It's interesting observing people's reactions when they find out that not only do I travel without my husband at least some of the time, I actively encourage it.
In an age when female solo travel has finally become “a thing,” you'd think that the idea of a woman traveling alone wouldn't be overly surprising. Yet, as cool as women traveling on their own terms has become, I've discovered it comes with a huge societal caveat.
You need to be unmarried to be considered a solo female traveler.
According to current trends, being unmarried and traveling alone means you are a badass solo traveler. You don't believe in waiting for the right time or when others are ready to travel with you. The world is your oyster and despite any fears you may have about traveling alone, you are inspiring because you go out there and do it anyway.
Add a ring into the equation, and people's views do an instant flip. Suddenly your travels have zero cachet and people go from ‘you go, girl' to straight-up recoil at what a sad state of affairs your marriage must be in.
The things people say to married women who travel solo
Common responses to conversations about a trip I'm taking alone include:
“Is your marriage in trouble?” (worried expression)
“But you're married!” (look of complete disbelief)
And my personal favorite, “Your husband allows you to travel by yourself?” (what is wrong with you and your relationship that your husband is OK with this?!)
Solo travel doesn't mean singles' travel
Many people have the misunderstanding that solo travel equates to singles' travel. This is simply untrue.
A solo traveler means anyone who is traveling alone. It is not related to marital status (or age or anything else). It's just that younger women who happen to be unmarried tend to dominate the media when it comes to the solo female traveler movement, and hence why many people seem to equate the two.
Don't think I throw away my wedding band while I'm away or that my marriage is in some kind of trouble just because I'm taking a trip without my husband. I'm married and I travel solo. I'm not a married person who wishes to be single on their holidays.
At the same time, I'm no less of a solo female traveler or different just because I happen to be married. Now that solo women's travel has become a popular trend, many want to put other women down by saying it's not real solo female travel if you travel alone when married. It's amazing how many people think I'm “safer” or “don't have to worry about the same things” when I travel alone, simply because I wear a ring.
When I am alone in a place, I am facing the world just like any other woman traveling by herself.
Yes, you can be happily married and travel by yourself too
It's strange that many people can't compute that you can both be happily married with shared passions and also have your own individual interests you pursue separately.
A few years ago, I decided to work on a ship that was circumnavigating the globe for three months. Everyone assumed that I must be unmarried, because, in their eyes, I couldn't possibly be doing this otherwise.
When other passengers discovered that I was married, they would often have one of the responses I listed above. One night at dinner, I said to one of my colleagues, “I don't know why people think that once you get married you can no longer have a life of your own too, with your own goals and dreams that you pursue alongside your common ones.”
His response was fast and matter-of-fact, “Because that is what marriage means to most people.”
Although he was actually expressing support and saying that people don't understand because of their own world views, it was a statement that has lingered with me ever since. I can still hear those words coming from his mouth and feel the great sense of sadness every time I remember them. Because he was absolutely right.
We're conditioned to believe that being married is a time distinct from the rest of our lives
In society, we're trained to believe that marriage is a life-altering event. We're told that marriage is about two people becoming one, who are to think and behave as one unit for the rest of their days. In many ways, we're taught that our wedding day is an occasion when we must let go of our former selves, and step into a time of “permission getting” and “brownie points.”
You'd better get all your wild nights and backpacking days out of your system before you say, ‘I do,' because after that it's mortgages and bills and kids, and the occasional guys' or girls' night when your spouse “let's you out of the house.” Anyone who does otherwise is considered to be thwarting their spousal or parental duties.
Often people talk about marriage as being some kind of freedom-sucking punishment and that giving up control over your own life is all part and parcel of it. Some may see that kind of talk as just light-hearted humor, but the reality is an alarming amount of people give up huge parts of themselves in relationships, and the sad part is that many don't even realize it or they just succumb to it because they are told that is the normal state of any partnership.
I couldn't disagree more.
Marriage shouldn't take away your dreams; it should add to them, and give you the gift of someone who is your biggest supporter.
Why you should travel solo when married
I'm a strong believer in being able to be yourself within your marriage. Having your own hopes, dreams and interests is important and the fact that 100% of them don't overlap is normal and, I say, extremely healthy.
