BACKPACKING FOR WOMEN TRAVELLERS

In these years that I’ve traveled alone, I’ve dared to do more things than when I was with other people.

SMRITI SINGH

Solo-Backpacker

I’m a solo traveller, people ‘label' me and yes even ‘pity’ me:
I have always heard I’m too young to be traveling alone and too old to be unmarried (Sad, but age decides your life according to this society).
Many people will tell you how brave you are but will feel pity that you chose your passion over getting married and settling down— which I don’t. I feel both can be combined, but it clearly doesn’t seem to be the most acceptable idea in our society. I always get to hear things like ‘What kind of profession is this, who would marry you?’ ‘Don’t you want a family of your own?’ ‘You’ll land up alone’, ‘This is not a respectable field of work’, etc etc.
 

The society tags you as a carefree and an easy going girl. They assume you are easy just because you don’t have a partner beside you to approve your existence on this earth. But then there’s the admiration side: Many will see you as a very lucky person and others as a Wonder Woman. We are none of the above. Those labels can be heavy burdens at times.
Don’t let any of these get to your head (Respect the positive ones though). 
Just focus on your dreams and your passion. Chase it with your true soul because that is the only thing that will make you feel content.
I have been doing this and will keep doing it till the time I live because this is the only thing that makes me feel alive. 

When you travel alone, you get to do everything that would ‘once’ scare you:

In these years that I’ve traveled alone, I’ve dared to do more things than when I was with other people (not necessarily men) Hitchhiking is something I was always scared of but now I love doing it. Not everyone is evil out there. You have to trust yourself before trusting others. Trust your instincts and if it tells you that you are on the right track- it means you definitely are.  I go trekking mostly with locals who know the trails at least (trust me you don’t want to get lost). When I go all alone, I make sure I carry a map with me. Sometimes I even take night buses (government only), something that I was always scared of. You gotta get out of your nutshell and face your fears someday, isn’t it?
 

Unwanted attention:

If you are a woman traveling alone you stick out in the crowd, especially in States where your physical appearance is different (Not bragging! It is the reality).  When I travel, I love to be on the streets experiencing the local routine. I also like to sit in cafes or small tea stalls to take notes about my day, but in a lot of places, it’s so hard to do that without being interrupted.  Every time I sit down somewhere alone I am approached by men willing to make conversation. Its nothing to do with looks! If you are a ‘woman’, you get to face this. There have been times when they gather and force conversations to know what I am writing about. It is not always that rosy that you seen on those social media posts! Not that I am saying that every man is like that but yes, most of them are! Some of them don’t even respond if you have any query, you get whistled at, you get those nasty looks, etc etc. Well, in such situations, I just avoid all this and move ahead with my explorations with NO FEAR in my heart. You got to be fearless to face those dirty looks and attention.
 

Hygiene:

In the rural parts of India, especially in really secluded villages, it’s hard to maintain good hygiene. In most of the villages, you get just a small bucket with water or a tap with very little pressure (especially when there’s water scarcity). For me, the idea of a squat in the toilet is terrifying. Incase of an Indian style in public toilets, you don’t even get to do that. You gotta sit in that dirty area to lose yourself. 
Don’t even think you are going to find any toilet paper at most of these places. Well, in this case, I make sure I carry my own toilet paper, toilet spray for sanitisation and of-course, hand sanitiser. In worst cases, many roadside toilets don’t even have doors so you have to go in front of other women. They really don’t care, so don’t worry.
The first time I took my solo trip, I remember how uncomfortable I felt. The staring made me so uncomfortable that I had to cover myself the whole time. I was not prepared for that. I was in a night bus and when the driver made an emergency toilet stop on my request, I had to literally go in the fields to do my business. I even had to request another female traveller to give me company as it was pitch dark and she was the only one who could understand the struggle. 
But don’t worry, where there is a will there is a way. Not everyone is sitting out there to take advantage of your situation. You find good people too, who are always ready to help. 

Period:

Then, there’s that time of the month when you get your chums and feel so uncomfortable- no matter wherever you are. 
I remember that time when I had to take a short hike on my first day! Despite of feeling terribly sick, I had to do that as I wanted to cover a local festival of the area. I did my job efficiently but could not enjoy myself a bit because of nausea and cramps. The frequent change of weather may also alter your cycle and make you miss it or get it more often than normal. There are many places where you will not find sanitary napkins, there will be times when you wont find a proper source to even dispose it, and other times you will want to take a warm shower but you’ll be at a place where you only have cold water from a bucket.
No one talks about it, but this struggle is real!! The fact remains that every 28 days or so, regardless of where on earth we are, we will be bleeding and trying not to make a big mess out of the whole painful situation. It’s not a horrifying thing in a regular life, but it becomes a really tough task to manage as soon as we leave our comfort zone to travel.
Its not that difficult to handle if you are prepared in advance for it. I make sure I carry my prescribed medications for the cramps and carry dozens of tampons/ sanitary napkins with me when I leave for my months long trips.
 

Harassment:

Ah! How can the world let you forget that you are a ‘Fe-male’! 
Even if I trust people and I know the world is a good place, I also know that one day I may be in the wrong place at the wrong time and things may get out of control. I don’t think about it every day and I don’t get anxiety attacks, but I know it’s a possibility. Sexual harassment and rape may happen and has happened to female travellers.
This means we have to be extra careful when we decide to stay wherever or hitchhike in someone’s car, and it means keeping our guard up and being mentally prepared for certain situations.You have to always be prepared for the worst and not forget that the world out there will never forget that God has blessed you with really beautiful body structure. 
I am always extra conscious when it comes to my safety while travelling. I always take government buses and shared taxis. If I am taking a cab then I always ask the manager of the property (homestay, hotel, etc.) to arrange for it. I never forget to share my cab details with close ones. Never ever forget to carry a pepper spray with you. May be it sounds funny (initially sounded the same to me too) but trust me that is the most helpful handy tool you can use for your protection. Also, always let your closest one know about your whereabouts.
If you are teased, DO NOT hesitate to go to the police. They are always very helpful. Many times, women are afraid to go to the police because they may be blamed or judged. Don’t be ashamed or scared of anything. Seek help if you need it and never feel alone.

Attire

Wearing long sleeves and pants in the scotching heat isn’t easy, but is necessary in order to uphold cultural sensitivity. The society does not take even a second to label you as ignorant or slutty. So, we have to be especially conscious of what respectable attire is. Baring one’s belly here is totally fine, but shoulders and knees are scandalous and slutty! If you have tattoos and piercings, you are termed as an uncultured woman who would probably never get married! If your clothing draws attention then you are judged- always.
So, if you want to avoid all that extra attention from men and even other women, follow the local dress code just to respect the sentiments of the locals.
Incase of visiting any Holy place, carry extra clothing: what we find comfortable and wish to travel in, and what we should put on in more traditional settings.
 

Finances:

Yes, people do troll you, criticise you for your own travels! They just don’t see the struggle behind and all they do is judge you by seeing those pretty posts!!
Well, finances are like the backbone of any travel. I choose to save a lot and travel smart. End up doing a lot of freelance work, collaborations, volunteering- thats the way I get my travel going.
Its not easy but i am happy to live this struggle because I chose it and I’m proud of it.

As my this article ends, I want to wish all the pretty, smart, strong, fearless women out there- A very HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY. 
Never let anything dull your shine. Create magic with your talent!

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