March 8 marks International Women’s Day, drawing awareness for creating gender equality around the world. When it comes to Canadian women and travel, what are some of the biggest challenges they face when they embark on a solo trip? And what tips can some of Canada’s expert women travellers share to respectfully improve gender equality in the places we choose to visit?
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First, it all starts with confidence, according to Tamara Elliott, Founder of Globeguide.ca. “Despite having visited nearly 60 countries, some things just never get easier. Safety, eating alone, navigating places where you don’t speak the language, it takes confidence and I always admire that.”
While quickly trying to translate how to find the nearest bathroom can take gumption, travelling on your own can bring perks, too. Says Jody Robbins, author and founder of TravelsWithBaggage.com, “Travelling solo gives you so much freedom. You can’t beat doing what you want when you want it. It also gives you time to reflect – travel is all about new experiences, but it’s also about you, and how you react to vivid, new experiences. When you travel with others, that clarity can get lost in the chatter.”
Travel writer Leigh McAdam of HikeBikeTravel.com sees the pros and cons: “I’m a very independent woman and love calling my own shots and doing what I want on my own timeline. But there are times when I do miss sharing a great moment or travel experience with a good friend or my husband.”
Leigh McAdam in Morocco (Courtesy of HikeBikeTravel.com).
Tips for Travelling on your own
Ready to make the leap and board that plane on your own? Our pros shared some tips for embarking on a solo adventure:
Says Tamara Elliott, “Always let someone know where you are – even if it’s the person at the front desk of the hotel. Let them know where you’re headed and when you expect to be back. Plan an itinerary in advance to share with friends and family at home to let them know where you’ll be, and how to reach you. Keep a scan of your passport with you at all times.” Thankfully with technology, even when you’re far from home it’s easy to stay connected with friends and family.
Jody Robbins goes a step further and brings safety with her wherever she goes, “If you’re on your own, consider carrying a whistle – while that might sound overly cautious, it can quickly draw attention to a precarious situation,” she says.
Jody Robbins checks out heli-hiking in the Rockies (Courtesy of Travelswithbaggage.com).
Practical advice that works well for solo, pair or group travellers goes back to the basics for Leigh McAdam, “Don’t be afraid, smile a lot. Be open but always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t put all of your cash in one place.”
Can how you travel make an impact?
While we think we may be at the mercy of our itineraries and timelines, the decisions we make when we travel can actually help women get ahead in the places we visit. According to Adrienne Lee, Director of Development for the Planeterra Foundation, there are a few ways women can help women.
First, says Lee, is to do your research beforehand. “Seek out women-owned and run enterprises that are building opportunities and investing back in their local programs.” Planeterra, which was established in 2004 by G Adventures Founder Bruce Poon-Tip, supports 13 women-focused programs in 11 countries, with an additional ten partnerships that support programs associated with empowering women in an additional nine countries.
In India, Planeterra has created a program that makes the country more approachable for solo women travellers. “Women On Wheels” offers female-led airport pickup service out of the Indira Gandhi Airport. Says Lee, “Single travelling females are picked up by another woman who has been trained as a professional chauffeur and dropped off at their start hotel. These women also offer optional day tours to Delhi’s main attractions.”
A “Women on Wheels” Entrepreneur in India (Photo courtesy of G Adventures).
Be open to customs, ways of life and show compassion wherever you roam. Says Tamara Elliott, “I 100% believe that solo travellers can make a difference in at least one person’s life.” By opening your perspective, you’ll enjoy your solo adventures, and perhaps help empower another woman while you’re there.
Finally, don’t let the lack of a travel mate hold you back from exploring, as there are a number of operators (such as G Adventures) which make solo travel easier. Says Jody Robbins, “If you’re not comfortable travelling alone, there are lots of group tour operators that offer small group excursions all around the world, and many cater specifically to the solo traveller.”
So whether you’re celebrating International Women’s Day at home or far away, know that women who roam the world can not only better themselves, but the women around them as well.