I’m not always adventurous. I tried my first yoga class about three weeks ago. I’m afraid to eat ham because it reminds me of a dog’s tongue, and if it were up to me, I would still own a VCR. But there are some things that I do with gusto and gonads which surprises people, the main one being that I travel. A lot. Abroad. And alone.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been looked at as a bit of a rebel. No, not in an Easy Rider type of way, but if I was told one thing, I generally did the opposite. So it probably isn’t a surprise that well into adulthood I’m the same, especially when it comes to travel. I don’t mind travelling with other people, but I often prefer to go it alone and to places that many people wouldn’t.
I understand the general concern for those who travel solo because of the potential obstacles, but I’ve always been perplexed at the level of shock and even criticism I’ve received from some people – not because of their concern about my personal safety, which I actually appreciate – but because I think the reaction would be different if I were a man. But not only do I think it is okay for women to travel alone, I think it’s important, essential in fact, and I hope that every woman does it at least once in her lifetime. Here’s why…
It Opens Your Eyes. As women, we are unfortunately not on equal footing with men in many parts of the world. You don’t even have to venture to the other side of the pond to feel that inequality; however, in many other countries you’ll see the sharp gender divide up front, and it will likely shock you and perhaps piss you off. Good. It should.
It Offers Perspective. Travelling allows you to see the world and be exposed to other cultures, people and most importantly, points of view. The bonus is that you can internalize and interpret it all how you like. Your perspective is just that, yours, and what better way to gain perspective than to experience the world in real time – not from books or TV or the telephone game – but by being out there.
It Makes You Better. Through this perspective you become better, smarter. How could you not? Exposure to such diversity will undoubtedly teach you greater tolerance and understanding for others…unless of course, you have ice through running through your veins, in which case you’re screwed. Stop reading.
It Gives You Strength. I consider myself a feminist, which does not mean I’m a man-hater any more than liking a door being opened for me, makes me a hypocrite. It means that I believe in gender equity in all spheres of society, and what I consider ‘gender responsibility’ in what we teach girls about themselves, their limits, their role.
I believe that we’re often fed messages that we’re supposed to be meek and shy and follow a certain path that involves conforming to pre-defined gender roles which society has thrust upon us. When it comes to travel, among other aspects of our lives, I say we ignore those messages, however persistent they may drone on.
I travel where I want, when I want and how I want. I take no more precautions and exercise no more common sense than I do walking the streets of Montreal, and I’m still here. I know that in many countries you also face language barriers, a lack of orientation and the societal position of women that may differ from that of your own.
However, if you don’t go, you run the risk of regretting it, perhaps based on those external and internal messages that cautioned you not to, for no other reason than some unfounded ‘what ifs’.
The first time I ventured overseas solo was in my early 20s to Spain. I only had a few days before meeting up with some girlfriends already in Europe, but that plane ride, that taxi to my hostel, those few days where I was alone in a strange place did something to me that I can’t adequately explain. The feeling of freedom and accomplishment was overwhelming, and it laid the foundation for who I’ve become. With all major decisions in my life, I think back to that feeling of pride and achievement and try to recreate it every time. And if I can’t, regardless of what it is, I tell myself it’s not worth doing.
It Shows You Who You Are. I think you can’t help but learn a lot about yourself if you’re alone somewhere, out in the world, and everything around you is new and different. There’s nothing like navigating through the chaos of a packed market or a train station. There’s nothing like befriending strangers where the only common language you speak is beer. And there’s nothing like seeing your hygiene standards plummet and still be okay with it. Trust me, there is nothing like that one. Ugh.
It Makes You Feel Badass. Being your own leader, making your own decisions, carving your own path, and of course, making it to your destination in one piece, can feel pretty badass, especially if you’ve been fed the message that you can’t do it.
It’s Fun. I’ve had the most exhilarating experiences of my life traveling alone. I’ve bused it across East Africa, taken trains all over Morocco, zipped around by tuk-tuk in much of Cambodia and used every mode of travel through Europe many times over. I’m climbed mountains, visited ancient sites and been up close with wildlife that could have eaten me for lunch. I’ve met the most amazing people and a ton of crazy mo fos too. I’ve seen some of the most bizarre things I can’t explain and other things I wouldn’t want to because I’ve kept the memories for myself. And sure, I’ve had a few close calls and times where I’ve uttered a “holy shit, what have I gotten myself into”!? but it’s always been worth it.
And I’m not saying every woman needs to trek through the Ugandan jungle for the travel high or sense of accomplishment. I know plenty of women that have taken a solo road trip or spent a quiet weekend alone somewhere local, and that’s okay. It’s great in fact – as long as it’s what you want to do and not in any way hampered because it’s not what you’re supposed to do as a woman.
Because You Can. Because you can.