I’ve been traveling alone for a long time now, but I don’t think that’s particularly remarkable. The first time I went abroad on my own, I was 18 and I spent two weeks traveling through southern Spain. At the time I had a sailing job where I made a whopping $75 a week, so I was impressed with myself for traveling on a microscopic budget– but what most impressed other people was that I was a young woman traveling alone (gasp!).
In the years since, I’ve taken plenty of solo trips, moved to new cities alone, taken new jobs in new places where I don’t know anyone… all over the world, from Antarctica to Alaska, Maine to New Zealand. I am very independent, comfortable being by myself, and make new friends easily, so it’s a natural lifestyle for me. I forget how unusual it is for a woman to live this way, especially because I know other women who have similar lifestyles and are not the least bit afraid to explore the world on their own.
There are definitely times when I feel uncomfortable or restricted because of my gender. I don’t tend to go out alone at night, and I’m very cautious about certain things that men don’t have to think twice about, like going to a bar, drinking socially, hitchhiking, or taking a bus at night. But I refuse to allow fear to stop me from pursuing my dreams.
We all face different barriers in our lives, but we have to push through them. When I was 18 and dropped out of college to sail across the Atlantic, I realized that I never wanted to live a life shaped by excuses– I never wanted to stand in my own way. So I made a choice to chase my dreams, no matter how difficult or crazy they seemed to anyone else. The more we push against socially-imposed barriers such as discrimination based on gender, racial, or sexual identities, the more likely we are to break down those walls. As Vanessa Friedman wrote in a recent NY Times article:
“How do you erase a stereotype? Confront it, and force others to confront their own preconceptions about it, and then you own it. And in doing so you denude it of its power.”
The more people see women traveling, backpacking, sailing, climbing, and exploring– and kicking ass along the way– the more likely people are to believe, accept, and respect that it is possible, appropriate, and awesome for women to do those things. I would love to live in a world where no one thinks it’s unusual for a woman to take off on an adventure alone. But for now, all we can do is keep living our lives and chasing our dreams as we see fit, regardless of our genders.
We have to acknowledge our limitations and reservations and find ways to overcome them. Do what you love, and forget the rest!
Are any of you solo travelers? I’d love to hear your insights, tips or stories in the comments!