She Travels

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Travelling solo: in discussion with Voyager sa vie

July 16, 2020

by

NomadHer

July 16, 2020

We had the pleasure to interview Pamela “Pam”, the creator of the travel blog Voyager sa vie. Pam lives in Montreal, has a passion for Asia and is one of the founders of Voyageuses du Québec, the first web-magazine on female travelling in Québec! This website aims to demystify female travels and to encourage female French-Canadians to travel.  Here are her thoughts and tips on solo female travelling.

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

I am Pamela, 32 years old, and I’ve been living in Montreal for 14 years. I am a mental health worker in Montreal, my blog and web-magazine Voyageuses du Québec are the other parts of my job. I have created my ideal job!

I started to travel young with my mother (a lot with all-inclusive formulas, as it is done a lot in Quebec), then at 19 years old I travelled with my girlfriend in Mexico. The next year I went to Asia, which became a passion, I travel multiple times a year in Asia ever since. My mother’s death a few years later is what pushed me to travel alone for the first time, it gave me the last push I needed. I became aware that life can stop at any time. Why, then, wait to do what I really wanted to do? At that time, I had a few destinations in time, and, pulling a paper randomly to choose, it came down to Switzerland, one of the safest countries on the planet (which reassured my grandmother). This first travel wasn’t easy, one idealizes solo travelling a lot, but the loneliness can become heavy to bear. And seven years ago, people weren’t as connected as today, so I sometimes found myself completely isolated. But this travel also allowed a great introspection and I realized I was capable of doing it. It was the starting point.

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

This is a really hard question! My answer will probably change tomorrow, but right now I would say China, for the countryside; The Philippines, for the landscapes’ beauty; and Indonesia, with Sumatra island, which I fell in love with.

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Which country or travel experience really surprised you?

India, where I was unsettled, my reactions surprised me, my way of reacting to some looks. I went there with a friend. I knew it was likely to happen, but I wasn’t expecting to be so surprised. Despite my respect for traditions and clothing habits (trousers, shirt), the look in men's eyes completely froze me. One event in particular stood out for me: my friend and I were in a temple, somewhere in the countryside of Pushkar. There were many men around, and as soon as my friend’s eyes were leaving me, as soon as he was looking somewhere else, the men’ stare would change completely, I could feel the difference with how they stared at us before. I am deeply feminist, and this is where I realized the radically different way in which women can be treated.

Also, Taiwan, which pleasantly surprised me, it was a short stay before going to Japan. One doesn’t hear a lot about this country, but it clicked, within twenty minutes I knew I would love the place, I really want to go back there! It is a country which gather all the good aspects of China and Japan, without any of the negative aspects!

What does travelling alone bring you?

I am rather introverted, I can be sociable of course, but I always need time for myself, to recharge my batteries. I think that travelling on my own is the best way to do so, it’s a moment where I can be alone with myself. It really soothes me to be on my own, to be alone with my thoughts. I know it scares a lot of people, this solitude, to face oneself and one’s thoughts, but on the contrary, I always use this time to reflect on myself, to see where I am at, what I want to work on…This is what travelling alone brings me the most. I travel alone to be alone. It’s like a meditation. Of course, I enjoy having coffee with someone from my hostel, I am not a savage either, but travelling alone is really taking the time to be with myself, to listen to myself.  

Has travelling changed your perception of yourself? How?

I was always introverted, and when I was younger, I used to see that very negatively. I was always surrounded (friends, family, girlfriends and boyfriends) by extroverts. In consequence, I used to see this side of me negatively, but ever since I travel solo, it’s the opposite, I’ve learned to understand and love it, and to see that actually this isn’t a flaw. In the same way, my trust in myself. When you’re struggling on the other side of the planet, in a Chinese countryside where no one understands you, and still, you manage to find your way and the bus you need, this kind of experience makes you proud of yourself every time, it really boosts your self-esteem!

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?

