Picture this -
Well after noon on a Saturday, I drag myself out of bed, throw on some clothes that are clean-ish, and stick my hair in a ponytail to mask the fact I didn't bother showering. I grab my keys and head for the door.
My first stop is the gas station. I spend a full two minutes trying to figure out where the gas cap release is located on my new (to me) vehicle and feel like an idiot in the process, but hey - now I know. I swipe my card, fill my tank, and am done with the first stop on my itinerary.
Next, I drop by the local health clinic. I need a TB test for work. After thirty minutes of sitting in the waiting room - leaning as far as I can from the gentleman to my right who's hacking up a lung while simultaneously trying to avoid the toddler to my left, as he repeatedly rubs his eyes then smears his hands all over the shared armrests - I'm called in. Within five minutes, I've been injected and band-aided, with instructions to come back in a few days. Stop two - check.
I go over to Target and grab a few things I realized I needed five minutes after I left the last time. Then I'm off to the grocery store. I fill my mini-cart with a week's worth of food before steering it to the checkout.
Of course, the shortest line is four people deep, and I've been burned too many times by the professed "self check-out" at this location to bother. The woman directly in front of me turns around and shoots me a look of sympathetic misery.
"I can't believe they haven't opened another line. We've been waiting at least five minutes," she mutters.
"Ugh, tell me about it," I respond. "The parking lot was even more of a mess than Target's."
"Oh! You were at Target? We're heading there next." She gestures to the couple in front of her. I didn't realize they were together, but okay. "Was everything completely picked over?" she asks.
We chat for a few more minutes, about the horridness that is Saturday shopping, when I notice her glancing around. "Are you here by yourself?" she asks, frowning slightly.
"Um... yes?" Obviously? Her question throws me a bit.
"Oh, wow," she says, as the conveyer belt starts moving and we shuffle forward. "You're really brave!"
- It would be bizarre, right?
I think this is what unnerved me about being told I was "brave" while traveling solo around South America last summer. Like, how else am I expected to function? Often I'd quickly add, "I'm meeting up with people along the way!" In reality, that was a bit of a stretch, but I'd tack it on to brush off concern, admiration, or on a few occasions, potential creepers. Every couple of days, I'd check in with friends and relatives online, which was really no different than my life back home. I love to travel, and I'd much rather do that alone than say, go get my oil changed, or do my taxes, or a hundred other boring adult-type things we're all expected to figure out on our own anyway.
Once or twice, in addition to the "brave" comment, people asked, "What made you want to do that?" which was even more bewildering. How should I respond - that I love soccer and was willing to spend a stupid amount of money to experience a World Cup? That I'd been waiting for this since 1998 and I wouldn't let the fact that no one else I knew had the present combination of cash and desire to go to Brazil stop me? That I don't arrange my life around other people?
I think it likely that the combination of a largely male and infrequently traveling fan base meant I got more comments and questions than I'd otherwise expect in Brazil. In the online travel community, solo female travel seems pretty common. So when Liz at Young Adventuress published a piece on the subject last Friday, I skimmed down the page, enjoying the post, but wondering if this conversation is even relevant any longer. And then one of the comments served up a big dose of, Yes It Is.
My whole life is solo (not to mention, female), and no one ever looks at my day-to-day and says, "You're really brave." So why should travel be any different?