Being a writer, I travel a lot, often averaging a week away from home a month. I don’t complain about it too much though. In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret: I love it. It doesn’t matter that I’m working. Because let’s face it: while my days “on assignment” can be long and tiring, sometimes starting at 6:30 a.m. and not ending until 10 p.m. (and let’s not forget the couple of hours I then stay up catching up on e-mail at the hotel), they are not usually spent in arduous meetings watching the dullest PowerPoint presentations known to man. Instead, I will frequently spend these days away from home doing everything from sea kayaking to stand-up paddle boarding. It could be worse. It could be a lot worse.
And even if it were a lot worse, I still wouldn’t complain. A friend of mine who travels around the world overseeing clinical research trials says she loves hotel rooms. “When you leave them in the morning and come back in the evening, they look pretty much the way they did when you checked in,” she says. “Someone makes the bed, cleans the bathroom, leaves you cookies.”
An editor, wife, and new mother I ran into on my latest trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, told me she, too, loves the travel that comes with the job: “I get a king bed all to myself, and I don’t wake up with any cats sleeping on my head.” An added bonus: she can drink beer at the airport.
Unfortunately, I know far too many women who have not yet discovered the art of traveling solo, whether it’s for work or pleasure. Guilt ties them to their husbands and children. They are so guilt-ridden, in fact, that they would never admit to their friends (or even to themselves) that they actually want to get the heck out of Dodge, even if only for a day or two. This is tragedy on a grand scale. And I cannot help but wonder why otherwise sane and intelligent women chain themselves to motherhood and marriage as if it’s a life sentence, no probation allowed.
Men rarely do this. How many men ask their wives if it’s okay to go out with the guys on the weekend or if it would be in bad form to go on a hunting trip to Alaska for a week? Do men feel this level of bondage? I don’t think so. Call it socialization if you will, but even the most liberated women among us still feel they are less than women if they long for a night away from their toddlers or a week away from the company of their spouses.
I’ll admit it took me awhile to discover the blessings of solo travel. I got my feet wet taking girlfriend getaways and discovered, at first to my horror, that vacationing with women friends was about ten times more fun than traveling with my husband. You don’t have to waste time looking beautiful every day because your girlfriends really don’t care as long as you’re not embarrassingly sloppy, and you can laugh as loud as you want in the restaurant because women are not as hung up on propriety as men are (yes, it’s true, ladies). Plus, your female friends won’t give you a guilt trip about going to a museum they’re not really interested in. Women share and share alike. Follow me around The Louvre, and I’ll support you in your search for the perfect stinky cheese. Men will tell you it’s okay with them if all you want to do is shop for shoes in Rome, but they don’t mean it. And they’ll give you more guilt than your mother when it’s all said and done.
But even better than the girlfriend getaway is the solo retreat. And I don’t care if it’s an actual vacation or travel for work. Few things beat sitting alone in a posh restaurant in a tropical garden in L.A. sipping California Riesling without having to carry a conversation or make someone else laugh. It’s divine, in fact, about as divine as sinking into a king-size bed in a hotel suite you have all to yourself with no 6 a.m. “I’ts morning time, Mommy!” wake-up calls.
When I travel by myself, whether it’s on my own personal vacation or on assignment for a magazine, I retreat (without even being aware of it sometimes) into a life that is mine but isn’t. All the anxiety of meeting deadlines, picking up the kid on time, being cheerful for a grumpy spouse coming home after 12 hours of work and a long commute, and suppressing my own “I just want to scream because I can’t take it anymore” tendencies so I don’t land my daughter in psychotherapy before age 12 dissipate into thin air. I forget that crazy woman who lives at home and become entirely myself–the long lost adventurer of my youth out on a journey to see the world and live in the moment with no responsibility to my name but getting out of bed and living hard and blissfully all day long.
If you tell me you don’t need this, then I have to tell you: you are lying to yourself, whether out of guilt or societal pressure, I don’t know. But you are lying. Because we all need to be apart from our families. We all need to stay in touch with the women that we were and still are beneath that stressed out surface of the world’s greatest multi-tasker.
I didn’t realize how much I needed it until returning from a trip one day and pausing across a long layover at O’Hare to have lunch and remembering for a moment that I was returning to my four-year-old’s birthday party–a potential mob of waist-high people in my house, the presence of my mother, my mother-in-law, and sundry relatives who all think I’m just a little bit too much to take. The thought of that re-entry into my everyday life made me scan the menu for hard liquor.
But, in the end, while I’ll never be the mother my mother thinks I should be, I’m a damn good one just the same. And that’s because my solo journeys strengthen my sanity and enable me to walk into my bedroom, where my daughter has just colored the ottoman on my favorite chair with an ink pen, and not turn into psycho-mommy. Instead, I glance over at the stack of Italy travel books on my nightstand, smile a little to myself about my next escape, and engage in a strangely rational conversation with my child about why we don’t do pen and ink drawings on household furniture.
So next time you find yourself putting on a “mommy show” for your 10-year-old, who seems mildly amused that you can get so upset over the fact that he just locked his sister in the closet (a treatment she may well have deserved if she was chattering on the way she is known to chatter on), consider the fact that it may be time for you to do some solo traveling of your own.