Over the weekend I was browsing through Instagram and a suggestion popped up, probably based on an email or old phone number I have somewhere on my phone. I still get my maid in Nigeria appearing in my Facebook recommendations, which always raises a smile because she’s sat in my old apartment on my sofa with my guitar as a prop. Somehow old numbers and email addresses stay in your phone like Hepatitis C, infecting every app you’ve got on the thing. Anyway, the Instagram suggestion was an American woman I briefly knew in Paris, who I last heard was working a reasonable job in New York a year or two ago. Back then she was in her early thirties and seemingly incapable of holding down a relationship of any kind; a series of brief flings was about all she could manage before things collapsed around her ears, but I’d had no reason to believe she’d not have found anyone in New York in the meantime.
Out of curiosity I clicked through her photos and saw last January she’d taken a leave of absence from her job, dyed her hair turquoise, and spent the next few months travelling alone in Europe and South America. By now she’d be around 34 or 35, and it occurred to me the only people I know who go “travelling” these days are single, middle-aged women. For most people, “travelling” – as opposed to simply going on holiday – is something you do in your twenties before settling down into a proper job and/or family life. But for single women, it’s something they do well into middle-age and perhaps beyond, usually going to exotic locations where they talk in lofty terms about spirituality (while scoffing at anything which even hints at formal religion). There must be a pretty big market for this: reasonably wealthy women who have nothing else to do during their annual holidays but jet off somewhere exotic for a few weeks or months of “finding themselves”. I don’t think they’re going abroad to get laid, but they do seem a bit lost, as if going to a nice location will help fill the gigantic hole in their lives back home. Naturally, every scenic spot must be photographed and uploaded with hashtags such as #girlswhotravel and #somuchfun and everyone assured she’s having an amazing time.
I used to travel a lot – and I mean a lot – but eventually you get tired of it. You quickly realise a million other people have walked this trail before you and, aside from the visuals, your experience is about as authentic as a trip to Disneyland. Yes, I’ve heard the stories of how you “found a guide who took us to a place none of the tourists go” and I don’t believe them, just as you shouldn’t have believed your guide. A week here or there, and a few long weekends, is enough for me these days and most travelling I’ve done in the past few years has been to see people rather than places. Give me a week kicking around a mate’s house somewhere than a month on the Inca trail any day.
I’ve noticed you don’t see many middle-aged men going “travelling”, it’s nearly always women, and always alone. One possible answer for the latter is all their friends are tied-down with family and can’t take the time away, but most middle-aged single women have a whole rugby team who are in the same situation, so why don’t they go in a group? I suspect the reason they go on holiday alone and the reason they are single are one and the same: they’re either nuts or simply not much fun to be around. I can just imagine the bitching and sniping that would ensue if two or three childless middle-aged women went travelling together, it would make the Battle of Monte Cassino seem like a cordial affair. I also suspect turquoise hair beyond age 25 is an indicator of personal issues which no amount of travelling will fix.
Now I might be being a bit unfair; there’s nothing wrong with going travelling after all, at any age. But looking at this woman’s Instagram account, and recalling others like it…well, they seem a bit forced, as if they’d rather be sharing the experience with someone, or doing something else altogether. A few women I’ve known have gone travelling following a relationship breakup, whereas guys tend to do a week or two blow-out then get on with other aspects of their lives, namely their job. Given how much emphasis is put on modern women to devote their lives to a career, it surprises me how many drop the whole thing to go travelling. Men, unless deep in a mid-life crisis, generally don’t do this, probably because they can’t afford it.
As women entering middle-age without partners becomes more common, I expect we’ll see more of this. I’ll keep an eye-out for articles in the usual places.