And then, I was confronted with my worst fear before breakfast.

“Female solo traveler” has been a buzz phrase in the travel community for a few years. Being a female solo anything is challenging enough in our patriarchal run world, but to travel through it alone can be daunting and intimidating. As women, the threat of violence is ever looming, no matter where you go. Thus, to be putting oneself in new territory, without cell service and with only the vaguest sense of direction seems absolutely mad to many people. And it is. To be a woman in the field of traveling presents new dangers and requires hyper vigilance at all times.

But listen, I have been traveling on my own since I was 16. And I have learned many tricks and rituals to keep myself and others safe, but I truly have been so fortunate to not have gotten into anything too seriously traumatic (although I have many close calls). The reality of being a female solo traveler dawns upon me in routinely, small, everyday things. For instance, the other day it was maggots that reminded me how utterly helpless I can be. If given the choice between being left in a new city, chased by Ann army of strangers, and a trash can filled to the brim with maggots, I will happily take the first.

My roommate and I had planned a day of exploring and working intermittently. She usually picks a few beaches she wants to see that day and I grab a book, my journal and join along for the ride. As we were walking out the door she stood in front of me in rock paper scissor position to decide which one of us had to take out the trash bin. I suggested a coin toss instead, and regretted it immediately after losing. Confidently, I approached the bin to take outside. I opened the top and almost walked inside and booked a plane ticket home. The bin was absolutely covered, I mean covered, in squirming, yellow maggots.

It was totally our fault. We hadn’t taken the bin out for a few days because it wasn’t full and where we’ve lived you don’t waste bags by taking half full trash cans out. But, we didn’t realize the humidity and heat here, combined with rotting fruit peels, could turn so disastrous. And for the first time in my traveling life, I wished I could call my dad to come save me. Perhaps this instinct comes from an on going family joke me dad likes to say. “I’m good for opening jars and killing bugs,” is his favorite way to get out of playing board games with my sister and I. But in this moment, I needed him more desperately than I’ve ever relied on another human in my life.

I know this sounds dramatic; I fully acknowledge how pathetic this incapability seems. And it was pathetic, I was utterly paralyzed. My brilliant solution was to trow the bin away. I couldn’t see another option. I was going to spend my last couple bucks on avoiding this chore, which honestly seemed like a good deal to me considering I would have sacrificed a limb to avoid handling a bin filled with maggots so all the money to my name felt really reasonable. My dramatic response comes from my only real phobia – parasites. I don’t want to talk about it too much because that’s how intense this fear is, but any crawling, parasitic bug can go eat dirt because I simply refuse to share earth with them; I simply will not acknowledge they exist in order to protect myself. My friends know that I will happily challenge any intimidating figure to a scowl off and I will lead packs of women proudly into battle. Unless we happen to be battling maggots.

My roommate and I stood in the street with napkins, laughing so hard we were crying at how ridiculous our predicament. We had no idea our next move. So when people like Louisa showed up right as we decided to burn the bin and leave the country, I have to appreciate whatever great things I did in my past life to deserve her heroism. Louisa takes care of some of the houses in the area and was coming by to check that we were alive. My roommate was hesitant to accept the help, whereas I was already promising her my first born as she got out of the car to take care of us. She was the most fearless woman I have ever seen, I mean she looked almost graceful and powerful totally unbothered by my worst nightmare. She cleaned our bin as I sent my hysterical roommate to clean and shower and calm herself down a bit.

While Louisa was finishing up, I asked her if she fears anything. (In my head she was from the same island as Wonder Woman and completely inhumane.) But, I guess frogs and lizards are her kryptonite. Which made me laugh because I have a strange affection toward amphibians. It’s so fascinating where are fear comes from. I’m sure it’s partly inherited and partly cultural.

I don’t have an awe inspiring moral to this story but it did make me realize how strong of a community women are globally. In moments I look around for a man to help me, which is not often, there seems to always be a badass woman already stepping up to the plate. I don’t underestimate the female community, but when I do (confronted by a trash bin of maggots) I am happily proven wrong by a mother, by our matriarch.

