I looked up. It was an ancient high ceiling covered with impressive images depicting religious scenes, Jesus, the apostles sitting in prayer. I felt intimidated. I had not been in a church since the recent death of my father. And here I was, miles away, in Salvador do Bahia, Brazil, South America. Alone. A woman in search of answers in the wide world.
What answers exactly? Whatever works. I had nothing to my name but a suitcase and a few bank statements. I had quit my corporate job and bought a ticket to Brazil. Dad used to say he wanted to go there. He never got to, so I went.
Traveling alone is less romantic than one would really want to admit, but you have your moments of inspiration and when you do, it's worth 365 days of cubicle life. Pelourinho, otherwise known as the historic center, is a very colorful part of the town. It has a life of its own and you tend to lose yourself in its timeless flow, sometimes interrupted by early morning fireworks from mas celebration. But this too is life, and while life in a big modern city has a way of dictating what the norm should be, you quickly learn that it's all a matter of perspective: “Take everything that you have learned from life in all those years in Europe and turn it upside down. This is what this place does to you,” Annette, my airbnb host, said with a mischievous smile. “Pelourinho is transformation,” she continued “it's transformation through fire”.
“Are you traveling alone?” I've often been asked. “Wow, you are so independent,” others have exclaimed. The truth is I don't know if it's out of independence or despair, or even for the sake of survival, that I've mostly travelled alone ever since I could. I grew up watching travel documentaries, mostly featuring the French scientist Captain Cousteau. He was my childhood hero and to a certain point, he still is. I've watched him go to these far off places, meet incredible people, talk about his travels on television. He planted the burning desire to see the world and tell about it inside of me. My Ukrainian grandmother had a library full of books on so many places. It probably messed up my vision of a world map forever, thinking that everything was so accessible. But it is! Whether you are a woman or a man traveling alone. But especially a woman. So why is it so important for us women to travel alone anyway?
Well, when you are a woman who lives in a modern city, you sometimes lose count of your internal rhythm and fall into a pool of demands that come with your social position, and long before you know it, you are up late working hard, mechanically undertaking the same tasks over and over. The only moment you still get to feel like a woman is when you put on your lipstick, but that too soon becomes another mechanical task on your never-ending to-do list, just another one of those things you have to do to get by.
A few days ago, I was standing in front of the mirror trying to tame my curls into the perfect ponytail. Needless to say, that given the recent rains in Salvador and the ambient humidity, my hair had sort of a mind of its own. Maybe it's also because I really needed to get out that day that I did something I would never have done in the past... I let my hair down! Talking about a one-minute makeover of a total control freak! But what followed was actually really interesting in terms of social dynamics. In letting my hair down, I went out into the world sending a different signal. Men reacted differently, and for the first time in months, I really acknowledged my feminine energy and I loved it.
This incident taught me that if only some of us would be less controlling over every detail, we would enjoy life so much more. It’s funny how I had to go all the way to South America to really get this. This leads me to my second point.
Whether we want it or not, the modern world sucks us in and plays with our self-esteem as it feeds upon our issues. We are shown what to wear, how to be the perfect lover/wife/girlfriend and it feels like we have to get it right the first time, because otherwise we just get left behind and the world keeps spinning without us. When you travel on your own as a woman, there is this shift that happens as you go about your simple daily tasks. You sort of start valuing yourself more. There is no competition, there is no urge to perform and you don't have the luxury to question yourself incessantly. The internal negative dialogue just stops and you stumble across your own gold nuggets. You just gain a whole lot of respect for yourself for just being in this world.
But it even goes beyond that. Women are containers. We internalize things. To travel on our own can help us unclog our well and fill it with countless new images, words, scents, projects. It's like being a whole new human being all over again. It plants the seed of passion and boldness in us. We grace the world with our beauty and pave the way for other women to find their own voice, whether it's through travel, the arts, motherhood or work. The point is, we are no longer the same women. As we explore the world, we become more aware of that which we let into this world, and thus we become more aware of our womb and its potential.
So next time you find yourself second-guessing whether you should take that solo trip or not, just do it. And next time you see a woman sitting with her backpack on a terrace, dreamily gazing into the crowd, acknowledge her for doing what she does. She is doing it for all of us. She is dancing to her own tune as a woman in the world. And so should you.