It was 10pm. I was in a city I didn’t know in a country not my own with people I had just met and someone was passing around a joint. That seemed as good a cue as any that my evening was about to end. My good friend Amy, who is wise about so, so many things, told me she once made a promise to her parents that she would never do drugs in a foreign country (save for countries where drugs are explicitly permitted) and this has always seemed like an extraordinarily good rule to live by. My fellow dinner guests were all cool and interesting and I’d been having a great time, but I was calling the game on account of rain because I don’t do drugs in foreign countries and I don’t especially want to be implicated by proximity.
The host took me downstairs where 5 consecutive Uber drivers canceled on me after learning where I wanted to be picked up. The host assured me his ‘uncle’ would get me back to my hotel safely. The uncle’s taxi had no gear above 2nd, smelled of leaking diesel, and it was only through the good graces of Google Maps and my enunciation of directions, that I was deposited safely at my hotel. Where the doorman cum security guard gave me a srsly? look.
But before you go giving Google Maps undue credit, it also gave me approximately 70km of cow road.
Which may be fine if you’re driving a 4×4 with decent clearance, but is not quite as fine in an economy car with front-wheel drive. I trusted that the treads already in the mud and puddles of indeterminate depth spoke to cars that had managed ok. I trusted that my insurance would cover any potential damage done to the car.
No, I’m not here on business, yes, I am wearing a wedding ring because I’m married, yes I’m having a good time.
“You’re so brave.”
I’m calling shenanigans on this. Not because I don’t relish unearned accolades, but because I don’t know where we learned that solo travel, and solo female travel in particular, equals bravery.
I’m not discounting the very real fact that women generally make easier targets for crime and violence than men, but by that logic, I am more likely to be a victim of crime or violence wherever I go, including the Greenwich Whole Foods. Friends, strangers, my shrink, lots of people called me brave for taking a vacation by myself, and I’m here to say that bravery didn’t factor into it.
It was a vacation. I love vacation! If there were a way to make being on vacation profitable, I would be first in line. So going on vacation is not an act of bravery, it’s an act of self-indulgence. Going on vacation 8,000 miles away to take a fancy safari is an act of extreme self-indulgence.
There will be more posts about this trip, I promise, and I will go into the things I liked and the things that were difficult. But the difficult part was not the part where I decided to go.
Navigating my car through a road it wasn’t purpose-built for was challenging, but not brave. If it wouldn’t have been brave were I to have had my husband in the passenger seat, then it doesn’t get to be brave simply because my only companionship was The Bill Simmons Podcast. Driving while female isn’t worthy of a merit badge, whether I do it on I-95 or I do it on a rural road in South Africa. It’s just driving.
Having a meal by myself at a fancy restaurant. I did it three times in 36 hours last year in Paris and no one thought to call me brave. Gluttonous, perhaps, but not brave.
While in South Africa, I availed myself of the following brave things: Avis, Uber, ATM. If you use or have used any of these already, congratulations, you have the requisite skills necessary to travel to foreign lands with decent levels of infrastructure.
I’ve never done brave travel by myself. I will concede that while we didn’t feel it required any specific bravery on our parts, driving through certain parts of Tanzania and Namibia unassisted was…non-standard. I’ve met people who travel bravely. Who hop on an off local minibuses and hitchhike and go where the day takes them. I was an insufferable yuppie with a credit card who perfected the art of getting in and out of Ubers.
So what I’m trying to say is that not feeling brave shouldn’t stop you from dreaming or planning travel. Travel, whether it’s to the next state or the next hemisphere presents challenges, but those challenges are rarely insurmountable and rarely require skills of you that you don’t already possess. I understand if you don’t want your travel to be challenging, I respect that, but if you’re letting fear hold you back from embarking on a journey of your own because you don’t feel up to the challenge? I call bullshit on that.