anyone who knows me. I recently quit my life to travel for a year (or four).
I’m 43. There, I said it. Also, I’m a solo traveler! People in many countries, including the United States, don’t really understand why people travel alone. I accept this lack of understanding. It’s not for everyone, nor something everyone has encountered. Some people exist in social circles where this is unheard of. Add “female” to this equation. Solo Female Traveler. Is that safe? Don’t you get lonely? You’re so brave!
I’m not ungrateful. Having people who care about my safety and worry about me is ok…to an extent. Sadly there are people who really don’t get it. Friends say things like “why don’t you just settle down” or “what are you looking for?” What does “settling down” even mean? Why should I settle for a bad piece of chocolate, let alone a life I’m not thrilled about?
I didn’t think I was doing anything remarkably brave or crazy, just different than the societal norm. It’s not until I spent three months in Asia that I felt weird. Having red hair and a big mouth, I’m no stranger to being conspicuous. However, I don’t like standing out because of age. I don’t want to be the “old” traveler, so I keep it on the DL, like my weight, or my weird obsession with pickles. When I met others and we began talking about our lives, I saw the wheels in people’s heads turning. I inwardly groaned as they did mental calculus to figure out how I went to college, grad school, worked, got married/divorced and am backpacking Asia in my early thirties (or whatever age I pull off).
Lie #1: I’m 34
Sometimes 33 or 35. I couldn’t keep it straight. I think I’m born in the mid 80’s? For the record, I’m not embarrassed to be 43, but it got old being the eldest person everywhere. I didn’t want others to feel uncomfortable around me. I didn’t want my 19-year-old hostel friends thinking I was older than their mothers (I probably was). Unless I got to know someone well, it didn’t come up that often. Truth be told, other travelers were not really the issue, it was the locals. Other travelers get it…they love travel and many of them are solo female travelers.
It’s the Filipinos, the Indonesians, the Malaysians…who couldn’t fathom what the hell I was doing. I tried to blend, but being a white woman alone in Jakarta is enough to get unwanted attention. Nobody was unkind, but the curiosity was intense. Add being American to the whole mix and I’m more exciting than a baby panda! Visiting countries where they don’t see many Americans guaranteed questions. Where are you from? Why are you here? What do you think of Donald Trump? Sigh.
Lie #2: I’m Canadian
This was simply to avoid questions when I was in a hurry. Says random Indonesian man, “Where are you from?” “Canada”. Random man smiles, goes about his business.
You can see how my warped web of lies was born. In the Philippines, I became fed up with the questions and strange looks. Filipinos are the nicest people in the world, but upon hearing the truth, their heads exploded right before my eyes. An unmarried 43-year-old childless woman traveling alone in Asia? What is this sorcery? After many painful conversations, I started the lying game.
Lie #3: I’m Married
I made myself important too. Why are you in the Philippines alone? My husband is a diplomat and working in Manila. Why isn’t he with you? I’m going to El Nido for beach time because I was bored. Your husband lets you travel alone? Cringe! I repressed the feminist rant and lied more.
Lie #4: I’m meeting friends
But why are you by yourself? (Why is this such a big deal? I like being alone. Isn’t it enough that I’m married and meeting friends?) My friends are already in El Nido. Blissful quiet. Only briefly.
Why don’t you have kids? At this point, my age truly didn’t matter. Whether I’m 26, or 36, I should have kids. Filipinos have 9 kids on average. I have no reference for this, just the word of locals. My choosing not to have children because I don’t want them is not an acceptable answer. I found this out in an earlier awkward conversation. I think that young man is scarred for life after talking to me!
Lie #5: I can’t have children
Oh. (Sympathetic look mixed with guilt). Finally. Conversation over.
In summary, I had to have a fake husband and a fake medical condition to make my lifestyle acceptable. I don’t mean to pick on the Philippines, a place I loved, but this is where most of these conversations occurred.
Maybe I Shouldn’t Be Annoyed
I try to remember, my lifestyle is normal to me, but not to everybody. I would love to chat and allow someone the opportunity to understand me. However, I can’t have lengthy conversations with everyone. Bus driver, tour guide, random man on street…they all had questions. Sometimes I’m happy to answer truthfully, but for those times when I just want to feel “normal’, I have my lies.