There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting into a taxi in a place you do not know. I like to hand the address of my hotel to the driver, and then, lean back and watch the skyline — such as it is — go by. I have done this in Los Angeles and Dar es Salaam and Buenos Aires and it is always the same miraculous feeling, of strangeness and adventure. I have nothing more than the name of a destination in my hand, my luggage in the trunk, and I travel alone under an unknown sky, often tired, but never afraid.
Once, in India, I walked back through a forest to a hill town in India alone. I was not feeling up to crossing the mountain pass and I left my companion for a few days to make my way solo to the city of Srinigar. When I boarded a bus, the man in front of me asked if he could talk with me. “Please…” I said, with some hesitation. “Listen, I have to ask you, the food in your country… I found it utterly without flavor. Can you tell me why this is so?” I burst out laughing and we talked about how spicy I found the food in India.
Once in Cairo, I went for a walk and ended up talking to a young man about politics. He was genuinely interested in where I had been and what I was doing in his city. When we were done talking, he wished me happy travels and shook my hand and thanked me for the conversation.
Sarai Sierra, a 33 year old woman from New York City, was killed in Istanbul while traveling alone. When NBC news posted the story, commenters responded that women should not travel alone. That men should not murder did not seem to be part of the equation.
Once, in Ushuaia, I sat in a bar and ate a giant salad and drank beer and watched the crowd change behind me in the reflection of the mirror in front of me.
Once, in Spain, I got lost trying to find Altamira. While trying to turn around, I planted my borrowed car into a ditch. It was embarrassing. I went into a local pub to look for help. Two big farmers laughed at me, kindly, indulged my bad Spanish, and helped push the car back onto the road again.
Once, I got on an airplane to spend the weekend in Antwerp with some people I had never met. I stayed in their apartment and cooked them dinner and we went on walks and drank beer and had a smashing time.
Once, in Zanzibar, I was greeted like a lost cousin everywhere I went. Once in Manhattan the same thing happened, after midnight, in a neighborhood deli, where two enormous black men in track suits and bling asked me, “What are you DOING all the way out there in Seattle?” as though I had left them to see the west. As though I was their sister, wandered off and back again. “Welcome back to New York!” they said, even though it was not my home.
Once, I got on the wrong train heading to Amsterdam. I had planned badly, and I was jetlagged, and the Dutch mother traveling with her daughter shared her meal with me and the train conductor shook his head at my absent mindedness and said, “No problem.”
Once, in Australia, I rented a bicycle and rode off into the bush for miles and miles with nothing but zebra finches and red dirt all around me.
Once in Florence, once in Tel Aviv and San Antonio and on the island of Moloka’i and in so many places where I got on the bus, or into a taxi, or on the subway, or I walked, with a map of some kind in my hand, alone, until I saw what I had come to see and then, went home again. I made some mistakes and people were helpful and indulgent and understanding, in many different places in the world, in the Arab world and in the West and in South America.
“Women should not travel alone.” Comment after comment on Sarai Sierra’s murder blames the victim. It is her fault for traveling alone.
Once I traveled alone and because people were kind and welcoming, I wanted to travel alone over and over and over again. There is nothing quite like the feeling of relaxing into the back seat of a taxi, seeing your reflection superimposed on the landscape of a place you do not know. It is all the poetry of travel distilled into the place where your forehead meets the glass of the back seat window. And to have this feeling, you must do it alone.
Sarai Sierra’s murder is not the fault of women traveling alone. I will not listen to the voices of those who say it is. What else should women not do because of the potential harm others will wreak upon us? Why are we to blame and not those who perpetrate crimes against women?
Once, I traveled alone and I was not afraid.
This is still true. I travel alone and I am not afraid.