Text & Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo
I’d seen him when I scoped out available seats in the gradas, way up in the nosebleed section, and I’d watched him watch me throughout the first bull fight. The way he asked wasn’t sinister or sexual, just slightly incredulous. Since it was obvious that no male companion was coming to join me (and, admittedly, since I sometimes enjoy being perceived as a bad-ass solo traveler who happens to be female), I looked him in the eyes and said, “Si, estoy sola.” He smiled and asked me if I wanted a beer.
“No, gracias,” I said, and showed him the thick gold band on my left ring finger. He laughed and threw his hands up in a “Well, it was worth a try” gesture.
Then, I turned back to the ring, ready for the next fight.
“What about your husband? Is he here, too?”
It’s late and I don’t know the city well enough to get myself out of a sketchy situation. I don’t like the way he’s asked the question, all falsely suave and casual. And most importantly, I’ve violated my own timeworn rule about choosing a taxi driver–never a young guy with spiky hair. Always an old guy with rosaries and scapulars looped over his rearview.
“Yeah, he’s at the hotel,” I lie. “He’s waiting for me right now.”
We’re pulling up to the plaza where my hotel is. “Do you want me to go around the block and drop you off right at the hotel door?”
No, I don’t want that at all. As I pay the fare and open the door, I feel lucky. I don’t even care that he didn’t use the meter and overcharged me.
Somehow, this conversation has taken a bizarre turn.
“You know, you need to go home and warm up your husband,” the taxi driver taking me to the airport says. He looks at me in the rearview mirror, which falls off right after he winks at me. “A man has needs,” he says. “What do you think he’s doing at home, anyway? If you’re not home to warm him up….” He sticks the mirror back on the windshield and gives me another look.
I contemplate walloping him with a feminist rant, but the very thought is exhausting. Feminist rants aren’t often effective, anyway. Instead, I ask, “What about men, who have traveled alone for work for years?” He laughs. “Sure. There are solutions for that,” he says, shooing away the woman who wants to clean his windshield at the stoplight. “Haven’t you ever been… tempted?” he asks.
“Actually, no,” I say, relieved we’re finally at the airport.
Lots has been written about solo female travel.
Far less has been written about traveling solo as a woman who is married, but whose partner is at home.
Safety-wise, most, if not all, of the same tips for solo female travel apply to the married woman whose partner isn’t along for the trip.
But in many ways, I think the married woman traveling alone has even more to deal with than her solo female travelers who are not in a relationship. The anecdotes above were all from a single trip made during the past month, but I’ve had many similar conversations on other occasions in various countries. Many men I meet while I’m traveling simply can’t understand why a married woman would travel alone, much less why–in their words–“your husband would let you.”
To explain the answers to either of those questions–whether they’re stated or implied– would take a lot of time because they’re not simple and don’t fit expectations or stereotypes. But frankly, I don’t want to have to explain the answers because what right does the person who’s asking me why I’m traveling alone and leaving my side of the marital bed cold have to raise those questions in the first place?
Traveling alone as a married woman invites all sorts of speculation, none of it positive. I must be trying to escape something. My husband must be happy I’m gone; it gives him time to dally about with other women. Our marriage must have problems. I must be meeting male seat mates on planes, or married men at a hotel bar, or desperate singles over something as romantic as a bull fight, allowing them to sweep me off my bored, married feet and into their beds.
The only problem is that none of this is true.
I’m not headed anywhere with this- I don’t have any “Top 10 Tips” to dispense or any witty comebacks that have become my stock responses in these exchanges. I’d love your thoughts, though. How would you (or how do you) respond in these types of situations?