Welcome back to Women Who Wander. This series focuses encouraging women to seek out solo travel. Empowering and inspiring both seasoned Solo Travellers and those who have yet to venture out on their own. The response to this series has been amazing and I just want to thank you all for embracing it. Hopefully many more Solo Travel stories to come. This week is Teja on (Asian-flavoured) worldview shifts (waiting vs just do it) that eventually pushed her to travel alone.
Teja is an environmental scientist (to which she admits) and an engineer (which she disowns), but having been excessively self-educated in all manner of erudition, is really far too many things for one person to be. She is on an odyssey for homes in a thousand strange places, because predictably, she’s doing the Ibn Battuta quote backwards. Teja likes to write about the stories that happen around the travel plans, with a side of sustainable travel. You can follow her adventures on her blog Teja on the Horizon
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The world is a dangerous place.
Life can be very confusing when you are genuinely bilingual. By that I mean, you equally use two languages that come from very different worldviews. I am obviously writing in English, but by heritage I am (mostly) Malay, one of the Asian races.
By and large us Asians form a risk-averse group of nations. You wouldn’t think it given the recurring instability that pops up in one corner or another, every so often. But I think perhaps it is precisely this instability that produces the aversion to risk. As someone who consumes media in two languages, I see this divide between my English-speaking circles, and my indigenous circles. The former share risk stories as aspirational or humourous, the latter share risk stories as cautionary tales.
It is a region of high inequality. Here, the high consequence of loss – of being left behind in the scramble for resources and up the demographic hierarchy, the remembered history of want and danger and immigration often still in living memory, means that it is prudent to shut off as many sources of unnecessary risk as possible. The clans and family-owned businesses, political dynasties, and the famous stereotypical Asian ‘A’ student and his/her dragon mother – these are family-scale risk management strategies.
The reason why this filter is not challenged, is because all of the reasoning that comes with it are so sensible, and kind of true. There is news in abundance that justifies the argument for caution.
There’s Safety in Numbers
Aside from economic realities, this strong family orientation and risk aversion means that solo travel is less of a runaway cultural phenomenon among indigenous Asians – of both genders. Travel consumes resources and takes time away from the family. It is typically something for which you need a valid reason, such as being required to for work, or as a holiday together.
Which presents those with a natural wanderlust, like me, with a problem. Especially since I’m female. The world is a dangerous place. And it is exponentially more so for a female. So goes the received wisdom. The only safe way to travel is to carry your support system with you. If you want to travel, then travel with others.
It’s a waiting game
I spent a lot of my life waiting for travelling companions. To be fair, I did manage to travel a fair bit. Holidays with my family, even backpacking once with my close friends. But as we graduated and no longer had common schedules, the waiting grew longer and longer, as people’s priorities shifted. And I hoped, perhaps one day when I found the right man, my husband would always be there to travel with me. One day, he did come into my life, and we married.
Except that he cannot travel. He tried, but he couldn’t. Nothing was right, and everything was wrong. We upgraded our style so that things could be just perfect. But the expense made him feel guilty and unhappy so it’s still wrong. Neither was it the kind of travel that I really wanted anyway.
We separated eventually, for other reasons.
The world changed
By this time the millennials have grown up, and advances in multiple technologies and social platforms made travelling ever more feasible for ever more people. But still, I did not exploit it. Because the world was still to dangerous a place to travel alone, and there’s safety in numbers.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have the skills. As a ‘young’ Gen X, I pick up quickly on all of the developments even if I was judicious about how involved I wanted to be, especially on social media. But when your mind is bound a certain way, you don’t know that it is. We don’t know that we can’t see something because of our filters, because we can’t see our earliest filters.
My life kept shrinking when I was waiting. I was no one’s priority, not even my own. I didn’t dream, or if I did, I did not believe in them coming true. It won’t do. Fortunately for me, the episode of my divorce brought changes to myself that cannot be reversed. I could not help but break loose from many things. I needed a bigger life to house the truer person I was growing to be.
So I moved out, which is a big deal for an Asian who did not need to. There were no two ways about it. So I did it, even though for a time it hurt my loved ones because they didn’t understand. I went off to travel alone for the first time for a non-work reason to Taman Negara, the famous rainforest park of Malaysia. I went hiking and was put into a group of locals travelling together – of course – in a big group. They took me in, but were surprised that I was indeed all alone. Drove there alone, in my accommodation alone. I was ‘brave’ to be taking these risks. ‘Anything’ could happen when you travel alone.
That’s right. Anything. Including being taken in by nice people.
Mindset of abundance vs mindset of scarcity
You see, the excessive caution I was raised with had inadvertently left me in a mindset of scarcity. It is ironic, because as a Muslim, these are not equivalent options. I’m actually required to embrace the one beyond it, of abundance.
A mindset of scarcity presupposes that you are in constant want. What comes from it is a nature that is:
1. insecure – sees security as something externally received,
2. isolationist – a belief that you can’t trust others and should rely only on yourself,
3. miserly – always worrying the loss of things we hold, and
4. fearful – sees the world primarily in terms of threats.
Is caution useful? Of course! I’m not about to throw all of it to the wind. The world is indeed a dangerous place. However it is also beautiful, and generous, and funny, and collegial. You see, some wisdom was given to me in crossing the threshold of fear into abundance. It is not the world that has to become safe in order for us to see its fraternity. We have to see this part, for the world to become safe. We are the ones who keep each other safe.
You see, it’s true. There’s safety in numbers. And out there are more numbers than I can bring with me. They’re just not my friends yet. But once upon a time, every friend was not a friend yet. And so today, I just travel when I feel called. I Travel alone if no one’s coming. Because once on the road, I probably won’t be. It will take me some time to adjust to this epiphany. But I will. Because our dreams of safety wait for us to come true.
Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to share your stories
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