I’m back from my three months of winter abroad, folks. After two months in Belize and one in Jamaica, it feels good to be home again (although I admit, I had the itch to go somewhere far away again when I boarded my connecting flight).
I returned home with no laptop; my three year-old Mac Pro crashed on me at the tail end of my trip. It didn’t bother me that much. I was only lamenting the fact that I had an unplanned major expense once home. Why wasn’t I too upset about it? Because in the grand scheme of things, I learned a major life lesson from my time away and offline while in Jamaica — perhaps the biggest lesson altogether from my travels. I realized it over the past couple of days at home as well, with no internet and no laptop. I had time to look deep within and at the “solo” journey I’ve been on since I left my job in 2008.
See, I’ve always felt that my path in life was unique from everyone else’s. I know that sounds cliche because we’re all different, but my upbringing definitely was. And that feeling came very early. The fact that I was raised abroad, the fact that I spoke French even though I’m East African, the fact that I loved West African culture, a culture not my own by birth. So many different things about me. As a teenager, I struggled to accept my unique background as a gift (I would hear my mother making fun of my Ethiopian accent; it’s actually quite good I’ll have you know). It wasn’t until law school that I embraced who I was and realized my difference would get me far in life.
When I thought about one of the most memorable moments of my winter abroad, one evening came to mind.
A couple of months ago while I was in Belize I had a conversation with a friend – a fellow traveler and someone I consider to be a kindred spirit.
She said to me: “Who’s to say that we’re all supposed to have the same path in life? Who’s to say that all of us women should marry or that we all have to have or raise children? We’re all different, and so are our paths in life. One shouldn’t be considered better than the other.”
We were discussing our relationships – she’s been married many years, I’m single. We both are the same age range. She was struggling with finding balance in her life and time for her family, and I was struggling with the lonely feeling that creeps up on a woman who’s on the road for a while.
The ‘solo’ in solo female travel – it’s an issue you won’t read about much on our travel blogs. Yes, you hear from the couples who hit the road together, or the ones who met the love of their life on the road and are happily coupled (although this piece from a solo male traveler Nomadic Matt is interesting).
But you don’t hear about the rest of us (those of us who have never married and are in our 30s or 40s, and not in the 20s dating scene), other than the stories of where to go, what to eat, how much fun we had and how to plan your trips. You don’t hear about the dating – let’s face it, it’s a part of life – or the loneliness, the moments when we wish we had someone who shared our passion for travel, the moments when we wish we were settled down and had some sense of normalcy or stability, the moments of doubt, the voices in our heads that tell us that the future is uncertain and we’re getting older.
I admit, in the past year I’ve struggled with the lonely side of solo travel. I’ve heard my fair share of the “how will you meet someone when you’re constantly on the road?” comments. But I lived in Washington, DC for over a decade and never met my soul mate so for me, traveling long term was no less of a riskier attempt. Neither did I see myself going online and searching for a partner (not knocking it, but I know myself and I have no patience to sift through hundreds of profiles).
But I do think about love and travel, like any woman my age. And lately – since late last year, I’ve started wondering – should I pick a country and just stay still? Should I keep traveling? What if I get older and I end up alone?
Yes I’ve dated along my travels – the most significant was a recent long-term relationship. A relationship that came to a head after about a year of constant travel and countless emails and phone calls and visits. There were unpleasant discoveries about the man I thought I knew so well and spoke to so often. The person who asked me to stop traveling long-term, move countries and “settle down.” After six months of hearing the same offer and declarations of love but ignoring them, I had decided to at least hear him out. And what I discovered, by some form of divine intervention, is that he was leading a double life.
Why am I sharing this? Because after the outrage and the tears, in the midst of a calmer and introspective state, the other truth – my truth – hit me: I had settled for less all along. I wanted to “fit in” with everyone else.
More than once, along the way, I’d questioned whether he was my ideal partner, or the man of my dreams. I’d brushed it off by calling myself “picky” and “difficult.” Doubts existed yet I had settled in dating him because it was easy, it was comforting to have someone abroad who reminded me of my travels and somehow connected with it by the fact that he himself was an expat. And maybe, yes maybe it was even soothing away those voices about settling down. Maybe it was time for me to just say yes.
Horror of all horrors – I had let age be a factor. I never let age influence my decision when I left my job three years ago to find myself and my true passion and purpose. Why would I do that with a lifetime relationship, one of the most important decisions in a woman’s life?
And that, my friends, was the biggest lesson I learned these past months – to not allow societal pressure or any of those factors like age shadow what my heart is telling me. No, I don’t have a conventional life, but I’ve always been different. I choose to continue to live my life fully and settle for nothing less than the best, because tomorrow isn’t promised. I have faith that love – the kind of love that every solo female traveler wishes for deep down – will show itself at the appropriate time.
All my Belizean friend did was remind me of a simple truth, but in three months of countless conversations on the road, those words stayed with me the longest. We don’t have to have the same path or the same timing – whether in love or work. We’re all here for a different reason and it’s when we embrace that reason and follow our unique light that everything will start falling into place.