“JULIA, why do you have so many pictures of guys in your holiday photos, and no girls?”
My mum begs that question every time I put up a happy snap of me next to a fellow traveller, which happens to be men most of the time.
The answer is simply that I haven’t met many female solo travellers.
It has been over a year since I left the shores of Australia and embarked on my first fully unplanned adventure. I have travelled a lot in tour groups, with friends and as a solo traveller since getting a taste of the big wide world nine years ago.
Most recently, I stayed in Thailand for a month, went diving off the island paradise of Koh Tao and then spent a whirlwind five days in Sri Lanka. On a side note, if you ever have the chance to go to Sri Lanka, jump on it, it’s an underrated destination and one of my favourites out of all 57 countries (and counting) I’ve been to.
So how does one cope with being a single female traveller with no structure, no plans, no routine and no timeline — just a suitcase stuffed with clothes and a passport?
To say it has been a rollercoaster ride is pretty accurate. It has been physically and emotionally draining. No, I’m not asking you to pull the violin out and play a sad song, “Oh how hard it must be to travel around the world so freely”. I can’t complain. I look back on this year and despite its ups and downs, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I’ve had the best year of my life and received the best education the world can offer, which has been instrumental to my understanding of relationships and people from all walks of life.
The most important quality to possess in doing such a crazy, insane yet exciting quest is to be open. One needs to be open to ideas, meeting new people, new places and — at times — the idea of letting others take control.
But what I find most important, is to be open to failure and disappointments. In my travels I decided to view such failures and disappointments as positives. Because without the failures, disappointments or frustrations, how does one really enjoy the risks that pay off or those times when you truly are in ecstasy?
The ups of my travelling adventures include going backstage at Stockholm’s prestigious performance venue Gröna Lund and watching the popular Swedish metal band Ghost from backstage.
There was also the time I got to feel like an honorary Dutch woman by joining locals in celebrating Kings’ Day in Amsterdam. We started the day with street party hopping, then danced on a canal boat down the river and capped the day with a music festival along the water.
Another highlight was going to Russia by cruise and feeling completely out of my comfort zone due to the language barrier and the fact I felt so alien yet I loved the feeling at the same time. Being in Berlin for the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall was truly a humble moment with joining the celebration on the streets of what seemed like the whole population of Berlin.
I also need to include Finnish Lapland as a highlight. Besides seeing nature at its’ finest by witnessing the Northern Lights, I joined in with a favourite Finnish past time by going in a naked sauna with old Finnish men and people I’d barely known for 24 hours!
Yes they were all ups but with those moments of true happiness came those moments of true despair. The downsides include feeling completely lost — literally and emotionally.
I got stranded off an island near Gotland in the Baltic Sea with no-one in sight due to my poor transportation planning, where I had naively thought I could just casually stroll to certain attractions whenever I wanted.
Or the time I lugged my suitcase along a highway in the early hours due to the public transport not being operational. I tried to look poor and pathetic, hoping that someone would sympathise with my situation and offer me a lift. Thank God the Swedish are lovely people and hitchhiking is deemed safe in Europe.
I have to make mention of those moments of intoxication and getting someone later to relay my audacious activities to me. How ashamed I was. There were also the times where my indecisiveness really plagued me and I felt paralysed by the endless options I had of where to go and where to work.
Granted, I know that I am very fortunate to be able to travel and to have this much freedom however it can also be overwhelming at times and you just wished someone could take the bull by the horns and make a decision for you.
Other misfortunes of travelling are typical to many travellers alike. Like the time I missed my connecting flight even though I was at the airport. Or the time I missed my ferry, my bus, lost my expensive headphones, missed my ferry again, got sick, had an infected toe and was on crutches for two weeks. Phew!
Without all those moments, it wouldn’t have been the adventurous and soul-searching year it was. I just tell myself to accept those moments as bad outcomes, move on and put it simply as a story ‘to tell the kids one day’.
At times, travelling solo was a confidence boost in some lady-stricken locations as men would flock to you like seagulls. Free drinks were had, cheers lads! You want to carry my stupidly overpacked suitcase up the stairs? Please do! You want to pay for my meal? Thank you. OK I just noted the advantages of being a solo female traveller, and yes maybe the above can be deemed as sexist. But that is not why I choose to travel solo.
Not many females want to travel solo because of safety concerns, the constant stress of building a successful career, a lack of confidence and fear, which I think is the biggest one of them all. Fear to be by yourself. Fear of loneliness. Fear of not knowing what is going to happen and who you may meet. Personally, there were only a few occasions I truly felt alone.
I choose to travel solo to learn about myself and also to learn about the world and how to understand people better. But with some of those above positive elements of being the lonesome female, there were certainly the downsides. Sometimes all I really wanted was to have some female company to hang out with, to confide in and talk girlie stuff in real time and not on Facebook to friends at home.
And when I did find those rare single independent (travelling) women, I connected with them on such an intense level of friendship. To this day, I maintain contact with those three solo female travellers I have met along the way — one from Brazil, the Netherlands and from Australia.
There were times when I felt unsafe and opted not to go out to places but those moments were rare. There were also times I had to endure some sort of inappropriate comment from male travellers, tolerable but luckily I am not one to get easily offended or to grapple on the defensive. With those instances, I would just ‘Shake it Off’ (thanks Tay Tay).
But on the most part, I found travelling solo and as an independent single woman to be exhilarating, exciting and interesting — especially for the fact that I had no plans to begin with.
I do have an ultimate goal that I would like to achieve however, and I’ve taken my time to get there because I have been open to new possibilities, people and places along the way. I couldn’t recommend travelling any other way.
Maybe I’ve escaped the stock standard, expected route of life but that is another longwinded discussion in itself. Not only would you look back on the ups and downs of travelling but think of your learning, your personal growth and the fact you have travelled as one of your biggest achievements!
I’ve had people call me free-spirited and brave along the way. Never would I have viewed myself in that way, but maybe I am. I also get that it may seem like I am flimsy, flaky and confused about what I want in life as I have had no concrete plans and to the observer they may think; ‘What is that girl doing with her life? Is she lost?’. Yeah maybe I was, maybe I still am but don’t they say sometimes ‘to find yourself, you’ve got to lose yourself’?
So girls, if you want to learn about yourself and have this ultimate adventure and most of all learn to be open to all possibilities, pack your suitcase and just go for it. My mum would also be very happy too if I had more females in my holiday snaps! So do it for her.
Julia is a travel blogger at theroamingflamingo.com.