Last year, I took four months off work to road trip around Australia. The purpose was for writing a book, which is TBC and no I will not tell you anything about it. But it was also a bucket list dream of mine to do the entirety of Australia in the exact way I personally wanted to do it. I’d been on so many holidays with friends and family, and while they were amazing experiences, I wanted some travel just for myself.
It’s a funny thing, being a woman and announcing to people that you’ll be travelling solo. I would say that the majority of people I told about my trip followed my announcement with a solemn “be careful”. It’s not the same “be careful” that men are given before they go travelling. Every woman has heard this form of “be careful” – it means “watch out for your personal safety”. Don’t get raped. Don’t get murdered. Don’t get your drink spiked. Don’t walk alone at night.
There’s reasons for people to have these fears. The statistics are against us as a gender – 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, for example. 1 in 6 women has experienced stalking before the age of FIFTEEN.
But there’s also a culture of fear around women and solo travelling that needs to be addressed. After all, the answer to all this violence against women isn’t for women to stay locked up in their rooms like Rapunzel for fear of abuse or assault – it’s telling men to not rape and murder. Education about consent. Changing the conversation, so we dismantle the culture that sees perpetrators treat women’s bodies as something to dominate, as property.
I learnt a lot about myself, in particular about myself as a woman, on my trip. Here’s some of it.
1. It’s Scarier Before You Leave
The fear surrounding female solo travelling is far worse before you hit the road. I was doing a trip I’d never done before, headed to places that – while in my own country – were completely foreign to me. The outback could be another planet for someone from Sydney. I was scared of caravan parks, of motels, of highways. I was convinced Mick from Wolf Creek was real. I’m a true crime nut which didn’t help – I knew the stories of Peter Falconio and the Backpacker Murders.
But what you realise once you’re on the road is that people are generally good, hostels and caravan parks are generally safe, and the horror stories are the exception. Absolutely, use TripAdvisor and apps like WikiCamps (the best app EVER for road tripping) to choose places to stay that have good reputations. That’s just common sense. But what I am saying is a lot of the more irrational fears about your trip will quickly dissipate when you realise that everyone is absolutely not trying to murder you. You don’t need to be any more aware of your surroundings and personal safety than you do in a city, in my experience.
2. It’s Good To Know Shit About Your Car
Something that naturally happened as I travelled was that I learnt how to do some basic shit with my car. Fill up the oil and water. How to clean the underside correctly. How to check tyre pressure. How to operate the 4WD controls. Obviously it’s 2019 and I’d say it’s likely to be pretty equal for my generation in terms of how many women know shit about their car vs men of a similar age. Bizarrely, cars are still seen so often as ~mens domains~. I can’t tell you how quickly I would turn to men at those petrol stations to assist me with weird flashing lights on the dash instead of women. It was instinct. And I hated that. So I think something empowering you can do for yourself as a woman is learn how your vehicle works.
It’s also important when taking on a road trip. Yes, Australia is safer than your concerned parents are likely making it out to be. But it IS a country with swathes of isolated bushland and desert. If you break down with no reception, hours from the nearest town – you’re looking at a long and dangerous walk in extreme temps. Even knowing the basics means you can check ’em regularly and ensure your vehicle is as safe as possible to drive.
3. How To Be Okay With Temporary Loneliness
Travelling alone can be lonely – who knew!? But it’s a strange loneliness – it’s the loneliness that comes with day upon day of short interactions with people you barely know, your friends and family hundreds of k’s away. The worst loneliness was my stretch from the middle of the NT through the Kimberley to Broome – an area with patchy reception at best, small towns, and long drives. It meant that for a full week I wasn’t in touch with friends and family, and I was basically on a cycle of drive/eat/sleep.
I think it’s important as a woman to become okay with loneliness. It’s not a state any human being should remain in for a long time in my opinion, we all need support and intimacy. But too often I see women run from relationship to relationship because they’re afraid of being alone, or keep shitty friends around for the same reason – or even just over-fill their lives with work or social stuff to keep eternally busy. I’ve been guilty of it for sure.
