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Women Travel

Solo Woman Travel

Two Years on the Highway

More than two years and 36,000 miles ago, I decided to leave behind routine. Packing my possessions into a home-converted camper van, I set out from a friend’s cottage in the west of Ireland toward the vague promise of a job in Israel. When I finally arrived in Israel, the job had been given to someone else, and the appeal of a life in the road had claimed me.

Getting Started

“But how do you do it? How did you start?” a young man asked me early in the trip. Starting was easy. I got into the van at 5 a.m. one morning, drove east through the dawn, and did not turn back in the evening. By the next day I had taken a ferry and had arrived in a new country.

Money is Not Everything

“Well, it’s all right if you have plenty of money...” Wrong. Money makes traveling more comfortable; it does not make it possible. With two credit cards and a banker’s letter, I am in a stronger position with immigration officials than if I were to approach them only with cash and the assurance that I am not entering their country looking for work. I feel confident knowing that at any time I could cut my losses and fly out.

But money cannot buy everything. I know people who have done much traveling on little money by combining determination with tight budgeting and never hesitating to substitute time and effort for dollars. You do not have to have a big bank account to see the world.

“You must be fond of your own company. Don’t you ever get lonely?” Yes. When I’m lonely I sing or read, or write letters. When nothing else works, I curl up and go to sleep. Everything looks better in the morning, unless it’s raining.

Conquering Fear

“Aren’t you frightened?” some people ask. I have been terrified, rarely more so than one night in England when a knock against the van woke me. I froze, adrenaline surging. The sound came again, followed by silence. When I heard the noise a third time, I new that I had to investigate. Gathering my courage, I flung open the door. A flock of surprised sheep hurried away into the blackness.

But there are good reasons to be afraid. Men looking for attention or a good time are occasionally a threat, and in some areas a van with foreign number plates automatically becomes a target for local thugs, I either stay somewhere completely hidden, or park among plenty of people who will look out for me.

“You must be a great mechanic!” Nope. In preventative maintenance and Toyota I trust. I change the oil and spark plugs regularly, and have become adept at changing tires.

“But does everyone speak English?” No. Most people do not, particularly in place like Bulgaria and Central Turkey. And I don’t speak Bulgarian of Turkish. But an amazing amount of information can be imparted and understood when both parties are willing to make the effort. I have learned the words for marriage, husband, and children. In non-Western countries, most conversation revolves around family members.

“It sounds like a great adventure!” It is. I would not change the way that I live. Each day has its own challenges, whether chasing down a Third World city’s only Internet connection or deciphering the menu in an Egyptian truckstop.

An Englishman whom I met in France told me that for what I was doing I “should have been born a man,” and a Nigerian whom I met in Czechoslovakia said that there is no point in traveling as a means of self-discovery (he was attending a UNESCO conference). “Go back to your people.” He urged. “Stay at home. Nothing will be clear to you until you reach 43.” This 27-year-old woman thinks they were wrong.

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