Isabella Bird, Sophia Danenberg, Ida Pfeiffer, Amelia Earhart.
What do these women have in common? Two things: a badass attitude to life, and solo female travel.
Bird and Pfeiffer both travelled the world alone in the 1800’s, ticking off destinations like Persia, Kurdistan, Turkey and Morocco, and completely smashing perceptions of women at the time. Danenberg was the first black woman to summit Mount Everest in 2006, and Earhart the first to fly solo across the Atlantic – almost the entire globe – before her disappearance in 1937.
These women not only dared to do what no woman had done before, but they also challenged stereotypes and prejudices which all too often crush the dreams and hopes of young girls. Thanks to their courage, solo female travel has slowly become less taboo, less dangerous and less risky in the eyes of the world. Nowadays, thousands upon thousands of women do it every year. And you know what? They have a bloody good time.
Yet even today, when I find myself solo in a foreign place, introducing myself to a fellow hostel mate, I am met with surprise. “You’re alone?!” They ask. “And how old are you? What do your parents think? Isn’t it a bit risky?” Then comes my all-time favourite question, “Aren’t you scared?”
Scared of what?
Scared of going out and discovering the world through my own eyes, learning new things every day, and becoming a better person for it? Scared of having the independence to do whatever I feel like doing every day, without compromise?
Of course what these people are really asking is, “Aren’t you scared for your safety?”, and while this is a legitimate concern, I firmly believe that in the majority of overseas destinations, you are no more in danger than you would be in your home country. If you follow your gut, take the usual precautions, and exercise common sense above all, then everything will be okay. Those pickpockets in Barcelona don’t care what gender you are, and whether you travel alone or on a 40-person Contiki tour. A wallet is a wallet in their books!
If I couldn’t encourage anything more than solo travel – whatever your gender. For many Australians, by the time the end of Year 12 rolls around, the idea of diving into another 5 years of books, classes and assignments creates a heavy knot in the stomach. So instead, many dive into the deep end of life by travelling on a gap year. I myself flew to India, and then to Europe, with no plans of coming back any time soon. I was 18, alone, nervous, and with no idea what the fuck I was doing.
Stepping off that plane in New Delhi and into a thick fog of humidity, dust, and a lingering countrywide smell I’ll never be able to accurately describe, my mind was drenched in doubt. My grandma, meanwhile, had all but prepared my funeral.
Was I crazy, naïve or too innocent to understand how big bad and scary the world really is?
As each day went by those questions were answered. I gained confidence in my stride. A month in India flew by, and I suddenly found myself in Brussels, waffle in hand, a smile slapped on my face – a smile that did not fade for the next 8 months as I traversed 24 different countries, all alone, all female.
In the end, the only reason solo female travel is seen as a risky activity is a lack of understanding, and a perception set in the past. Women like Bird, Danenberg, Pfeiffer and Earhart serve as a reminder to us that we have been doing this for years, and it is only fear that holds us back.
Every day, women all over the world step off that plane. They find that monsters don’t jump out from the shadows. As most realise that their dream destination was actually a thousand times better than they expected, they might ask themselves why they didn’t go sooner.
You will never know if you don’t try and will only regret the places you don’t go to.
This may have sounded preachy, and maybe I still am naïve, but if I can instill even a fraction of confidence in women to pack their bags and go, then I have been successful. That feeling when you return home with fresh eyes to view the world with, and a spring in your step, knowing you just did a Very Cool Thing, is worth more than the comfort of home. Your friends will surround you, you will share all your incredible stories, and then invariably, one will ask, “Weren’t you scared?” You can then answer that yes, you were, and God, was it worth it!