It’s regarded as one of the most incredible things in the world because – well, for lack of better words – it encompasses the world (literally). So why is it that society frowns down upon any female, regardless of age, who chooses to travel alone?
Perhaps it’s because buying a one-way ticket somewhere is technically breaking the hugest social norm possible. Perhaps it comes off as rebellion. Perhaps it’s so unusual to most, especially to elders set in their ways, that they automatically assume said girl is “stupid.”
I started researching travel, working holiday visas, and pored over tons of captivating travel blogs on Google, in November 2012. Unlike so many others, I was an absolute moron (and still am) when it came to international travel. But you know what I found?
The majority of bold, vivacious, and kickass people who set out on a life-changing journey like this ended up being overwhelmingly female – solo female travelers. I’m not here to be a feminist or brand myself as this – I’m here to confess my experiences since I happen to fall in this niche.
Before I left:
Single. 23. Dreams of being a nomad. Struggling to enjoy a 9-5 job. Hell-hole traffic. I was certain that the only reason I would return to America, let alone my home state of California, was if I was: (a) deported, (b) in need of renewing a visa, or (c) drop-dead, rock-bottom-broke. In my mind, I believed none of those three things would happen, so I kept playing it up that my one-way ticket was one-way for a reason. My time was that open-ended.
After I left:
Ah, what a long time ago all of the above seemed. So naïve and unknowing. Before I set out on this journey, I was far too prideful. I never once really thought about how tough (yet rewarding) traveling alone, especially as a female, could truly be.
Here are some of my confessions, raw and uncut:
1. There is no special treatment just for being a girl.
Nope. None. All of us are treated equally when globe-trotting. Fair and square. In fact, we sometimes have to work that much harder just to “prove” that we’re fiercely independent and 110% capable of exploring the world solo. Take THAT, society.
2. If you really want it, set your mind to it and DO IT.
If you want to travel, gallivant around the world on various working holiday visas and experience new cultures and surroundings… THEN DO IT. Now is your time. Nothing is holding you back except you.
Oh yeah, and just because I’m a girl traveling solo doesn’t mean I’m any braver than a guy traveling alone – WE ARE ALL HUMAN. Trust me. If I can do it, anyone can. It’s not hard – you just need to really, truly, madly, deeply want it – and stick to your decision once you’ve made them (unless you want to forfeit a really expensive ticket).
3. Heartache on the road sucks.
No, this isn’t a cheesy cliché. I’m not divulging my personal life, but in general, the average female traveler tends to have a fair share of excitement (or turmoil) when it comes to romance. Whether in the same country or long-distance, any type of relationship is hard as hell. They all require more work than the average relationship back home, which ultimately makes you stronger. And, by golly, usually when you aren’t looking for anyone, someone comes along and turns your world upside down…
If someone is worth fighting for, everything will work out in the most beautiful way possible. Just remember: What lasts won’t come easy.
4. It’s okay to feel alone.
In fact, it’s GREAT to feel alone (bearing in mind that this isn’t lonely). Taking time to yourself is essential when miles away from your loved ones back home. And when you feel alone, embrace it – feeling alone is something so sacred and special. Not many know how to be alone, and traveling solo really forces you to learn how.
Trust me – embrace the solitude when you can. Life passes by far too quickly for you to always have someone or something by your side.
5. You’re bound to feel disconnected from people back home.
It’s not a bad thing – it’s just a new feeling. When you’re out experiencing different things and cultures, everyone back home is… well, still at home, in their typical routines. There’s an old saying about how travelers may return after years of travel and feel like everyone and everything hasn’t been touched since they left. Perhaps just a breakup and a few engagements here and there. Big whoop.
Focus on being present in the moment rather than constantly scrolling through social media feeds and making yourself homesick. While I’ve met plenty of travelers who keep in touch constantly with loved ones back home, I don’t (and I apologize to everyone because of that). I make a cognizant choice to be one with myself and the beautiful place I’m living in. I took this journey for myself wholeheartedly – I put myself first and only concentrate on myself and my well-being (as selfish as that sounds).
