When I jumped feet first into the big, bad scary world of travel blogging a year ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Though I had been internet writing for over two years, I had interacted very little with what I soon would discover is a whole ‘nother universe of people just as passionate and crazy as me about travel.
Welcome to the club.
While there are many things I take issue with in this bizarre community, at the end of the day I’m happy that such a likeminded and *cough, cough* generally positive group exists. When you chose a life of travel sometimes it can feel alienating, but to find a big group of people who think, feel and behave in similar ways to you, makes the decision a less lonely one.
Journeying to Porto for my first ever travel blogging conference last September, besides being overwhelmed by so many feelings and emotions, what I remember most vividly was this big push for branding yourself and your blog – which let’s be honest here – for me is the hardest thing in the world!
I don’t want to be defined by anyone, damnit!
And what on earth would my brand be? The overly ambitious crazy American girl who has a love-hate relationship with Spain, who is a die-hard Harry Potter fan but can’t stand mayonnaise and who more often than not finds herself in very awkward and uncomfortable situations around the world?
Clearly I have a very business-savvy eye. No one has taken that image yet HA! All mine!
However, all was not lost, and I began to hear whispers here and there about the ambiguous brand of “Solo Female Travel Blog.”
Was this where I belonged? Female? Check. Traveler? Check. Usually alone? Check (sadface). Blogger? Trying to be.
Four for four. Was this my niche? Did I just find a home in this mildly incestuous world of blogging?
In spite of having accumulated over five years experience traveling the world alone and as a woman, I had never really considered myself “A Solo Female Traveler” even though by happy accident it was the case. I guess the same could be said that even though I attended a women’s college for four years, I never considered myself a feminist. I think this just all goes back to the idea that I HATE being branded as anything.
To me, I was just a girl who liked writing and traveling and hating having to deal with other people’s crap on the road. I’m more of an introverted adventure-seeker who happens to travel alone and have two X chromosomes. Gimme a backpack and a one-way ticket somewhere pretty and I’m a happy camper. Put me on a tour bus with dozens of other people with no way out, and I kinda want to kill myself.
Suicide jokes aside (sorry!) as annoyed as I was at this branding of “Solo Female Traveler,” after a lot of reflecting, I realized there was a great need for encouraging girls to travel alone, and therefore I was not allowed to hate the idea on principle.
While I have the tendency to charge through life oblivious to my impact on others, it would be impossible for me to ignore the community I’ve accidentally created by way of this blog – through my stories of finding your passion, getting inspired and following your dreams, mostly for girls but not all the time. Until now, I have been careful in my writing not to alienate myself from the boys, because where’s the fun in that?
Without sounding incredibly cheesy, I think my happiest moments are when I get emails and messages from readers asking advice about traveling the world, alone, female or otherwise. Those are the best, and lately I’ve noticed a lot of feedback from girls.
The older I get and the more experience I gain roaming the world and talking with strangers, I have become more and more conscious of the gap between men and women in so many different spheres, even in the US, or better put, ESPECIALLY in the US. Some of the most misogynistic crap I’ve heard around the world has come directly from the mouths of “friends” back home. Shocking.
Maybe I’m becoming a feminist after all.
This past year has been an enlightening one about women who travel, especially alone. Between the death of Sarai Sierra in Istanbul this winter to the all the media attention of rape in India, many (ignorant fools) around the world have used these tragedies as a platform to question the safety of women who chose to travel alone.
Though I think we can all agree that girls who travel by themselves is not the issue.
While I could sit here and write til I’m blue in the face about all the things that are wrong with this picture, and why I think every girl should travel alone at one point or another in her life, but what good will that do? And what could I say now that hasn’t been said before? Over and over again I might add.
Instead, I want to seize this opportunity to use my blog for good instead of evil (for once) and try to make a difference. I’m a big believer in inspiration, creating a tiny spark within a person that causes them to go out and try something new, something different, something they might not have done otherwise. I want to inspire girls to travel, and if that means alone, then so be it.
I wholeheartedly believe that every girl should go on a trip alone at least once in their lifetime. While it may not be your thing to roam alone around the globe, or even to travel at all, it’s important to try new things and above all, become independent and self-reliant. Girls are not independent enough. Boom.
I’m also a hardass. As much as I believe in glass ceilings and continued gender inequality in the workplace, I also firmly stand in the Sheryl Sandberg camp that women hold themselves back. While obvious in so many sectors, it’s definitely true for solo travelers, though that’s is changing fast. Thank you solo female travel blogs!
