Lonely Planet

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.

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22 thoughts on “Lonely Planet

  1. It’s bad enough when in their 20s. Every girl I seem to meet wants to “travel” and thinks that makes them sound cultured and interesting (when mostly all it means is they want a 3-6 month holiday in warm weather).

    The emphasis on modern women devoting their lives to career is something I genuinely find the most depressing about feminism. I have lost count of the number of hard-working female friends and colleagues who have admitted to me that they don’t enjoy it at all but feel they would be letting “the sisterhood” down if they instead settled down and focused on raising a family. There is no happiness to be found in these modern values.

  2. Does following an entire Lions tour around HK & Australia count as “travelling”? The third Test was something of a spiritual experience…

  3. When the “guide” sees a woman with turquoise hair coming down the airline steps at the provincial airport, what does he see?
    A sucker.
    Another 100% bet is that daddy still feels a bit guilty about the divorce and is funding the trip.

  4. I concur entirely, from personal experience.

    In my early 30s I was rather depressed, and unhappy with my life, and myself to be frank, and the the way I dealt with it was to travel. It gave my life a purpose it otherwise lacked, it provided displacement activity (all the arrangements etc) and gave something to look forward to. I didn’t realise it at the time but it was a subconscious effort to escape my life at home, and I think I had a sort of half inkling that if I went halfway round the world I’d be a different person there than I was at home. When in reality I was exactly the same person, with exactly the same issues, just in a warmer and more exotic location. You can’t escape the demons in your own head…….

    The moment I sorted my head out was the moment I lost all interest in travelling. It was like flipping a switch. From having a major trip every 6 months or so I went to nothing, I haven’t been out of the UK for over 10 years, since 2007. Looking back I’m glad I did it all, I saw lots of interesting places, and had some great experiences (watching all the days of a 5-0 Ashes defeat was definitely an experience, if not one to be repeated, watching an India vs Australia test series in India was definitely worth the effort, seeing the Terracotta Army was amazing, and going to SXSW in Austen, Texas was something I still think about today). But now the idea of another airport lounge fills me with dread. My idea of a break these days is a few days in Pembrokeshire visiting my friends down there, dossing around with them, walking the dogs on Newgale beach.

  5. A woman who I knew very well — and I soon learned that she was anything but happy in her marriage — went on the get the ultimate travelling experience: she worked (and perhaps still does) for a middle-east airline and gets free or heavily subsidise travel to many exotic places. It may well be a mix of sometimes on business, sometimes on leisure but I doubt if her travel involves trekking up a mountain in Nepal to find herself. She probably finds everything she needs in the bar at the best hotel. What few pictures I have seen of her since always show her with a glass of wine in her hand, so I presume all is well whatever is happening at home

    So there’s travel and there’s Travel!

  6. Another 100% bet is that daddy still feels a bit guilty about the divorce and is funding the trip.

    There’s probably some truth in that, in general and in this particular case.

  7. Does following an entire Lions tour around HK & Australia count as “travelling”?

    No, that is a “pilgrimage”, a little like the Haj.

  8. Jim,

    Great post, thanks!

    The moment I sorted my head out was the moment I lost all interest in travelling. It was like flipping a switch. From having a major trip every 6 months or so I went to nothing, I haven’t been out of the UK for over 10 years, since 2007.

    Yeah, it’s like that with a lot of guys, and there are parallels between travelling and women. There comes a point where you’ve seen enough and you’re happy just to settle into a more steady life.

    My idea of a break these days is a few days in Pembrokeshire visiting my friends down there, dossing around with them, walking the dogs on Newgale beach.

    Ooh, nice spot. Take a trip to Barafundle or Bosherston beaches when you’re next down there. As you go down the section of the B4319 called the Big Dipper, turn around and look over your left shoulder at the house on the top of the hill. That’s where I grew up.

  9. I have done a lot of travel as well and I got to say that I get the most out of it when I do it on my own, have a daily game plan that may change and go for it hard and fast, is something I have always enjoyed. In recent times I tack it on the back of business travel. In my younger travelling days I met a few like minded males but unfortunately never seemed to bump into any like minded females and thankfully none with turquoise coloured hair.

    Had a fairly challenging experience recently taking the family on a travelling holiday in Japan. My sons had always wanted to go there but it is a bit difficult for them as one is coeliac and the other has leaky gut. Got on to this lady that does gluten free tours, she was great but it was much harder to do than I thought it would be. Most of my time was concerned with the next meal for the lads, I didn’t enjoy the trip and my wife didn’t either, the boys did but never again.

  10. I don’t think they’re going abroad to get laid…

    Excuse me while I raise an eyebrow

  11. Excuse me while I raise an eyebrow

    Yeah, some are for sure, but I wanted to acknowledge that a lot of them actually aren’t. They can get random shags at home, they go abroad to distract themselves from the reality that they can’t get more than that; getting random shags abroad will only serve to remind them.

