Monthly Archives: May 2014

coming home

When you hit nine months traveling, there is a moment. Waking up from a nap on a beach, looking up from a book at a café, shouting over the music at a club, when you forget—just for a groggy instant —what country you’re in.

And that’s when it’s time to go home.

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on solo female travel

Before I went traveling, my 90-year-old Chinese immigrant grandmother clucked her tongue and told me not to.

Find a husband first, she said. Then you can go traveling with him.

———-

I yelled at a Turkish boy at a party last weekend. He was upset because I wouldn’t dance with him, I wouldn’t drink excessively, and I was nicely sidestepping his aggressive advances.

If you have a boyfriend, why are you even here?

He spat this at me as if I should know better than to accept invitations if I’m not interested in sleeping with anyone there, as if my existence is meaningless if I don’t want him.

I shout back a stream of English that might’ve been beyond his comprehension, but makes the whole street turn around and stare, and sends me back to my hostel room sobbing.

———-

All through Asia I refused those probably uncertified motorcycle taxis that hang around outside clubs to take people home. I heard tons of male friends tell great stories that started on the back of one and ended in a bar full of locals, or a tiny streetside food stand, or even driver’s home. You never really know what’ll happen—the major pro and con to that form of transportation.

I give in once in the middle of Vietnam, at three in the morning after a huge fight with the English boy. I lean back and hold on to the bike but the driver reaches around and puts his hand on my thigh. He takes me to my hostel, but not before asking for my Facebook.

———-

A Canadian girl moans about her white skin and blonde hair and blue eyes.She is going to India, and knows she will be stared at, catcalled, treated like royalty.

I can’t get behind her in this. It’s like cursing the fact that you’ve been born with a massive advantage, one that the people around you fiercely desire. And if that means you’re slightly uncomfortable, well then maybe for once you are catching a tiny hint of what some people feel like when they watch the white-dominated media, or get discriminated at at airports or job interviews.

———-

I gush about Morocco—the history, the culture, the food, the people. Another American girl is shocked.

My friends told me they hated it, she says. They were always getting stared at for their shorts and tank tops.

I didn’t wear shorts and tank tops, I tell her.

———-

Traveling as a solo female is this—all of these scenarios that don’t come up in the calls home to my parents. It’s being shown Taken (and Taken 2) by my Houston friends after announcing my trip, and being gasped at by the majority of the people I meet. It’s the terrifying times I felt unsafe, the frustrating times I chose to play it safe and missed out on a high risk-high reward opportunity.

But it’s also instant trust, instant camaraderie among other travelers just because you’re smiling, just because being a solo female is the least threatening persona on earth.

It’s the English girls who invited me to share a room with them to save money. The Dutch boy who invited me along to the north of Laos. The German bus driver who let me ride for free because I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket. The English boy who walked me home from the bar. The American girl who let me use her laptop to try and find my stolen phone. The Vietnamese man who rented me his motorbike. The Thai hostel owner who let me store my bags for free. The Laotian man who taught me how to properly eat soup. The German boy who invited me in on his New Year plans so I wouldn’t be alone. All the new friends I made who let me sleep in spare beds and showed me their city.

I am lonely sometimes, and scared sometimes, and angry sometimes.

But more often than not, I am surprised by my strength, encouraged, impressed, and humbled by others’ kindness, and so grateful that I have been lucky enough to live this.

on hospitality

I stay in London for three nights (which costs about the same as a week in Southeast Asia, sigh) but it only takes one before blowing my nose leaves black gunk from the pollution on the tissue. This city gets inside of you that quickly.

I am lucky enough to have friends in London who take me to pubs and try to talk me into staying. And while the tourist side of England is nice—the central bit is surprisingly compact (and the museums are free) and this might be the first city where there are some historical things that I’m actually vaguely knowledgeable about—I like this pub culture more.

Despite prices and weather and the general lack of British friendliness, I could live here, I think.

———-

I arrive in Istanbul when the protests are starting, closing the public transportation and presenting me with a long, confusing, and expensive journey to my hostel. On the way, I pass fully decked-out police officers with massive automatic guns, riot shields, and armored vans, and I wonder why it is that only America has such a negative reputation when it comes to police and weapons.

———-

If the British toe the line of being too unfriendly, the Turkish are on the opposite end of the spectrum. I am told that tea is an essential part of their culture and never to refuse an invitation, but I am also warned about the blatant womanizing. And so, as expected, this leaves me too often in an uncomfortable position. This might not be the time or culture to try out rejection without using the excuse of having a boyfriend. By day two I am exhausted, and I start sticking to silent tight-lipped smiles every time I’m approached.

———-

I’ve been looking up flight tickets every day, trying to find the right time and location and price to buy. I think I have it almost worked out, this last frustration of travel planning before I find myself back at home, but I’m hesitating. There’s still so much left I want to see.
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to the beat of our noisy hearts

In the three weeks that I have been holed up with the English boy in his tiny town on the southwest coast, we have fought and made up more times than I can even recall anymore. It’s an intensity that sometimes feels like insanity, but the more that I can’t explain what draws us back together every time—despite our ever-increasing differences—the more I think that it’s right.

England is cold and generally rainy, but beautiful in the outdoorsy way that I came to love on the Camino. A complete 180 from the sprawling strip malls of Houston, I appreciate it while also becoming more and more excited about my return to big city life.

I am putting my travel life on hold soon, starting to look at flights home, discussing rent and direct deposit. I’ll be leaving behind the uncertainty, the excitement of getting off a bus in a brand new city, the loneliness of waking up in an unfamiliar bed. But I wonder if—across continents and cultures and time zones and time off—I can keep him.