My husband and I were together for eleven whole years before we got married, but it’s only since saying our vows that the world has expressed displeasure with my propensity for traveling solo.
Eleven years isn’t an obscenely large amount of time to maintain boyfriend-girlfriend status for high school sweethearts, but it’s a decent period in which to thoroughly get to know one another. We began dating on April 1st 2005, and by that July I had absconded to the tiny town of Villa Del Totoral in the Argentinean countryside, where my uncle lived at the time.
It was during this adventure that I recognized my dependence on others for keeping me entertained, structured, and even fed. I was fifteen, but I knew then and there that my reality was whatever I made of it, an epiphany common to travelers who spend a lot of time alone. It was obvious how travel and the challenges it presents could impact my self-awareness in a positive way.
There was never a question of whether I would continue on that month long trip rather than prioritize my young relationship.
Sure we were teenagers, and at that age it’s not unusual to see friends and lovers disappear for a few weeks with their families or away to camp, but for my relationship it immediately set the expectation that travel would always be a big part of my life, and an important one at that. This was cemented the following summer when I once again took off, this time to Ecuador and The Galapagos.
My desire to explore the world on my own continued on that trajectory, always with the support of my partner, friends, and family.
But that attitude took a turn once the rings were on and the papers were signed.
Not for my partner, who continued urging me to pursue the solo traveling habit that I had let die down for the prior few years, but among my peers and the world at large.
Immediately following the wedding I began planning a two month trip to Central America to gather photos and stories for my wildlife magazine, The Naturalist. I was pretty damn excited to be getting back out on the road, testing my mettle and rebuilding my resilience while pursuing a lifelong dream, the kinds of personal improvement catalyzed by travel. I never once considered it an affront to the commitment my peers had recently witnessed, a commitment that existed well before it became officially recognized by the government.
Others weren’t so convinced:
“He’s letting you travel alone for that long?” they asked, suggesting that my husband is somehow responsible for my actions.“Don’t you think he’ll leave you while you’re gone?” I was warned. But let’s face it: if he wants to jump ship because I peaced out for a few weeks, then he’s probably not the person I want to grow old with. “Didn’t you just get married?” asked many, implying that being a wife means being tied to her husband’s hip.
I do wonder if the roles were reversed, would my husband receive the same level and intensity of questioning? I imagine not. Extended business trips are par for the course for men, from seafaring Vikings to modern-day executives. People are not yet accustomed to women occupying the same roles, and I suppose it undermines their expectations of how a wife should behave.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that these comments got me down. Even I questioned the validity of my journey and my priorities in general when confronted in this way by people I truly respected. Now that I was a wife, maybe it really was important for the marriage that I remain at home…but doing what, exactly? I’m a freelance writer, I’m trying to launch a business, and also I want to travel alone. Would it really make our relationship stronger if I were to be tied down?
The answer of course is a resounding, “no.”
I’m writing this from a little cafe called Eva’s in San Ignacio, Belize. Not because I’ve abandoned my husband, but because, by pursuing the activities that serve me, I’ll be the version of myself that ultimately makes me a better me, and a better partner.
And because I like traveling solo. I like the way it forces me to depend on myself, to get creative in solving surprise problems, how I end up making more friends to avoid the loneliness every solo traveler faces at some point during their adventure. Some 1950s version of housewifery isn’t me, and I refuse to abide by that stereotype.
Besides, being single, married, or anywhere in-between should have no bearing on whether or not we pursue the things that make us happy. So I will continue traveling on my own, calling home when I can, and feeling secure with the knowledge the my partnership and my choices belong to me, and no one can take them, or the world, from me.
Ali Wunderman is a freelance travel writer and founder of the wildlife magazine, The Naturalist. You can find her jetsetting around the globe in search of strange creatures, exploring her hometown of San Francisco, and on Twitter.