Solo female travel is a growing trend that’s empowering women. But finding solitude as a female introvert is often still difficult.
I’m sitting with a group of hikers as they try to start a bonfire to grill our lunch. We’re all hungry after a hike through Wadi Degla, a protectorate just outside Cairo. Our group is lively and it’s taking awhile to get the fire going.
I look out at the surrounding cliffs and feel like I’m missing out. The protectorate has sweeping valleys and seashells fossilized in the ground that recall distant eras when this land was underwater.
The afternoon tour I’d signed up for promised a getaway from the city into an oasis of nature.
But so far it’s been more about loud laughter and selfie sticks. Maybe I can get some quiet time in before lunch?
Damsel in Distress
I pick up my Nikon and tell the guide I’m going to take a few photos. I walk towards the cliffs and stop to shoot a patch of wildflowers.
But the camera is just a pretext. It’s easier to go into solitude when you have a prop – like a cigarette or a camera – that lets people know you’re not just sitting there motionless like a psychopath.
But what I really want is to let my thoughts drift and gaze at the landscape without distractions.
I sit down on a rock and fiddle with my camera. Then I spot a figure at the side of my vision walking towards me.
I already know what he’s going to ask.
“Are you ok?” he says.
I answer with a nod, and he looks out into space. He replies: “Well let me know if you need anything.”
He wanders off scrolling on his mobile, and I’m left thinking if I was rude.
But I dismiss these doubts because this has happened too many times and in too many places. And it apparently only happens to women.
The lone female
If I’d ever seen a man approach another solitary man to ask him if he’s ok, or tell him to cheer up or smile, then I could shrug it off.
But such questions most often get directed at females. There’s just something about a woman alone that society finds uncomfortable or sad.
“What’s a beautiful woman like you doing here by herself?” I was asked at a shisha lounge in Warsaw when I was trying to relax after a long day without resorting to a cigarette.
“You girls don’t look very happy!” I was told in a bar in Nevada, when I went out with my co-worker to vent about our boss.
And when I don’t answer good-naturedly, the male usually flares up in self-defence. He was only trying to be polite! He was being friendly, no offence!
When I’m not sure if something is sexist, I imagine the scenario flipped: my co-worker and I walk into a bar in Laughlin, and we spot some men in suits, their faces heavy after a long day. “Hey boys cheer up!” I yell out at them. “It’s the weekend, smile!”
I can’t imagine that scenario anywhere but in a dystopia novel.
Solo female travel
It’s not always easy to find solitude anywhere – especially as a woman.
But no quiet-loving introvert has it easy. The language itself used to describe introverts already points to mistrust: loner, misanthrope, anti-social and unsure.
Extroverts, on the other hand, are outgoing social butterflies, confident and outspoken. And if you’re an introvert, you’ve probably been told that’s the ideal personality to strive towards.
Crippling social anxiety is a real disorder that needs treatment. But not all introverts suffer from it.
And there’s a difference between being pathologically shy, and preferring a long novel over a nightclub. Though society doesn’t often see it that way.
If you love solitude then you’re often left to defend it. You reassure loved ones that wanting to be alone doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You tell random men that everything is ok.
But being yourself gets easier with age. You accept your personality and realize that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. You care less about proving yourself to others and more about your own happiness.
You’re unapologetic if your idea of happiness isn’t what you’ve been told it should be.
You begin to see introversion as an advantage, and not as a character flaw.
A solo getaway
My favorite way to get solitude is to get away. To spend a few days exploring the backstreets of a foreign city or an afternoon reading on the beach.
When I crave a break from long work hours, the last thing I want is a high-powered vacation with a packed itinerary.
There are times I want to take in the antiquities of Rome in the comfort of a group with an expert tour guide.
But there are times I want to be alone, take walks in quiet forests or watch a silly movie in my hotel room.
The rise of solo female travel
I’ve seen more women hitting the road solo and travelling on their own terms.
Solo travel has become so popular that I’ve seen dozens of blogs and Instagram posts about how great it feels.
But solo travel doesn’t always mean solitude in these viral posts. And being alone isn’t always the point of travelling on your own.
Women often describe solo travel as an empowering way to gain confidence: book a flight to Tokyo, and feel the euphoria when you figure out the metro system! Make friends at your hostel that you never would have in a group!
I’ve even seen posts on how to cope with depression when you’re travelling solo, as if time away from people is difficult.
Solitude on the Baltic
But that isn’t the introvert experience.
Some of the best trips I’ve taken have been solo jaunts.
I once spent a few days in Szczecin, a major but non-touristy seaport in Poland, wandering the shipyards. I spent days over leisurely cafe lunches, strolls through rainy parks and trips to a nearby sailing club.
In Orlowo, I spent a week on the beach. I walked every morning to a spot where the shore was so rocky that few bother to walk there. I wrapped myself in sweaters and read a novel under a tree, or strolled through an eerily silent forest.
Complete freedom, independence and quiet.
Taking the plunge
But I haven’t seen this kind of solo female travel nearly enough.
Is the stigma of being alone still holding introverts back? Do we have a stereotypical view of vacations as rollicking times for big groups?
At some point, the pleasures of solo travel outweigh any discomforts that comes with being a woman and seeking solitude.
And if the thought of an empty beach, a quiet forest or a small cafe fills you with excitement, then book that ticket.
Because in the end it’s your own happiness that matters.
And you’ll never experience that pleasure if you don’t take the first leap.