Solo travel is a celebration of their freedom, maturity, and creativity as they step out into a harsh world where they are already undermined and viewed with skepticism.

What Travel Taught Me

Shivani Ekkanath

I had the opportunity to do quite a bit of traveling during my first year of university —my first solo travel experience as well as group travels with some of my college mates. It certainly proved to be an experience like none other as I have always been traveling with family or relatives for almost all my life and had gotten used to a certain way of travel and planning for a trip. Without equivocation, I can say that travel is one experience that has contributed to my personal growth apart from university life as it has offered me one of the best opportunities to prove to myself that I have the potential to navigate my way through the labyrinth that is adulthood.

Once I started traveling on my own for the first time, I soon grew to realize that solo travel and traveling without family is not simply a sign of growing up and embracing the hedonism and independence that adulthood brings you, but it is also an expression of ownership and individuality in a certain sense that offers you an opportunity and experience that pales in comparison to most firsts you have as a young woman. Traveling with your friends and making your own decisions offers you exposure like few others. However, without a doubt and speaking from experience, my mother still begins to anxiously wait for my every update back home. Yet, over the year, she has learned to trust my decisions and hear me out more to a certain extent as well because perhaps in her own way, she recognizes a change in my choices and acknowledges and perhaps even accepts them as a new norm.

Regardless of the place they visit, women continue to be the object of the male gaze and side look simply because of the gendered and divided world we continue to live in. My travel experiences in India and the rest of Asia have been strikingly different from my experiences in Europe, where solo travel is more widespread and accepted, from the mentality of the people down to the reinforcements and preparations I need to make. Young women like me are always worried about our safety when we travel to an unknown destination. Yet, despite this, for women, solo travel is a celebration of their freedom, maturity, and creativity as they step out into a harsh world where they are already undermined and viewed with skepticism. It is a symbol of strength and fortitude because it proves a point and defies a previously-held narrative.

With more young women and girls taking on opportunities to travel, the tourism and travel industry has also remained cognizant of this demographic change. A survey conducted by Booking.com in 2014 concluded that nearly 72 percent of women in the United States liked to embark on solo travel which may not seem alarming owing to the number of carefully curated Instagram globe-trotting posts we see online. Thus, female solo travel has the potential to prosper further and further develop.

However, even though solo travel for women has indeed taken off in many parts of the world, the question of solo travel especially in South Asian countries remains deeply entrenched in divisive gender norms and patriarchy. The realities of a gendered society impact every aspect of a woman’s life. For instance, women born into less privileged and from less affluent backgrounds are further crippled by the situation.

To shed light on some good news on the front, in a landmark move, women in Saudi Arabia were finally ‘allowed’ to travel abroad without taking the permission from a male guardian in an effort to ease the many social constraints women in the country have suffered under for years. Once again, this underlines the fact that travel continues to be inextricably linked to the toxic male guardianship system that allows men to override the freedoms and choices of women. As women continue to travel further and push these already established social constructs and limits in a society, we will hopefully begin to normalize the associated stigma and regressive mentality of the status quo.

Most notably, solo travel is becoming increasingly popular as women find strategies and solutions in order to stay safe as they are backed by a lot more self-awareness and take better safety precautions. Travel, for one, has also become a lot easier and conducive with flight tickets and accommodation becoming more affordable even during peak season. Over the years, solo-travel friendly AirBnbs are becoming increasingly popular to accommodate potentially vulnerable travelers like women. House rules in such establishments are also rather strict to ensure better service and protection for female travelers. Moreover, Women Welcome WorldWide is an organization that helps facilitate travel-friendly solo trips worldwide for women. The organization is a great network for women of all ages to explore new and even rare travel destinations.

Looking past all of these benefits and implications, solo travel is a great opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery as you take out your time and travel by your own terms. It is an exercise of a woman’s individuality, choice, and boldness at the end of the day. Even though it does come with the burden of extra precaution and control, current progress and change will hopefully continue to carry the promise of a better future.

Written by Shivani Ekkanath

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