Women who travel alone disconcert, shock or force admiration. Emmanuelle, Priscilla, Pascale have attempted the adventure. Fear of solitude, of the gaze of others and of dangers, they have confronted everything. And came back transformed. Who’s next?
the bus has just left. Emmanuelle put his bag in the shade of a eucalyptus. She looks at the little square, the bougainvilleas on the white facades. At each stage, she feels a joy mingled with a pinch in her heart. Portugal is an enchantment that she must savor alone. “If I could, I’d be gone with a girlfriend,” she says. But when I had to take my leave, there was no one to accompany me. ”
At 34, Emmanuelle lives alone. She considers a time to stay in Paris to stroll and find her friends in the evening. “But it made me angry to be deprived of escape under the pretext that it was incongruous or dangerous for a woman to travel alone. Even if it did not make me very happy, I made my bag like an almost political act! She then chose an “easy” destination, where there would be “the sun, the sea and a culture close to ours. The idea was to make me happy despite my loneliness, not to inflict additional hardships on me. ”
Another woman, another trip. Priscilla, 28, is an adventure. In June 2003, she left Hanoi, Vietnam, to reach Lhasa, capital of Tibet, then Calcutta, India. A journey of five thousand kilometers in the footsteps of the French explorer Alexandra David-Neel, which she will cover on foot (her site:www.priscillatelmon.com ) “For me, it is a choice of life. I aspire to nomadism, six months here, six months elsewhere, as free as possible of any attachment. ”
Since she was a little girl, she says, she refuses “the rails on which we are put, from the benches of the school to the office life”. She dreams of distant horizons, wide open spaces and gives herself the means of her dream: to publish her reports and her travel diaries. But why go alone? “Because this is the best way to blend into the soul of a country. With two, people dare to approach you much less. Only the effort is made to go to them, in their language, in their customs. ”
Pascale, 41, has tried solo travel after a separation. It was ten years ago. “In the fusion of the couple, I had finally forgotten,” she commented. I needed to leave to find myself. After the first stay in Thailand, she decided to take a sabbatical “to deepen what I had only scratched, lose the notion of time, the benchmarks of my education and move forward according to my desires”, Bali in Laos and Nepal. Today, Pascale lives again with two, but she does not exclude to leave alone. “Before, I might not have allowed myself to pursue my projects outside the couple. But the journey strengthened me in my autonomy. He also probably taught me to better respect my companion’s. ”
An initiatory experience
“In the era of” crinoline adventurers “, travel alone was a challenge to the mail order,” says Franck Michel, anthropologist, and president of the Association Déroutes & Détours (a place for debates and cultural events around the trip). “Today, many of those who take the road always do so with this fantasy of defying conventions to find freedom. But they are perhaps less opposed to men and more to the urban way of life, in which they feel stifled. Most of them are also “independent” cadres, well off, in search of a form of destitution and authenticity. ”
What we are talking about, for many of them, is not just taking a vacation. “These women travel with a project: to meet shamans, to help a humanitarian structure or to buy tissues,” says psychiatrist Régis Airault, himself exiled in Mayotte. For the youngest, taking the road takes on an initiatory dimension. We cut ourselves off from our environment, we immerse ourselves in a mysterious place where we take risks and where we come back stronger, with the recognition of his family. It is a pattern that rites of passage in traditional societies take place. ”
But, more and more, it is around 35-40 years that women try their first solo trip, at a time when they have already built their professional and loving lives, where their children have grown a little. “It’s a pause to take stock,” the psychiatrist continues. The journey allows them to escape the constraints of daily life and the eyes of others. They regain the sense of freedom, even omnipotence, of early childhood. In the other, they recreate a kind of playground in which they will redefine their character and make new choices. ”
Emmanuelle, Priscilla, Pascale, all three speak of maturation and evoke “the feeling of a before and an after”, of having “blown up locks”. But at the cost of particularly painful episodes, in the confusion of solitude and the waltz of their inner demons. Emmanuelle remembers his first night in Lisbon. “I closed the door of my room, I lay down on the bed and I looked at the ceiling trying to calm a throbbing anguish. At that time, I was afraid of being unable to enjoy this stay if there was no one to share my pleasures or give me courage. And above all, that the solitude that I was going to have to face for a fortnight was a lot of my whole life. ”
