Discovering Solo Female Travel in My 30s
In this post Teresa Schumacher tells us about her journey towards discovering Solo Female Travel in her 30s and shares her experience of travelling with other solo females travellers during a tour of Colombia with Other Way Round.
A Group of Female Solo Travellers
A cool night has fallen over the city but the room is warm, bright and filled with laughter.
Though we began the evening as strangers, it doesn’t take long for the initial tension that is standard for this type of gathering to evolve into an easy togetherness as we get to known one another.
Soon the shy sideways smiles, polite questioning, and requests to pass the salt, please are replaced by boisterous laughter and jokes shared amongst friends.
If you were to be sitting at a nearby table, or merely passing by, the first thing you might notice about this gathering is the disproportionate number of women sitting here.
In fact, other than Steve, founder of Other Way Round Travel, and tour guide Julian, the remainder of the group is female.
“I’ll be honest, I was a bit surprised when I found out that the entire group would be women this time!” Steve says, laughing.
His tour is designed for adventurous travellers aged 25-45, with a focus on an immersive, authentic travel experience.
A type of experience that, it turns out, is becoming increasingly more appealing to women travelling alone.
Take a look at emerging travel statistics and you will find that women are traveling more than ever before, more often solo, and with a focus on cultural experiences and adventure travel.
Tonight I am seated between Kate, a music teacher from northern England and Pavla, a yoga aficionado from Czech Republic.
Across from me sit Jo, a detective from just outside of London, and Marcela, an expert on climate policy who was born and raised in Medellin.
This is a group of women from all walks of life, with different upbringings and personal lives.
All brought together in this place far from home by a love for traveling, and perhaps living, a bit off the beaten path.
(Read also: Group Holidays for Solos Over 30)
Solo Female Travel at 30
On my thirtieth birthday, someone told me that my life was over.
It was meant as a joke, told by a guy I didn’t know very well, and it wasn’t the first time I had heard something like that.
Girls are often brought up to see the Year Thirty as an unspoken deadline we all must meet.
It’s an age that supposedly marks the end to our youth, a time when our life’s meaning is solidified and there’s little room for new aspirations or dreams.
When I got home that day I looked in the mirror and examined the 30 year old face staring back.
I noticed a little furrow in my brow, testament to the various worries and heartaches I’d experienced over the years.
I admired the few lines starting to creep in at the corners of my eyes, proof of three decades of smiles and laughter.
I looked into my eyes, thought of all the things they’d seen.
Here was a woman who had survived her twenties-a decade rife with insecurity, self-doubt, and listening to others tell her what life should be about.
Here was a woman who had made it through veterinary school, a first generation doctor. A woman with an education, a career, and a future ahead of her.
I got my first tattoo that night. Gypsy Soul.
Etched in my forearm in unapologetic defiance of what I was versus what this world thought I ought to be.
My life wasn’t over, I was saying.
It was just beginning.
A Different Path…
My twenties were spent in a classroom.
I grew up watching my parents, both professional musicians, struggle to make ends meet, and while their career choices made for a colourful and interesting childhood for me, it also taught me to crave stability.
I viewed school as a path toward this stability, and so the years past and my accomplishments grew-bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, doctorate in veterinary medicine.
By the time I decided I was done I had a stack of achievements a mile high, accompanied by an unsettling sense that life had simply passed me by while I was hunched over a stack of books, absorbing endless facts about a world I had yet to see.
Yet when I at last emerged into the “real world” I found that my friends were all settling down, starting families, buying homes and setting up their 401K accounts. I thought I had to do the same.
I started working as an ER veterinarian, bought a home, became a responsible adult.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still missing from my life.
So I decided to book a trip.
Scarred from years of subsisting off of ramen noodles and stale pizza, I scoured the internet for the cheapest international flight I could find.
I didn’t even care where I went, I just wanted to see something new.
That something turned out to be Italy, since there was a deal on flights to Rome that summer.
I booked tickets for myself and my boyfriend, renewed a passport that hadn’t been used in almost a decade, and started counting down the days.
(Read Also: 38 Practical Tips for Solo Female Travellers)
Some Things Need to Be Experienced First Hand
When we first stepped into the bustling streets of Rome, I found myself instantly captivated by the novelty of it all.
How was it possible that this world had been here all along, and I was only now being introduced?
We visited the Colosseum and the Pantheon and I imagined the endless trail of footsteps that had walked these paths before me.
We tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain, ate our weight in gelato, and stood for hours with our heads tilted to the ceilings in the Vatican, admiring centuries of stories told through art.
We took a train to Pompeii, a ghostly place I had read about as a child but couldn’t quite fathom until I touched those faded walls and saw those skeletons, trapped forever in a single moment so long ago.
