Happy International Women’s Day! Did you know we’ve been commemorating this day since 1909? It’s a day to honor the achievements and contributions of women, especially the badass ladies who sacrificed and suffered for the rights we enjoy today. (And to cheer us all on in the continued fight for gender equality.) Lots to think about on this special day, but I think the best way to commemorate it on a travel blog is to celebrate the empowering magic of…dun, dun, dunnn! Solo female travel!
Women have been traveling solo for forever (I’m looking at you, Freya Stark). But never in numbers like we are today. In fact, according to a poll of travel agents by Travel Guard, the insurance company, women are much more likely to travel solo than men.
Did that just blow your mind? Because it made mine explode.
Why travel solo?
What is it about solo travel that is so attractive to the double-x-chromosome club? Why are we seeking solo travel experiences in larger numbers than ever before, and even larger numbers than men? I can’t speak for all the lady globetrotters out there (and apparently there are tons of them), but here are some reasons I love solo female travel.
Freedom! I can do whatever the heck I want to do!
This is a big one. And I don’t know that I would have felt it quite as strongly before I had kids (though I can’t deny that I’ve always had
controlling strong/independent/assertive tendencies). But after being a mom for 10 years, running every moment of my entire life–including the ones where I’m supposed to be sleeping!–according to the needs and preferences and tantrums and nap schedules of everyone else…sometimes I just really want to do what I want to do. Just a few days a year. That’s all.
I have to tell you that when the express train from Ataturk airport in Istanbul dumped me into a square in the dark, and I was all alone, I panicked for a second. I looked around and there were almost no women, just men smoking and loitering (love that word). I honestly wondered if the whole idea was stupid. I imagined my children motherless (because black-belt-level catastrophizer, remember?). But I was prepared with the details about where to go and how to reach my hotel and I just moved forward, pretending I was totally confident and knew exactly what I was doing.
And I got there. And then I figured out where and how to get Turkish liras and how to get around the city and where to eat, and I started to feel like I actually did know what I was doing. It was my first time overseas, ever. (Sad, right? But true.) And I went to Istanbul. Alone. And I owned it. When I left that city, I was a new person, just for having overcome something that, let’s be honest, is intimidating to a lot of people. How’s that for empowerment?
Doing intimidating things (always wisely, of course) makes you find strength you didn’t know you had. Isn’t this what we always tell our kids? I know I do. Doing scary things makes you see that you can do scary things. I don’t know about you, but I can always use that reminder. And who can’t use a confidence boost? Solo female travel delivers it in abundance.
Talking, for me, is like breathing. If I don’t do it, I’ll die. Probably. All of my former school teachers can attest, as can anyone else who has spent time in my physical presence, that I can’t not talk if there’s another human within a 10-foot radius of me.
But inside my head is actually a place I really like to be. I like to process art, architecture, history, and other travel experiences in my own noodle. When I’m traveling with another person, there’s a subtle but certain pressure (even if it’s self-imposed) to communicate about the thing. In fact, even when I’m traveling with my husband, we often split up in museums. I’m a slow museumer. I listen to the audio guide and read all the info plaques and pause to contemplate. Husband is kind of a glancer. So we both go through at our own pace, have the experience we want to have, and meet up at the end.
Solo travel is an opportunity to do that with an entire city. It’s just a totally different experience to be in your head for a few solid days (notwithstanding those shoot-the-breeze exchanges with strangers and uncomfortable encounters with smooth Italian men). I wouldn’t want to do it exclusively, never sharing travel experiences with my husband or family or friends, but it’s worth doing a couple times a year.
Every time I learn something about myself, I have the same reaction: “Dammit! How did I not know this? If I’d known this about myself 15 years ago, who knows what I could have done?!” It’s an ongoing surprise to me that I haven’t figured myself out yet. On one level, I’ve accepted that this self-knowledge project is probably going to be a life-long one, but I still resent it.
Anyway, solo travel tends to move my project forward at a far more rapid pace than regular life.
One of my favorite travel quotes is from the writer, William Least Heat Moon: “What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do–especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
That’s certainly not to say that our husbands or friends or anyone else is holding our past against us. Mine definitely are not. But I agree with Mr. Moon(?) (not sure where his surname begins), that what we’ve done becomes the judge of what we’re going to do. Our many little choices add up to create expectations and assumptions about who and what we are. Even in our own minds. Traveling solo–being free from the shackles of our usual place, and from the expectations we’ve set up for ourselves–opens up an entire world of possibilities. Our minds become completely free to reimagine who we are and what we want to be. And then we can take that new information home with us and revitalize our lives.
What holds women back?
Okay, so solo female travel is a raging trend. And it has all these amazing benefits. Then what holds a lot of women back? Why is it that when I tell people about my mom vacations, they always say, “Oh, I could never travel alone”?
Well, since this post is already verging on a dissertation, that is a topic for another post. I know, you’re just dying for me to address those blasted barriers! But for now tell me in the comments what holds you back. Or if you are uninhibited, what do you think holds other women back from solo female travel?
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