No Sex Just Cuddling. 

I travel alone a lot.

I like to travel alone. I can “vacation eat” without anyone raising an arched eyebrow and asking, “Don’t you teach Nutrition?” I can walk past museums without explaining why I don’t really like museums even though I know I should.  I just don’t, okay?

I can pee anytime I want without anyone saying, “Didn’t you just pee? You pee a lot. You should get that looked at.”

I have good memories of traveling alone, but they haven’t been all glamour and junk food; public bathrooms and freedom. 

One of my first trips alone I was a college freshman busing-it home for my first Thanksgiving break. I sat wide-eyed in the window seat; an ocean of sky overhead and a blanket of wheat beneath me. It was thrilling until an elderly man with a giant chunk of Cheetos in his teeth said, “ Hello there little lady. Traveling alone?”

I talked to him far too long before the bus driver mercifully relocated him and plunked my backpack next to me. “Boundaries,” he said.

Maybe a year later, not yet 21I drove to Colorado, in my silver Ford Granada to find a summer job. I planned to figure everything out when I got Vail. I’d heard of other college students summering in resort towns, and I wanted to be that adventurous girl. I spent my days applying for waitressing jobs and my evenings by the pay phone (remember those?) in the bus station waiting to be hired. At night I slept in my Ford and hoped nobody looked in the windows. 

On the sixth day, feeling grody and lonesome a man my father’s age, chatted me up. After our overlong conversation about the beauty of the mountains he said, “If you’re traveling alone, I’ll pay your college tuition to travel with me. No sex, just cuddling.”

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“No thank you,” I said, just as the payphone rang, giving me a full-time nanny position and a whole summer in those mountains. I have always been polite in my horror even then.

Later still, in Egypt this time, just off riding a camel to the Great Pyramids and back, which sounds incredible but is, in fact, painful and sandy, the man who rented the camel to me said, “You have the sex with me, and I drive you back to your hotel.” This time, I managed a whole sentence: “No I will not have the sex with you. I can walk,” and off I hobbled, grateful for the hot sun and wide-open spaces of the desert.

Traveling alone is a lesson in yesses and nos. It’s about openings and closings and trusting yourself and only yourself in making the decisions of who to let in and who to keep out, what gifts to accept and which ones to refuse. I’m getting better as I age, less polite, more willing to be daring but also to be judged boring if that sets me free.

On a recent trip to New York, amid a subway bomb-scare, all the passengers were evacuated, released into the late-night, early morning air. I was miles from my hotel, and before long I found myself in Chinatown trying to hail a cab with little success and no battery left in my phone. When a yellow cab pulled over, I jumped in, and the man gave me an extended, odd look. After a long, silent drive uptown, he pulled over in front of my hotel and said in a thick accent, “You are Sigourney Weaver, Ghostbusters, yes? You ride for free.”

“Thank you,” I said, and as I walked away, he gave me the thumbs up saying, “Who you gonna call?” and I said, “Nobody. I’m traveling alone.”

  (Previously published in BRAVA Magazine here)

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Photo credit: Photo by Jennifer Regnier on Unsplash