6. You can’t have everything at once – and you never will.
You can’t have all the pieces of the pie. When you choose to travel long-term, you choose to forgo fashion, makeup, technology, and almost all comforts of home (20-piece chicken nuggets included). It’s a price you pay for experiences of a lifetime, though. Isn’t travel the one thing you buy that makes you richer, after all?
7. Your life might turn into an emotional rollercoaster.
Guess what, girls – our emotions are insane when hopping around and living out of a bag (most girls). Travel is tough shit. It’s not a walk in the park, and the ones who think it is are usually the buffoons who have never even set foot outside their home city. Be prepared.
8. Remind yourself to only do what’s right for YOU.
Forget what anyone else has ever told you. You travel (in whatever capacity) because this is something YOU want to do. Live the life of YOUR dreams. Everyone travels differently, so don’t you dare compare yourself to other travelers, either. In the long run, the number of countries you visit doesn’t even matter – it’s the experiences. Do you.
9. Let go.
When you travel, you learn to be free. You learn how to let go of any past turmoil, struggles, mishaps, so-called failures, etc. So run through fields of golden poppy seeds with your arms outstretched, jump out of planes, ride a camel, and just relax. You’ll never be able to enjoy travel if you’re hanging onto things from back home, after all.
10. Remember that travel doesn’t instantaneously grant you “happiness.”
Booking a one-way ticket somewhere won’t cure depression, anxiety, or uncertainty – you need to sort your shit out before you dive head-first into a dramatic move like this. Ever read Eat, Pray, Love (or see the film)? Liz Gilbert struggled far and wide on her journey to self-discovery. While this became an experience of a lifetime, her story is one of the most famous examples of why travel is as gritty as it is glamorous.
This is one I still struggle with, since I so purely believed that my move to New Zealand was going to be the best chapter of my life. It has been, in so many ways, but I’ve also cried and kicked far more than I thought I would.
And if you feel like you’re far less happy on the road then you were back home – there is nothing wrong with that. You only get one shot at this moment, this day, this time in your life. If you’re not happy, move on. Happiness is a state of mind – but you need to find happiness within yourself first.
Some other confessions (mostly common sense):
- Some things never change. Don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t find yourself “changing” in the way you’d like.
- You should always, ALWAYS underpack rather than overpack. And seriously, you can always buy stuff as soon as you land in your destination. It’s not the end of the world (no pun intended).
- Only pack crappy things you’re fine with losing in case of an unfortunate emergency.
- Don’t bring books. Seriously. They weigh down your damn bag. Just use your phone or Kindle!
- You really only need 1 or 2 lightweight jackets (and if you’re going to a cold country, invest in a foldable down jacket beforehand). Any more than that is serious overkill.
- Pack, repack, then unpack and take 50% of what you’ve packed. You should be thinking, “What can I take out?” rather than “What else can I pack?”
- If you’re not working while abroad, leave the damn laptop at home! A really lightweight iPad will do just fine… and seriously, your smartphone will probably be your main lifesaver.
- For the ladies: You really don’t need makeup at ALL if you intend on living a free “backpacker” lifestyle.
- For Americans: You’ll be ridiculed and teased in almost every country you travel to, and you just have to deal. Some is in good humor, some isn’t. I could save this for a whole different blog post on why I’m tempted to just lie and say I’m Canadian (I say “sorry” too much anyway).
- Push your comfort levels, but never forget to listen to your heart.
- You’ll meet some of the most beautiful-spirited people through your travels. Good people are rare to find in our world – but serendipitously, you meet some of the best when you leave your little “box.” The world awaits…
If you’re a female, reading this, and you’ve never taken the chance to travel alone: I implore you to do it. Save up (it’s possible, so stop telling yourself it’s not), cut out nearly all your spendings, and do it.
Make Sheryl Sandberg proud – do not hold yourself back.
Do it for yourself, however short or long. Do it if you feel like you need to discover yourself. Trust me, it’ll be something you’ll never, ever regret. You’ll only regret it if you never even try.
Inspiration for this post: Celina & Liz (by God, this is probably my most favorite blog post in all of history).