Sun blocks, Ballerinas, and a little common sense – essentials for the lone female wanderer
Being a woman who loves visiting new places, I have come to realize that: traveling in general has provided me with the only honest experiences I have. I call them honest because as per definition, these experiences are true and faithful. And the aspect of traveling alone in particular has added an inward spiritual aspect to all these experiences. The journey is as much within as without, and hence more complete than it could have ever been.
It pleases me to see young women exploring unknown shores – alone and even without a post break up depression! There isn’t a ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ like feel to this exploration, it isn’t a quest to prove or to achieve, but simply a doing of something that is equal parts personal growth and fun. Metamorphosis in a jiffy, if you will! Scholars give credit to the increasing socio-economic status of women; politicians claim the advancement in security has lead to the creation of a safe environment for women to travel; the development in the tourism sector is another factor. Existentialist philosophers with a pinch of masochism would say it represents the vacuum in a women’s life. Well! All claims are true but only in degrees. The underlying fact is that women in India have finally realized their freedom and the fact that they now know how to use these socio-politico-economical factors in their favor marks this realization.
Till a few years back, women were restricted to few destinations, and travelling abroad or away from home was only for practical reasons. A degree was to be earned, or a family member undeniably insistent or it just was a matter of bread and butter. The US of A and our beloved Queen’s England have been the preferred destinations, and seeing how one always knows someone or the other in these countries who can take care of the lone traveler, these places have earned the tag of being ‘safe’.
Australia and New Zealand have recently been added to that list, what with experts at education fairs talking dime to a dozen about their glories. Even when it comes to business women, one hardly hears them talk of an important meeting to be held among the ruins of ancient Mexico! Historically and socially, these have been the destinations that a woman travelling alone knows aren’t much trouble. Be a little cautious, carry the pepper spray at all times, do not travel after the hours of dark and avoid strangers who look too nice – and you should be safe. Oh and the most important advice – stick to the crowded areas of the city, and DO NOT try the offbeat track. So, New York is fine, but New Orleans with its uninhibited and seductive jazz strains is not. Sydney and the Opera house but put the outbacks of Australia on the list and you are asking for too much! Even the grand temples of Angkor Vat in Cambodia were beyond reach until Lara Croft and her acrobatic adventures!
But as women all over the world have started to push the envelope when it comes to their travelling choices, the industry has no other option but to accept graciously. Various destinations which were considered inapproachable by women previously are now becoming friendly to women travelers as they are not only viable customers but also because by safeguarding women travelers the host country/state also portrays itself as a civilized and safe society; which guarantees many benefits. You might still have to join the Red Cross if you ever do want to visit Somalia, but if its backpacking around Europe you find alluring, or an adventurous trek in the mountains of Machu Pichu – you are not really alone anymore.
The web is replete with women who have done the un-doable and yet survived to tell the tale. Tour operators with their women friendly packages, cab services run for and by women, airport lounges and special train cars, a whole new system is being put into place to aid those who are not deterred by the prospect of a lone voyage.
A friend once said that more than anything, it is the idea of trying too hard to remain safe while travelling alone that scares her the most. It is easy to get worried and panic when you have no one else to turn to. It is easy to feel uneasy when you sit alone at a bar with your favorite drink and have its taste tainted with unwanted stares. And it’s so easy to lose that sense of discovery when you are busy looking over your shoulders instead of the vistas ahead. Despite claims of progress and prosperity, there are some ground truths that will never be changed. The sooner we women accept it, the faster we can get down to getting around it. And get on the road where we truly belong – a few smart moves, some well researched travel hacks and an open mind in tow. Safety and fun are after all relative quantities, and ironic as it may sound, sometimes opening oneself up is the best way of combining the both.