I love to travel with my husband, but I also like traveling on my own too because of the completely different experience it gives me.
I've always loved to travel. I traveled alone before I was dating my husband and he doesn't expect me to change that part of myself simply because we decided to sign a piece of paper.
In my experience, here are the advantages of traveling without your spouse.
I can do the things my husband doesn't like (as much as me)
There are lots of things my husband and I both really like (hiking, for example), and then there are also things that one of us has introduced to the other and have become mutual passions (like photography).
I think the latter is one of the greatest parts of growing and learning together – you discover things that you didn't even know you were interested in!
But there are also things that are more of our own unique interests and it seems really silly to either give those things up or force the other to endure something they don't enjoy doing just because we are married.
It's about enjoying lots of things together (why are you married otherwise?), being open to giving new things a try, and then also knowing when it might just be better to do something separately.
My husband never stops me from doing what I want whether we are at home in Japan or on the road. But there is an inherent amount of coordination that needs to take place whenever you travel with others, and that can sometimes interfere with your experience of a place.
For example, simply keeping track of each other physically, especially in crowded markets or train stations, can be difficult. We spend a lot of our time just trying to ‘keep an eye out for one another' while trying to navigate a new place, rather than fulling immersing ourselves in it.
One of us may want to stop to take a photo or have a conversation with a shop owner, but even a few paces apart may prevent us from hearing each other in a busy street. At which point, we may need to miss the opportunity and continue on, stay for a few moments and hope we don't lose the other in the crowd or run up to get the other's attention to ask them to stop (at which point, that moment you wanted to capture may very well be lost).
Traveling with others has lots of positives too, but sometimes it's really nice to go out and create an adventure of your own making, in which you don't have to worry about whether you are holding someone else up, or boring them with things they aren't into but are important to you.
I often get treated differently when I'm alone
My experiences traveling with my husband versus when I travel by myself are often vastly different.
People are generally more inclined to interact with me when I'm traveling alone and being married to and traveling with a man means that I may not be able to connect with other women in the same way.
When I travel alone, I am far more likely to be invited into the female domain of the place I am visiting. In some countries and cultures, there are places that only women go, or where women go to only be among other women, and I won't be invited there if I'm in the company of a man.
Some of the best interactions I've had with women on my travels – in homes, in shops, in kitchens, in beauty parlors and baths – have been because I've been there on my own, we've felt a shared connection through gender and they haven't felt that they were “keeping me from my husband” waiting outside.
Solo travel makes me a more confident person
I love the adventures I have with my husband, but I think it is equally important to remind myself about what I can achieve on my own too.
When I travel by myself, I am responsible for every part of the process and I have to do things that I may not like or feel that I'm very good at, and take responsibility for and deal with whatever the outcome may be.
I used to be terrible at making decisions, even simple ones like what to choose from a menu, and solo travel forced me to get over that and run with a decision, because there isn't anyone else there to make it for me.
I've learned to face my fears, trust my gut, acknowledge my mistakes and grow when things don't work out. Doing things on my own makes me confident and self-reflective in a really profound way.
We have so much to talk about
Whenever we spend any amount of time apart, whether it's a few hours, days, weeks or months, we always have so much we can't wait to share with one another.
At the end of the day, we are genuinely excited to hear about each others' daily adventures and we spend hours poring over photos and sharing travel stories, asking questions, and laughing.
Many people assume that because we travel apart some of the time that our relationship isn't very close. In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth. Traveling alone gives us the chance to miss each other and makes us appreciate one another more. On top of that, the more we grow as individuals, the more we can contribute to our team, which just makes us stronger and stronger.
I love that we never run out of things to talk about and that each others' happiness and success is a shared goal.
It's not weird to travel without your spouse
When I speak with others about my solo travels, I get the impression that many people think our relationship is an anomaly. But married couples taking separate vacations is not as uncommon as you may think. Here are some other female travelers who travel without their spouses.
Traveling Solo…When You're Married – Why Wait to See the World?
No, I Do Not Need my Husband's Permission to Travel Alone – To Europe and Beyond
I'm Married and I Travel Solo. And that's OK – Runaway Juno
What do you think about solo travel when married? Have you ever traveled solo while in a committed relationship? Would you? Let me know in the comments!