Once I was walking aimlessly with a friend in Kolkata, half following Allen Ginsberg’s literary trail another friend had shared, half getting lost in the streets. At one point we reached a market area, the kind where each item has its own section. There were no other travelers in sight. Suddenly my friend stopped next to piles of plastic buckets and asked, “What are we doing here?”
I was baffled. “We’re walking to get to know the city,” I must have said. Only later I realized she was asking a perfectly valid question: I hadn’t realized that not everyone travels that way. Walking, observing, immersing. Just being in a new place.
It’s always been important for me to be on the move. To experience something new. Growing up in the countryside in Southwestern Finland, I went anywhere and everywhere I could. I must have been hopelessly bored. Endless hobbies, summer camps, optional school trips, overnight stays at friends’ places. I never remember missing home. I’m not sure I know what it feels like.
I’ve moved from country to country, neighborhood to neighborhood and have traveled in more than 90 countries. I’ve crossed land borders from Armenia to Georgia to Azerbaijan, from Turkey to Syria to Lebanon, from Mexico to Guatemala to Belize, from Tanzania to Uganda to Rwanda. Entering The Gambia from Senegal, a stern looking officer asked me to the backroom to answer questions. Looking at the many stamps in my passport, particularly of Pakistan and Iran, he asked, “are you a spy?”
Years ago a friend of mine asked, “what are you running away from?” I thought about the question for a long time, thinking she must be right. But the older I got I realized this is not the case, unless you believe everyone has to make the same choices in life. I don’t. I’ve been just following my heart and I’m not the only woman to do so. Though we’re a small minority, there have always been traveling women who defy gender expectations. My trips are nothing compared to those of Isabella Bird, Gertrude Bell or Martha Gellhorn, but I feel we’re of the same tribe. Women who feel the pull of the road.