You know those children that when you tell them not to do something, it simply means that it will only encourage them to do it even more? I am an adult version of those when it comes to travel and adventure. When someone doubts or underestimates me, it only throws fuel on the fire that is already burning in my soul to get out and explore the world. After slowly building my confidence and self-awareness over five years of solo travelling, I thrive off the back of people’s doubts. Traveling solo can do this to you. It is simply one of the most enabling experiences and can leave you feeling like you can conquer any mountain in sight, even when other people might not agree.
For women in particular, solo traveling is considered dangerous, risky and, just plain stupid. If I had a dollar for every time someone commented on the fact that I was a female on my own, I’d be able to continue travelling for the rest of my life without needing a job. For men, on the other hand, its generally considered much more acceptable and even sensible. However, if I’ve learnt anything from travelling on my own, it’s that it can be one of the most empowering experiences for us women and this is why.
The World is Not a Scary Place
The dominant narrative that is portrayed about the world is that it is inherently scary and dangerous. We are bombarded with bad news in the media 24/7, where we only hear about the bad things that happen, even if they are often extremely rare cases.
In particular, women are considered at amplified risk because… well, we are female and apparently that qualifies us for being more vulnerable. In many ways, girls are brought up with this mentality that the world is a scary and dangerous place for us and in some ways, this is not far from wrong. Even in my home city of Melbourne, violence against women is a serious issue, where one woman is killed every week by someone they know.
However, this does not mean that the world is inherently a perilous place, and in fact, I’ve found it to be the complete opposite. Whether it be small things like people buying me a cup of tea at a bus stop or paying for my taxi, or bigger things like giving me a place to sleep when I had nowhere to go, travelling is often littered with examples of random acts of kindness and compassion. When you step out in a foreign country all on your lonesome, it doesn’t take very long for the fear to drop away and for you to realise that there is always a friendly face, even if it belongs to a stranger.
In this way, travelling teaches us that the dominate narrative about the dangerous world that we live in is not always true.
Self-Confidence, Gut Instincts and Self-Awareness
On Instagram, travelling may always seem like a blissful holiday, however, it often teaches you important life lessons that are not always visible in what we share on social media, particularly if you are going it alone. When you travel solo, your survival instincts are constantly on edge, because you have to look after yourself.
It means that your brain is sometimes in overdrive about where you need to go, how you’re going to get there and who you can trust to get you there. In this case, you are forced to become more self-aware and your gut instincts are constantly getting a workout. You have to judge situations and read people, after a while it becomes a sort of second nature, and these are skills that will remain with you and serve you well for the rest of your life beyond travelling.
You establish strategies in dealing with sticky situations, techniques that don’t come from any kind of handbook, but instead are practiced and developed as we navigate our way around foreign places. Solo travelling teaches us how to ooze confidence both inside and out, and with all that time to think in your own head, you become acutely attuned to your inner self, an ability not everyone possesses.
With all that exercised self-confidence, awareness and connection to your own gut instincts, comes a feeling that you can conquer anything.
Independence – You Can Do Anything on Your Own (and revel in doing so)
I was once told by a male that I was intimidating because I was so independent; I didn’t need anybody else but myself. I took it as a compliment rather than the criticism that was intended, however, it made me sad to think that he obviously wasn’t used to females having such a strong sense of independence and freedom.
I have managed to travel through Africa by public transport on my own, I have spent many days and nights on India’s railway network on my own, I have trekked in the Himalayas on my own and all of this has slowly taught me that, in fact I can do anything on my own if I really want to. That guy was right, I don’t need anybody else.
On my first solo overseas trip, I was anxious to tell people that I was travelling solo because I thought that they would think that I was naïve and that I wouldn’t make it on my own. However, now I revel in telling people that I am in fact solo, to see the doubt on their face excites me, because I know something that they don’t and that is that I will be just fine. And that is the beauty of having so many experiences by yourself because you learn what you are capable of and you find confidence in the things that you can do.
The feeling of absolute freedom that comes from travelling on your own is unbeatable and you learn how precious your independence truly is.
Being ‘Present’ and Showing Up for All Women
More recently, I’ve discovered the power of being a solo female traveller and being proud of it. In just simply showing up and being present in certain scenes or countries that are considered ‘dangerous’ or not a place for a woman, can help push boundaries and push back on the doubters.
I’ve seen the twisted and confused faces of people in some countries when I’ve had to explain that yes, I was in fact alone… solo… only one. However, I’ve also seen that it can be a lightbulb moment for some, a genuine realisation that a woman can do this too. Even when it’s not a lightbulb moment and I have to walk away knowing that that person thinks that I’m utterly out of my mind, I have hope that maybe the next solo female traveller to come along will convince them otherwise.
In this sense, solo travelling is then just as empowering for all women as a collective movement rather than just internally for yourself. You never know who might be watching and thinking, ‘I didn’t know that was possible’ or ‘maybe I can do that too’. I’ve never forgotten the moment that one of my young female cousins was so impressed that I had managed to carry everything that I needed in a backpack for over a year and then her mum said, “You can do that too one day.”
That’s why it’s important for solo female travellers to be loud and proud, because together we can inspire others to do the same. We should own the fact that maybe using a self-timer on a camera can sometimes be difficult and that some days we want a familiar shoulder to cry on and all we have is our own, because then we can show that we are stronger than everyone who underestimated us.
The numbers of solo female travellers are growing and more and more of us are pushing back the boundaries and normalising the fact that women can also climb mountains and travel across continents and do them alone if they so wish. There will always be people to call us stupid, crazy and even a little lost, but there’s equally many who will say it’s brave, strong and courageous.
My aunty once sent me a quote that said, “Underestimate me, that’ll be fun”, and I’m continuously learning how true that really is.