Women underestimate their own abilities, over and over again. Why? Because that’s how most girls are raised. We grow up in a world where powerful, independent, and ambitious women are frowned upon. Does anyone else find that incredibly sad?
Women need to step up to the plate, and travel happens to be one of the easiest arenas to make that happen. Whether you are going on a day trip from your hometown or backpacking around the world for a year, I encourage each and every girl to travel alone at some point in their lives. I’m not saying that every girl should be a solo female traveler forever, but personally I think everyone should try it once. Men too. I promise the results will surprise.
If you want to travel, go for it. Make it happen. Don’t hold back.
This is my message for all the girls who’ve reached out to me and those who haven’t, who’ve traveled alone or one day will travel alone.
Here is a space for girls to be inspired. Here is an opportunity to find encouragement. Here is the chance to become part of a community.
Here is the Solo Female Traveler’s Manifesto
1. We will be brave and won’t be afraid to travel alone
Without a doubt the number 1 reason why I hear that girls don’t travel alone is because they are scared. Not spoken in so many words, media and news around the world today (especially in America) pounds it into our heads that the world is a dangerous place, but above all, for women. While it would be foolish to ignore the fact that there are more risks involved, I have absolutely no qualms saying that it’s also been widely blown out of proportion.
I get it – it’s scary!
But there are risks with everything in life, travel included, but are they any higher than what you might be facing back at home? Or worse – are the risks at home higher than ones you might encounter abroad? Personally speaking, in over 30 countries, the most in danger I’ve ever felt was back in DC.
So don’t be afraid girls, or better yet, don’t let an unjustified fear hold you back from something you want to do. For the number of times I legitimately felt in danger, I can give you 1000 examples of beautiful, friendly, and unique moments that surprised me to no end while traveling.
2. We will also be smart on the road
That all being said, it would be just plain stupid to act invincible on the road. I believe I have not had any incidents because I’m so careful when I’m traveling. Mom always has my itineraries, no matter where I go, so she knows where I am. I’ve carried a doorstop with me for as long as I can remember to keep my door from getting kicked in, and I take a lot of precautions when I’m traveling to avoid potentially dangerous scenarios.
It took a long time but I’ve also learned to trust my instincts. If I feel any way uncomfortable or sketched out, I hightail it outta wherever I am as fast as I can. I’m a firm believer that common sense will help you in the long run. I also believe in learning from past travel experiences, work up to challenging places – don’t just jump headfirst into a possibly “difficult” country. Learn through experience.
Shit can happen anywhere, of course, but being smart and staying away from potentially dangerous situations can go a long way.
3. We won’t hold ourselves back
Perhaps this is the hardest lesson to learn and to take away, something that I actively work on improving for years: do not hold yourself back. It’s so easy to convince yourself not to take that trip to Paris or that you don’t deserve a vacation down in Mexico, or the most common excuse I hear, you can’t go to A, B, or C because you don’t have anyone to go with you.
Why do you need someone to go with you? Nothing makes me angrier than hearing from people who say how much they want to travel but don’t because they don’t want to go alone.
Life is about taking chances, trying new things and forcing yourself out of your comfort zone – that’s when you learn and have the most fun! There is a fine line between being adventurous and being stupid on the road, and through experience, you’ll learn to navigate those murky waters to have some of the best memories.
Women face enough obstacles all on their own; don’t let yourself be one of them.
4. We will be an example to other girls and women
It’s part of the solo girl traveler code to encourage and inspire other girls to travel alone too. An unspoken rule until now, part of the job description is showing people that A. we travel alone as girls and B. we’re ok.
Maybe these women will never travel alone – that’s their prerogative. But maybe they will reconsider their views on solo female travel, which is a win in my book. If I can get one person who when I first say I’m traveling to so-and-so country alone to change their view from first – “oh wow, that’s so dangerous” to “so-and-so traveled to this place and didn’t have any problems” then I count that as a win.
I think one of the biggest problems with the view of solo female travel are women who have never traveled alone perpetuating the stereotype that it’s dangerous without any firsthand experience or facts to back it up.
While I never go out of my way to tell people that I travel alone to show off, if it does come up in conversation, I do take pleasure in breaking stereotypes and showing that I’m a little blonde girl who’s traveled alone around the world and I’m still walking and talking, and hey, I am planning on doing it again.