There’s so much to gain from some loneliness, though. Because eventually you stop feeling like that time without human contact is loneliness, and realise it’s simply “being alone”. And that act of “being” is so, so powerful for everything from your creativity to your self-awareness. Lean into it.
4. How To Be Alone With Dark Thoughts
One thing that long solo drives will teach you is to be alone with your thoughts. Your good thoughts… and the ones you don’t enjoy. I’m talking about the big, yucky questions – am I happy in my relationship? Are my friends toxic? Do I need to forgive that person who wronged me? Have I really dealt with that traumatic event I pushed under the mental carpet?
They’re thoughts we can easily escape in our busy lives, but when you’re driving through the outback with no one to chat to – you can’t avoid ruminating on things you generally like to ignore. While fixating on shit isn’t good for anyone (hi, I have anxiety and fixating is what I do best) – avoiding this stuff is equally as damaging.
Being alone with dark thoughts doesn’t have to mean uprooting everything in your life or listening to all of them. Many areas of my life that I reassessed as my brain flit from thought to thought made me realise I was on the right track. I have a great group of friends now after over a year of having people I was close to for years fade out of my life. I realised chasing the people who didn’t want to be my friend wasn’t what I should be doing, letting them go and not taking their rejection of me as a reflection of my worth was far healthier – and recognising the people who did think I was a 10/10 person to spend time with. I realised that I loved my career and being a writer really was my passion, not just something I fell into 10 years ago.
Self-reflection doesn’t have to be a horrible experience.
5. If It Feels Wrong In Your Gut, It’s OK To Do Something About It
A couple of times I got a bad vibe about something. The first was a rest stop I was going to pull over at. Visually, it was hidden behind masses of trees, invisible from the highway. There was one caravan parked in there. I pulled off anyway, and as I passed the caravan I saw one man sitting outside. He wasn’t doing anything in particular, but I got a bad vibe – maybe it was just paranoia. Regardless, I decided to keep going, and instead pulled into a more visible truck & car stop ten minutes later.
Travelling solo shouldn’t be ruled by fear, but I also feel that sometimes fear works in the opposite way, forcing us to do things we don’t feel comfortable with because we’re afraid of the awkwardness of saying no or changing plans. Sure, the outback is not full of Ivan Milat‘s trying to murder you, or scary roadhouses with dungeons built into them (it is, however, FULL of kangaroos so don’t drive at dusk). But sometimes you’ll feel iffy about something, be it a hostel room you’ve been allocated, a date you met on an app, or a rest stop. And it’s perfectly OK to go “you know what, I’m just going to go ahead and make a new decision here”.
I’m not sure if “gut feeling” is always right, but I do think we should stop feeling scared of doing something potentially awkward like asking to change hostel rooms or walking out of a restaurant before ordering, if it doesn’t feel right.
7. It’s Universally Dangerous To Do Dumb Shit When You’re Isolated
Something I learned (almost) the hard way while travelling is a) how easy it is for things to go south and b) how screwed you’ll be if they do and you’re alone. I was driving a long stretch of outback gravel road, and because it was straight I kept increasing my speed, which was stupid because I took a corner WAY too fast and the car skidded along the gravel. I lost control briefly but thankfully had a good 4WD and luck on my side, because the car corrected itself and I slowed way down.
But if I’d had an accident, even a minor one, I would have been screwed. I was an hour or more from any town, let alone a hospital. I had seen one other car in the previous thirty minutes. I’d basically become cocky and impatient and started to bend the rules and take risks, forgetting that if anything happened to me, I was really, really far from people and services I might need.
So don’t be a dickhead when travelling solo, ok? Or ever, really.
Ladies, I want to challenge you to take a solo trip. It doesn’t have to be four months around Australia. It doesn’t even have to be a week in Japan. Even a weekender away on your own can be amazing for discovering shit about yourself and having an experience that’s JUST yours – not shared with your partner, or your friend, or your family. Something just for you.
There’s nothing like it, trust me.Image: Supplied