Why Everyone Should Travel Solo at Least Once in Their Lifetime

By Vaishali Patel

The sound of trains was replaced by the sound of ambulance sirens… although not as frequent. There was absolute stillness outside as London was in stage 3 lockdown. But I was not feeling the same stillness inside. With normal life coming to a halt, I was forced to take a step off the hamster wheel and slow down, and this was making me feel anxious. I couldn’t use work, friends, community work, family or my hobbies as a distraction or a way to avoid myself and my life anymore.

My need to express my creativity was growing and I’d had enough of putting off the things I wanted to do. So I decided I would just do it: write that book that would inspire, empower, and support women to say yes to solo travel. 

As a South Asian female, solo travel was not encouraged within my family and community. I didn’t know of any women, apart from my cousin, that had travelled solo. It just wasn’t the norm and people feared what might happen to a woman travelling alone. It was culturally accepted that a woman travels with their husband, family or friends, or for work. Not alone for pleasure.

Somewhat nervous, I chose to break the mould in 2010 after being unhappy in a corporate job, my close friend passing away and the end of a relationship. The kind of travel I had planned was unplanned to a degree and very much about self-discovery and contributing to the countries that I had previously visited.

“The kind of travel I had planned was unplanned to a degree and very much about self-discovery and contributing to the countries that I had previously visited”

My travels saw me teaching English for 5 months in Shenyang, China, followed by a month of travel around China, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet. I then worked and travelled along the West Coast of Australia for a year while supporting an advocacy organisation for aboriginal peoples’ rights, which opened my eyes to a culture and history I knew nothing about. Finally, along with someone I met on a tour in Tasmania, I decided to fulfil my dream of going on a road trip around New Zealand for a month, where I immersed myself in the culture by staying with local people through CouchSurfing. I was not the same person when I came back. I had more of a sense of my own identity, the confidence to take risks and speak up and a deep trust in myself and the world.

I reflected that I was in the minority. Women were not travelling solo and many, as I had before, feared the unknown and stepping outside of their comfort zone. This is what drove me to write my book. I wanted to empower women to take the leap through telling the stories of female solo travellers. I wanted to demonstrate the life skills travelling brings which contributes to us being more authentic in ourselves, and to show how we can make a positive impact on the communities we encounter and come home to.

The book tells the stories of women that have travelled solo to discover and explore themselves, to follow their passions and creativity, or who have travelled for work purposes that led to unimaginable breakthroughs and key relationships that impacted their life.

It’s never too late to do what you want to do

Dawn had a successful career, beautiful family, the house and loved to travel, but beneath it all, she saw herself as an introvert that was incapable of doing and being more. She was playing small in life. Dawn started yoga practice during her divorce and the mental and physical changes that she experienced provided the impetus to her #letsnotplaysmall attitude. She loved to travel and challenged herself to build even more confidence and assurance in her capabilities by choosing to travel solo.

Dawn was scared and took on experiences and adventures aligned to her new attitude. She arrived terrified in Belize to face her fear of becoming scuba certified and left feeling brave and powerful. That first trip started the trajectory that eventually became a full-time nomadic lifestyle. Discovering her creative side in Morocco, she started healing though writing about what she was feeling and experiencing, and then started writing stories about people she met on her travels. Dawn is currently writing a book of her own to encourage and inspire women to live the life they desire by sharing the valuable life lessons she learnt along the way.

Dawn’s story is a great reminder that it’s never too late to do what you want to do. Following an early retirement, she funds her nomadic lifestyle by being financially resourceful with her savings and retirement funds, and earns extra money through teaching abroad as a result of her TEFL certification. She also joined a housesitting website to have free accommodation along the way.

Discover world issues and do something about it

Lucille worked as an education professor at a Francophone faculty when she was chosen to represent Canada on a five-week program in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It was her first trip to Africa and the first time she travelled solo, leaving her husband with their 20 month old son. Challenging perceptions of “when a woman has a child, she has a responsibility”, she took a leap of faith, had the difficult conversation with her family, and ventured into the unknown.

Lucille had to embrace ambiguity and chose to take advantage of this cross-cultural experience as a teacher and as a citizen of the world. She knew there was something for her to learn. In five weeks, her view of the world was transformed. In private conversations and exchanging realities with her African delegates, she was privy to how systems work in different cultures, and this raised her level of consciousness regarding morals and lifestyles. She travelled to Africa consistently over the next 7 years, for 3-week educational and humanitarian projects with her university students. During these trips Lucille created long-lasting relationships with African women by the sharing of stories about their lives.

When Lucille retired, she chose to pursue her dream and create a foundation to empower African women. In 2020, she created the charity ‘Hand in Hand with African Women’ to create sustainable structures that help them become autonomous, self-reliant, and free in a dignified way. Today, the charity works with three African communities who are developing enterprises of their own.

Build it and they will come

Marie dreamt of living in a place with palm trees and warm weather all year around. With a teaching degree and seven years of experience she landed a teaching job in a tough neighbourhood in a city called Compton, Los Angeles. She lived in LA for two years and that experience was pivotal to her life journey. She knew no one and knew that if anything was going to be created it was going to be through her and the connections she made. She met people serendipitously who offered her accommodation and jobs and formed her community of friends. She was living her best life and the sense of possibility that existed in LA where anything was possible.

Marie returned to Alberta, Canada two years later with that sense of possibility and “build it and they will come” attitude never left her. She met her husband and with both being possibility thinkers and staying in that sense of adventure, they started a new business together. When her husband passed away, Marie left her educational career and stepped into leading a construction business that had a great reputation. She found herself travelling solo again, finding her way as a leader and being a role model for others, particularly women, to step up to board positions in the construction industry. She didn’t know anything about being a CEO but believed she would find her way and there would be people that would support and help in that journey. Just like her solo travels.

Cooped up and worn out, Covid had made many of us reassess our goals and wants. What better time than now to travel solo and discover what good is possible?

Vaishali Patel

@vaishali_tedx / vaishali@vaishali-patel.com.


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