5. We will be an example to men too, because, let’s be honest, they need it
When I was in Greece this summer, I had a conversation with a guy renting me a car on the island of Paxos that went something like this:
“So who are you traveling with in Greece?” – Greek guy.
“Nobody, just me.” Yours truly.
“So wait, you’re traveling alone?”
Me, “Yes, I usually travel alone.”
Greek guy staring at me like I grew a second head, “Yeah me too, but I am a man!”
Me – slams face on desk in frustration.
How many times have I had this conversation over the years? Too goddamn many, that’s what. Why is it so astonishing that women can travel alone?
Solo female travel is an opportunity to educate everyone around you – men and women. Take advantage!
I’m not saying that you should actively push girls to travel alone or criticize men for being narrowminded, but just lead by example. Be honest about your experiences when you meet people. I think that makes the most difference and ultimately can have the biggest impact.
6. It’s ok to get lonely sometimes but we won’t let it hold us down
If solo female travel has taught me anything over the past 5 years, it’s to learn to be ok with being alone. I mean, that’s a hard lesson to learn! Luckily, I was born a pure introvert, so I love my own company, especially traveling. Group travel stresses me out. When you’re traveling alone, you’re the boss. It makes things so much simpler!
However, I would be lying if I said I never got lonely on the road. By its very nature, solo travel means solitude. Sometimes I get tired of eating meals by myself or going to beautiful places alone – these are moments you might want to share with someone else, right?
But where I can’t thank traveling alone enough is that it’s forced me from being a shy introvert, to a more outgoing one – talk about contradictions! As soon as feelings of loneliness start creeping in, I force myself to meet new people and make new friends. Whether I join a guided tour or hop on a pub crawl or make conversation with the waiters or people next to me in restaurants, I find a way for human companionship.
It works every time. Also I am very nonthreatening-looking, or so I’ve been told, which leads people to feel comfortable chatting with a perfect stranger. Also, for some reason waitstaff in restaurants tend to pity me and give me free food when I dine alone. As much as I hate the thought of being pitied by a perfect stranger – free food, wahoo!
I’ve traveled mostly solo but also with friends, and these special, small moments of meeting random people do not happen as often when you are in groups. So if you feel lonely traveling, make the effort to meet new people and don’t let it hold you down and destroy your trip.
7. We’ll learn from our mistakes and we will grow and be shaped by our experiences
No shit Sherlock, right? Right?
Nope. How many times do I repeat the same mistakes traveling? A lot. Usually it takes me between 2 or 3 times of messing up before I learn my lesson. Only once if it’s a big one.
Nowadays, when I screw up on the road, from missing trains to wrong hotel dates to losing things, I actively try to make sure it never happens again.
And do you want to know where I’ve made the same mistakes traveling? Planning trips with other people. Some of the biggest regrets I have while traveling are NOT when I’ve been alone, but rather when I’ve gone on a trip with people. I think that speaks volumes.
Personally I’ve grown a lot over the past few years and I’ve learned how I travel best. Mistakes, failures and self-growth are irrevocably linked, so it’s important to not get too bogged down with the negative and focus on the positive.
8. We will make our own choices about what we’re comfortable doing
As much as I preach and ramble on here about the value of solo female travel, at the end of the day, each and every person has to make their own choices and decisions about what they feel comfortable doing and how far they will want to push themselves.
While I do believe it’s important to test yourself, step outside your comfort zone to grow and become independent, what that means varies for each and every person. My version of traveling might now work for you just like yours might not work for me. There is a huge range of travel lifestyles and choices out there. You have to go with what works for you.
Whether you’re hitchhiking around South America alone or escaping to a B&B an hour away or even joining in on guided tours around the world, there plenty of options to chose from.
9. We will become more independent
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Girls are not independent enough nowadays, and that needs to change.
One of the best things about solo travel is becoming independent and self-sufficient. You become the boss. Don’t deny yourself such a wonderful and fun opportunity to grow and take care of yourself. By having to face big challenges all by yourself, you will become a much stronger, self-sufficient person.
Let travel make you more independent
10. What are your thoughts?
I want this to be collective piece. While all of these points have become second nature to me, I know there are many more out there that I’m missing. Have you ever traveled alone? Would you? What was the experience like? Please share your thoughts in the comments for everyone.