How travelling alone will help you be a better feminist

Charlotte is July’s guest blogger

Each week in July, Charlotte will discuss a different item in the ‘toolkit’ she uses to navigate the world as a young feminist. This week, Charlotte looks at how solo travel can teach self-sufficiency and confidence

I spend a lot of time alone but wasn’t always comfortable doing so. I believed that spending time by myself in public made me look pathetic or lonely; that I was edging ever closer to all those Bridget Jones stereotypes that I’d been taught to fear emulating.

Now, I relish my alone time, particularly when travelling. Last September, I visited Shanghai and Hong Kong by myself. While I was there to visit friends, they were working during the day and I kept myself entertained by taking in the sights. Each morning, I decided how I would fill my time and what I would see. I could get lost in each city, wandering through the lilongs of Shanghai, escaping the heat in shady side streets or taking the Star Ferry to Kowloon, gazing at the Hong Kong skyline. I spent each of the 12-hour flights completely alone. And it was bliss.

In a world where women are faced with so much pressure to behave and appear certain ways, spending a few days or weeks completely on your own agenda is incredibly freeing. Having internalised the patriarchal narrative that I must be accommodating as a woman, I found that this manifested as me being unable to say no to doing work while away. Two weeks in China where I couldn’t access email because of the Great Firewall gave me some much-needed perspective and I was better at saying no and more likely to delegate when I returned to the office.

When you are completely alone you are forced to confront any gaps or hiccups in your planning and solve them yourself. You have to be the person to book the restaurant, to check the flights, to complain at baggage claim and to make sure you’ve packed everything. There is no one else who will do it for you. This also means that you can cancel any bit of it whenever you feel like it. Don’t fancy going to the gallery today and would rather lounge by the pool? Done. Want to take a day trip specifically to eat in an excellent restaurant à la Master of None? Do it. You don’t need to compromise or negotiate with anyone, which should be treasured in a world where women always seem to have to compromise or negotiate simply to take part.

This brilliant self-reliance can give you strength and resolve to better navigate our patriarchal society on your own terms. The confidence I have gained from travelling alone has translated into my daily life. I am much more comfortable not always being nice and accommodating; to complain and question behaviours that make me feel uncomfortable and, ultimately, take charge of my life.

Travelling alone also massively highlights how ingrained sexist attitudes can be via encounters with service staff. While I spent my two weeks in China, one of my best friends had booked a two-week solo trip to Majorca. We were each travelling alone and were staying in hotels by ourselves. We were asked exactly the same question checking in: “Just you?” And “Who will be paying?” when checking out.

Wait, what?

The booking is under my name, I checked in by myself and now at the end of my stay, you’re going to imply that someone else is going to pay? While this was a very jarring experience and I’m sure it has not happened to my male friends, it did make me appreciate the fact that yes, I was the one paying for it all. To (mis)quote Destiny’s Child, “The room I stayed in? I bought it.”

Image by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is a perspective shot of someone looking down the aisle of an aeroplane. Rows of seats line the left and right-hand sides of the shot. A member of airline staff appears as a blurred figure at the end of the aisle.