A Woman’s Right to Wander
We spend so much of our lives going in a specific direction, that sometimes we miss out on the opportunity to be lost, to wander. But wandering is such a natural thing for people to do! And until recently, women haven’t had the ability to wander to wander as freely as we do now. So, what about a woman’s right to wander?
Why do we wander?
Is there value in wandering?
And if so, how can we do so with a bit of grit and grace?
The wanderer’s dilemma.
This all started when a travel blogger I like wrote a book called “All Over the Place”. It’s sort of an off-beat conglomeration of stories about a woman travelling with her husband, who travels for business. It’s delightful. However, one section discusses the way in which she is different from other travelers. And it struck a nerve.
“The path for the modern wanderer always seems to follow the same course- one that traces through Southeast Asia, involves at least three life-changing epiphanies vaguely invoking Buddhism, and necessitates wearing those pants with the zip-off legs. And the starting point is invariably this: they quit. They voluntarily cast off those miserable shackles of stable employment; they spin the globe and pick a spot at random. There. I shall go there.“
Her description of people who quit their jobs to travel hit a nerve with me. First of, I do not have pants with zip off legs! Second, where are my life-changing epiphanies?! I must’ve missed the boat on that one. And lastly, it suddenly all felt so cliché. So done. As though choosing to travel and attempt a different lifestyle has no value and I might as well be working my corporate job, eating Taco Bell every night and spending my mornings complaining with my coworkers about traffic.
This writer’s comments did not get to me because there were mean-spirited or unkind, they got to me because they were my own doubts in someone else’s words.
How dare she speak my own thoughts to me?!
The thing is, I already question my choice to leave stability behind plenty.
I also think anyone who has quit their job to travel and figure life out probably does the same on a daily basis.
Sometimes I like to be an overachiever and do so on an hourly basis.
So I sat with this feeling. I sat with it with the attitude like I sit with someone who is picking their nose next to you on a bus. I was repulsed by our very proximity.
And you know what? She’s right. It’s totally cliché. It’s been done. And what’s worse? It’ll be done again.
It’s not the cliché that’s wrong. What’s wrong is the fact that it is so hard to value time spent on anything without a predictable, monetizable outcome. We spent our entire lives in school, in college, at jobs in hobbies, all with an idea of where it is getting us and what we are getting out of it. But maybe that’s a rather narrow view of life?
Wandering is a natural part of the human condition. Although it’s not widely valued as an important thing to do, it is. And maybe we all could do with a little wandering.
So, why do we wander?
I’m not a religious person but I do know that influential characters throughout many major religions wandered. Buddha went through a period of life where he was a wandering monk. David from the Bible wandered for upwards of five years in “deserts and mountains and caves of the earth.” Moses led the Israelites to wander for 40 years in the desert!
In fact, most stories of learning and transformation include a period of wandering. From Jesus to Buddha and Elizabeth Gilbert and Jack Kerouac, they went wandering to figure life out. It’s not because of recent books and movies. It’s what people have done for centuries. And if it’s a good enough plan for all the A-listers above, why can’t it be good enough for the rest of us lost souls in life?
It just feels so natural to wander. What else do you do when you reach a point in life and you don’t know which path is the right one but you know that there must be another way? Do you just put your head down and live like everyone else? Or do you refuse all the options and insist on finding what works while braving cold showers and 18 hour bus rides?
My instincts told me to wander. If they lead me to certain death then maybe my instincts are pushing me out of the evolutionary chain.
But so far, so good.
Is there value in wandering?
I can only speak to my own perspective here, but I can tell you that my wandering travels have taught me more about the world than I ever learned in any classroom, seminar or course. In fact, it’s been more valuable than my entire education.
I think wandering is what people who are searching for a life they haven’t seen rehearsed. It teaches us how other people live. Wandering allows life to take us by the hand and teaches us just how small and insignificant we are. It shows us that there are options and expands our comfort zone.
For instance, I now know I can survive without a hot shower every day. I can forgo coffee and still think life is worth living. I can live with less than half my stuff. It’s alright. I’m okay.
Wandering also makes room for the type of spontaneity and discovery that we rarely have the luxury of experiencing in our every day lives. With work weeks and schedules and even happy hours penciled into every possible 60- minute increment, the ability to take life moment by moment has become the ultimate rarity. Is it so much to ask that one small section of my life no be tied to a schedule?! Because those are the moments when I have found things I didn’t even know I was looking for.
The morning I ended up at a construction site when I meant to go shopping and had one of my favorite experiences in Morocco.
That day I met a man in a park in Singapore who taught me how to haggle. A skill I’d use across continents and in buying everything from earrings to my Jeep to negotiating my salary.
The time I left the Buddhist monastery I was staying in to get a cup of coffee and found peace in the middle of grief.
The day my bus stopped near a tree full of goats and it made me feel connected to my family from thousands of miles away.
It’s a small world. Coincidences happen. You find the breadcrumb trail to where you need to be when you least expect it.
None of this would have happened if I thought wandering without purpose was a useless endeavor.
So, what about women wandering?
We women are at unprecedented time in history. We can now wander like we never have before. Although safety is still a consideration, the world is much more easily navigable for us today. I know for me and my family, wandering in this way would have been a monumental stretch before my generation. So maybe it’s not a total surprise that the time to go is now. More women are producing their own incomes, having children later and going to see what the world is all about.
Not only that, but we have so many great and inspiring stories from Elizabeth Gilbert to Cheryl Strayed and Arya Stark and Dora the Explorer.
In 2014 when I was traveling around the world, there were always women travelers in every hostel, hotel and guesthouse I stayed in. Some were with other girls, some were with their boyfriends and some were travelling alone.
The thing that surprised me about traveling more recently though, is that there were more women traveling alone than before. And what’s more exciting, these were more women who weren’t just on vacation, they were on career breaks, taking time between semesters in college and just generally going out to wander.
These were intelligent, funny and intrepid women who were choosing to wander.
What do we do now that we have equal wandering rights?
Leaving your comfort zone and choosing to wander is not the same for everyone. It can and should look as different for you as your own fingerprint, because what is valuable to you may not strike everyone the same.
I think riding a bike across the Rockies would be my personal version of hell. Some people do this for fun.
There are women who travel for weeks on end on foot, on mopeds, hitchhiking, hiking, sleeping in vans and under the stars.
Maybe your version of wandering is a dream trip to Paris where you say in nice hotels and enjoy the beautiful scenery. That’s okay! It’s a step outside your normal.
Or it could be being brave enough to start the conversation with someone you don’t know. Like, “Hey, I like your hat.”
Sometimes just changing your daily routine is enough.
It’s not about being the most hardcore, it’s about taking a timeout to see what else is out there and to let life happen. To explore whatever realm you need to explore.
How do we wander with a bit of grit and grace?
I know for me, I don’t have a 5 year plan. I don’t know where I’ll be in two months! That’s why it’s A Map to Anywhere, I’m making the map as I go.
If there’s anything I have learned from wanderings, it’s that I don’t know anything. Maybe that’s the right starting point though. I’ve had it all figured out before and found out that the best laid plans don’t always pan out.
And what’s worse, sometimes they do, and you realize your plans were kinda dumb.
Maybe the trick lies in admitting that we don’t know. Because if we don’t have all the answers, we suddenly have the freedom to ask the question to others. We can look for the solution in new places, get different perspectives and find the answers when we least expect it.
Let’s take one step towards wandering.
It’s a woman’s right to wander. Just like it’s a man’s right to wander. Wandering is part of human history. It’s been done but we do it for a reason.
There are a million different ways to live. Let’s explore more than one.