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Adventure by the Bucket Load: The Joy and Empowerment of Female Solo Travel

I am standing at one end of what is, without doubt, the ricketiest bridge I've ever seen, trying to rustle up the courage to take my first step. The people of Luang Prabang, here in Laos, don't try and fight nature – this little bamboo bridge has seen many reincarnations, rebuilt after every rainy season when the purposely impermanent structure is swept away.

Rainy season is imminent so this bridge is in the last few weeks of its life and it shows. A young Italian man approaches, eyeing the bridge warily. He lingers for no more than a minute before declaring 'I no go.......dangerous', and disappears.

That does it......and so I set off across the bridge, stepping gingerly across missing slats which give me glimpses of the racing river several feet below – a tributary of the mighty Mekong.

Half way across I suddenly burst out laughing; it is one of those moments in my solo female travels in which my joy cannot be contained, bubbling out of me in cascades of celebration, self-achievement and euphoria.

I suppose I would have looked a bit silly if the bridge had decided to give up the ghost at that particular moment but of course it didn't and so I found the tiny little tucked-away temple I'd been seeking – my reward for daring to go where others – well, one Italian man at least – didn't.

I am no stranger to these avalanches of glee – these 'look-at-me-I'm-doing-it' moments; never has my passion for flying solo, as I poke my nose into the world's corners, abated.

If anything it has grown stronger because now I know that adventure and untold rewards can leap out at me at any moment......maybe just around that next corner. The unknown is the core of my travel passion.

Adventure is Inevitable, Participation Voluntary

There are of course all sorts of experiences to be had when I travel which I can't do back home – like swimming with behemoth-sized whale sharks in Mexico, visiting a highly active volcanic island in New Zealand or living in the jungle on a voluntary work project in Thailand but the best adventures are those which leap out at me unannounced.

At these times I might find myself sharing a wave with the world's smallest dolphin as I surf the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, watch goggle-eyed as two bull elephants fight in a jungle clearing in Sri Lanka, get taken by the hand in Sumatra by a wild orang-utan as her tiny baby sits by and tries to balance stones on his nose or become a surf coach in return for a free beach hut in South East Asia.

If I'm prepared to put myself out there adventure, I have realized, will find me.

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However, I find myself getting a little huffy when I hear that travel is all about pushing your boundaries, stepping outside your comfort zone and finding yourself (whatever that means).

Says who?!

It might work perfectly for some but I don't subscribe to this school of thought - part of what I love so very much about traveling alone is that I can make my own rules so I am not about to sign up to some traveler's code which dictates how I'm supposed to go about things.

I don't want to be too uncomfortable and I sure as hell don't like feeling terrified – neither of these things build character in me – they just make me miserable.

Of course there will be times – such as the bamboo bridge – where I find my heart beating a little faster but solo travel for me is more about recognizing what my limitations are and then accepting them......fully.

I learn to be comfortable with who I am, being empowered by the right to say 'I don't want to do that' and if I can apply this philosophy to all of my life then I guess that is personal growth anyway.

The amazing thing for me is that my approach, over time, has accidentally made me more intrepid anyway. During my solitary travels I find myself suddenly in the middle of something which once-upon-a-time would have freaked me out but now barely registers on the uh-oh scale.

Accidentally Zen

Another accidental achievement for me has been mastering the rudiments of Zen. There are so many unknowns and variables when you step into a different culture, unknown destination and unfamiliar surroundings that if you plan too much or try and think too far ahead the brain has a tendency to start sizzling. The result is, I live almost entirely in the moment, or at least in the few hours in front of me.

And because I'm flying solo I get to do this however and whenever I like. If I want to eat breakfast at 6 pm, take long siestas, sit for hours at a street café or swim naked in a lake at sunrise I can without getting a by-your-leave from anyone. My schedule, my choices 100% of the time.

But Don't You Get Lonely?

The 'lonely' question is one that perhaps keeps many back from making the decision to travel alone and the answer to 'don't you ever get lonely?', is of course, yes, I get lonely sometimes. But so does every single person occasionally, in every single walk of life. Personally, I have found the problem of trying to get enough alone time far more of an issue than being lonely.

Just as adventure is inevitable as a solo traveler so too is company. I almost always stay in dorm rooms in hostels and purposely pick dorms with 8 beds or less; in set-ups this intimate it is almost impossible, without seeming like a complete weirdo, not to at least say hello.

Besides, it would appear that the gods of travel have ordained solo adventurers come equipped with some odd magnetism which draws others to them – at least in my experience.

This magnetism, dorm life and other chance encounters on buses, trains and boats means I end up talking to all kinds of folk that I might otherwise not bother with and from this has emerged some wonderful surprises and some cherished friendships.

A Girl Alone, Yes – Delicate Flower, No

Typically taking up as much airtime as the loneliness question is the one about safety issues for women traveling alone. Although I understand why this comes up time and again it also galls me a little.

I didn't just become a girl when I started traveling. I have been a girl my whole life so I've had plenty of time to make myself familiar with the risks out there and they are the same for me as a woman whether I'm walking the streets of my home town or in some far flung corner of the planet.

Universal rules apply - I don't go somewhere I am told is unsafe, I don't turn up on a bus after dark without a room booked, I don't dress in a way which draws attention (some homework required here regarding the culture of my destination), I don't go out and drink myself silly without knowing how I'm going to get home and so forth.

Most importantly, if the voice of my girly intuition is whispering to me that something is a little off I listen to it and get myself the hell out of wherever I am.

I don't go to war zones but otherwise nowhere is off the radar for me just because I am female and traveling alone.

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Touching My Core

So many of my own preconceptions before I started to travel alone as a female have turned out to be nothing more than dust in the wind; so many of my questions and quests have been replaced by quite different things to those envisaged.

However, one of the things which most excited me about the idea of traveling alone was the idea of being totally anonymous – I could be anyone I wanted to be....present myself as anything. Strangely though, in reality, what I actually find is that I am always totally me but in a pure form that I had never explored before.

It is like I have uncovered my essence - myself stripped down to its core without the confining identities, preconceptions and qualities that others, who have known me for a while, may have projected onto me. With this shedding of dead skin comes empowerment. I am so totally addicted to this feeling...

I am so totally enamored by traveling alone.

So girls, spill the beans – what's your attitude towards solo female travel? Does the idea of traveling alone excite or terrify you or do you just think we're all plain crazy?

And boys – why is it so few of you go solo? Now there's an inflammatory question to get the ball rolling... over to you.

About the author

Deneice

In 2003, after a too-close-for-comfort brush with the Grim Reaper, I decided life was for living. So I sold my house, gave away my business as a professional gymnastics coach and divided most of my worldly possessions among family and friends. With my trusty surf board tucked under my arm and hefting my backpack I set out to explore the planet. I have been doing that ever since - the last few years as a go-it-alone female. My work as a freelance writer allows me to make my 'office' anywhere – from the middle of the jungle to a beach hut; sometimes I take on voluntary work too. No surprise that I now have a vast collection of adventures and travel experiences hard-wired into my memory bank. Hardly in the first flush of my youth I am often asked 'isn't it time to settle down?' That would be a resounding no! Never knowing what is around the next corner and choosing whichever nook of the planet I am in to call home, feeds the permanent nomad in me.