On being a solo woman traveling (part 1)
This is an article I recently wrote for The Yellow Conference blog. You can view the original piece here. There is a Part 2, which will be released the week of September 5.
As a single woman, I feel that media often paints a picture of reality for me that’s doused in vulnerability and fear. The world is not safe for you, woman. You are a vulnerable creature in need of constant protection.
Movies, TV, the news — they all seem to echo: Stay safe; stay inside! Stay close to your man.
I am not naive. I know bad things happen to good women every day, and I am not immune to any of the inherent dangers that come with not being a man.
But ultimately, I choose to believe that most people are good, and nothing constitutes the true danger of an unlived life. That’s why four months ago I chose to face one of my greatest fears — to live in a van and travel across North America. By myself.
I did not always believe or act this way. Just a few months ago I was scared to walk out to my car alone at night. Now I’m living in one.
A year ago a friend built out her Honda Element to travel around the country alone for one year. At the time I, too, was embarking on an adventure — I was moving to New Zealand with my boyfriend (at the time) — but the idea of being a solo woman on the road rooted in me, to be uncovered nearly a year later.
I could never do that by myself, I thought. I pictured being alone in a van dark at night, heart racing at every shuffle that sounded through the thin van walls. Maybe I could do it one day — with my boyfriend.
I hated that I felt that way. I wanted to be independent, free, confident and brave. But I was just so… scared. When the opportunity to live on the road appeared, I was intrigued but fearful. Nightmares and severe anxiety plagued me daily. Still, the idea persisted.
While I mulled it over for months, a personality — a mentor, of sorts — began forming. A woman. She was bold and brave and so sure of herself. She rose above all of the smallness of fear-mongering and shame. She adventured on her own regularly. She stood tall in who she was. She wouldn’t become small for anyone. She was wild.
She is the #atwildwoman.
The first time I created her by putting pen to paper, I felt a huge mental shift. I began researching how to turn a minivan into a home on wheels. I set a budget and saved. I spent 30 days drawing the #atwildwoman in different shapes and sizes and discovered she isn’t one person, but a spirit of gumption and wildness that lives in all of us. Her existence may not be apparent, but she’s there, perhaps under layers of stories, half-truths, and fear.
As I learned more about the #atwildwoman, I found myself doing things I never thought I could. I went on climbing trips without my boyfriend. I hiked alone. I bought a van. I learned how to use a saw. I cut and drilled and glued wood. I installed a ceiling and created a floor plan and built furniture. I slept in Walmart parking lots and talked with strangers and, despite a bit of social anxiety, met with people I’d followed online and looked up to for years.
But even more than all of this doing and action, I’ve learned from the #atwildwoman that courage sometimes looks very quiet, like softening.
I’m realizing that braveness has another
side, perhaps one more innately feminine.
It looks like allowing tears and fears and doubt to co-exist with my gumption, my pride, my power.
Courage sometimes comes in the form of accepting rejection and being one with a broken heart. Letting yourself cry so hard and have a nervous breakdown on a dark country road. Feeling total unrelenting fear. Letting all that bubble to the surface and choosing to to continue, to keep accepting and loving yourself despite what society may dub as a failure or shortcoming.
I’m sure there are many — endless, really — layers and sides to courage I have yet to discover, but so far, I keep hearing these two pieces of advice from the #atwildwoman.
She tells me:
“Press on.” and then “Let it be.”
And with these two messages ringing strong and true, I do just that. Not fearlessly, but with conviction and hope that there really is nothing left to fear.