She Travels

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Travelling solo: in discussion with Graine de voyageuse

June 30, 2020



June 30, 2020

We had the chance to interview Pauline, the creator of the travel blog Graine de voyageuse. Pauline is from Normandy, speaks four languages, left everything to travel in Southern Asia a few years ago and recounts her adventures on her blog ever since. Here are her thoughts on solo female travels.

Pauline (graine de voyageuse) 1.jpg

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, when did you start travelling alone? Why? What is your current situation?

I started to travel when I was 19: I went to England for two months as an au pair to improve my English, and I took this opportunity to travel around a bit. Then, for my language studies I went abroad for internships, which allowed me to improve my language skills and to discover what it was like to travel solo (but once more, it was supervised). Then, when I started to work, I wanted to go to Costa Rica with some friends, but I ended up going there alone as no one was ready to travel into the unknown at this time. After this experience, I became completely addicted to travelling.

Today I’m 31 and I have multiple faces: I’m a freelance redactor and translator, but also a blogger, and sometimes a photograph, depending my clients’ needs. My blog is not a professional one, it is only a hobby.

Among the countries you have visited, which one is your favourite?

It is a very hard question, as I loved every travel for different reasons! I am thinking about Costa Rica because it was my first solo travel. I can still remember the adrenaline sensations when I was sitting in the plane, I didn’t know what I would do or see! Also Mexico, where I almost settled, because the people are adorable, it is a very festive atmosphere, so you want to party and to smile all the time, there is music in every street…It is a happy country, with a lot of joie de vivre!

Which country or travel experience really surprised you?

Iran! It was a real slap in the face. I was accompanying a friend visiting his expatriate brother. I didn’t really think about it, I took my plane tickets and it is only after that I thought to myself “Wait, what am I getting into? We are talking about Iran”! There are so many negative associations, with what we hear in the media…In the end I was super surprised, even before we landed. During the flight, some local women went to ask me a lot of questions, fascinated that I was going there, thanking me for taking an interest in the country which had such a bad reputation. At the time, tourism was not very developed yet. So I felt very much welcomed, and this feeling stayed with me during my stay. People were adorable, we were offered pistachios and sweets in the streets, people were welcoming us…  

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What does travelling alone bring you?

The freedom! I choose what I want to do, when and with who I want to do it. It is a freedom without frustration, with concessions. I organise and plan according to me and what I want. Also, when you travel alone, you attract people, it leads to more encounters than when you are accompanied. I’ve seen this huge difference when I travel with my husband or solo.

When solo, I am never alone, I meet people every day, I have found myself more sociable than I am in my normal daily life. You really become a magnet for people! But when I am travelling with someone, it is much more limited, there is a sort of barrier that makes people hesitate to come up to you, since you are accompanied.  

Has travelling changed your perception of yourself? How?

I realised that I am stronger than I thought. When I travel solo, I realise that I can take decisions that could change the trip entirely (going to this person instead of this one, this place rather than another…). I managed to assert myself more, to say no. So, you become stronger and more autonomous, since you learn how to live and organise yourself, especially when you move around a lot, so you have to learn how to adapt.

Do you have an experience or person you met who changed your way of perceiving yourself, or the others, or even the fact of travelling alone?

Yvanna, a French woman I met during a volunteer mission in Laos in a national park. I was making videos to present their tours, and she was doing stunning interviews of the employees and the population. She told me she worked intensely for six months to save up money and that she travelled for the rest of the year, spending as little as possible, by volunteering. She allowed me to see that one doesn’t have to live in the frame the society is trying to set us in (work work work, commute every day, must have a house and a stable job…) and that one can choose to have a complete different life and live from it. It really inspired me.

What would you say to people who say that traveling alone as a woman is dangerous?

To travel alone is not that dangerous. When one leaves in solo, one develops one’s instinct, one’s intuition, a lot: one takes safe decisions a lot more than bad ones, since one is a lot more careful and aware of one’s environment.  When one is alone, one listens to oneself and one’s sensations a lot more rather than accompanied, where one can rely on the others. One asks for people’s help, like the places and neighbourhoods to avoid. I don’t think that leaving alone abroad is more dangerous, I got way more troubled in the streets of France than abroad.

