I sit in a dark pub sipping Smithwicks as I receive a few stares. As a woman traveling alone, walking into a pub in Ireland is not the easiest thing for me to do. I believe it is the idea of wanting to involve myself in pub culture, but at the same time I don’t want to attract creeps thinking I am alone for a reason.
I walk into this pub in Doolin, Ireland, perhaps incredibly self-aware and assured, but I fumble. I watch two local twenty-somethings giggle at me as I ask if I can sit anywhere. Of course you can, you pub novice fool. It’s a pub, not a five-star restaurant. I head for a table and I can feel the stares from couples and groups of friends. What is this girl doing here alone? I get these stares not just in pubs, but pretty much everywhere I go in Ireland. I am alone. I am strange and not the “normal” traveler. I make eye contact with these people so the staring eventually stops and their glances are quickly turned as though it was all some pub dream.
At my B&B in Kilkenny, the owner kept commending me on traveling alone as a woman, something she said she could never do. She was always quick to say though I am not special. So many women are traveling solo these days, she would comment. What is it about being alone as a woman? Is it safety? Why is it so brave? I can’t really pinpoint the gender specifics behind it. If women were traveling solo in higher numbers, you would think the stares would cease. However, they don’t. Women traveling alone warrant a few stares that men traveling alone will never know exactly how those stares can feel.
That is the common question I received while traveling around Ireland, “Are you alone?”. My response was always followed by praise or looks of insanity for doing what I am doing, like I just landed on the moon without needing a spacecraft to do so. Despite my annoyance over these questions and the stares, I welcome the stares in hopes it becomes normal to see a woman traveling alone. I think we have become too dependent on others when we travel. If we aren’t with a group, we are the lone zoo animal everyone stops to look at as they pass through the series of cages. I think solo travelers have to blaze the trail so that future solo travelers will not be met with stares.
In those stares, I am becoming incredibly independent. You start to not care what people think in a healthy way. You most likely won’t see those staring strangers again. You will move on to the next town where nobody knows your name. There is something freeing about that fact, the freedom in knowing you can be that strange woman traveling alone, but who cares. Move on and be on your way. And perhaps someone surrounded by a group of friends is even inspired by me all by my lonesome that they will try traveling solo.
As I say this, a group of French men take a photograph of me sipping my beer. I am hoping its because they think I am some quaint Irish girl just over from the local village. At least, that is what I will tell myself, coming to a photo album nearest you.
Have you encountered the solo travel stare? Do you think women get more questions about being alone while traveling than men?