When I planned my first solo trip to Asia at 23, I received vast swathes of confusion from family, friends and colleagues. “Who are you going with?” they asked, striking the hermit chord in me. “But it’s unsafe to go alone,” they said, making me question their faith in my independence. I had felt so defiant in my decision to travel alone, had romanticised it right down to the last line of Into The Wild, and yet here I was feeling accused of being an loner with a death wish. What on earth was wrong with a solo soul-searching voyage into the unknown? Had they even read Wild?!
Solo female travel is far more common now than it was 84 years ago when famed female pilot Amelia Earhart embarked on her solo flight over the Atlantic, but it is still met with concern. After a total of one year of solo travel under my belt covering three different continents, let me say this: every woman should travel alone once in her life. A worldly mind is a wise mind. One can try to emit worldliness from the confines of one’s smartphone via social media, but travel gives you a new depth of understanding. Wisdom is most nobly gained by bravery, experience and reflection, and wisdom is Woman’s greatest weapon in a man’s world.
Bravery is climbing in and out of the world’s second-biggest canyon in Peru, sleeping four nights in a hammock on a mosquito-infested cargo ship bound for the Amazon, climbing a 6,000m mountain in Bolivia with crampons and an ice axe, and learning to speak a new language.
Experience is eating alpaca, jellyfish, donkey, horse, ants, crocodile, and enough unidentified meat to feed the Russian army.
Reflection is in watching the sun rise while bathing in hot-springs overlooking a vast salt flat in Bolivia, in hiking five days to Machu Picchu, and in taking a nap on a 4,700m pass in the Peruvian Andes overlooking an electric-blue lake.
It is a rite of passage to step out and confront the world. Travelling alone, a privilege in itself, can be a life-changing experience.
Of course, safety is the primary concern for parents of girls intent on travelling alone, and yes, shit happens. But one of the best tools a woman possesses is instinct. If a situation feels shady, it probably is, so abort. I’ve had bad things happen to me (I can hear my mum’s gulp from here), but resilience is gained when you’re on your own. I look back at those events and thank my parents for readying me for the world.
Women in Western countries have been afforded the right to travel alone by the simple fact that we’ve been raised to be independent. We have been taught how to make decisions for ourselves without men. In many countries that I’ve visited, women my age have been surprised to hear that I’m travelling alone. They´ve been raised to depend on men, the very thought of stepping foot outside their own country without holding the hand of their father or partner a terrifying prospect. They will always be someone’s daughter, girlfriend or wife, never in the driver’s seat of their own life. By travelling alone, we take control of our own lives.
So, go. Take the opportunity to explore every corner of the world. And I’m not talking about a week-long yoga retreat in Bali where you’ll enjoy buffet breakfasts and Eat, Pray, Love by the pool. I’m talking about strapping a backpack on your back and finding yourself in the wild, because the world needs wise women.