Being Female in Foreign Lands
By Lottie Lewis
When I travel alone, I don’t question it because I’m a girl. The deliberations are over lack of money, knowledge of the language, ability to find a roof over my head or where my next meal will come from. But never that I’m a girl, or that girls shouldn’t travel alone.
Personally I feel girls can do everything (within reason) that a man could do. Catch the night bus, hitch a lift, paddle out when it’s double overhead, cross borders by land, sea and air, sleep in tents and cars and under bridges.
Yes - being female and alone in foreign lands can be risky. It’s not enough to just be savvy and streetwise, confident and calm. Put on a floral dress on a rammed bus full of men in Guatemala and you might find your ass grabbed - but don’t lose your mind.
On my five month solo trip across Central America, I learnt to keep my cool. I learnt to take a deep breath, to be collected (many, many occasions I was not at all) and brave.
I rode on the roof of the chicken buses when all the seats were taken by elderly Latinos, school kids, lobsters and furniture.
I jumped out of hitch-hiked lorries when they stopped for gas after coked-up, uncomfortable conversations.
I rescued a tiny street dog and brought her back to England (where she is still my naughty little shadow to this day - how I’ve managed to be responsible for anything other than myself for so long is still beyond me.)
Sat outside Cancun airport, chain smoking cigarettes, I cried when I spent the last of my money on a flight that we missed.
Dancing salsa, I drank tequila all night with a woman who picked me up in the middle of nowhere and opened her heart and home to my puppy and I.
I’ve surfed El Tunco when I’ve been completely out of my comfort zone, slept in a hammock strung between football posts on the beach and been hospitalised in San Salvador.
The welcome I have felt from so many homes and communities runs parallel with the rejection and alienation I have felt from others - I’ve learnt we can’t all be each others cup of tea.
Friends were made for life, and I found a sense of determination and independence that I didn’t know I had. I trusted in myself, I fell in love with my dog. I found an ability, longing and pleasure in being (half) alone - my footprints, her paw prints, completely in control of our own direction.
As we slept side by side in tents in the freezing mountains of Chiapas, on the back seats of cars, in hammocks under the full moon in the rainforest, in tiny wooden cabins upon islands that leak during the rainy season, on frosty park benches and countless sofas and beaches; as we travelled by motorbike and van and truck and boat and train and bus and hitched ride and endless miles on foot, I never once thought I couldn’t continue because I was a girl.
Sometimes I thought I couldn’t do it because I was terrified and ignorant and anxious and self-doubting and overwhelmed - but the thought never once crossed my mind that my trip was impossible because I was female.
Since getting lost in Central America, rescuing my best friend and finding my way home, we have wandered as a pair ever since. I strongly believe that every lone female traveller needs a dog and I am a huge advocate for exploring with a furry, four-legged friend; the incredible women (dog-mums or otherwise) who I career into on paths less travelled, are true inspiration and proof that chicks can travel alone.
If you’re teetering on the edge of a decision, please jump. Jump into sparkling sunrises and pink skies. Throw yourself from snowy mountains and climb mango trees at breakfast. Pack your van and swim in your pants and don’t wash your hair for weeks. Drink coffee in silence as the birds wake. Listen to the stillness in the valleys. Watch the clouds drift by and the rain hammer down. Dance with strangers and eat on the floor out of the pan. Be it for the weekend or a few months or on a one-way ticket.
When I fill my van with surfboards, blankets, jars of chick peas, tea and dog food, and I drive away from my hometown, dog on the passenger seat, across the channel and into the sunset, my sleepy soul awakens. I remember I am brave and free.
The little voice inside my head tries to worry me - you don’t have a plan, you don’t have money, you’re awkward, the surfs going to be huge, your van will probably break down (true)…
But it never, ever says - you can’t do this because you’re a girl.
Written by the talented Lottie Lewis
Photos credited to Amaia Bartolome and Kenny Soesilo
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