Don’t call me the “B” word.
I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, and I don’t think I deserve it. Mostly from strangers, but also from old friends. I guess they don’t really know me.
The “B” word. Often used in the exclamation, “You’re so Brave!”
“Brave”. The first few times I heard it, I felt flattered and a little surprised. But after a half-dozen such adulations, I began to wonder if I was just foolish.
“You’re so brave!”
I heard it from friends in my hometown in Nevada. “You’re so brave!”
I heard it from the woman seated next to me on the flight to Barcelona, “You’re so brave!” On my first day in Seville, I heard if from the two American students at my Air BnB, and on my second night in Seville, I heard it from the Irish barrister on her honeymoon, “You’re so brave!”
Hmmm. What’s going on here? I don’t consider myself particularly brave. I’ve never rushed into a burning building. Skydiving? No thanks. I haven’t donated a kidney.
On the other hand, I have no problem with some things that terrify other folks, like hiking in the wilderness, alone and off the trail. When I see a snake, I don’t run away. I move towards it, and sometimes catch it with my bare hands. I can open a letter from the IRS without the slightest tremble. Sometimes, I even tell men that they’re wrong.
The notion of a middle-aged American woman traveling solo for a year in Europe seemed eccentric, or perhaps scary, to some people. And yet, there I was, with my one-way ticket, stuttering Spanish, red backpack and graying hair. Unaccompanied. *gasp!!*
But I quickly found my tribe, an informal, international sisterhood of women who take a leap, or a bold stride, or maybe just a baby-step, in the direction of “doing”. I stumbled upon the facebook group “Solo Women Travelers” when the nascent idea of a gap-year in Europe was just budding in my mind. I was emboldened by the facebook group “Expats Sevilla” where there was always a post from somebody new in town and looking for a friend. And look at this! The website for the American Women’s Club of Seville. This was a sign. I was not a lone pioneer. Others had passed this way before.
Perhaps I would have embraced the descriptor “brave” if I had boarded that plane twelve months earlier, on a whim. Because a year ago, I would have been uncertain, and unprepared, and frightened, and to proceed in the face of fear is either bravery or foolishness.
But during that year I worked hard to evolve myself from “brave/foolish” to “mostly confident”. I sought the counsel of Jane and Arthur and Anne, seasoned long-term travelers, who offered advice and encouragement. I learned the difference between Schengen-area countries and EU member nations, and the time limits on foreigner visits. I accepted Irena’s invitation to visit her friends in Russia, since I would be “in
the neighborhood”. I followed the helpful blog of the “Spain Immigration Guru” and learned about the intricate process of applying for a Spanish visa (although I needed Selena’s help to figure out how to Uber from SFO airport to the Spanish consulate). I made a tepid effort to learn Spanish, and I did download that helpful app “Read Russian in 4 Hours”. I ordered the credit card that has no foreign transaction fee and also gives collision damage coverage on foreign rental cars (except in Italy). I ordered Michelin Maps and euros and rubles. I emailed with Boris in Moscow, and Skyped with Maria in Seville. So, in December, when I checked airfares and found a ridiculously cheap ticket to Barcelona, I hesitated for only a second before clicking the “buy now” button.
And upon arrival in Spain I quickly found solid footing on the nurturing soil of the American Women’s Club of Seville. Here I met other “brave” expat women who, alone or with husband and children, were making a life in Spain. Some had lived in Seville for decades, after arriving as a young co-ed or foreign worker, and then enamorarse and marrying a Sevillano. A few were newly retired and had chosen Spain as their new home, where they could live comfortably and with the stimulation of a historic and beautiful culture. Some were young women, in their twenties, who were in Seville by design or by accident, but appreciated the feeling of sisterhood in this multi-generational group. Other club members were women like me, broadening their horizons on an extended live-abroad experience, with plans to return home after a year.
Amongst these women, I was not a brave thrill-seeker. I was rather ordinary, and I found good company with other “brave” women. Like lovely, funny, strong Miriam in Seville – a Feminist with a capital “F”. She left her husband and is determined to
teach her son that women can do everything that men do. I joined her on a river kayak trip – her first ever – and she repeatedly urged me to steer our boat into the biggest rapids. Don’t-Look-Back-Donna, who was recently widowed, sold her place in the US so she could retire to Seville….permanently. Patricia, from Arkansas, challenged herself to walk the grueling first stage of the Camino de Santiago, from France, over the Pyrenees, and down into Spain. Just to prove to herself that she could do it. Despite her lung deficiency. I am glad to be in the company of these independent women.
Now it seems that I am part of a hot trend! ”Solo travel” is currently the fastest growing segment in the travel industry. There are blogs, websites, books and conferences specially targeted to the solo traveler. It doesn’t take much effort to find a cruise or tour that welcomes the independent adventurer. But being solo doesn’t mean being alone. There is a community of other “solas” out there who welcome companions to share their adventures. Here in Nevada, I joined the Reno Meetup group – the “Bold Betties”, who can be found snow-shoeing, rock climbing, or hiking around the Silver State on a Saturday.
Perhaps my aura of “bravery” comes from deep within – the visible luster of self-confidence. Or, maybe it comes from the superficial sheen of false bravado. Sometimes you just have to bluff your way through a tense situation. If I’m feeling lost and panicky, I sometimes bluff myself into believing that I know what I’m doing. And it works!
Brave. Bold. Bluffing. None of these “B” words feel exactly right. Perhaps we need a new word that encompasses the many facets of living a life of deliberate wanderlust. But, for now, I will accept being called the “B” word. Because I definitely won’t tolerate being called the “C” word, a coward.