My parents lived in North Africa for 15 years. When I was in my eighth grade, I flew unaccompanied from New Delhi to Rome, stayed the night, and flew to Africa the next morning. I was supposed to make this trip with another family friend’s daughter, but she was unable to travel. I studied in a boarding school, which meant I didn’t have flexibility with my travel dates. Of course, both my parents and I were nervous at first. What started out as, “Oh God, how will I manage?” ended up as being the biggest confidence-booster of my life. In the day of no cell phones, internet or social media, I was able to safely travel across three continents. I liked being in charge and the feeling of freedom. The trip became a huge learning experience.
Even as adults, both my husband and I love exploring different parts of the world. Travel is our guilty pleasure. But I continue to go on solo trips. What might have started as an unintended exploration in the eighth grade has now become a ritual. The more I pack my bags and travel to different corners of the world by myself, the lighter and more grounded I feel.
Here are five reasons every woman should go on a solo trip at least once in her lifetime:
1) You can let go of your fears: I remember attending a writing retreat in a village in Portugal over a decade ago. I don’t speak Portuguese. I had to fly into Lisbon and take a bus down to the southwestern part of Portugal and wait for the director to pick me up in the village. Those weren’t the days of Google Maps or Instagram travel tips or any translation apps. It was so exciting to discover a new country in a way I had never once done. I felt more confident and connected deeply with the locals. After I took this trip, I let go of my fears of being in a strange place or fear of not speaking the language or fear of something going wrong. Once I took this trip alone, I no longer felt threatened by my own thoughts.
2) You can honor what you want: Depending on whether you have kids or are married or live in a joint family, as a woman, you are constantly taking care of what others want. If you are with friends, you might do things to keep them happy. I know I will often pick peace over everything else. When you’re on a solo trip, you get to focus on you. There’s no external interference with your plans. The freedom to do whatever you want without feeling guilty or getting into an argument is quite priceless.
3) You learn about survival instincts: I was in Europe in 2010 when a series of volcanic events at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland caused enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe. I was supposed to meet my husband after one week of stay at the writing residency in Ireland and travel across the country with him.
With airports closed, all hotels were either booked or overpriced. So, I was stranded in Ireland. An Indian Irish author offered me a room in her home. She is one of the most generous people I know for sure. After a week, once travel resumed, I caught a flight back to NYC. I liked relying on myself in moments of crisis instead of being co-dependent on my husband. I liked connecting with my host in a meaningful way. I definitely developed very reliable character skills.
4) You get to know yourself: I often see women quite disconnected with themselves. They know what their partners or children or parents or friends or even pets want or like. But they rarely make the time to explore their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s not their fault; society has done a good job on conditioning us women to take on the nurturing role. It’s not easy to shake that feeling that you’re doing something utterly selfish by focusing on yourself. But being all by yourself is the perfect opportunity to get to know your true self. What are your triggers? What excites you. What are your strengths and shortcomings? What’s your favorite food? Sometimes we see ourselves as how people describe us, but is that true? For example, I am an extroverted introvert. I recharge around people, but I also need a lot of quietude and stillness. I cannot always be in hustle-mode. And I learned this about myself as I started doing solo travel and started carving out downtime. When we travel as a couple with friends or family, the expectation is, “Sweta is the bubbly one. She will do the talking.” Or if I am quiet, people assume something is off.
5) The freedom is priceless: My husband is a non-demanding guy. But I care about him, so I will hold space for what he wants and needs. I have no complaints doing so because he does the same. But solo travel gives me the permission to experience freedom on a deeper level. It’s refreshing to not think about someone else’s needs for a change. Solo adventures can be cathartic. It’s therapeutic. It’s liberating. No influence over my plans and doing exactly what I want to do without over-analyzing anything. When you take a solo trip, no matter the destination, you’ll realize just how capable you are of doing things.
If solo travel is a new concept to you, it might feel daunting and selfish. As in, if you struggle to make time for yourself or feel like your life should be dedicated to others — be it people at work, time spent raising your children, caregiving for the elderly in your family, or being there for your partner’s every need — there might come a time where you reflect and feel a little sad and lost. Who were you before these relationships defined you?
Traveling alone as a woman can help you rediscover the real you. It can shift your perspective and transform your confidence levels. I know I return home refreshed, grateful, empowered, liberated, and confident after every solo trip. Are you feeling ready to travel alone as a woman?
Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it? ~ Caroline Myss
For more of The Balanced Life on SEEMA.com, check out Friendship: The World’s Finest Gift