An experience that forced her to confront the thorny issue of her celibacy. “I could not stand people’s questions, the” what is a girl like you all alone on vacation? “, Full of compassion or warnings. Sometimes it was so painful that I preferred to eat a sandwich while walking rather than with a new comment on the terrace of a cafe. Without this loneliness offered to a culture that is astonished, without these long hours of face-to-face with herself, Emmanuelle thinks she would have missed an opportunity to reflect on ” had to accomplish to feel whole, with or without a man. ”
Besides the existential anxieties, we have to deal with the fear of aggression. “The specter of rape is undeniably part of our female imagination,” Priscilla says. But why would we run more risks abroad than here? The young woman was attacked while she was bivouacking. “But it could have happened anywhere!” There, I took the measure of my instinct for survival. I got up, folded my things, threatening the men around me and I spun. I was lucky, but I also took my precautions when learning a fighting art. ”
Was she ever afraid? ” Yes, of course. I had moments of panic when I rolled myself into a ball crying! But I developed a certain fatalism: if my life has to stop there, it’s like that. Meanwhile, I refuse to be limited by fear. I prefer to know it and cross it. It is the fear of fear that prevents us from moving forward.
Explorers of a New World
Regis Airault said: “We can shake all kinds of scarecrows so as not to put ourselves to the test of the unknown: diseases, insects, attacks … These agreed fears often conceal more profound anguish. An anguish of abandonment, of fall or of death … “But one has only one life, encourages the psychiatrist. It’s worth going over his fears to see the country! For beyond fear there are new horizons. The splendor of the distant landscapes, the warmth of the encounters. Like those Priscilla does with Chinese villagers. “When one of them invites me to her house,” she writes in her travel diary, “it’s the whole village that comes in behind me. At first a little shy, they end up fiddling with me, pinching me, lifting my skirt, inspecting me in every corner. The question that worries them is whether I am well made as they are! In rockets of laughter, I lend myself to this little daily game. ”
By going to meet another world, it is a whole inner universe that Pascale was given to discover. “The hardest thing was to strip me of the nets that we surround ourselves in order never to meet the other or to find ourselves alone with ourselves: the schedules to which we are forced rather than to explore our true desires, the beliefs that we were inculcated, which limited our curiosity of the other … »Pascale has been” amazed “by the discovery that one is never alone, by what passes in a gesture or a look, by the ‘incredible fraternity of those who offer you a bowl of rice or a mat for the night. In the passages she dared, she said that she had little by little disentangled the essential part of the accessory, discovered a force of which she did not consider herself capable. Even better, “I was in touch with an inner world that unfolds when one remains to contemplate a landscape, to listen to the rustle of a foliage … And I brought it back here. ”
During the conferences she gives to talk about her travels, Priscilla is sorry to hear the same phrase: “I’d like to travel so much like this one day. “Every time I say,” It’s up to you to do it. I have not been on the Moon by foot! “If already your head resonates with” yes, but … “, do not let go. Follow them, see where they lead you. This is the beginning of the adventure.
Priscilla: “Have to translate about fifty sentences of the current vocabulary: where to eat? Or sleep? How are you? But also: where do you come from? Do you have children? Of what does your job consist? When one leaves to satisfy his curiosity of the other, the least of the elegant is to learn a little the language of the people that one meets to satisfy theirs. ”
Pascale: “Try not to plan your days to let the unexpected emerge: a desire that takes you, a proposal that you are made …”
Régis Amirault: “Leaving before breaking everything! His couple, his work, his health. ”
Franck Michel: “Let yourself be guided by a book of local poetry instead of ticking all the pages of its tourist guide. Try to be in the exchange rather than to capture. Take a Polaroid to share his photos, a music tape to make it listen. And ask yourself, always, if one is not too much. “