When I told my family and friends that I was going to spend the whole month of July alone in Spain to walk the nearly 500-mile long Camino de Frances all the way from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, I received varied reactions.
Some were positive and supportive, but many times I heard, “It is dangerous for a girl!”
“You can’t walk alone!”
“What if someone rapes you over there?”
“Can’t you at least go with a friend?”
Have you ever been told that you can’t do something because you’re a woman? If I’d gotten discouraged when people doubted my abilities as a woman this summer, I would’ve missed out on the walk of a lifetime.
I was raised in an environment where I had a curfew much earlier than my three-years-younger brother because “he cannot come home pregnant.” My last partner criticized me for being too independent because I often rejected his help. Growing up in a society that strives for equality, yet still comes short of reaching it, I almost let these attitudes get to me.
And now my own loved ones were telling me I couldn’t walk alone because of my womanhood.
Thankfully, I’m more willful than fearful. Nothing motivates me more than being underestimated, and to be able to prove people wrong just felt like a bonus to my upcoming adventure.
I flew to a small town in France where not many people spoke English, and I was alone. I took several buses from there to get to my starting point. Each night, I found a hostel and slept in a room full of strangers. I crossed the Pyrenees mountains by foot, through areas so rural there was no cell phone signal and sometimes no civilization. To avoid the heat, I walked in the dark right before sunrise.
I did it alone, and I made it out alive to the surprise of those who doubted me.
I used my common sense on the Camino, just like anywhere else. I didn’t go home with a stranger. I stayed on the path, and I didn’t hang out in alleys at night. But I didn’t do this all because I’m a woman: I did it because I am a cautious traveler, regardless of my gender.
My summer trip is not going to change the world, but it is a little piece of the larger picture. I’m not the first, nor the last woman to walk the Camino Frances. But people’s reactions to my summer whereabouts raise a bigger problem.
How do we raise another generation of Amelia Earharts, Susan B. Anthonys or Marie Curies, when we keep telling girls that certain activities and jobs are not made for them?
I’m proud of myself for not letting these negative voices change my mind. Spending the summer alone made me realize that I’m a woman, and women can do anything.