There is no touristic country more dangerous than another, for example I never had any issues in Mexico, where everyone was telling me not to go, while I got my worst travelling experience in Thailand, a place supposed to be super safe for tourists. In consequences, I don’t really listen what people tell me about this or this country anymore.

How could we change this idea that women shouldn't travel alone, and should go with someone?

I think this mindset is already changing. We see women travelling solo a lot more, and they are more and more visible. When I started my blog, there were already solo blogs existing, and when I left for the first time, I obviously read everything I could on these blogs to reassure myself. Just the fact to talk about it and to show that it is possible and doable, by normal people like you and me, I think it already helps a lot.

What is your worst experience? How did you handle it? Did it have an impact on you, your behaviour or your life?

In Thailand, where I got all my belongings stolen on an island, when my bag was right behind me. I was left with nothing: no passport, no credit card, no money or phone, no camera, no hostel room card…every essential when you travel, gone. Thankfully, I had befriended two boys on the boat taking me to the island, who really helped me. Thanks to them I was able to call my mom so she could block all my cards remotely and send me money, the two boys gave me food, the hostel manager used my deposit to pay me another night there… To get an emergency travel pass to go back home turned out complicated, the local police was lazy, or corrupted, and were not taking my complaint seriously, but I really needed to file one for my passport theft report. And impossible to get an appointment with the embassy, which can only be obtained by calling them, because the police wouldn’t let me use their phone…Finally, I went directly on site, a fourteen-hour bus trip away, and managed to sneak in between two appointments. I could not feel welcome nor safe anymore. The only benefit was the camera theft because it forced me to enjoy my surroundings and the landscapes without worrying about my belongings, since I had nothing left anymore.  

What advice and tips would you give women who hesitate to travel alone?

First of all, to book in hostels or couchsurfing platforms, this is where one meets people the most. Hotels are a lot less conducive to encounters. When I travel solo, personally, it is too meet a maximum of people, to talk with people, to enrich myself from their experiences. Second, to download an offline map, like with the app There are countries where wandering can be nice, but in others, it is best to avoid it, like in Brazil, where slums can be found right next to residential neighbourhoods. Also, to keep relatives updated, especially if one leaves for a hike on one’s own: let them know where one is going, how, in how much time one should be back, and a local number, like the hostel’s. In case of a problem, if one sprains an ankle, it is always good to know locals that could help. Most importantly, ask advice to locals, they know the place, sometimes even better than guides. It can lead to incredible encounters and experiences, like this local who took me to a national park at night to see nocturnal crabs, or this one who took me to a hot spring in a river, away from the tourists!

Your best experience while travelling?

In Indonesia, to Mount Bromo, a volcano on the Java island. I really wanted to avoid the overpriced tours crowded by tourists to get there, so, by asking around to locals, friends, and bloggers, I was advised to go there on scooter. I left with my husband, who now travels with me, before everyone so that we got the perfect spot to see the sunrise, away from the mass of tourists, it was magical. We stayed there three days, when most people only stay for the day. And to watch the sunset, we went on top of the volcano. Arrived there, the view was magnificent. We found ourselves alone on the volcano, able to walk around, with the smoke and the volcano rumbling, it was an extraordinary experience. I also got lucky enough to observe a brown bear in a national park in Italy during an internship, thanks to naturalists who were writing their thesis and who took me with them. I got all teary!

Do you have a message to women who will read/watch you?

If you have the slightest wish, but really, the slightest, go for it! Worst case scenario, it’s a bad experience, a good joke to tell your friends or children in a few years, best case scenario, it becomes a passion, you become completely addicted, because it is so enriching! At least, try, make an attempt, even if it looks uncomfortable at the beginning, even if it is not far away from home (and there is no need for a trip to be far away!), maybe a passion will be born from it!

To discover more of Pauline’s adventures, here are her blog and Instagram. She even has a Youtube channel!

En savoir plus sur NomadHer

NomadHer est une application destinée aux femmes globe-trotters pour les encourager à voyager en solo en toute sécurité.NomadHer a pour objectif d'autonomiser les femmes par le biais du voyage.Pour rejoindre la communauté des femmes globetrotteuses, vous pouvez télécharger l'application NomadHer sure IOS et Android.Suivez NomadHer sur Instagram :  @nomad_her.

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