We took a boat to the island of Capri and I jumped in the Tyrrhenian Sea, felt the tangy salt on my skin, little fish nibbling at my toes.
We drove through an autumn sunset in Tuscany and when the light hit the changing color of the leaves, I realized there was no way I could take a photograph that could capture this beauty.
Some things just have to be experienced firsthand.
At night we would fill our bellies with pasta and retire to our rooms, lights out by ten, anxious to get an early start the next day because there was so much more to see.
We’d fall asleep to the sounds of a younger generation outside toasting to their youth, and we’d dream of new adventures awaiting us at dawn.
We made jokes about getting old and lacking the stamina we once had, both secretly grateful that we no longer felt obliged to stay out and party the night away.
A More Confident Me
I thought back to that girl in her twenties, weighed down by insecurity, doubt, and an endless sense of obligation, and I realised that, had she had the opportunity to travel, I think she still would have missed out.
Her commitment to others would have won every time and she would have found herself staying out late, letting others make decisions, always trying to appease rather than thinking “what do I want to do?”
She wouldn’t have had the courage to strike up conversation with other travellers, or to step off the beaten path to pursue unique, more immersive experiences.
She would have lacked the curiosity to look below the surface and find deeper meaning in her experiences.
She would have had to scrounge together the cash for a flight and housing but wouldn’t know the first thing about budgeting once she got somewhere.
I harboured no regrets about waiting until my 30s to start traveling.
The Challenges of Being Female in Your 30s
I returned from Italy feeling more alive than I had in years.
But the high I was riding couldn’t last forever, and soon I was forced to face personal issues that I had been battling (and ignoring) for some time.
A few weeks later I found myself seated in a doctor’s office, faced with a stack of cards.
The fertility specialist, a graying, nondescript man with a small smile that might have passed as empathetic, told me to pick a suit, any suit, and then began laying down cards to show me my odds of conceiving a child.
After months of debilitating symptoms, endless appointments, and vague test results, I was told that I had endometriosis, and if I wanted to start a family (a decision I needed to make soon, because that biological clock was ticking!)
I would be facing a long, arduous path of tests and expensive medical treatments.
Like so many other women in their 30s today, I had always been taught to strive for it all.
Career, family, security and freedom.
But I was learning quickly that sometimes that’s just not possible. I left the doctor’s office that day knowing I had to make a choice.
I chose to book another trip.
Just one, I thought, to help me clear my head and think about my future.
This time I went to Colombia, a country I knew little about, leaving the destination up to fate when I spun my little desktop globe and saw where my finger landed.
It would be a decision that changed my life.
It Feels Like Home
During that trip I had the inexplicable sense that I wasn’t visiting a new place, I was merely arriving home.
I fell in love with all of it-the people, the culture, the music, the scenery and wildlife.
For the first time in a long while, I felt that I belonged.
I spent my last night at the Cafe Havana in Cartagena, famous for its live salsa music, where I encountered other solo female travellers and we spent the night dancing with abandonment.
I felt the rhythm of the music in my bones and marvelled at this beautiful place I had encountered just by chance.
I realized that night that I never wanted to choose travel as a means for escaping a life that didn’t fit.
I returned home again, this time with a renewed sense of self and purpose.
I declined the fertility treatments, a decision that was both difficult and liberating.
I went to Paris that spring with my cousin.
I spent the summer driving through the southern states of the US.
I explored Vietnam in the fall. All the while writing stories, taking photographs, absorbing all I could from my surroundings.
I would return home to re-fuel, reset, and of course, earn money to fund the next trip.
It was a good balance.
Women Travelling Solo, But Not Alone
When my father passed away, a few days after I returned from Vietnam, the life I had so carefully carved out for myself came crashing down, and I needed something to right my axis once again.
I returned to the place that had first captured my heart just under a year before, this time as part of a group tour with Other Way Round Travel.
I flew into Medellin with my head held high but feeling alone and broken inside.
I was desperate for a change of scenery but afraid that at any moment my fragile facade might crack, exposing how weak and vulnerable I was inside.
At dinner that night the woman seated across from me smiled and introduced herself. Jo, the detective from the UK.
She asked me how old I was, “if you don’t mind my asking”.
Thirty-five I told her.
Me too! she said.
She asked me if I had kids, and I told her no…but I did have a dog.
Jo smiled widely and told me that she had two. Dogs, that is.
In that moment a friendship was born, and for the first time in a long while, I didn’t feel so alone.
It seems that the world is always telling us how to be women –
what to do with our lives
where to go and how to look when we get there
when to explore and when its time to settle down and grow some roots
But some of us aren’t destined for the beaten path. Some of us are a bit like weeds, forever blowing in a precarious but exhilarating wind.
For us, life may turn out a little different than expected. I have learned that this is ok, that we aren’t alone on this journey.
And it certainly doesn’t end at 30.