The woman with the steely grey hair and sparkling brown eyes was among the earliest to arrive for my talk on women’s solo travel at Edmonton’s Primetime Women’s conference last fall. So it didn’t surprise me that she was also the first to take me up on my invitation to share a story about travelling alone.
“My friends and I had always talked about travelling together to Italy. But years passed and we never went. Finally, the year I turned 70, I decided that I was going to give myself a birthday present and go by myself. I asked them to come with me but they turned me down.”
“As I started to get ready for my trip, one of my friends said, ‘How are you going to get along in Italy all by yourself? You don’t even speak their language.’ Another said, ‘What are you going to do if anything happens? There won’t be anyone there to take care of you.'”
“The worst thing was that suddenly I started to feel nervous about going to Italy on my own. Maybe I couldn’t actually handle it. Maybe I was doing a really stupid thing.”
“Luckily, I realized that the only reason I was doubting myself was because of what my friends had said. I ended up in Italy for two amazing weeks. I turn 80 this year and I’m looking for another place to go on my own to celebrate.”
The murmur around the room showed that the other women in the audience were just as impressed as I was by this woman’s courage and determination. But I was troubled, if not totally surprised, by how her friends responded to her decision to travel without them.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard stories about women undermining the solo travel plans of their female friends, family members, and colleagues. I’ve experienced it myself when I’ve announced I’m off to have a solo adventure.
“Oh, I’ve heard it’s very hot/cold/crowded/polluted/ dangerous there.”
“Why isn’t your husband going with you? Are you two having problems?”
“Why would you want to go there?”
“I’m really sorry you have to go by yourself. That won’t be much fun.”
When I get home, brimming with stories to share, these same women rarely remember to ask how my trip went. Or, if they do, they manage to change the subject right after I say, “Great.”
It’s likely that, as women, we’ve all been guilty of careless and uncaring words in response to another woman’s accomplishments. Maybe we’ve been unwilling to accept that she chose a different life path than we did. Maybe we’re a little threatened that she seems braver or smarter or more self-confident than we believe ourselves to be. Maybe we’re longing to go on an adventure too but our life circumstances don’t allow it.
But whatever the reason, we need to stop using our words and actions to hold other women back, or to make them feel that their successes aren’t worthy of applause. Bev Esslinger, for many years the only woman on Edmonton’s city council, addressed this issue from the podium at the Edmonton Women’s Initiative conference last month. She reminded us that “When we make our neighbors successful, we’re all successful.”
So, tomorrow on International Woman’s Day (or today if it’s already IWD where you are), find one of your female friends, family members, or colleagues and tell her how fabulous she is. Tell her why you admire her. Let her know that your life would be less inspiring without her in it. And notice that when you raise her up, you walk away feeling just a little taller too.
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