On a scale of 1 to ‘my non-existent balls are huge’, travelling the world solo as a girl is definitely up towards the top. You can’t escape the initial ‘oh shit’ moment when you embark on that first solitary trip abroad, but you can expect it to turn into enough adventures, misadventures and new friendships to make you wonder why you didn’t take the plunge years ago.
While solo travel is an all-round gutsy choice, for women it has its own distinct set of challenges and lessons to be learned. From becoming an independent goddess to joining the global sisterhood of lady travellers and deserving to have ‘I pee anywhere’ printed on a T-shirt, here’s what I’ve learned in my time travelling alone.
1. The solo travel sisterhood does exist
When I first interrailed through Europe, I wound up one night in a tiny bar in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, having met a number of other girls, each travelling alone. While a few shots of borovička certainly helped us to bond, the fact that we’d all made it there from our different corners of the globe was a starting point for a friendship that has seen us stay in touch ever since.
Across the years, I’ve seen how embarking on a solo trip is like being inducted into a sisterhood of badass female travellers. We might not have official membership cards but whenever you meet another member of the ‘hood, you know you’ve found someone who just understands.
2. You leave all your fears of weeing in public behind
Only a brief period of time after starting travelling, it dawned on me how badly designed women are. In a word: vaginas, or the lack of equipment for having a discreet wee, something I’ve been reminded of more times that I would like to recall. And no, using a precariously placed umbrella as a makeshift screen to shield my lady bits from a busload of curious Bolivians as I pee on the side of a barren desert road did not leave my dignity intact.
But when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, and I’ve stopped caring who watches me do it. Shyness becomes a thing of the past and it’s actually weirdly empowering to know you can just whip your trousers down at any moment and release, right there and then.
3. You’re confident and competent in whatever situation
If you’ve only ever travelled with friends or a partner before, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of having the rug ripped from under your feet as you realise that you’re in charge. If it all goes tits up, there’s no one else to blame.
Luckily, you quickly learn that there are few problems that can’t be fixed: no meal that you can’t order with the help of exaggerated hand gestures; no missing a bus that can’t be rectified by, well, buying another ticket. Solo travel is hard at times but the challenges you overcome leave you cool, calm and confident in any situation.
4. You’re vulnerable – but in a good way
The top fear for many women considering travelling alone is the issue of safety. Unfortunately, you are more vulnerable as a lone girl than as a guy and there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it.
On all my trips abroad I’ve definitely found myself in situations where I’ve needed to trust my instinct and been ready to get the hell out of there if needed. But more often than not, I’ve actually seen how being a woman can get you closer to local people; people who are concerned about your safety, but also simply curious.
Various times I’ve been invited to share food with people interested in learning more about my travels and once I was taken under the wing of a group of women who were impressed by me necking an 80-proof shot of singhani at a wine tasting. With all these interactions, it’s been proven to me how vulnerability can open doors and how there’s actually very little reason to be afraid when you travel.
5. Sexism won’t stop you
In many parts of the world, sexism is an unavoidable part of life, and I bet I’m not alone in wanting to have connected my booted foot with the nuts of a whole spectrum of unpleasantly forward men.
But the wolf whistles and bum pinching will never stop us ladies from travelling. Instead, it teaches us how lucky we are to be from a culture where we can – and we will – exercise our right to travel independently.
6. And finally, you’re a fully-functioning human being
Solo travel is the quickest way to becoming a fully-functioning adult; where else do you learn to plan a route through South East Asia using just local transport, eat alone in a restaurant or strike up a conversation with a stranger in a hostel?
After travelling the road by ourselves, female travellers become just downright badass women who are open to and ready for the challenges that life throws their way.
So to all you ladies out there, whether you’re on your first or your fiftieth trip alone, I salute you. Or as the Slovakian’s say, na zdravie!