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Articles in it, exploring Urban Adventures women guides experiences of solo travel and life as women, inspired me to consider my own experience as a solo female traveller a little more deeply.
I began travelling solo in my mid 20s, firstly backpacking my way around Fiji and much of Australia and in 1993, taking a year's leave from my job, and heading off to explore Canada and Europe. Now in my mid 50s, I have continued to relish opportunities to travell solo, to many places around the world!
Travelling solo, particularly as a young woman gave me an incredible sense of empowerment and freedom, as well as important life lessons in resilience and cross-cultural communications. Whilst travelling as a young woman can have its disadvantages of unwanted attention from some aggressive and persistent men, the benefits and wonderful experiences for the majority of the time, outweigh such negatives. Certainly, travelling as a more mature woman has been utterly liberating and I would not trade youth and beauty for my more worn and less attractive appearance, for the world. It is so good to be taken as a serious person and not frequently be regarded as a sex object in the eyes of much of the world. Ease of travel is one of the benefits of growing older for women; no matter how sensibly we dress to avoid unwanted attention, a youthful body and face is pretty hard to disguise. Coupled with that, is the assumption, that as a solo woman traveller, you must be wealthy, even although you may be stretching your backpacker budget as far as you possible can in every destination you venture to.These days I seem to have earned a degree of social respect across cultures that age and increased wisdom delivers. As a result my travels have become increasingly adventurous. My experiences of travelling as a solo woman within predominantly Moslem countries and along the east coast of South America have been nothing but positive!
As a writer, photographer and animal lover, my impromptu cameo interactions with locals are invariably enriching and a sense of interconnectedness with so many individuals around the world is overwhelming. Affirmation that the majority of individuals on this planet are decent and good people is regularly evident. Yes, I am careful, but not unecessarily paranoid about personal belongings and security whilst I am travelling, but so too when I am moving beyond my home within Australia.
In a world where, even in Western societies like Australia, girls and women get conditioned and told repeatedly that the world is a dangerous place and there are many things women just can't or should not do, even the briefest of solo trips demonstrates we have very good survival skills, can navigate our way safely around unfamiliar surroundings, in places where we may not speak a word of the local language and have wondeful interactions with local people, simply in the process of finding accomodation, food and getting around the local sights.
Moreover as a solo woman traveller, interactions with locals and fellow travellers, tend to be on a deeper level, than if accompanied by a travel partner, as interaction with your travel partner tends to usurp the importance of most interactions with other people. Travelling solo, necessarily lifts the veil on companionship and opens you to many an opportunity and experience that those travelling in the company of one or more others, are unwittingly, excluded from. When travelling solo, I tend to have far longer exchanges with local staff, guides, vendors and strangers I meet along the way, than when travelling with a companion. As a result I am privilleged to learn far more about their lives and the place I am travelling in and return home with new insight and enthusiasm for life everywhere.
Travelling solo also accentuates how much you are responsible for your own positive experiences in life: from budgetting to afford your travel goal, to making decisions about choosing to take a taxi, rather than walk in a strange city at night, or even picking up enough local language for basic interactions for food purchase, accessing accomodation or public transport, as well as careful selection of luggage that doesn't encumber your travel options and pleasure, right down to selecting clothes that will fit in with local cultural expectations and not overly emphasise your feminine curves. All these things are vital choices any woman traveller makes, prior to and onwards from arriving at a travel destination.
Like most women, some degree of fear of strangers and the "unknown" has been conditioned into me, beginning with those fairy tales like "Little Red Riding Hood" and reinforced to some degree by our peers, families and friends as well as the broader media, with regular tales of brutal rapes, abductions and even murders of women venturing out, especially into the night on their own. I confess every time I set out on one of my solo travel adventures I get fearful to the point of nausea for a day or so before my departure, wondering what I am letting myself in for and will all those worst case scenarios eventuate for me. However, those fears are soon overcome, as I venture onto the plane and my real journey begins, invariaby enriching and as I always say, "a wonderful investment in myself".
One can lose out on any other form of investment, like the share or property market. However, no one can ever take away money and time any woman invests into her own education, including travel. It remains a personal asset, creates treasured memories and enriches your experience as a human being until your dying day. The world, its diverse peoples, other species and ecosystems is undeniably "awesome"!
Travel is also a window into the lives of other women wherever you go. Here I urge you to read the newly launched Urban Adventures Magazine and tribute issue to their women guides and leaders.
Urban Adventures run tours in urban settings in many places around the world. Part of the Intrepid/Peregrine travel tours stable, Urban Adventures offers tour that open cultural doors and experience, within the context of responsible travel. The value of having a local guide within unfamiliar cities where you are seeking a rich and enlightening experince of a new culture is invaluable, whether you are a seasoned traveller, or venturing solo for the first time.
Happy International Women's Day for 8th March and of course safe and happy travels and adventures!