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Working it out in the world, and sometimes writing about it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love: Not Even Close

It happens pretty frequently that after I tell a well-meaning person about my upcoming travels the following statement slips from her lips.

“You’re totally doing an Eat, Pray, Love trip!”


I’m not writing to knock Eat, Pray, Love writer Elizabeth Gilbert for her trip, reasons for it, her writing, or her success in the aftermath. Good for her, I say! But I would like to point out that people women have been traveling for years. And alone. Look at Mary Kingsley, a solo Victorian badass who spent years in Africa just hanging out and learning about the tribes people. She had no agenda other than to travel, learn, and explore. She’s also over 100 years Gilbert’s senior. Kingsley is just one of many pre-modern female travelers who should be able to eek into the spotlight with Gilbert (and who totally paved the way for Gilbert).

I’m sure Kingsley and other solo female travelers would agree that traveling alone was considered gauche and risqué in days gone by.  I think Gilbert has made it more socially acceptable for a lady to slap a pack on her back and take off (though most of us don’t have the luxuries of publishing advances). But Gilbert was not the first woman to take on the world in the eeny-meeny-miny-mo fashion, and it’s getting a little wearing to constantly hear my upcoming trip compared to that of Gilbert’s.

I actually quite enjoyed Gilbert’s novel. The first time I read her wildly successful book was when I was actually already abroad. In Italy. With a fresh breakup still wet on my hands. That’s where our similarities end. My mother had sent me the book and a roommate had slid another copy across the table and said, “Here. Read this. It totally reminds me of you. ” Gilbert’s book was a page-turner, kept me entertained, and was a bit of a support, for sure. But Gilbert did not inspire me to take on new adventures and challenges. I was already doing that. Gilbert’s book was more of a “here’s what I did” book than a bible I will thumb through as I cross borders and dip into foreign waters.

After the comparison of my travels to Gilbert’s, people then fixate on the fact that I’m going alone. “Just like Elizabeth Gilbert!”

This is in an Italian bookstore. Great.

Well, yeah.

But not in the way many think. I’m going alone not because I need to be separate from my significant other, or because I need to find my spiritual self.

I’m going alone because I won’t have to accommodate anyone else or their plans, dammit. The last time I spent time abroad with friends, I had a great time. But I also had two other schedules, agendas, eating habits, personalities, and bodily needs to take into account. Of course their company was nice and we had some pretty memorable adventures together—canyoning with the guide who had only two weeks’ worth of experience and dancing with Texans in Munich are just the tip of the iceberg—but it was a lot of work.

I may have an incredible spiritual experience and I may find that the distance from my significant other has helped me immensely. But that’s not why I’m going alone. I just want to do what I want, when I want, and where I want.

I think Gilbert has a few books out since her epic success in 2008. I may thumb through one of them should I chance upon one of her works, left behind by a backpacker in a hostel somewhere in Europe.

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