Self-Doubt, Safety and Liberation: Travelling Solo as a Woman of Colour After a Two-Year Hiatus

BY CHOUROUK GORRAB

At the time of writing this piece, I realise that it’s been 2 years since I last travelled for an extended period of time, and most specifically solo. I started travelling on my own only a few years ago after reading on blogs and hearing from friends just how amazing of a personal journey it was.

I had experience going on short trips in Europe and the Middle East by myself - the latter for business purposes, but my solo adventures really kicked off in November 2018, after I decided to shake things up in my life and give myself a challenge.

At the time, I decided to go big - at least that’s what I thought. And after toying with the idea of travelling to Guatemala for 3 weeks, I opted for Colombia, after a friend of mine praised his last trip to the country.

I laugh at it now as I actually travelled alone for only half of the trip, as I started off my journey with a friend. Travelling on my own as a woman, especially a woman of colour, is not always an easy task, and I’m sure others can relate to that. I am ‘lucky’ I look fairly local when travelling in some regions, as my complexion and features can place me in different parts of the world. I have dark, curly hair and brown skin, so whenever I travel to Latin America for example, I always feel like I can easily blend in the landscape and ‘pass’ for a local, but obviously not everywhere in the world.

One thing I always have top of mind as a solo female traveller is safety. Wherever I go. Whenever the time of the day. Whether I’m walking down the streets, having a drink at a café, eating out, or sleeping at night, it’s always at the forefront of my mind, as it should be, but I know overthinking can be overwhelming for some people. As a woman, it’s pretty much my day-to-day, even back home.

But travelling should be fun too - especially when you’ve waited two long years to finally go back on the road. So how do you get past the fear, and enjoy the moments without letting it take the best of you?

I don’t have a clear answer, but when I discussed this issue with other women of colour online, their answers showed a common thread.

Anu Verma, Founder of Victim 2 Victor and solo traveller, shared her biggest concern when travelling was, indeed, her safety. Being of Indian descent, the only place she’s really ever had issues was in India, where local men would at times harass her and make her feel vulnerable. But she also told me that meditation and yoga had always been a great help to her and that she showed confidence at all times to dissuade them - something she learned along the way.

In my case, I guess I’ve been good at making sense of some situations so far and keeping my cool, without getting overstressed - at least in appearance. My close friends and family would probably tell you that I always challenge myself, which is true in a way, but when you travel alone, your conscience has to be on maximal alert, at all times.

Add a global health crisis to the mix and you’ll get a ‘super combo’ of self-doubt and pressure in an already sensitive situation.

I won’t lie, I had my doubts about travelling this time. At the time I write this, I am a few days away from embarking on my biggest solo trip to date, a 45-day journey in Mexico, should my plans not change along the way. My emotions are quite high, a mix of concerns about travel safety and excitement about the unknown and what’s to come.

When reading travel blogs, it can be useful to join multiple social groups for solo female travellers, where everyone shares their experiences, good and bad. These include unfortunate encounters, accidents and racism too. Bad things can happen, and when it comes to travelling alone as a woman, you do need to be aware of them. You have to exercise caution, even more so in some countries, and be mindful of your whereabouts and who you meet - the latter really comes down to trusting your gut. But it shouldn’t be a reason to cancel all your plans and close yourself up. The experiences you gain from travelling solo are indescribable for the most part. The people you meet along the way, the landscapes, the culture, the food. For me, it’s deeply nurturing and soul healing.

So here I am, after a 2-year hiatus and a global pandemic, still on and finalising my trip and the details needed to travel in confidence. Am I worried about potentially contracting COVID-19 while travelling? Yes, of course. Am I worried about making bad encounters? I am. Am I worried about getting lost? Yes, and some more. But none of these worries are going to stop me. The reality is that these fears already live inside of me, whether I’m back home or travelling abroad, so I put things in perspective as often as I can, and I proceed with caution.

People, especially in some communities and religious groups, can also see a woman travelling alone in a bad light (and shame them), finding all sorts of ludicrous reasons on why she’s looking for problems, for herself and potentially her family. I am lucky enough to have an understanding family and a group of friends who understand my motives and support me, but while solo female travelling is more common these days, it can still have its set of prejudices attached to it.

This is something that Angela Karanja, founder of Raising Remarkable Teenagers, and solo travel enthusiast related to. “The pressure from people around me not to go here or there is real,” she told me. “They come to you with facts and fears, mostly unfounded fears, and sometimes I must admit that this can make me a bit more cautious.” She added that most of the claims and fears projected onto her by friends and colleagues have been untrue thus far and that locals, during her travels, have mostly been intrigued by her complexion - as a Black woman - and looked at her in awe.

But there’s a flip side to this. The reality is that the view on Black women in some establishments is extremely biased. Something that Angela herself has experienced in some of her travels. “In those lovely hotels, guests come to ask you for services. It's like I'm there as a sex worker. Just as my friends warned,” she shared. And while her first thought and reaction would have been to shut them down, the reality is otherwise. “I remember my mission in life is to smile and become the change I want to see in the world,” she said. “So I calmly tell them who I am and that I'm enjoying the facilities. I'm worthy of the good things and I belong there too.”

As women, we face those prejudices on a daily basis and have grown stronger from them, whether we realise it or not. Travelling alone as a woman (of colour) shouldn’t be another thing we have to justify ourselves for or fear but sadly, we are still there.

Something that Karishma, a solo female traveller living in London with family in India, identifies with. “Culturally, we are supposed to take permission and blessing from our mothers before we go travelling, which I still do, but I have never heard my mother say no to me,” she explained. “It just takes a bit of time.”

Whether you’re entertaining the idea of going on a solo trip, scared to jump into it again or just curious to find out more about it, a lot of resources are available online. Personally, I’m keen to find more BIPOC bloggers, businesses and influencers in the travel space, with more knowledge in solo travelling. Finding stories from people you can identify with can really help boost your self-confidence, and this is something travelling alone has really done for me over the years. So I say, take the plunge, you won’t regret it.