Is Travel Actually Gender Specific? My Problem With “Eat, Pray, Love”

Friday, September 17, 2010

I never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” I don’t plan on reading it, either. I have nothing against the premise or the author, I simply have not gotten around to holding a copy in my hands nor have I felt the urge to. As a traveling female. I sometimes feel like I am missing out on countless chit-chats about EPL and its impact on travel for women. I hear a lot about emotional journeys and ups and downs and lovers and reconciliations. I feel the same way, but usually I like to think about the adventures I had just endured. Sometimes I will try to squeeze into the circle with passages written by Bruce Chatwin or Paul Theroux, because they are the travel writers I know and love, only to get confounded looks. In general, not all the time.

I do not doubt that there are other females who relate to the adventure side of travel and I can say with absolution that there are men who travel for emotional development. Still, I wonder if our purpose to travel is biologically wired? This was the topic of an article on World Hum and it got me, and others, seriously thinking about the duality between the sexes. In the article, Rolf Potts writes his version of EPL, “One Man’s Odyssey.” He creates a synopsis of what EPL would look like if written from a male’s perspective and what he came up with is immediately offensive to anyone who shares a hair of the feminist notion.

It’s ghastly and chauvinistic, it’s perverted and irresponsible, it’s what some women have decided to do to the men in their lives. In fact, we have glorified this self-sexploration by turning the bestseller into a blockbuster, starring one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses.  I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing, but as a marker for where the general population’s (of not just females) thoughts are. I guess we feel so oppressed and down-trodden from our past that we decide to do exactly what we would hate to have done to ourselves. Hell hath no fury.

As a woman, I guess I am allowed to say that I am slightly embarrassed (if I was a guy, I would not have that right, right?). But not about the book, but rather the demonstrative idolization of it — from women and men. To be the typical female traveler, am I supposed to sympathize with this purpose? I understand it, I support anyone needing to find happiness in any way that he or she thinks best, but I certainly don’t relate to it, nor do I feel inspired by it.

To me, I think that one’s motivations for travel are quite personal: they are subjective and not gender-specific. Personally, I can imagine that Gilbert’s aim was not to motivate people to be reactionary, but rather to examine whether one’s life is truly happy. No one needs to follow her exact footsteps through India or Bali to go mentally where she went. We can do that wherever we decide to go: Mexico City, Alaska, or at home in our own chairs. Perhaps she was given the right opportunity or felt like she needed to be abroad — to be overwhelmed with external stimuli — in order to internalize her thoughts.

A guy can do the same thing. They do do the same thing. I would argue that men are not shunned from doing the same things. Actually, I know a lot of men who did the same thing and no one is judging them. Actually, a lot of men have been doing the same thing for years and they still have friends and many families. Maybe they don’t talk about or express their experiences of travel the same way women do.

Perhaps the difference is about timing — demographically and biologically. For men, in general, time is on their side. They can have babies well into their 70’s, if they so desire, and have been able to do this for years, some might even say millenia. But I think it can be difficult for women, in general, because they know that the clock could tick any moment. Once it does, they can’t necessarily go scaling mountains or eating spicy bacon. For the generations of the recent past, that clock ticked, they dived, and then easy travel and the internet came along which opened their world to exploring a deeper sense of happiness. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, I guess the newer generations will have the chance to explore these things way before the notion of a family comes up.

Or. perhaps there really is no difference at all.

Yes, men, in general, might travel for the adventure. Yes, women, in general, might travel to experience some emotional elevation. And, yes, vice versa (or emotional adventure) will happen. In the end, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else except the person traveling and those affected by the tourism industry.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog,

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