The first time I traveled alone, I spent part of my time on a backpacker bus in New Zealand. As far as solo travel, that’s about as easy as it gets -- a) it’s New Zealand, and b) you’re “alone” on a bus full of other travelers, that takes you from point A to point B to point C, so you really don’t have to worry about much.
And yet, time and again I met other women who were shocked that I was traveling alone.
“I could never do that,” they would say. “You’re so brave.”
At the same time, those women were gutsier than they even realized, because there are plenty of women back home who would say the same thing about traveling abroad at all, whether with another woman, or even a man or group. In short, it takes a gutsy woman to travel abroad, alone or otherwise, and we think more courageous women out there should take the leap! Travel. Take a gap year. Volunteer. Teach. Get out there.
Recognize Your Own Courage
That very mentality -- that “I could never do that” thought -- is the very reason women should travel. Challenging yourself to do something you don’t think you can do, or that everyone else is saying you can’t do -- that takes guts.
Traveling gives you confidence beyond what you can even imagine. It teaches you things about yourself that you would so rarely otherwise have the opportunity to learn.
You can take care of yourself. You can meet new people. You can meet new people and be interesting enough for them to want to know you and hang around you.
You can navigate a language barrier or learn a new language. Get around in an unfamiliar culture with unfamiliar foods.
You can adjust. You can be flexible. You can deal with disappointments and maybe even disasters.
You can navigate the world.
These are important lessons for life in general, and especially for women. We live in a world where women need to stand up and challenge the status quo, and that’s exactly what traveling teaches you to do. Not to mention, it will open your eyes to a whole new perspective on the way the world can be, and the way women can fit into it -- whether it’s a more or less equal or progressive way than you know at home.
Take a Leap of Faith -- and Ignore the Naysayers
But the first step is to jump. To go travel even when it terrifies you.
When I told people I was traveling to South America alone for three months after graduating college, the responses tended to be a variation of the same thing: “But aren’t you afraid you’ll get kidnapped/raped/murdered?”
Do you think a man would get those kinds of questions about traveling solo? Or even just traveling in general? Maybe to a degree, but people really try to scare women in particular about traveling. It doesn’t help that anytime something bad happens to a woman abroad, it is all over the news. And in a small way, the woman is blamed for taking the risk of traveling to somewhere “unsafe.” Rarely does the news even mention when something similar happens to a male traveler, so it comes off as if these things only happen to women, and only happen because they are women -- and foreign women at that.
But if you’re smart when you travel, then you will face little to no greater risk of threat or danger than you would at home. In fact, I found that in most places I traveled, the locals -- male and female alike -- tend to watch out for foreign females.
I won’t turn this into an article about how to stay safe abroad, but the important thing is to know that you can. Whether you’re traveling alone or with others, traveling abroad as a woman is possible to do safely, and it is fun! Indeed, you will find that you may even have an easier timing make inroads into another culture as a woman.
Keep Pushing Yourself
Once you know you can do it, and you get out there on the road, don’t let yourself forget how capable you are. Be confident. (It’s great practice for when you get home and you are more confident due to your travels!) Don’t hide away in your hotel room afraid of what the world out there might have in store for you. Get out there and do something that scares you!
If you’re alone, make friends. Don’t believe that crap that you can’t go out at night -- places and people take on a whole new life and perspective at night!
Be smart and follow your instincts, but have some guts also, you can’t be suspicious of everyone and everything.
Don’t turn down dinner invitations or offers of assistance from a local. Be smart and follow your instincts (and perhaps, read a few of our tips for traveling as a woman), but have some guts also. You can’t be suspicious of everyone and everything.
And perhaps that is one of the greatest things you’ll learn while abroad, and one of the things that will help make you that gutsy girl you’ve always dreamed of being. The more you listen to your gut and follow your instincts, the more you’ll hone those skills, trust your own judgment, and learn your limits (and how much you can push them!).
Meet Other Gutsy Women
While you’re on the road, you’re sure to meet other women who inspire you with their ballsiness and courage as well. Not just other travelers who are out there, pushing their own limits and proving the naysayers wrong, but local women as well.
You, as a woman, will experience places differently than men, and it’s not always negative. Whether it’s being invited into the women’s quarter in Morocco and witnessing just how much work goes into preparing tajine for a family of 10, or volunteering for women’s rights and meeting strong women who are taking their rights into their own hands, your gender allows you to freely move into these spaces.
You get to learn first hand how women in other countries are being gutsy in their own rights, fighting for the chance to work and have a family at the same time, to stand up to domestic violence, and be accepted as equals to men. Even if our home countries have already gone through much of this, it’s empowering to witness the process first hand and — more importantly — it makes you appreciate more fully just how gutsy our mothers and grandmothers were to stand up for themselves. It helps us never take for granted the world we’ve grown up in.
Reap the Rewards!
With all that knowledge inside of you, the barriers you used to imagine will suddenly fade away. I spent a lot of my life thinking there were a lot of things I just couldn’t do -- things I was incapable of, or things that were just beyond my comfort zone, out of my reach, or “just not for me.” How incredibly wrong I was! From my first trip abroad with a student group at age 12, and to this day with each time I travel, I learn more and more about how strong, capable, and gutsy I am.
If I could skydive, I could ace a job interview. If I could befriend new strangers every few days on the road, I could overcome my shyness to work as a journalist, and I could pick up my life and move to a new city for a new opportunity.
Are You a Gutsy Woman?
I used to be a “no” person. I would make excuses to get out of anything and everything, because I was afraid. Traveling taught me to say “yes.” And looking back on the past 10+ years of my life, that is probably the biggest change I have experienced. It has totally changed the course of my life. It takes guts to say yes to uncertainty, to leave home and travel, volunteer, or study abroad and come home stronger. But to truly live, you have to gather the courage to do it.Photo Credits: Elaina Giolando, Anne Lowrey, Alyssa Berkowitz, and Brian Gregory.