Solo travel can be incredibly rewarding, but women often face discouragement.
With cheap overseas travel on the rise, the appeal of setting off on a solo adventure has become more popular than ever. Since reaching adulthood, I have found the travel bug especially contagious, and now spend most of the academic year dreaming about my future plans abroad and excitedly searching for cheap and accessible holidays. Whilst solo-travel certainly isn’t for everyone, I find the idea of embarking on a month of interrailing, or spending weeks exploring different corners of the world by myself, incredibly alluring.
It seems I am not alone in this impulse; not only have studies shown that 80% of millennial travellers embark on their journeys alone, they also indicate that the number of women travelling solo is on the rise as well. Google searches for “solo female travel” increased by 52% between 2016 and 2017 – and in turn, hopefully those travellers’ sense of independence. American women have been globally ranked as the most likely to travel alone, contradicting the common misconception that doing so is too dangerous for women, and introducing a new perspective on female empowerment.
With solo travel there will inevitably come difficulties and reservations, and as women these doubts are even more apparent. Female travellers are often met with skepticism and eye rolls, and constantly warned of the dangers of setting off alone. Whilst tiring, these responses are understandable, with cases such as that of Grace Millane’s murder abroad so fresh in everyone’s minds. I found myself avoiding mentioning my plans altogether, as I already knew, before all else, that I would be forced to justify why I would ever put myself in the face of such jeopardy. I began to doubt myself and wondered if I should ask a friend or a family member to join me, or perhaps even call off the trip altogether.
Despite all of this, I went – and I went alone. Spending three weeks island-hopping in Greece and visiting gorgeous sights in Italy, I had never felt more con dent or invigorated. I was joined later in my journey by a friend from home, which was definitely welcomed, but no more so than the fortnight spent in my own company. I love the company of others, and going two weeks without chatting to my friends back in England (especially as I had left in the middle of Love Island season) made me a bit stir-crazy, but later I found myself missing the spontaneity and self-reflection that came from being alone.
I became so used to going to restaurants by myself that it was tricky replacing my absent- minded people-watching with conversations over dinner. I read more in those two weeks at the start of my travels than in my entire first year of university, reminding me of my love for books that I thought was lost forever. Normally quite reserved, I would at first force myself to make small-talk with locals or fellow travellers, but then fell into a habit of easy conversation.
I would wake up in the morning with a loose plan for the day, but more often than not would wander around wherever seemed appealing at that particular moment. One entire day was spent next to a beach in Syros, when I had originally intended to see the local museum and art gallery, just because I had come across a cat with her kittens. I decided that’s where I really wanted to be. It was a rare occasion where I had nobody else to please except for myself. On my first day in Italy, I channeled my inner Tom Haverford and decided to treat myself, resulting in the most delicious food coma on a patio in Salerno, watching the Amal sunset, and happily evaluating this small victory for self-growth.
Whilst my safety was definitely a number one priority, and not every day was as fulfilling as my time in Salerno, I felt that most of the well-wishers who constantly advised me on how to avoid danger seriously undervalued my common sense. I had people giving me advice as if I were a child, completely disregarding any sense of self-preservation I had acquired over 19 years and a cross-country move to England’s capital city. Being told not to wander off with strangers, not to walk around abandoned alleyways at dark, and to let at least one person know where I was at all times seemed incredibly patronising.
The double standard between the treatment of men and women becomes much more apparent in instances like this – the underlying idea sometimes being that a woman cannot take care of herself. Every raised eyebrow, doubtful remark, and condescending question makes women doubt their own potential, spreading unease throughout what should be an exciting and fulfilling process. While discussion about women’s safety abroad is timely and necessary, the way we go about it should be scrutinised. My experiences are of course not reflective of every woman, but in my opinion, this constant rhetoric can often unintentionally undermine our confidence.
Months before I left for my trip, I began compiling a comprehensive itinerary of everywhere I was planning to visit, detailing the contact information for all of my hostels, the specific trains that I was taking at certain times, and maps with local police stations. It became a 50-page document which I printed off for everyone I was close to, as well as keeping a copy for myself. By the second day I was already resenting this meticulous record of my every movement, as it restricted the spontaneity which underlined the original inspiration for my trip.
By Italy, the itinerary had been abandoned altogether. I found myself skipping certain cities to pursue what I knew I wanted deep down, whether that was to return to the Amal coast when I should have been journeying to Rome, or even heading home a few days earlier than planned. I found myself learning that, no matter how safe and secure the itinerary made me feel, in order to properly enjoy a trip like this, I couldn’t strategise my every move and still feel that I was expanding my comfort zone.
I have found the same experience of intensive, detailed planning mirrored in the stories of many female travellers I met while abroad, or even when coming home and sharing my experiences. However, what strikes me most is my conversations with male travellers. A moment that really highlighted the double standard of gendered travelling for me was hearing my brother’s own travel plans: to start off somewhere in Europe and go wherever he wanted. At first, I couldn’t wrap my head around the haphazardness of this method, but then realised that he had not endured the same warnings that I did. No one questioned his capability, and he could be spontaneous without the pressing questions or unwelcome advice.The same rules did not apply to him, and whilst I do recognise that there may be more of a threat to me as a woman than him as a man,I resent the implication that I am less able simply because of my gender.
Not once on my travels did I feel unsafe or regret my decision. At some points I did feel the loneliness kick in, but I look back on the entire experience fondly and am already planning a similar journey for this coming summer. I would recommend to anyone, male or female, to spend some time exploring somewhere completely alone if they are able to. Learning to love your own company and become your own best friend is such a rewarding experience. Mine has shown me the juxtaposition of attitudes towards male and female travellers. We must challenge this bias and learn to encourage, rather than tear down, the aspirations of women searching for self-fulfilment and independence.
This article was originally published in Issue 723 of Pi Magazine.