Don’t’ get me wrong — traveling alone after divorce is wonderful and it shouldn’t be missed. Especially because, you are never really alone when you travel alone, for people talk to you. They walk with you. They take you in. They invite you to their family’s house for dinner. They introduce you to their friends. These people, their friends, offer to take you on an outing, a tour … of the Cape Peninsula, maybe, where en route, you’ll enjoy lunch at the seashore, taste local wines, and watch the sea lions eye the fishmongers on the wharf.
These people, all these people, soon become something more than “these people.” They become your friends. And life is fuller for you, even as you step away from your shared world. And yet, this serendipitous hum, unfolding good after good, is never predictable for the solo voyaging, divorced woman. It just happens. And because of that,
it’s the stepping into it where the fear lives.
Last August, I went to Peru. However, I did not go alone. I went with another divorced woman, the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends. This would be the last conventional descriptor I could ever use for her, I would learn. For like many divorced women, Alexandra had long since shed labels and skins.
At first, of course, the arrangement did elicit its own type of fears — the entirely selfish, all-about-me sort. How would traveling with another divorced woman 24/7 affect MY mojo? My wanting to go and see whatever I wanted? Was Alexandra going to cramp my style? What if, God forbid, I had to take care of her?
Funny thing about fears, though, and a fact I am reminded of over and over again, is that more often than not, we give too much space to them — in advance of their happening! Fears are a projection of a certain future; they are not here and now!
For within hours of joining Alexandra, and heading off on our adventure, a “new” here and now appeared, and those old fears would be forgotten. Gone! Poof! as quickly as they were replaced …. with new ones!
As a divorced woman I must remind myself of this, sometimes: Fears are transient. For this reason, when fears appear it’s important to not get tooooo emotionally attached to them.
This is all the more true if you are traveling with another divorced woman! Because I learned you need to make room for so much more. I share the following to inspire you … to help you imagine, too …
what if you could just go off to a foreign land with another woman who was also a survivor? How would you come to experience joy? What might move you? What might be uniquely shared and understood?
Here are eleven things I hadn’t anticipated about traveling with another divorced woman.
1. That there really is ALWAYS a first time
“Don’t worry,” Alexandra reassured me as we idled in standstill traffic, trying to get to the airport in a cab.“I’ve never missed a flight. IN. MY. LIFE.” Turns out 54 years of living can still bring new experiences. We did miss our first outbound flight, but not before Alexandra also lost her passport, and I knocked over the suspension line that kept the American Airlines queue full of (rather stressed) people, organized. Suddenly, they were as disorganized as the thousands of baggage tags I’d also knocked and scattered to the floor.
Fast forward, we recovered the passport and made the standby flight at midnight to Lima. No extra charge! This saved us four transfers in the end (yes, the original flights stunk). We arrived in Arequipa, Peru, the country’s second largest and very beautiful city, a full day ahead.
2. Sometimes a mess up can do you a world of good
Tragically (?), because one of us came down with altitude sickness and the flu, several days in, we were unable to face our ultimo challenge for the trip: the several day trek to Machu Picchu. We hadn’t planned to take the Inca Trail, mind you, but the less travelled, “moderately demanding” Salkantay; which would wind us around the glorious 18,000-foot peak. We are forever grateful to the expedition company United Mice for reorganizing our planned itinerary and getting us to Machu Picchu, another way.
Rather than hiking, camping, and probably being carried, we’d go by train, and in the intervening days, go deep into the Sacred Valley, exploring the astonishing Inca ruins of Písac and Ollantaytambo.
On the day of our departure for Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo, United Mice informed us, however, there’d been another change.
There was a problem with the standard train we were booked on, and to keep our itinerary, United Mice was putting us aboard the Belmond Higham Bingham Luxury Train. This twist was tantamount to ushering us aboard the Orient Express and pushing us back forty years to enjoy the consummate colonial and decadent experience of silver service, linen tablecloths, fresh flowers, flutes of champagne, and four perfectly timed dinner courses. These dishes and assorted wines were served in sequence to the unraveling view out the window of the sacred Urubamba River, the great Mountain Glacier Veronica, and a peek at the start of the Inca Trail. (Those poor souls with their walking sticks, mules, and heavy backpacks across the river … la gripe had indeed been a gift.)
3. How much I’d appreciate the space my friend gave me as I struggled to speak a foreign language
I was struck by the patience of Alexandra who let me try and often fail with my Spanish. She felt no urgency to fix the situation when I was interacting with the world, because she knew it’s only practice that builds confidence and competency. This was all the more profound because Alexandra spoke Spanish — fluently.
There was that one time, though, when I called the men in the room “caballos” (horses) instead of “caballeros” (gentlemen). Then, and only then, did Alexandra correct me; if not to save me, then to save us, lest we be ridden out of town.
4. How beautiful the world is unfiltered
When I look back on my marriage, it’s sad to remember how my Ex and I argued in some of the most beautiful places in this world. Traveling with another divorced woman reminded me of how different everything is now. There is no one criticizing my decisions, second-guessing my hotel (or hostel) choices, or shaming me for my efforts to speak with the locals.
To experience a bit of this, too, I encourage you to think of a view in your mind’s eye — a majestic view — and what it would be to take that majestic view in through all your senses. Your eyes, your nose, the sounds, the touch of a breeze. And to have all those things alive and uncomplicated, unsullied … by a distracting relationship, or the echoes of tending to someone else’s needs. Imagine this view is real and in front of you. You are looking down, down at a valley, hundreds of feet below. You see a slow-moving, snaking river, and between, in the air, hawks, eagles, and condors. There’s the smell of eucalyptus and across the valley going up the hills, the hills that are veritable mountains of snow capped peaks, the Andes, you see the terraces, the Incas’ undulating, agricultural lines, hundreds of years old, folding in and out with the flow of the mountains and the glaciers beyond.
