Alone on the road: Fearless females


It is common that before slipping into the corporate world, both male and female students need to fulfill their travelling desires. As university students, we have entered a new stage in our lives in which the world is open to us, quite literally in regards to travel.

“There are a lot of things that you’re going to learn not just from travelling but about yourself and your own direction,” said Laurier graduate Alison Schofield, who travelled solo down the western United States, mostly by train.

This self-discovery and need for adventure often propels individuals to take the first steps out their front door and into a backpacking adventure.

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Broaden your horizons

Avoiding the hostel

However, there is a growing belief that it is more difficult for a female to travel alone. It is thought to be perilous due to the possible dangers of travelling into a foreign country unassisted. Although these threats exist, they are not as prevalent as widely assumed.

“The minimal risks of travelling are far outweighed by the rewards,” writes women’s travel expert Marybeth Bond, who hosts the website The Gutsy Traveler. Often, travelling alone is simply a matter of being prepared and maintaining the right attitude. To get a better grasp of such rewards, I spoke with a few female students from Laurier International, the university’s exchange program that “gives you the forum to travel, but you do the majority on your own,” explained Kiran Gurm, who spent five months in Europe.

Sometimes it is the case that when travelling alone, females are often treated with more care than normal rather than the other way around.

“It gave me faith in society because they’re so willing to help … I was in the hostel making dinner and this guy came up to me and offered some of his pasta,” Gurm reflected.

When Gurm ventured on a similar trip to Iceland with one other female, “We ran into these two American dads from New York in one of the hostels and they asked if we wanted them to come with us or follow our car and they were just so concerned over us because we were two girls. They even pulled out a map and pointed out the good places to go.”

Having experienced life on the road before venturing abroad solo often creates an added sense of self-awareness and confidence, according to Schofield.

“I don’t think I would have even thought of travelling by myself if I hadn’t been other places with people before,” she said. “Travelling can be stressful in the first place.”

Sarah Batley, who travelled to Ireland through the exchange program commented on the numerous positive interactions she had with others while she was abroad.

“When you’re by yourself you make more of an effort to meet other people; I was able to meet a ton of people from all around the world,” said Batley.

“Travelling alone is not any different from women to men, as long as you’re not being stupid or reckless.”

Although there may be little difference between hitting the road whether you’re male or female, caution was stressed by all those interviewed.

“It’s easy for women to [travel alone], you just have to be cautious,” said Schofield. “As much as I am absolutely a feminist I also know that there are dangers posed to me that aren’t posed to men travelling by themselves.”

“I wasn’t about to keep walking in a direction where I didn’t know where I was going,” continued Schofield, who recommended that fellow solo backpackers,

“Be observant, know your surroundings and do your research beforehand. It’s
nice to be spontaneous but have a plan and always let someone know what you’re doing.”

This does not mean stepping out of your boundaries is out of the question, in fact it is the objective. Batley said that sometimes “getting lost is one of the best things you can do,” for we travel to foreign places in order to explore and discover new things. Schofield also encouraged fellow solo travellers to “be open to meeting people.”

“Don’t limit yourself but at the same time be careful, in the same way that you would be at home,” said Emily Slofstra, a Laurier environmental studies student who travelled to Europe last winter.

Often the best accompaniment when travelling is plain common sense – a useful trait in any environment.

Slofstra also offered the advice to “watch your stuff. I never had an issue with pick pocketing or anything like that because I always took everything with me.”

Gurm recommended that it is helpful to “know where you are and where you’re going ahead of time. I always make sure that I have an idea of what that area is like. Resources are available to us it’s just about making the initiative.”

All these females expressed that when travelling alone, one will have a completely different experience but it will always be rewarding. Learning about oneself is not to be restricted by gender.

Bond agreed, stating, “Solo travellers enjoy the freedom of making all the decisions, experience the world unfiltered by anyone else’s perspective, live intensely, meet people more easily and are invited into their lives more readily, avoid difficult travel companions, and get in touch with themselves. If you give it a fair chance, you too will discover that solo travel is empowering, intense, and exhilarating.”

What to bring

If you’re leaving home to travel the world solo, you’d best bring these helpful items along.

1. Headlamp

The best kinds of headlamps also have a red light feature that allows you to read at night without disturbing your hostel mates.

2. Travel towel

You can’t carry your wonderful towel from home so invest in a travel towel. Splurge for the higher-end quick-dry version.

3. Proper footwear and a hat

Be prepared for any weather by bringing two pairs of footwear – sandals and hiking boots. A hat will be helpful to shield you from the sun.

4. A Lonely Planet book

The most helpful travel resource on the market is available online and for the “shoestring” traveller.

5. Rain gear

The last thing you want is to get everything you own wet. Invest in gear for yourself and your pack.

6. Cases for everything

You lose things – I know you do. So invest in an organizer to keep everything from your passport to visa applications.

—With files from Alanna Wallace

Serving the Waterloo campus, The Cord seeks to provide students with relevant, up to date stories. We’re always interested in having more volunteer writers, photographers and graphic designers.