How easy would life be if we could just agree on everything?
But where’s the fun in that? I’ve got a lot of opinions about a lot of things, though I spent most of my life keeping my thoughts to myself. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I finally found confidence in expressing them. Maybe it’s been the same journey for you too.
Where was I going with this? Ah yes, one of my big big BIG opinions that I frequently and loudly profess in real life as well as online is the following; I am a strong believer that all women should travel solo, at least once in their lives.
Looking at that statement, on the surface it really doesn’t seem too bold or controversial, and yet sadly it’s filled with layers and layers of complications.
It’s been ages since my Solo Female Traveler’s Manifesto and I thought it was high time to revisit a topic close to my heart.
The sad truth is that many women chose not to travel alone, for one reason or anything – there is always a reason, or better put, an excuse. And I am not saying that all women should become perpetual solo travelers either; everyone has their own way of living and travel style, and I don’t know about you guys, but when people tell me what to do or how to live, I immediately do the opposite.
This case is different; hear me out. I believe it’s up to you to decide when and where and how you travel. All of us are different and work and function (or like me, not function) in different ways. But I thought as I like to overshare as a general rule, I’d go ahead and talk about 5 things I’ve learned over the years as a perpetual solo female traveler and what it’s taught me about life. Cuz it’s a lot.
1. You find some independence, hopefully
It’s not to say I wasn’t independent before I took my first trip alone, but until you have to organize and sort out everything on your own, make snap decisions on the road, stay on budget and basically take care of yourself without someone to lean on, you never are really independent, are you?
This is probably going to get me hate mail, but I have met sooooo many girls over the years who are dependent, needy, first-class clingers who are basically incapable of getting around without a friend, family member or boyfriend in tow. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Girls who are incapable of being alone.
Obviously I’ve met plenty of girls who are the opposite too, there’s a massive range, but the ones that stick in my mind are the ones who either blow me away with how strong they are, or the ones that I can’t really wrap my head around how they function day to day.
Come on girls, it’s 2015!
Do we hear guys talking about the same problem? And usually when people worry about solo travelers, it’s geared towards women, like we can’t take care of ourselves. Ah Ben is going to travel South America for 3 months, good for him! But when Liz wants to go to Africa, oh no no no!
I don’t know about you all, but I don’t want that stereotype to perpetuate any longer!
I believe that every girl should hit the road at some point in their lives alone. No companions. Just roam.
For me, all of those decisions, my independence is second-nature now. I don’t think twice about it. It doesn’t seem hard or challenging to me anymore. In fact, traveling in a group now is MORE difficult for me. Who would have ever thought?
Solo travel taught me to grow up and that is only ever one person in the entire world you can always depend on – yourself.
2. You’ll grow some travel smarts and learn that you can trust people
In my opinion one of the best things you learn traveling alone is intuition. Hear me out!
In this day and age I think people like hard facts, not wishy-washy philosophical ideas. I feel like many people want to know exactly what they are going to get out of a trip, travel or experience abroad, and to hear someone reply with “intuition” isn’t exactly concrete.
That being said, I stand by 100% in my statement that over time, traveling alone will give you certain instincts; likely you’ll learn to read people really well, understand the difference between someone being friendly and when it’s weird, and when you are ok, or when you should run like hell.
I think a big reason why I never really have problems on the road is that I can read situations very, very well, and if I feel uncomfortable in any way, I’m out of there. Boom. Gone. I have some serious self-preservation skills and I have no intention of ending tied up in the back of someone’s van.
Nope, not going to happen.
That being said, one of my absolute favorite things about travel is meeting locals, and getting to know them and share experiences or beautiful moments on the road. I never want to compromise that. That means I’m moderately skeptical but still openminded when I meet locals traveling. I like trusting people, and I don’t want to lose that or become suspicious or bitter. I like being open.
Cautious optimism and intuition comes with experience.
I get a lot of questions about where first time solo travelers should head, and I tend to say stick to “easier” or “friendlier” places first and build from there. Obviously, that part is questionable and varies person to person, but in my opinion, it’s better to build up and gain experience with each place you visit. Like maybe try Iceland before Egypt or New Zealand before Russia. But honestly, it doesn’t really matter. Sink or swim, you’ll learn either way.
Which leads to my next point.
