Two weeks have now passed since I returned home from my trip to Spain and Turkey. As the excitement of graduation and being with my family mixed with a wave of reverse culture-shock washes over, I find myself ready to start writing all about it. During those amazing six weeks abroad—that accidentally turned into seven but saving that story for another time—I learnt a lot about travel and especially about travelling as a solo woman. So, I thought it would be fun to begin by sharing some of the lessons that I feel will apply to any solo female traveller.
1. Getting out the door will be the hardest part. In contrast to my past travels that were affiliated with an organization, i.e. universities, putting this trip together was more stressful as I had to research and decide on everything myself. This led to overthinking at times. What if x happens? What if y goes wrong? Is z really the better option? Fortunately, I have found that you can prepare enough and the rest just sorts itself out on the road. Even the problems that arise are not as earth-shattering as we imagine they would be in our heads. It’s like that quote by Paulo Coelho: “the fear of suffering is far worse than the suffering itself.”
2. Hostels will give you travel buddies. The main disadvantage of hotels or Airbnb is that they can’t really provide the community that hostels can. Hostels allow you to meet other young travellers from all over the world who, just like you, are new to the city and excited to be there. There are a lot of other women travelling on their own too which means that it is easy to make, what I call, best friends for a day and go explore with other like-minded people. Plus, the staff are always there to answer your questions, offer tips and provide directions. Every hostel has its own character and there is no doubt that your travel experience can be infinitely better if you enjoy yours.
3. Most guys will hit on you. I get it. There is a young, single, pretty foreign girl who is, moreover, only around for a short time (read: no strings attached). Surely, any such girl or group of girls would attract attention from travellers or locals alike and this is true in Spain and Turkey as well. Like from the guy who works at the hostel. That guy staying at your hostel. Those guys you just met. That guy who works at the restaurant. That man who is way older than most of the girls around but will hit on them anyway. And most likely, they are not looking for friendship. Although it was all harmless in my experience and amusing at first, I did grow tired of it. Solution? Do bring a fake wedding ring to avoid unwanted attention.
4. Some people will feel sorry for you. This was a bit frustrating. While I was having the time of my life, I would come across other female travellers every now and then who would say something along the lines of, “oh, I could never do that but good for you!” Sometimes, it was a genuine compliment but sometimes, the tone implied “you’re crazy” at which point I tried my best to remain cordial. Some of the locals also felt bad for me but I didn’t mind as much. They were always friendly about it and often more hospitable as a result; this allowed me to learn more about their culture too. I do hope though that overtime, society will become more accepting of solo female travel and not see it as something that is a given impossible or [insert other stereotypes here].
5. You will get travel fatigue. While researching for this trip, I both read and heard that six weeks was long enough to expect weariness at some point and want familiar experiences yet I did not take it seriously. I loved travel, I thought. How could I get tired of it? But a month in, I so did. One week after arriving in Istanbul, I began to feel exhausted, apathetic to travel-related activities and even homesick; I may have also gotten mild food poisoning which did not help. Initially, I thought maybe I had simply become lonely but in hindsight, that was not it. After a couple of days of moping around, I finally decided to pursue the familiar experience and went to the movies. Now, perhaps it was my Marvel obsession or Hugh Jackman but I really enjoyed X Men: Days of Future Past and felt increasingly uplifted. Something just clicked and by the time I left the cinema, it was like my old, happy, energetic self had come back to me! I began enjoying myself again and Istanbul is now my favourite city out of everywhere I have been. So, moral of the story: if you find yourself facing travel fatigue, relax for a few days and try doing something super normal that you enjoy back home. You will get better if you keep trying, I promise.
6. It will be one of the most liberating experiences you have ever had. Despite some of the challenges, solo female travel is definitely worthwhile and gives you a sense of freedom like nothing else. You can choose where you want to go and what you want to do everyday. It is true that only you will ever know about all the wonderful things that you have seen since no one else shared the whole experience with you. Nevertheless, realizing that you somehow managed all of this on your own is incredibly empowering and I strongly believe that every woman should travel alone at least once.