Earlier last year, I was non-committed and happy with my single-blessedness. A day before Valentine’s Day, I bought a folding bike (from the unexpected teacher’s clothing allowance), rightfully named it Katorse, and biked two towns in southern Cebu on a sunny love day. Oh, yes, alone.
READ: Twelve Months of Beaches around the Philippines. Katorse is in the February story!
I’m too comfortable with traveling solo, I guess, that even though I am in a relationship, I still find myself wandering around alone.
Almost a month ago, a girl from my previous job reminded me that it has been two years since we talked about traveling solo, me insisting she should. As I said, on “What’s Wrong with Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World,” I have stopped convincing my girlfriends to travel solo. They are happy with their lives right now. There are many ways of cherishing life’s wonder.
So I told the girl that if she feels that there is no need for her to do so, she does not have to force herself. I know people who travel solo are often viewed as cool and brave. It is true, but traveling solo can be unnerving as well.
To appear cool and trendy is the wrong reason to travel solo.
There is something inside her, the girl said, that she cannot fully explain. I called this thing the ache to go somewhere, your fernweh—a German word which carries the weight of the restless: getting homesick of a place you have never been to.
To appear cool and trendy is the wrong reason to travel solo.
How did I start? I was fresh from college, confused, and insecure with my writing.
Is there a significant change in my life?
Yes. I have come to know myself more. No, because I am still as insecure, if not more, with my writing.
It takes guts for a Filipina to travel solo. The Philippines—especially in the countryside, which is the biggest chunk of the country—is largely patriarchal, financially poor, and conservative. Double standards are more pronounced here. For instance, last week, my cousin’s husband commented on my weight gain. When I retorted you were still bigger than me, he used the “but I’m a guy, so it’s fine!” rebuttal.
When a woman travels solo in the Philippines, most likely she would be asked, “Why are alone? Are you brokenhearted? Where is your husband? Do you have a boyfriend? A woman should not travel alone, it is dangerous.”
Indeed, traveling solo can be dangerous. Danger is everywhere. But from experience, it outweighs the rewards I ripped from traveling solo. And I found out that kindness from strangers still exists. More than knowing places, it is the self I learned to know more.
This is a new project on Backpacking with a Book: Filipinas who Travel Solo
Why am I doing this, you may ask.
1. Google “Pinay” and “Filipina,” and you would know what I am talking about.
2. Although I stopped convincing my girlfriends to travel solo (because they know what they want in their lives), some girls out there still do not know what to do with theirs. And maybe, again, maybe, traveling solo can help.
3. To prove that we women can do it.
The list can go on.
So, Backpacking with a Book now houses stories of Asian women who dared to travel solo. Here are Mariel and Pauline, Filipinas who found beauty and peace on their solo trips.
Mariel | Part-time Multimedia Arts Instructor and Freelance Graphic Designer
I’ve been traveling solo ever since I graduated from college. It wasn’t really a conscious choice the first time I did it. I wanted to go somewhere but everyone else was busy, so I went anyway, not wanting to cancel plans. And that’s basically why I loved it, I guess—the freedom to do whatever you want without being entrapped by the idea of appeasing everyone else when traveling with a group.
Eventually, traveling solo became a habit. I’d be away for a number of weeks, taking my time to get to know the place and the place to get to know me. I take it pretty easy and avoid planning a packed day. There are days when I just drink beer at a bar all day while reading a book, or painting, or writing some silly poems. But there are also days where I spend mornings under the sea, afternoons in a mountain top, and evenings by the beach. The best part is finding myself in a very remote place with nothing but my wits and curiosity. It makes me tremble with excitement and fear, but I let the place swallow me up anyway. Traveling solo makes you forget who you are when surrounded by all the comforts of the big city. You’re consumed by this different pocket of the world and you suddenly feel more awake than you have ever felt your entire life.
With all the constant moving and checking timetables for buses and planes, looking for places to stay, people to trust—it’s difficult to travel for anybody, period. Your gender doesn’t have anything to do with it (or sometimes it does, I guess? I get great seats in over-packed buses for being a girl, teehee) Just don’t let anyone talk you down for doing anything because you’re a woman. Practice common decency, stay vigilant, and trust your guts and you should be good to go.
Pauline, 22 years old, international NGO worker
We have provided housing and livelihoods to a couple of thousands of families affected by Typhoon Yolanda in Western Visayas, Region VI. This is my first job after college, I’m batch 2014, by the way. During the job interview I was told Roxas City, Capiz, Western Visayas would be my duty station. I didn’t know where exactly Roxas City was, but I glanced at the map and said to myself, “Aha! I could spend every other weekend in Boracay!” Never went to Boracay, except for that one business trip.
I like going to off-beat places, especially beaches because I’m a beach bum. At 22, fresh out of college, I crown myself as “The Youngest Humanitarian of Western Visayas.” I said youngest, not the best or the worst. I think my youth and inexperience could bring something to shake up the international humanitarian scene mostly filled with professional who were born a generation before me. Since I’m the youngest, my colleagues are way older, 5 years minimum gap. Colleagues are also risk averse to travel. They have partners, family, children and other commitments in between. Also, backpacking doesn’t appeal to them anymore. I really am from Manila and I just came to Western Visayas for work. I have considered inviting my MNL friends too many times but most of my travels are spur-of-the-moment plans. If I would invite, I need to announce months in advance because I heard it takes time to get a leave approved in MNL. I feel so privileged that in a very small org, I can work at home, get a time off in lieu of working/traveling beyond weekdays or the 40 hour workweek stated in my contract.
Other people’s mindset—warning you can’t travel alone because it’s not safe, especially for a young woman—can also affect yours.
I have to travel alone for leisure. I find it more manageable to just look after myself. I feel free from the shackles of an itinerary. At work I do DIY Solo trips too. I have to plan the itinerary and budget. It feels good my boss trusts me on this, she simply approves so the finance officer can write me a check. I guess solo travelling for leisure is my way to cure the semi-rigourous agenda of my work travels. I’m talking like my work travel is such a chore but for me, my work and leisure travels are resting on blurred lines.
Is it difficult for a woman to travel alone?
Let me count the difficulties
Mindset. Feeling you can’t travel solo because it’s hard, nor safe or expensive . It’s hard, that’s why not everyone does it. Knowing basic safety and security precautions can make you three Steps forward. Other people’s (families’, friends’)mindset that tell you can’t travel alone because it’s not safe —especially for a young woman—can also affect yours.
This I get from my family and family friends. Every single time I post photos online, they comment on everything as if I don’t know what safety first means! Being a humanitarian, we got security and safety training. I suggest every traveler take the Basic Security in the Field Test by the United Nations. It’s free!
Resources. I’ve met a few too many people who said, “I’ve always wanted to travel.” Family, time, money, work are the common difficulties encountered.
Perspective. You said you’re going to travel. Doesn’t matter where. You didn’t say travel the world in 80 days. Travel can be a state of mind. In Roxas, I discovered a lovely Spanish style house converted to an office after a year-long stay. Definitely a d’oh! Moment, but hey better late than never right
Don’t let anyone talk you down for doing anything because you’re a woman. Practice common decency, stay vigilant, and trust your guts and you should be good to go.
Aloneness. I don’t wanna travel alone, no one will take photos of you. This is I heard in real life. Also, traveling in groups is more common in the Philippines than traveling solo, it’s unfathomable for the locals. Alone doesn’t mean lonely.