"Wow, You’re So Brave For Traveling Alone"

By Sarahjane Paynter

The number one response when I tell people that I am a woman traveling alone is, “Wow, you’re so brave.” I’ve always been puzzled by this, is it brave to travel?

The meaning of brave to me is someone risking their lives to save another or devoting your life to the betterment of the world. Traveling to me just seems like a self-indulgent holiday where you escape reality for as long as your money lasts.

I have been traveling so far for a total of nine months. I’ve eaten too much pizza in Rome, ridden horses in the Gobi desert, Mongolia and hitchhiked to camp overnight at the great wall of China. The mishaps have been fairly minimal so far. The longer I am away, the less I remember what it feels like to be home.

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I’ve always dreamed of experiencing different cultures and different parts of the world. I grew up with not a lot of money and in my late teens and early twenties I had to work several jobs just to pay my bills. I never considered in that situation that traveling was an option for “someone like me.”

As I grew older I moved out of the city I was raised in and started to meet new friends. People who lived off-grid in motor homes. People who have started eco-friendly co-op houses in the 1970’s that they were still living in. Most importantly people who had traveled all over the world. What connected everyone together was that they achieved these amazing feats starting off with little to no money.

These inspiring interactions broke down the constraints I had put upon myself. Opening up my mind to the opportunities that passion and determination can give to you. At this point I should have took off and followed my dreams but instead I went and got married.

The funny thing about love is that it can feel like the most important goal in your life. When I looked my partner in the eyes years later and told them that I thought it was best if we went our separate ways, that goal I thought I had finally reached fell to pieces.

Then at last in my early thirties, I’d managed to consolidate my debts by selling my house, I also sold my small business and got a new job. I Saved every penny I could for eighteen months and started researching where I wanted to go.

Travel is a new learning experience every day. You get better at it as you go along. Budgeting is the key to make your trip successful and knowing how to save money while having amazing experiences.

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Let me share a couple of great resources for helping you travel more on a budget.

The first website I use is couchsurfing.com. It’s a global community of like-minded travelers who facilitate social meet-ups and free accommodation.

People open up their homes to you. Sometimes you could be just sleeping on a mat in the corner of their bedroom. The main focus is the social interaction and interchange of cultural experiences.

I stayed with a host in Beijing with a young Russian twenty- two-year-old woman. She blew my mind when she told me that the year before she had hitchhiked from Moscow to Singapore. She taught me so many things including how to play the guitar, something I had been passionately wanting to do for years but had not taken the leap.  

Another platform I’ve used a lot is workaway.com. Hosts offer accommodation and meals in exchange for a certain amount of work hours per week. There are no third parties involved, so you communicate directly with hosts. There is a wide range of different types of opportunities. The experience is like no other. Your integration into the community gives you a better understanding of different cultures.

I volunteered in the Tiger Leaping Gorge in the Yunnan province in China, on a mountain farm stay over 2000 meters above sea level. I would head down the cliff face each morning to the gardens with Auntie and Grandma to pick Szechuan pepper. The sensation I felt of enrichment and inspiration will always stay with me.

Someone along the way told me that being brave is just letting go of fear. I smiled to myself when I heard this. I realised I had been wrong before, I was brave. We all can be brave in our own lives in either giant leaps or in small steps. We can do it without even realising, but when we do, we just want to help other people to be brave, too.

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