On Womanhood and Traveling Alone

Coming from a big – and I mean big- south Asian family – there were always siblings, cousins, relatives, family like friends, and random acquaintances in our home. It was a loud parade of people, but like most parades it was filled with laughter and love.

This has made me someone who yearns for company. I love the noises that come from co-habitation and the intimate familiarity of shared space. I mean you either learn to love it or go crazy.

Slowly, however, I’ve begun to learn the value of being alone. Though I haven’t quite mastered the art of aloneness- at least not Public Displays of Aloneness (the other PDA.)

I can travel anywhere alone – train, bus, flight, or drive. If I have my music, I don’t actually need anyone or thing else.

I can eat alone at any restaurant – ‘why yes both those starters are for me, thanks.’

However, those are both temporary states of aloneness. When I’m traveling I usually have a friendly face & welcoming arms at the end of my journey. When I’m eating, let’s be honest, I’m not really interested in what you’re saying anyways.

But just literally being alone, just existing out in the world where everyone can see my aloneness is surprisingly scary and difficult. It’s especially daunting in India where PDA (public displays of aloneness) for women is against the norm.

I am currently on my first solo travel trip ever- and it’s once of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.

The Challenges:

As a single woman I can feel very vulnerable. I’ve met some serious creeps thus far(no joke, that could be a whole post unto itself.) I can only describe these men as predators, but I’ve found I am more than just prey. I’ve handled each situation in a way that I am proud of. It’s been scary, no qualifiers. It’s especially frightening because Indian society tends to look at a woman’s behavior, police it, and if she deviates, then happen what may. It’s a mentality, I’ve unfortunately found to be thriving. But I’ve been brave and strong and undeterred by those who would have it otherwise.

Beyond security, growing up with constant company there was always someone around to reassure me that we were headed in the right direction. And if not, it was okay, because at least we would be lost together.  Having to find that solidarity in myself has been hard.

Loneliness. It can be a bit lonely and a bit too quiet. In regular life, I can just grab my phone or my laptop. It’s easy to distract myself from my own thoughts and feelings. But something about travel makes you revel in the places you normally dare not go. I’ve reveled and I’ve learned.

Despite it’s challenges, traveling alone has also been one of the most singularly enriching things I’ve ever down.

The Rewards:

When people ask shocked if I am ‘here’ alone, I answer with a proud YES. Being alone stripped me of my safety nets, which has made me more resilient and determined. It’s given me an immense sense of pride and accomplishment.  I conquered this place alone.

 I’ve gotten to reflect on my experiences in a wholly new way. I’ve met parts of myself. A part of me who is intimidated, who is scared, and who is brave in the face of it all. I’ve embraced parts of me I would normally ignore (refer back to loneliness.)

 For every creep I’ve met, I’ve met dozens more incredibly kind people. On the road there is a kind of mutual respect and love that breeds implausible friendships and memoires. I’ve made some of my most cherished India memories with strangers by happenstance, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Travel itself is always worth it.

Finally, I’ve found confidence. I can’t fully explain it – maybe because it was never expected of me, or because I never expected it of myself (seriously, I can’t even go to concerts alone) but doing this has given me such a real sense of accomplishment and pride. I feel empowered and emboldened. This trip thus far has been a feat and a treasure. Public Displays of Aloneness don’t intimidate me like they use to. I’m finding I really value and enjoy my chances to experience things alone.

I’ve learned to trust myself and in that found a special kind of freedom.