Written by Haley Swope
Images © 2017 Haly Swope
There’s no place like home. Aside from the blatant cliche, there is a deeper truth in this quote. When we stay home, we stay comfortable. If you’re like me, you might have spent a lot of time wanting this. Then one day something changes. Maybe it’s a pretty photo on Instagram. Or a cheesy movie starring Julia Roberts, probably. Whatever it is, you get the bite. To leave. Not forever, of course. But to just go somewhere else.
As a single woman just passing the dreaded thirty threshold, travel felt to me like a foreign prospect (pun intended). In my somewhat dated perception, traveling alone for girls wasn’t all that common. And I, having no male companion to speak of, almost felt shut out of the opportunity for long-form vacations, believing they were reserved for couples in love or retirees with savings.
It wasn’t until I hopped my sixth or seventh plane in Southeast Asia, on the first big excursion of my life, that I realized my assumptions were all wrong. Not only was traveling easy for me, the fact that I was doing it my own way, on my own time, made it that much more fulfilling.
And I’m not the only one. According to the Travel Industry Association, 32 million single American women traveled at least once in the last year. Women of all walks of life are fueling an explosive growth in the travel industry. What kind of trips are they taking? Not high-class glamping or the tired soul-searching trope ala "Eat, Pray, Love." Instead, culturally active adventure is on the rise. Nature is a priority and meeting locals is another.
"The trip was less about being pampered and more about seeing a window into a different way of life."
As today’s women grow more financially independent and wait longer to get married (if at all), so grows the desire to pursue their own idea of adventure in their own time. For me, my adventurous spirit started late in life, and when I thought that would stop me, the world only drew me forward.
I am lucky enough to have a job that allowed me three weeks in South Korea, Cambodia, and Thailand, and to have two beloved sisters able to join me.
In our time abroad, we kayaked mangroves in Hong Lagoon, learned ancient farming techniques from a local banana orchard family, joined a Bangkok culinary crawl, visited a village elementary school and explored a giant complex of ancient temples. The trip was less about being pampered and more about seeing a window into a different way of life. If there’s no place like home, then how precious and rewarding it is to see the homes of others.
In America, we all have dreams about starting from nothing and magically becoming famous and rich. It is the currency this nation was built on. That dream has taken hold in other parts of the world, too, but it manifests in unique ways. After a long day of temple-hopping in Cambodia, our tuk-tuk driver invited us to his family home, where he showed us a large well that a big-name corporation had donated three years ago. It didn’t work -- the well broke about a week after it had been installed, with no manual or replacement parts to speak of. But what I remember is how proud our host was of that broken well, gleaming in the sunlit front yard of his home-on-stilts. How content he was to have a slice of someone else’s dream, an outstretched hand from a faraway land. I thought, I could learn something from this man.
As I get older and crankier, much of this world makes less sense to me. It might seem that with age and experience, I would gain more wisdom on the state of things, but it wasn’t until I had an opportunity to break out of the daily grind--to take a break from myself and witness a world so much wider and brighter and different--that I was able to look back on my own little universe and understand my place in it. Make no mistake: the mystery is far from unraveled. In fact, the knowledge I gained was that over time the mystery only expands and becomes richer.
But don’t take my word for it. Go, and find out for yourself.