  12. I have done a lot of travel as well and I got to say that I get the most out of it when I do it on my own

    Absolutely, I did most of my traveling alone and I still like to do it that way (although as a couple is great too). I might still do some in future, but it will be for the purpose of finding interesting things to write about rather than finding myself.

  13. Throughout human (and animal) history, most women who were fertile bore children and most men who were fertile didn’t.

    Consider the possibility that, in the “West”, this is starting to reverse for a multitude of reasons.

    Your observations are consistent with this.

  14. My wife and I are on a six month trip of Europe.

    For want of a better word it is travelling, although we are doing it so slowly it’s more an extended womble.

    The problem is that we have to really like each other’s company, which we do. (We did a practice trip to Mexico to see if it would work first.) Many people don’t like their loved one enough for it, I suspect.

  15. Not so long ago, going to university was the time to “discover yourself”, free from your parents’ social and moral constraints; and a chance to start again with a clean slate. Moving to the Big City after uni is another attempt to wipe the slate; and going travelling in one’s mid-thirties is yet another attempt. The law of diminishing returns applies.

    As Jim points out, they’ll quickly discover that they’re the same person abroad. My main lesson from extended travel is that nothing brings on homesickness like three days of man-flu in a remote location.

  16. To be fair, these people are looking for an experience that is “authentic”. Sadly, no-one will ever again be the first white to visit. Unless you’re there for some other purpose like counting species of moss, shooting seismic for an oil co., etc. And you’re prepared to go to a war zone, or somewhere with small beasties which suck half your blood daily. And get totally lost. Not many of these ladies are up for that.

  17. Geography as Therapy.

    There’s a lot of that on the distaff side; as if you can solve your personal and emotional problems by getting out the map.

  18. I’m likely the exception that proves the rule; I would love to have the time and money to travel extensively, but that’s because I minored in Classical Studies and I’d love to see in person all the things I only saw in books. Thermopylae, the Great Pyramids, Rome, Babylon – I’ve given up hope of the Middle East being safe enough to visit in my lifetime, though, and increasingly the great archaeological sites are being closed to tourists due to accumulated damage.

    One only has to peruse dating websites aimed at middle-aged singles to see the truth of Tim’s thesis; every single female profile will list the exotic places they’ve been or want to go, and that travelling is “a must”. I sometimes wonder if the difference is that the women are competing with each other in some fashion; certainly the “well, I’ve been to ${ExoticCountry}” comes out a lot when they get together.

    As for the turquoise hair – come on, man. Have you learned nothing?

  19. I used to travel 50% for work. It gets old, fast. I even started a blog where the focus was “Here’s what sucks about being sent here for work.
    I can’t tell you the number of places I’ve been where I’ve avoided the touristy places like the plague. I’ve been to London three or so times in the last five years and never once visited the touristy areas. I’ve been blessed that I could hang out with my peers and see the city as a local.

    “When the “guide” sees a woman with turquoise hair coming down the airline steps at the provincial airport, what does he see?
    A sucker.”

    Absolutely. My wife and I went on a honeymoon to the Bahamas & Jamaica. Beautiful white sand, clear ocean waters, utterly ruined by locals hustling for dollars. Braid your hair, Go parasailing, How about a jet ski? Freeport was like herding sheep to the shearer.

  20. One only has to peruse dating websites aimed at middle-aged singles to see the truth of Tim’s thesis; every single female profile will list the exotic places they’ve been or want to go, and that travelling is “a must”.

    Heh. I recall a woman in her early forties expressing deep disappointment that a guy she met on a first date didn’t share her burning desire to “travel”, having done quite enough of that already.

    The other thing I noticed about these women is that few own property, and live in a rented flat wherever their “career” has taken them (for now). I suspect this is because they’ve pissed their money away on “travelling” and have no idea how to settle, where, or why, in the absence of a partner.

    Blokes, on the other hand, tend to get themselves anchored somewhere and build from there (unless they’ve been cleared out in a divorce). If you were a 35-45 year old guy with a couple of houses, would you really want to start something serious with a woman who had no assets? I bet this *never* occurs to any of these women, ever.

  21. One good place to see those horrific creatures is Colombo Airport in Sri Lanka. There are lot of them, always alone, always pajama pants and hippie style clothing and always above 40.

    And every last one of them has far left political views. They are full of hate and sad. They have no friends, no hobby´s and not meaning of life.

    It is very difficult to start conversation with them.I have made few photos of them and use them as example how liberalism ruin lives.

  22. One good place to see those horrific creatures is Colombo Airport in Sri Lanka. There are lot of them, always alone, always pajama pants and hippie style clothing and always above 40.

    I’ve seen a fair few of them on the flights back from Thailand. They’re exactly as you describe.

    And every last one of them has far left political views. They are full of hate and sad. They have no friends, no hobby´s and not meaning of life.

    Yup.

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