THE BLOG

What Women Can Learn From Going 'Wild'

16/01/2015 16:20 GMT | Updated 18/03/2015 09:59 GMT

What is it like to wake up alone on the other side of the world, with only your sense of self for company? What kind of confidence do you gain from meeting strangers, perhaps those who don't even speak your language, but still finding a common ground and a joke to share? How does it feel to stand at the top of a mountain with the world stretching out below you and think, "yes, I made it up here!"

There's a great film that opens today and it's called Wild. Starring Reese Witherspoon, it's the true story of one woman's solo trip walking the Pacific Crest Trail in the United States to get over the pain of losing her mother, followed by drug addiction and the break-down of her marriage.

Beautiful scenery and some luscious Hollywood production values aside, it's an inspiring tale of what it feels like to step out alone, face fears, keep on moving onwards through sheer determination. It portrays beautifully that incredible sense of physical and mental achievement of undertaking a journey alone, and all the growing one does along the way.

With my own two children now age four and six it's a long time since I've been travelling solo but in my 20s I worked on women's projects in Nepal and Indonesia. I'll never forget the sensation of sitting in the back of a mini-van in Java in the middle of the night being driven from the airport to a small village which was to be my home for the next three months. The van got to the village and dropped me off. And for a few moments I stood alone in the darkness on a small muddy street, not knowing what to do next. Never had I felt so on my own. Of course a month later, this village was like home to me, I had by then my own house and I even went out on a date.

I often wonder if I'd have the bravery to do a trip like that again, and I hope I would. Instead I've been talking to two women whom I admire hugely who make regular big trips abroad alone and who benefit from them in a multitude of ways.

Zoe Paskin, 40, is director of the Palomar, one of London's leading new restaurants. She lives in North London but takes every opportunity possible to travel solo as a way to take stock and rejuvenate.

Where have you travelled to solo?

All over Europe, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand many times, Cambodia, India a few times.

Why did you decide to go alone?

Initially I began travelling alone because I was toying with living abroad and wanted to learn another language, so I headed to Barcelona. But it is also for practical reasons. Many of my friends are settled with partners and kids and I had to ask myself, was that going to stop me from travelling? Would I not go on a trip because no friend was available to come with me? I've also had quite demanding career from a young age, so I've always had the 'work hard, play hard' mentality.

There are advantages to travelling alone, too. When you have a companion you don't tend to be as open to what might unfold and you miss some opportunities.

For me it's also a time to 'catch up' with myself. We're all so busy and preoccupied. When I am away I find I get a bit more present. I call them 'escalator moments.' That idea of getting to a new floor, or a new stage giving me time to reflect and look back on where I have come from . It's not that I go to an ashram or meditate every day it's just a feeling that pairs everything back and I find it really energising. The truth is I love being away on my own now. Alone every little thing somehow resonates more. And there are all the little things you have to navigate - the moments you share with somebody local sometimes without even exchanging words, moments of human kindness, sheer connecting with another human.

What has been the most empowering moment of your travels?

I find the whole thing profoundly exhilarating, even the times when it is tough. There have been a few pretty gruelling occasions - but then you get to the other side and realise you're stronger and more capable and a richer person for it. I think not being afraid in life is so important, the less things we fear, the more we can realise. It's all about perception.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being on an open road and deciding from one minute to the next what way you want to go and how you might get there. It's wind in your hair, horizon stuff - literally and metaphorically and it's the feeling of being completely and utterly alive.

How have your trips changed you as a person?

Certainly. Travelling reminds you to be open, and we really do only have what we have right before us. Life has a beautiful way a turning in an instant and if you're open to it, the universe does bring and sadly take things away from you. I think for a city girl with a decent business head like me, it keeps me very down to earth, totally open minded and probably just a little bit wild. It also means I'll take to anyone and I have met many great people that way.

Do people treat you differently as a woman travelling alone?

Of course - generally warmer, occasionally not but I'd say that's pretty rare (sometimes keener - you're quite free to have any kind of encounter when you're travelling solo.) Sometimes people are a bit apprehensive but once they realise you're totally self-sufficient they're very, very inclusive. I can only go by my own experiences but almost all have been positive.

What are your best tips for solo travel?

1: I really recommend it but it has to be right for you - you can always do it in a very structured way, for example joining an organised tour or group, which still gives a sense of freedom without so much feeling of vulnerability/open-endedness.

2: In practical terms practical - always have a another credit card separate to your main wallet, a photo copy of you passport, a good book, your running shoes.

3: Book the first night ahead wherever you're heading to and always have some currency on you.

4: Listen to yourself, you often already know the answer....

Paula Froelich, 39, is the Editor of Yahoo Travel. An author, journalist and general gutsy lady, she's made it her mission to go off the beaten tourist track after being one of the people to take a tourist bus to Iraq in 2005 after the end of the US invasion.

Where have you travelled to solo?

Some of the crazier places have been Mali, Afghanistan and Iraq. I've also travelled to Kenya, South Africa, Mexico and most recently Burma.

What do you love most about travelling alone?

I love solo travel. It gives me time to think, re-assess and meet new people. But most of all I get to get back in touch with who I am, get out of old patterns and see the bigger picture when, many times, I have caught myself obsessing about one tree instead of looking at the whole forest. I also love not having to worry about someone else. When travelling with someone else you're often worrying, are they okay, are they having a good time, are they annoyed with me? It can get exhausting.

What was most empowering moment of your travels?

I went through a really hard time in my life from 2006-2009. I wasn't enjoying my job as a gossip editor on a New York newspaper, I'd broken up with a serious boyfriend, many of my friends were settling down. I felt lost and wondered what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Then I quit my job and started travelling. It was a confluence of events, but my self esteem had hit an all time low and on a trip in Iraq - I was writing about the fledgling tourist industry for a magazine - a fellow traveller looked at me and said, "you are such a wonderful, kind person." And for the first time in a long time I felt like one. It was the road to recovery for me after years of self-loathing.

Have your trips changed you as a person?

I think I'm more accepting. I'm definitely more compassionate and empathetic. I'm very good at seeing the funny side of things and its taught me to stay calm in unusual circumstance.

Did you learn anything that you now use in rest of life?

So many things: to shut up and listen more, to not judge so much if at all, to appreciate goodness/kindness in all forms and to take the lessons i learn on the road back home and incorporate them into my daily life. I've also learned to stay in the moment. That however much you plan, reality might work out in a different way. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

Do people treat you differently as a woman travelling alone?

Oh hell yes. I wear a fake wedding ring when I travel now. It cuts down on the hassles, especially in countries where men are not used to seeing women travelling alone.

What are your five best tips for travelling alone?

1: Stop making excuses and just do it. It will make you feel brave, bold and powerful

2: Don't drink - or cut down on your drinking. Be aware of your surroundings.

3: Be wary of going out at night in strange places and sport for a taxi if you do.

4: Don't tell anyone where you are staying/in what hotel.

5: All the above being said, still be open enough to start conversations and meet new people.

For more tips on travelling solo please visit www.sensualhealingharmony.com