“So who are you going with?” This is always the first question people ask when I tell them about my upcoming travel plans, and this woman cutting my hair is no exception. “Oh, I’m actually going alone.” I’m surprised that my tone is still cheerful, knowing the line of questioning that is bound to follow.
She jerks away her scissors ever so slightly and brushes aside her short silver hair. With narrowed eyes she studies me, assesses my age, and decides that I look very young and altogether too naive and weak-willed for such an endeavor. “Alone. You mean by yourself?” She seems to lack a firm grip of vocabulary so I help her out, “Yes. Alone, by myself, unaccompanied, unattended, just me. myself. and I.” She shrugs before slipping in a discrete eyeroll and returning to cutting my unruly hair. “You really shouldn’t go alone. You are just putting yourself in danger. I almost got kidnapped once in a club in Canada. Canada! If you go to foreign countries alone it is basically asking for something bad to happen.” I usually appreciate honesty, but I’ll take forced small talk and sideways glances over victim blaming any day. Confused by my silence she adds one last well-formed argument, “Haven’ t you seen Taken?!”
Finally, I manage to mutter, “I’ll be careful”. The woman simply shakes her head before rambling her way into how great it is having a cute husky dog and an even cuter boyfriend, and how I just do not “get it” yet, but these things are very fulfilling. I frequently get lectured like this, as if my way of life is a direct attack on their way of life. The conversation does not have to turn confrontational, problematic, or insulting, and yet, it often does. I think this happens because our way of life and understanding of reality is hinged on agreements we make with those around us. When we are presented with a vastly different viewpoint, like traveling the world alone as a woman, it hits us like an attack on our seemingly solid understanding of life. It is too unsteady, too mysterious, and too risky. It is downright irrational to truly question our complacent everyday habits, choices, and beliefs.
I get similar reactions when I tell people that I attended three Ayahuasca ceremonies, and not only that, but I plan to do it again. Ayahuasca is an entheogenic brew and a spiritual medicine, however, in most people’s eyes it is just another hallucinogenic drug. Being just another hallucinogenic drug means that it is irrational, potentially dangerous, and well… just a weird thing to do.
Just as it is with my solo travels, people who are not keen on Ayahuasca do not care to hear about the experience. It is far more intuitive for them to lecture, criticize, and of course vehemently defend their way of life, which has now been set against Ayahuasca, despite me never having recommended they try it themselves.
These interactions show me that a less common way of living, one that praises being alone and questioning the routine, is taken as an assault on a more widely accepted way of life. My choices are threatening because they represent unknown and irrational thought.
I find this disturbing. This is disturbing because it reveals a common mode of thinking that is rooted in fear, that distrusts anything perceived as foreign, and maintains a stubborn unwillingness to explore alternative perspectives.
Right now, my life is all about venturing into the unknown, on my own. When I do this, I am faced with a plethora of challenges. From my passport going missing, to a pack of dogs eating my underwear, a British guy comparing me to Mormons, and then of course my passport turning up again… in a bush… All of these challenges forced me to come to terms with myself and my choices.
At the same time, I am experiencing an even broader array of unknown joys. From making a new close friend, to learning Portuguese, to trying tropical fruits I’ve never heard of, to swimming naked in a lagoon, and dancing on the beach until sunrise, there has been no shortage of adventure. All of this was heightened and shaped by Ayahuasca journeys that showed me the profound importance and potential of being truly connected to myself and my growth.
Now, more than ever in my lifetime, we need to praise independent thought and value challenging new perspectives. When we become complacent, that is when the true horrors begin. When we refuse to question our surroundings and when we lack the empathy to embrace alternative ways of life, we are making a choice that is far riskier than traveling alone or trying entheogenic brews.
My experiences have forced me to question who I am, what I want, and how I am going to go about getting it. I am on my toes, dying a small death every day, before being reborn into the latest version of me. Never do I feel so alive and full of magic as when I roll up my sleeves and walk into something totally new, irrational, and mysterious. In this way, participating in the irrational is the most rational thing I do.
Author: Katie Hemingway
Katie Hemingway travels the world by herself making as many friends as possible along the way. She enjoys discovering music, attending theatrical performances, and reading books on newfound beaches.