3. You’ll learn that the world isn’t actually that dangerous
I love this – the world isn’t as dangerous as we are told all the freaking time. News. Social media. Our families. We live in a world filled with negative stereotypes, generalizations, phobias and fears, and I fucking hate it. I hate it!
If there is one lesson I value above all others from my experiences traveling, it’s that it’s taught me to ignore all of the negativity (within reason) and realize that people are people, no matter what color their skin is, what their religion is, or where they are from. Of course, there are bad people everywhere and shit does happen, but in comparison to all the beautiful souls out there and all the amazing, positive happy things you experience traveling, the good outweighs the bad.
Violence against women is an international problem, and I don’t really see how it’s related to travel. Look at all these women getting raped in the US and the rapists go unpunished. Are we really a nation to be tossing judgements around about safety for women overseas?
Terrible things can happen at home and overseas; what does travel have to do with it? Are we really in MORE danger in a foreign place?
I wish more people would tell me good job for getting out and seeing the world on my own than warning me against it. Especially from people who travel less than I do. Um, I think I *might* know better about my own safety, thankyouverymuch.
The only time I have ever felt truly threatened and afraid was on the metro in Washington D.C. where I grew up. Not Turkey. Not Egypt. Not Spain. Not Mongolia, and definitely not New Zealand or the 40 other countries I have been to. I wish people would remember that.
On a side-note, while I believe the world is actually a lot safer than we are led to believe, accidents do still happen on the road, often when we are least expecting them! Which is why it’s so important to have a suitable travel insurance plan in place. I use World Nomads Travel Insurance, who I 100% recommend. Their policies are customizable, affordable AND include almost every adventure sport you can think of!
4. Relating to anyone is a skill you’ll pick up if you’re openminded
I started traveling alone when I was 19. When I look back on the person who I was and the person I am today, I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to see how I turn out when I’m 80. I am a big believer in the transformative power of travel, and I love that experiences overseas and around the world can help shape and mold you, even make you into a better person if you let them, you know, in a non-hippie kind of way.
Perhaps the most important skill I’ve picked up from solo traveling, at least the most important to me personally, is learning to be able to relate to anyone I meet on the road. Seriously, anyone.
As much as I am an introvert at heart, I love talking to strangers and meeting people on the road. Without any companions or friends to lean on, I had to learn this on my own.
I’ve made it a point in all my years of travel to be openminded, especially around people I don’t necessarily agree with or even like. Whether it’s a camel driver in the deserts of Jordan or shopkeeper in Indonesia, a sheep farmer in New Zealand or even an eagle hunter in Mongolia, people of all walks of life who couldn’t live or be any different from me, I still want to be able to sit down and talk to them, pick their brains, share stories and maybe even have a moment.
My biggest fear is coming off as a cold, disinterested foreigner who doesn’t give a shit or makes no effort. I can’t stand that attitude among travelers, and trust me, I see it a lot.
I’ve found that as a solo female traveler, people are MORE open with me and more welcoming. I suppose I am not very intimidating, and oftentimes I hear the whole “oh you crazy” for going around the world on my own, so I think people often take a protective, almost motherly attitude towards me, which is fine by me! Especially when I get fed.
Those are the best things that happen on the road, at least for me, because they mean something.
It’s one thing to take a pretty picture and have some adventures while traveling, but it’s a whole other ball game when it changes your life or can lead to glimpses of a total foreign culture that you can begin to wrap your head around.
Relating to people from around the world is the first step to building empathy, something I think is really important for travelers and people in general to have.
Why does this person act the way they do? What motivates them? How is their culture different than mine and maybe even how is it the same? And then the hard stuff. This person is wearing all of the clothes they own. This kid doesn’t have shoes. That girl’s family died of a preventable disease in the US. That boy has never used a computer.
Being able to be empathetic and relate to someone so different than you is one of the best things you can learn while traveling. It’ll open your heart and your mind and allow you to really experience another country or culture.
5. You learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine
At the risk of sounding like a pretentious dick, Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Travel changes you, if you are open to it, especially solo travel.
When you are alone on the road with only your thoughts and experiences for company, you can’t help but start to think. At home occupied with the fuss and the fury, the hustle and bustle of so-called “normal life” it has become easy, almost standard to ignore the bigger issues and problems we face.
When you are on the road, it’s not so easy, and oftentimes you are forced to face those demons, thoughts or issues that you might have ignored otherwise.
What’s something travel has taught you? Have you ever gone on a journey alone? Would you?