Alexandra and I both agreed we just wanted to sit on a mountain at different points in our journey, and be still. Sometimes, when we did this we took our boots off and just sat connecting to Pachymama. Mother Earth. We did it because it seemed obvious, and we could.
5. The luxury of washing your underwear in your hotel room and hanging it to dry anywhere you want
6. Being inspired by somebody else who’s got “Street Cred”
Between the two of you, divorced women, there’s an unspoken truth: you’ve each been through a lot. It won’t take much for you to inspire the other. You’ll tell stories about worse times for reference points. You’ll cackle! Suddenly this behemoth problema you are facing ( … maybe you’ve arrived in your hotel room, and the musty smell, lack of windows, and satin bedcover have one of you dubbing it, “La Casa de Los Muertos,” and you want out!) this is nothing when you compare it to any of the million problems you’ve solved, surviving your divorce!
Beware that this attitude of being able to survive and take on the world can also work the other way, too. So aim to inspire and not retire for scones, warm milk, and bed at 6 p.m., as much as you may deserve that, too. (Except of course on the few nights when it makes perfect sense.)
7. The surprising impact of the doubled flirt-factor
Who knew that feeling free and flirty with your divorced friend doubles your odds at helping you attain certain goals? Your efforts will make you both laugh hysterically even if you have no success scoring free pisco sours with the Italianos. (But you probably will.)
8. How much being listened to and respected is underrated
From the very beginning, Alexandra and I listened to the other’s intentions about the trip. We each wanted to see and do certain things (that were often the same, coincidentally). And we both wanted to leave our everyday worlds behind so we could give our minds a rest.
We aimed to wander around Peru seeing it through the eyes of a wide-eyed child. Admittedly, these wide-eyed children sometimes risked being hit by cars in the tight alleys of the one-way streets of Cusco, where cars still drive in both directions.
9. The reinforcement that simple things deserve celebration
Pausing to play with children, bending down to pet a dog, such simple things anchored us in the moment or grew in importance when experienced through our particular female sensibilities. Toilet paper is cherished. A good night’s sleep is savored. Sleeping in the same bed saves money. And some meals are just worthy of a photo no matter how much you hate food porn.
In the picture below, the triangle on Alexandra’s plate, is actually a pyramid of quinoa. Peru has 5 varieties of quinoa and more than 2000 species.
10. The power of reciprocity
Come a certain point in your divorce recovery, you’ve done the work: you realize the responsibility it is to yourself and to those you care about to care and what true caring really looks like. Alexandra and I didn’t need to draw boundaries or discuss roles.
In unspoken ways, we tended to each other because we knew what we ourselves needed and what we lacked in other times of our lives. We could look at each other and know exactly what the other was thinking; this grew into a state of being.
Sometimes this just looked like Alexandra telling me to take my jacket off when I was “negotiating” with an airline supervisor. My cheeks had become so pink she thought I would pass out.
11. The discovery that you are not alone
Because we had each other, we didn’t feel alone (emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually). Like when Alexandra was nearing the summit of Montaña Machu Picchu on her hands and knees ….
Context: To reach the summit of Montaña Machu Picchu (elevation 10,007 ft), you must first arrive at the citadel of ruins, most often referred to as “Machu Picchu.” It’s interesting to know that the Incas didn’t call their city of temples “Machu Picchu.” They called it something secret, now long lost and forgotten, so it’s existence would stay unknown to the Spanish. Machu Picchu (“Old Mountain”) is in fact what they called their sacred mountain that looks down upon the ruins from the southwest. We hadn’t done the Salkantay trek. We had hiked, but we hadn’t really climbed for a sustained time. So determined that we experience something of this we began climbing the mountain’s steep, stone, narrow, Inca steps. Two hours in with Alexandra crawling to the summit, she resisted (she told me later) turning around to look at me as I followed her on the harrowing steps. Not only because of the paralyzing, sheer drop-offs to the side, the rainforest’s clouds coming in, the distant view of the ruins below, and the spinning risk of vertigo, but for the FEAR that I would be smirking at her. When she finally did look, she told me later she had been relieved, even buoyed, for she found me nearly prostrate on all fours behind her, too, not pink, but red as a rutabaga.
We had broken a record that day, we were told by the park’s guard. He accompanied us, the last two people on La Montaña, down. He didn’t need to tell us about breaking any record. We knew. We knew we had ascended a different peak than the one we had set off to conquer. A different peak that left us wasted but surprised by ourselves.
If you, dear friend, are unable to go somewhere far away right now, a place you’ve always dreamed about, it’s all right. It WILL happen. And it is absolutely something to look forward to.
For what you will discover about the world and yourself cannot be predicted, but the delights might be compounded if you are lucky enough to do it with another divorced woman.
For Alexandra and me, we knew little about the other in the beginning — except we each had a penchant for discovery. Among the biggest discoveries we made in the extraordinary country of Peru is that the trip we embarked on, and chose to give meaning to, could only have happened while traveling with another divorced woman; someone who has learned from life, the importance of savoring the view.
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“I am so happy to have these sisters on the journey with me! Our connection is very powerful. It’s ended any sense of isolation or alienation that on and off, I’ve been struggling with. I feel understood — at last — because I know these women get it! They are going through the same thing. Thank you for bringing us together and creating Paloma’s Group!”
~ S.L., New York City