In 2000, at the spring chicken age of 21, I take my first big solo trip, spending months camping in hostel backyards, on farms, or in the mountains and hills of Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and Scotland (no one shoots you dead for “trespassing” in this part of the world). In Kristianstad, Norway, after I miss the ferry to Scotland and am about to pitch my tent in a city park (uh, bad idea), a random grandma on a bus stop bench invites me back to her flat, where she gives me hot pizza, an even hotter shower, and my first real bed in weeks. Later that night I help her pick out living room curtains with her granny neighbor and listen to their stories about Nazis burning down their hometowns during the war. From that moment, I’m hooked on solo traveling and its unparalleled way of making me feel at home, and oddly close to complete strangers.
Despite it being far more dangerous and exhausting to go solo, especially as a woman, I take great pride in being almost too good at it. It’s part of my identity even, being a travel writer, climber/adrenaline junkie, and overly curious person who thrives on uncertainty. From sleeping in Walmart parking lots to adventuring with Peruvian clowns, my life is almost never boring, riding this beautiful but sometimes stressful line between Prrrrretty sure I’m not getting murdered and Goooood I love this. Being a woman is actually my advantage. We’re seen as less threatening, and therefore more trustworthy and approachable. So even though this means men bother me more, that’s fine. As a tomboy who’s worked in mostly bro-brah industries, I’ve mastered the “cool older sister” and “don’t even try to fuck with me” vibes quite well by now.
When I take off for a six-week romp around Europe in the summer of 2017, I’m now 39 and smack dab in the middle of a midlife “crisis” (epiphany). Life is more… complicated. Just days before, I find out I’ve landed a dream job teaching English in Spain that fall, meaning I’m about to leave my home country, maybe for good. What I haven’t had time to process yet is the fact I’ll now be farther away from my dad, who’s in a memory care center saying the long Alzheimer’s goodbye. Since I’ve also got chronic back pain due to my current job slingin’ ribs at a “gourmet” BBQ joint in L.A., I know I need both sleep and privacy this time around. You get neither of those when Couchsurfing on a futon in someone’s kitchen or crashing on some janky metal bunk bed in a hostel dorm with 11 wasted 20-year-olds using their outdoor voices at 5 a.m. So I go with cheap Airbnb rooms instead.