People’s fears weren’t entirely unfounded, of course. I have been followed, groped, intimidated, catcalled and so on—the usual sad string of events that women are subjected to when they dare stepping into the public space alone. These incidents, while often brushed away as insignificant, reinforced my beliefs that the world not only wasn’t safe for me, but that I didn’t belong out there—like I might be somehow trespassing.
It wasn’t until one of my high school friends received a youth travel grant, when we were 18, that I realised travelling overseas solo as a young female was actually possible. I felt completely in awe of my friend, a small, long-haired brunette who pocketed the grant money and proceeded to spend the summer travelling from France to Romania, hitch-hiking and couchsurfing along the way. The questions I asked her once she returned were tainted with the same fears I had internalised growing up: Wasn’t she scared, travelling alone? Hitch-hiking? Wasn’t it a bit dangerous to walk through Istanbul, a huge, rambling, overwhelming city, completely on her own? Was it really wise to couchsurf with male hosts?
Although she openly acknowledged that she had been scared at times, she exuded the kind of confidence that I still find, to this day, immensely inspiring in other women. Hearing about her experience was more empowering that I could have guessed at the time, and opened my mind to a world of possibility. Suddenly the idea of travel didn’t seem quite as out of reach as I had imagined, especially as more and more of my female friends demonstrated the same fearlessness; studying abroad for a semester or two, backpacking in Asia or cycling through Norway.
While it took me a few years to join these women on the road, my first solo trip shattered the limitations I had placed upon myself. Suddenly I was alone in China, unable to speak the language, having to orient myself in a completely foreign environment, deciphering trains and bus itineraries, fending off scammers and getting lost in cities so big the shear number of humans walking down the street is enough to overwhelm you before you even get anywhere.