At some point in many women’s lives comes a time when she must travel alone. Many of us have flown solo to a friend’s wedding or to a new city with hopes of finding a new home. No matter what age this first solitary voyage takes place, imagine the independence and confidence gained from booking your own hotel, planning (or winging) your way around unfamiliar places, and finding activities to keep yourself occupied. Take that sense of achievement and multiply it tenfold in a situation involving traveling abroad to a continent where all you have is first impressions and the luggage rolling beside you. Many tribal cultures have carried this tradition for centuries–a rite of passage–exploring the unknown in order to find your truer self. We’ve mapped out three of our favorite true stories based off memoirs written by women travelers, showing you how to take a leap of faith and leave what you know to discover a new world–and yourself.
Lose yourself to find yourself
Rachel Friedman was a recent college graduate who had no idea what to do with her life. Instead of losing herself in a career she didn't want or a relationship that didn't fit, she impulsively leaves the U.S. and flies to Ireland with no plans or expectations. This is where her book The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure was born.
In Ireland, Rachel breaks through her social shell, as well as the anxiety of travelling alone, and begins working in a pub. Soon after, she befriends an Australian girl who later becomes her roommate in Australia. Through the next year, she spends her time between Australia and South America, taking spiritual and emotional risks.
The overlying theme, and the most consistent message from female travelers in general, is to trust your instincts. It was Rachel’s instincts that lead her to flee the U.S. after college to find herself. It was her instincts that kept her safe through physically trying adventures on Death Road and eventually lead her to find her future husband somewhere between Tilcara and Tupiza. Though the end of her South American adventure in Chilé leaves her with many questions, Rachel felt much more equipped to tackle these life decisions. Learning more about the world, its people, and herself allowed her to begin to understand–and most importantly, chase after–what she really wants in life.
Wise women travel well, and often
Not all travel-induced, life-altering journeys need to take place in your aimless 20’s. At 48, Rita Golden Gelman decided to depart her cushy L.A. lifestyle and her collapsing marriage to reshape her life and realize her dreams. She begins in a Zapotec village in Mexico and completes her excursion in Thailand, while making many stops along the way. Her travels and self-discoveries are beautifully composed in her book Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World.
Unlike Rachel’s memoir of a recent college grad finding her path in life, Rita’s journey occurs because the view of her life’s path became muddled through her career, marriage, and comfort. Only when her world begins to fall apart, does the view become clear again. Instead of losing herself in despair, she decides to get lost in villages and cities throughout the world. From Mexico, she makes her way to Guatemala, Israel, and then Indonesia–not to mention over a dozen other stops. Through her travels, she is able to live out her dreams of not just experiencing other cultures, but immersing herself into the lives of natives. She cooks with women over fire pits, observes orangutans in Borneo, finds her roots with a Hasidic family in Israel, and lives with an Indonesian prince in his palace.
Throughout her memoir, we see her world through her travels and observations, but also how she comes to rediscover her spirit. She is able to place her roots and accept her past, as well as the growth ahead of her. Because of her willingness to connect to people she has never met (and may have known nothing about), she was able to become an ambassador and keynote speaker, not only for women in travel, but for those looking to connect across cultures.
You don’t have to go it alone
Although the road to self-empowerment is a personal one, you don’t always have to fly solo in order to get there. Three Manhattan journalists in their late twenties decided to jump off the corporate ladder and quit their jobs, leave their boyfriends, and travel the world–together–for a year. Amanda, Holly, and Jen each set out with a goal and took turns manifesting their dreams, sometimes with disappointing results, but always becoming more and more enlightened, humbled, and appreciative along the way. The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World is a rollercoaster of adventure and anxiety where three young women drop the crutches of careers and societal expectations, and start living for themselves.
Their first stop is Peru in June and the trip ends with Australia the following May. Through their year together, the Lost Girls each reached their desired destination with mixed results. First is Jen’s goal to see Kenya, where they organize a play about influential Kenyan women that stars an all-girl cast at the Pathfinder Academy in Kitale. Holly, wanting to study yoga, leads her friends to Sivananda Academy in South India. As eager as she is to arrive, she soon learns the rules and structure of the ashram are not a great fit for her. Amanda, who already knows she wants to become a freelance travel writer, records every step of their adventure, sometimes much to Jen’s chagrin.
At the end of their trip, in Sydney, Australia, The Lost Girls realize that not only have they found friends for life in each other, but they’ve also found their calling: to grow their journey into a worldwide movement, Lost Girls World, inspiring women everywhere to “[live] out their travel wish-lists.” Here they have spread from three seasoned blog writers to a whole network of women writing articles, sharing their experiences, and giving advice to girls and women who would like to follow in their footsteps–or create footsteps of their own.
Be sure to check out these three fantastic reads if you’d like to fuel your fire to travel or summon up the courage to make your first solo trip. Do you have a favorite femme-fronted travel book or film? Share it with us on social media!
Friedman, Rachel. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure. Bantam 2011
Gelman, Rita Golden. Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World. Broadway Books. 2002.
Baggett, Jennifer, Holly Corbett, and Amanda Pressner. The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World. HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.