If you haven’t heard the news, today is International Women’s Day! I’d like to think that every day is a great day for women but sadly, that isn’t always the case. And having today dedicated to awareness of just what 49.8% of the world’s population is capable of is pretty damn amazing. So after you give one (or all) of the women in your life a hug for being exactly who they are–and if you’re a woman, give yourself a hug too you awesome human, you–I’d like to invite you on a brief reflection of how I’ve found empowerment.
It’s no secret that I adore travel and soaking up everything I can about the world around us (if you’re in doubt, please see the title of this blog). But one thing I’ve been asked about quite a bit is travelling alone as a woman. The first time I was asked “do you ever feel unsafe?” and confronted with “your parents must worry about you all the time” I was left, quite literally, speechless. Any danger to my personal well-being had never consumed my thoughts beyond keeping my wits about me and adhering to common sense. After stumbling through responses the first few dozen times I came up with a script that I’d rehearsed just for these occasions. Feel free to follow along on this little Q&A:
- “Do you ever feel unsafe?” Not really, and not because I’m travelling. The one time I’ve felt at risk was actually with one of my best friends and in one of the safest countries in the world and I repeat: it wasn’t specifically because I was travelling. It was a sticky situation where a guy we met tried to pull some shady s**t and another man, who we’d met just a few days before, was the perfect gentleman and helped us. Did I feel nervous? Absolutely. But of all the countries I’ve visited and time spent abroad this was one hour of uneasiness. And frankly, I’ve been in more similarly uncomfortable situations in my home state than I ever have being abroad.
- “Why did you decide to start travelling? Is it some self-finding/spiritual/[insert deep emotion here] journey?” Well let me tell you about one of my favourite toys as a child: the globe. Seriously, we had a globe with every country in fluorescent pinks and greens and blues, and that thing was the bomb dot com. Combine that with the lovely lady my brother and I were lucky to call our au pair, and my best friend’s mom who read countless stories to us in her gentle English accent, and you’ve got the travel bug that bit me early. I’ve always wanted to travel and, after a trip to France and Spain after high school graduation, decided to fulfil the curiosity I’ve always had inside and see the world for myself (as much as I love Instagram and Google Images, they just don’t do this planet justice). I guess it’s a journey of self-discovery, as each place brings me a deeper understanding of its locals and thereby myself, but I do it because I love it.
- “Aren’t you worried you’ll be kidnapped like in Taken?” Short answer: no. Long answer: my father’s no Liam Neeson but I shudder to think what he would do if anything like that were to happen…the movie would probably be half the length and everyone would be in jail. Jokes aside, no I’m not (see question 1). Unfortunately we do live in a world where, generally speaking, women are targets of sexual and other violence. We live in a world where women have to justify their every action. But I refuse to let that world rule my life. Does this mean I abandon common sense and stubbornly march into a situation with no thought to my welfare? Of course not. I learn about where I’m going, where I’ll be staying, which parts of the city to avoid, etc. etc. which is something any traveller should do anyway. So far, though, the only kidnapping attempts in my lifetime have been when I was blindfolded for a surprise 17th birthday party (knock on wood).
- “What would you say to a girl who wants to travel alone?” Rock on. What I would say to anybody: do your homework and figure out where you’ll be and local resources (don’t plan every minute of the trip but learn local emergency numbers, basic words if you’re going someplace you don’t speak the language, all that). And have fun! I’m a big proponent of not letting caution rule your life–albeit responsibly, if that makes sense? And for ladies, understand that there may be cultural restrictions or standards for you to meet depending on where you go. That again goes for anybody, but since the most common question I get is about girls travelling, I’m directing it to y’all. And next time, invite a friend! Solo trips are fantastic for self-reflection (and going to those museums you really want to visit but nobody else in your group will go with you) but I’ve had just as much fun on trips with my best friend(s).
- “What do you get out of travelling so much?” As you can probably tell from the intro, I find an incredible sense of empowerment and self-satisfaction from travelling. I’m realising the dreams I’ve had since Astrid taught me my first song in Dutch, I have an incredible arsenal of stories for any cocktail party or other social situation, and I have learned more about myself through my travels than any other time in my life. Travel does come with some drawbacks; I miss my family (and cuddles from my dog and cat) every day, and I’ll probably be saving for a house way later than others my age, but for my personal journey it’s worth it. Not a day passes where I don’t discover something new about myself. Maybe it’s because I’m in a different place than where I spent my first two decades, maybe it’s just a part of growing up, but I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be the person I am without having travelled alone.
Ladies (and men!) what have you discovered from travelling solo? Let me know below!