During one of my trips in China, I went in Guizhou, an area rarely visited by Westerners, and I realised after a whole week there that I hadn’t seen crossed path with a single one of them, I was the only one! Maybe it was also due to the time of the year I was there, but this is where I realised “Well, I can go anywhere, I am managing fine here where no one understands me, it has been a week since I have spoken English with someone”.

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

I would say that -and this is applicable for every subject- as soon as one doesn’t know something or isn’t informed on the subject, one is wary or scared. Often, the people who hold this idea are people who haven’t travelled a lot or who haven't strayed from the beaten path. Of course, one must always be careful, as one would be back at home, but one must try! The best way to fight against this idea is to do it.

I am often told « But aren’t The Philippines dangerous?” because medias have reported an incident or a terrorist attack in some place, henceforth people generalize. One must take a step back from everything that is said and must inform oneself and open oneself to the others.

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

Personally, I co-founded Voyageuses du Québec, a web-magazine to democratize solo female travelling. To change mindsets, we must talk about it, but not necessarily abroad, it is already an everyday work at home. As soon as we hear a sexist remark or comment, we must try to deconstruct it, with information and the sharing of experience. The more we will talk about it, the more people will see that there are girls and women who do it, and thus, the less likely the woman will be seen as needing companionship when traveling.

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

I don’t have any direct bad experience but in Medan (an Indonesian province of North Sumatra), with my girlfriend, we had a flight for Banda Aceh, a province under the sharia’s authority, where there is a lot of Muslim extremism. At the time, there were a lot of protests in Medan because of the ongoing presidential elections. When we arrived at the airport, we were told that 75% of the flights had been cancelled, and, by asking around, that several terrorist organizations had been dismantled by the government, and that these organizations were suspected of having hidden bombs in the demonstrations. We didn’t know what to expect at Banda Aceh, and our flight was taking off two hours later…We needed to take a decision quickly, which was really difficult. In the end we slept in the airport that night and we took a flight for Kuala Lumpur the next day. I just listened to my inner little voice.

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

Three tips. The first one: to talk about travelling alone to the good persons. Talking about it with office colleagues who have never travelled, during a break, isn’t always a good idea, their reactions can be discouraging. My first solo travel, clearly, my grandmother wasn’t the one who encouraged me to do it! So it is a really good idea to talk about it with other women who went there, who have done it, for example to groups of travellers on social medias, so they can share their experience and tips.

Second tip: to choose a reassuring destination, that makes you comfortable, even a close one. If you live in Montreal for example, the Gaspésie is a good destination.  A first solo trip doesn’t mean leaving at the other side of the planet! Obviously, if going to India is as reassuring for you, then go for it!

Third tip: to know the difference between fears and intuition. Before I leave for a solo trip, even after so many solo trips, I still have fears. But this isn’t my instinct telling me “I have a bad feeling”, it is just fear. One must learn to tame them. Instinct and intuition are something else. I think a lot of people stops themselves from solo travelling because they think “I don’t feel it, I have a bad feeling”, but it is just the fear talking. Because if you have this urge to leave, you must listen to yourself.  

Your best experience while travelling?

A four-month trip to South East Asia, where I visited the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and a bit of Malaysia. I travel often, four or five times a year, but rarely for long periods of time. And for that travel, I left for four months, and it turned out to be an experience superior to every other. Leaving for so long allowed me not to stress about the time passing, I didn’t think “I only have two days left, one day left …”. Forgetting about the time passing made it a perfect trip!

Do you have a message for the women who will read you?

Trust yourself and go for it! To me, travelling solo is one of the most positive things in my life. If you are reading this interview, it’s because, somewhere, you have this urge to go. So go! Stop analysing everything, stop trying to control and plan everything, and just buy this ticket!

To follow Pam in her travels, here are her blog and Instagram, as well as her web-magazine!

More about NomadHer :

NomadHer is an app for female globetrotters to encourage solo travelling safely. NomadHer has a vision of empowering women through travelling.

To join the community of female globetrotters, you can download NomadHer App on IOS & Android. Follow NomadHer on Instagram: @nomad_her.

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