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Why Going Solo is a Wonderful Travel Option
The challenges (and delights) of long-term solo travel for women

Going solo for the longer term isn't something you should approach lightly: it's different from other kinds of travel and carries with it a number of twists and turns you won't find in a brief vacation away from home. 

I love solo travel - I don't always travel on my own but when I do, especially long-term, I look at things differently than when I travel with others.

Who hasn't experienced coping with culture shock, especially when settling down in a place for more than a few days? You can gloss over differences if you're breezing through but living like a local means having to accept things in a different way.

If you traveled to certain countries of the Middle East, would you be willing to wear a chador or burkha on a daily basis? What about a simple scarf over your hair? Sometimes it's easier if you're just passing through but day in and day out, adapting might be a challenge.

When in Rome... or in this case, Istanbul.

Long-term travel usually brings out a great deal of introspection in me. With no one to hide behind or bounce things off, I talk to myself more often (figuratively, of course).

Going solo encourages me to think, to explore, to concentrate and to take risks. It forces me to 'enter' my surroundings more deeply, to make conscious decisions about whether I will become 'a part of' or simply 'apart'.

As I traveled around Africa and Asia for more than three years on my own, here are some of the challenges I grappled with.

A particularly beautiful or moving moment would have me looking around for someone to share it with - so I learned all about managing travel loneliness, especially during special times of the year.

Simple things would push my limits - like eating out on my own.

There were days I felt travel burnout and I'd wonder whether I could continue: too many churches/mosques/ruins/development projects. Too much of everything different, too much motion.

Istanbul coffee cup for oneEating alone can easily become a habit - it doesn't have to, but being on your own shouldn't stop you from enjoying the finer things

Sometimes the challenge came from relationships... relationships left behind, relationships started... or something as simple as unwanted male attention, common in many countries, for women of every age.

A challenge would be how to understand the language and the culture; moving to Thailand tested me on the language front. Getting rid of my stereotypes took a bit of time. And there were days I found it harder to cope with poverty and need and deal with street beggars. I also had to learn to deal with different definitions of honesty and how to deflect travel scams. Mastering the art of haggling was an essential tool.

I had to decide such simple things as travel style - would I be backpacking, flashpacking or traveling in luxury? And if I were to travel long-term again I'd have to learn all about traveling with my pet: I have two dogs I would be unable to leave behind for any length of time.

One of the greatest challenges of long-term travel was... coming home and the reverse culture shock I had to deal with when nothing was as I'd left it yet everything was the same - I can't quite explain it other than by saying I didn't fit in at first, not for a long time. And once home, I'd be ready to go all over again and make new year resolutions that were all about travel.

The beauty of going solo was the learning and the discovery, especially the self-discovery. I started with baby steps, thinking I'd only be gone for six months. At first I was, but I just kept going.

Indigenous woman in BorneoA woman from the Rungus ethnic group of northern Sabah practices the nose flute, one of many traditions endangered by industrialization and urbanization (Anne Sterck)