My sweet roommate said something I’d like to share about her experience as a “female solo traveler”. She said, “I have been a woman all my life, I am still a woman while traveling so I take this wherever I go. I take those fears with me and perhaps there are a few extra, but my experiences being a woman in this way are the same.” You are a woman no matter where you go. So go wherever you are called, and be a great woman there.

Image taken once we left our villa later that day and began exploring. Polaroid 600

How can you be sad in paradise?

Before I dive into this piece, I want to start by acknowledging the immense privilege that comes with traveling anywhere. There are many people more eloquent on this subject than I am, but I just want to take a step back from my own struggles and woes to truly embrace the gratitude and unwavering appreciation for every opportunity to leave my hometown I have been given. It is an immensely big thing to have the time and resources to do what I do, and I never want it to go unnoticed or unacknowledged in anyway. Traveling, although often luxurious and expensive, can also be hard, both mentally and physically, and my intention with this thought piece is simply to create honest spaces to share challenges and real, raw and unedited moments that happen on the road. Thus, I think in order to stay genuine to my writing and to myself, I want to balance my appreciate with also allowing space to be critical and intentional with the resources I have been given and have discovered on the way.

During this wild pandemic, I lost a job and was forced to go on unemployment. As my lease was ending, my roommate and I struggled to decide what I should do next, as it seems things change so quickly and sharply during this time, it is hard to be quite certain about any decision. We had no where to live, no jobs and no plans. We both graduated in December, and post graduation is hard to navigate during normal circumstances, so it felt this liminal space was heightened by the current state of events in our country. Our unemployment was running out and we needed to make a decision. This is around the time my roommate suggested making use of her family’s villa in the Caribbean. Her parents are sailors and invested in this small property recently. As no one was staying there, we wouldn’t need to pay rent and could go there to have some time to figure out our next move. I had been struggling to write and make process on my novel for a few months, blocked from not being able to travel and feeling in-genuine to the story, I saw an opportunity to be I a creative space and I took it. We did our research of what it would take to come here and after multiple Covid tests, endless preparation and being careful not to corrupt our chances of getting out, we flew to Antigua, a small island near Barbuda. Upon arrival we showed our Covid results, had our temperatures checked and began settling into our new villa.

And after only a few days, my mental health took a decline. I found it harder and harder to get out of bed and became more and more anxious. I struggled eating and I didn’t leave the villa multiple days in a row. This conjured up intense feelings of guilt, I spiralled between thoughts of “someone else should be here appreciating this space,” and “you wanted this for so long, why can’t you just be happy?” Which, led me to remember other times when I traveled and was hit with depressive episodes. When I studied in Athens there were many times I disassociated in bed for hours, and times my anxiety crippled me to a hotel room while others explored. In Israel I slept for days in a row because my mind was exhausted and missed chances to see new parts of the city. And there too, I had these guilty and shameful thoughts.

However, this time a perspective changed for me. Instead of allowing those thoughts and dark feelings to fester, I was patient with myself. I was gentle and eased myself to accomplish simple tasks. I allowed myself days to wallow and time to be alone. Most importantly, I reminded myself that mental illness does not make me faulty or unworthy, and that I cannot outrun my serotonin deficiency. And, this is the messy side to traveling I want people to see. I still struggle with being human, regardless of where I am or what I am doing. Being in a new country is not a cure for mental illness, but wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy? And even though I am existing in this greatly privileged moment, even though I am only 22 in Antigua once, does not invalidate my needs and my health. It also doesn’t invalidate the incredible things I have seen and done. Whilst being here I’ve scuba dived with sea turtles and boated, jet skied and tasted new foods. I have still accomplished lots of writing and I’ve met new people. I am still traveling when I am experiencing dark and sullen thoughts, and I am still growing from them. I guess what I am trying to express is how imperfect and temperamental humanity can be, and as a good friend recently told me, “you bring yourself wherever you go”. It is okay to not be okay, even in paradise.