A few months ago, I set out on a (very) short trip across the Pacific Ocean. What had been a dream for years turned into a spur-of-the-moment ticket booking prompted by a Grabaseat deal. I was going to Vancouver!
Now, this isn’t a chance to boast about my holiday stories (cause let’s be real, no one REALLY wants to hear all about that a-mahzing dinner I had in Whistler), but I do want to talk about some of the things I learnt and experienced while I was travelling alone.
DISCLAIMER: I was in Canada for about 10 days. I know this is a super short time in a country that is considered very safe so I promise to know claim to know everything about travelling alone – this is more about the misconceptions I had and the things I found, rather than a “this is exactly what it’s like for every single woman ever who’s traveled alone”. ‘Cause that’s BS.
So. I’d been wanting to go to Canada for literal years. British Columbia in particular always stood out to me as 1. beautiful naturally, and 2. an interesting urban space. The problem was that I was terrified of traveling on my own. I knew that none of my friends had the money to come with me halfway round the world, and I always thought Contiki wasn’t flexible enough for me to enjoy. So I put off traveling. I’m a small female, I have little-to-no experience traveling. I’d be in danger, lonely, hopeless, judged, abused. There was no way I could travel alone, right?
As any women who’s ever spent some time out on her own will know – I was oh-so-stupid.
Going to Canada was such a ‘duh’ moment for me, because duh, of course I can do stuff on my own. Duh, of course it’s possible for women to go travelling. But too often, that’s not what we are told. We’re told the world is a dangerous place, as women we can’t even walk at night in our own neighbourhoods – let alone traveling across the world. It’s like we’re incapable of common sense, that we have to abide by certain times we can and can’t go out, certain places we can and can’t go.
Is the world dangerous? Obviously.
Are women placed in situations that put them in danger, make them uncomfortable, and want to avoid that particular place? Obviously.
Is it smart to walk alone in a sketchy neighbourhood at 3am on a Friday? Obviously not.
My point is that place and space are contextual. I could be in more danger in my own suburb than half way across the world. Common sense is common sense no matter where you are. That means that the world isn’t off limits if you’re just smart about how you travel.
I was amazed at how smoothly my trip went. Sure, at one or two points I was in situations which made me feel uncomfortable. That’s normal, and I dealt with them. But for the most part, it was amazingly easy and safe. I’d found this whole new confidence in myself and my abilities.
Obviously I’m not an expert, far from it. I went on one trip to a fairly safe place, for a short amount of time. This isn’t advice. But I did honestly feel like the world opened up to me after I went away. I met women who had traveled Europe alone for months, hopping between hostels around the world. I was no longer afraid that going to a movie alone meant that everyone was judging me.
For me, it was more than just realising you can have a safe experience somewhere new when you’re on your own. It was realising that we too often limit ourselves because we think that being alone is wrong. I’d never eaten at a restaurant by myself before my trip. I had always felt like people would be watching me, feeling sorry for me, and wondering why I was alone. But the truth is that no one gives a shit. I can’t remember any time I even noticed a person eating on their own, expect when I served them as a waitress. And honestly, I never thought twice about it when I did – but for some reason I felt like I would be the exception? It made no sense.
People are generally too caught up in their own lives to notice you. Movie theatres are dark, restaurants are busy. And there is nothing more peaceful than walking a track through the bush by yourself. You can stop and take pictures as often as you want without worrying that the person you’re with is getting annoyed! Now that’s freedom.
I don’t necessarily have a big, save the world point to this post. I don’t have suggestions, I can’t judge what other women feel safe doing. I’m not here to tell everyone to travel on their own. But I do want women to feel like it can be an option. We’re still dependent in that we are still told that we are too fragile, too small, too in danger to do anything on our own. And I seriously want to contest that.
Do harassment and abuse still exist? Of course they do. And that’s not something I’d ever try to contradict. We’re always going to need to be vigilant, be street smart. But I hate the thought of limiting my experiences because I’m afraid.
Take it in steps. Or don’t. Everyone is different, and everyone wants different things. But don’t let fear hold you back from doing the things you love (#deep).
And hey, if watching a movie alone means I can watch the show without someone whispering in my ear at crucial moments – sign me up.