Solo travel for women. Traveling alone. Independent female travel. Going round the world. Taking a gap year. Adventure travel.
Call it what you will. If you've tried it, you know it can change your life. If you haven't, get ready for the ride.
Those of us who have spent significant time solo on the road may not realize how much it can change us.
After years of travel, everything began to look different. Some things that had mattered before just fell off my radar screen. Others I hadn't even thought of took a front-row seat.
If you lacked independence or self-confidence, solo travel will make you more self-sufficient. You will cope with situations you hadn't even dreamed of before, like finding your way out of a hostile place or being lost. Even if you don't know a word of the language, you'll find a way to communicate. You'll use your arms and hands, pull out your high school French or hand over a map. You'll figure it out. You'll learn to cope because you'll have no alternative. And if you get into trouble, you'll find a way out. You'll trust your instincts more.
You'll become more flexible. Instead of getting upset when things don't happen as or when they should, you'll learn to go with the flow. Many cultures have a saying: No Worries, or something similar. You'll learn to make that motto your own.
Little things won't bother you anymore. No bus? No problem. You'll travel tomorrow. Or next week. No money? No problem. Something will work out. Someone takes your seat? Jumps the line? Too insignificant to matter.
You'll learn to push your limits and step our of your comfort zone. Solo travel isn't always easy for women - but you'll overcome problems more quickly. Things that might scare you - like dining out alone - will become second nature. Perhaps you'll use your travel to stretch yourself in other ways - by joining an ashram or kibbutz or other unfamiliar environment. You may even thrive on the challenge.
You'll be learning new things every day - words and phrases in a foreign language, how people live, what they eat, how they treat one another... or learning to meditate or do yoga or write or paint. Your learning may be more mundane - accepting to try new foods or to wear different clothes. Politics and history will become real for you rather than something you read about or watch on TV.
If you used to run to the doctor every time you experienced mild pain, this will change. You'll learn to take care of your own health, especially in rural areas where medical care may be non-existent. Don't neglect your travel insurance or first aid kit checklist, but learn a few basics about how to deal with illness when no one else is around. You'll feel more empowered if you know you can face health issues with knowledge and confidence, at least until you can get yourself to a doctor.
Our everyday lives tend to be filled with impatience - when the bus runs a few minutes late or the restaurant table isn't ready on time... solo travel changes all that. In many societies, time is measured in days or weeks, not in minutes or hours. As you travel, your sense of time will change. If someone's late, they probably had a reason. You'll find out in due time. If someone doesn't show up, you'll see them another day. Rather than concentrating on what you don't have, you'll be focusing on the day, on 'what's next'.
You've often heard that poverty means living on less than $2 a day. As you travel solo and pay more attention, you'll understand the word poverty in a different way. Rather than watch it on television, you'll be breathing the stale air of indoor wood fires or watching children vie for food. Rather than an abstract concept, you'll witness the daily fight of millions just to stay alive. And that will change you forever.
Whether you're a loner or a social butterfly, you'll have no choice - you'll constantly be meeting people. They might be fellow travelers or local people on the bus, but each day you'll add to the number of people you've met. And it will feel as natural as stepping outside. Some of these people will remain passing acquaintances - but others will become lifelong friends, connected by moments shared.
If you're an outgoing or extroverted person, you'll put those traits to good use and expand them. But if you're the slightest bit quiet or shy, traveling on your own will change all that. You'll enjoy the similarities you share with others rather than focus on your differences, and learn how to accept what's around you more easily.
Your life may become more filled with little things that matter. The smaller gestures - a smile, a helping hand - these are the things you'll be exchanging with people on the road. Perhaps you had less time for these small gestures back home but on the road, they will take on new meaning and happen more often.
There's nothing like solo travel for women to make you enjoy your own company. Part of it is the empowerment of traveling on your own but also the sheer number of people you meet - you'll begin to appreciate your solitude. Women who worry about loneliness shouldn't - it's usually a question of too many people rather than not enough.
You may have thought they were essentials - television, computer, theater, cellphones, shopping malls, regular nights out, a car... Once you get used to living without many of these things - and you will if you're on the road for any length of time - you'll genuinely adapt, and start appreciating what you have as opposed to missing what you don't.
What once looked daunting may become commonplace. If you've been afraid of things - creepy crawlies, unusual food, rickety planes and leaky boats - your fears will probably subside. After a few rides on rusty planes, anything with a working engine was OK by me. Same with small reptiles. Those harmless little green geckoes that run across your ceiling in tropical countries never actually fall off - but they eat all the mosquitoes so in time I actually learned to like them.
On my own out there, I was rarely part of a majority. Being white in Africa or black in Eastern Europe or a woman on her own in a patriarchal country will give you a different perspective on prejudice and minorities. It's easy to forget these issues when you're surrounded by people who share similar outlooks and standards but you might be surprised at how things look from other perspectives.
If you left home because you weren't happy, you may find a lot of the bad memories begin to fade with time. Perhaps you hated your job - but at least you were able to have one. Your rent might have been high - but you had a roof over your head. You may have disliked certain foods - but there was always a supermarket around the corner where something else was available. Your family may have nagged you - but you may miss them on the road. Whatever your complaints back then, you'll probably start appreciating some of the things you left behind.
Not all of these things will happen to you - but there's no question that as a woman, solo travel will change you.
Are you a visual person?
Then have a look at this fun infographic I prepared that lists the 16 profound ways solo travel will affect you.
Have you traveled solo? If you have, did it change you? I'd love to know in the comments below. Or read these stories from other women solo travelers.