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Women on the road:

three travelers’ stories

Erika Paixão

Camila Svenson, Getty Images, Personal Archives / Ilustrations: Catarina Bessel

Three female travelers share the joys and hardships of always being on the road

 

But... By yourself?

When Gaía Passarelli started traveling by herself, she didn’t give it too much thought. She simply seized the opportunities that came up: plane, train, and car rides. For this Brazilian woman, exploring the world this way has only recently become something special and it happened when she noticed the amazement it caused in other people. She was asked so many times “are you traveling by yourself?” that she decided to write a book about her adventures in some of the 27 countries she has visited so far. “It’s not a book about destinations or travel tips. These are my experiences and I think they might be inspiring for other women,” says the author.

 

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In her stories, Passarelli describes the difficulties and the benefits of being a lone traveler. For her, the main advantage is to change plans without asking other people’s opinion. “At every moment, you’ll be in contact with your own decisions and discover an autonomy you didn’t know you had in you,” she claims. During her travels through India, for example, she renounced her plans and went to Kanyakumari, where Gandhi’s ashes were scattered. In the extreme south, she visited one of the few temples that still worship a female divinity.

 

Among the lessons she learned while being on the road, she believes the most important is to know how to camouflage. She says that when she looks more secure and informed, she attracts less attention. “I discovered that I’m way more capable than I thought I was. I conquered this feeling of power, where I know that if I want it, I can have it.”

 

Tips from an expert

“You must always let somebody know when you’re going out, especially if you’re planning on going hiking in nature.”

 

One-way ticket

Anita Cordova had a consolidated career as a journalist. For more than two decades, she worked as a reporter in Chilean TV news and even had to visit the Middle East, but she felt that there was something missing and decided to quit everything to start traveling by herself. “It was some kind of urgent need,” she recalls, while recounting that when she was 47 years old, she went to Southeast Asia on her own.

 

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In three months, she visited six countries. “To exercise that degree of freedom is indescribable,” says Córdova, who now thinks of herself as a citizen of the world. Another important turn in her life came when she decided to sell her house and fly to Spain to walk the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, almost 500 miles [800 km] on foot with only a backpack.

 

After many adventures, she felt that it was time to share her discoveries about the world (and herself). In Viajo Sola y me Encanta, her business venture, Córdova accompanies groups of women traveling abroad by themselves for the first time. So far, she has taken nine group trips, to places like Israel and Italy. “I feel just fine in any corner of the world. I am my own home.”

 

Tips from an expert

“You don’t need to go very far to live an adventure: start by exploring your own country or places nearby, and soon you’ll feel more confident.”

 

Changing context

Seeing her exchange plans fall apart was the best thing that could’ve happened to American native Gloria Atanmo. She wanted to go to Scotland with friends, but, by the time she made up her mind, there were no tickets left. When she had no other option but to think of a trip just for herself, she realized that she’d spend less and enjoy more. This mishap was the starting point for the blogger to start collecting stamps on her passport.

 

So far, she’s visited 73 countries in five years and has published a series of stories on her website, The Blog Abroad. Peru and Colombia are among her favorite destinations in Latin America: “There, I felt really integrated to people. They thought I was Brazilian,” she recounts.

 

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While traveling by herself, Atanmo had the opportunity to ponder what it meant, for her and others, to be a black woman, developing a sense of self-confidence she didn’t have. The messages she receives on her blog come from other women that feel connected to her story, “saying how inspired they are by seeing someone that looks like them traveling the world.” In 2019, she plans to visit seven other countries, including Bolivia and Uruguay, and she calls on all women to do what she did. “I hope that one day it will be completely normal for a woman to travel on her own. Not searching for love, but strictly for herself.”

 

Tips from an expert

“Ask local women for advice everywhere you go. They’ll give you recommendations about local customs and the places you must visit.”

 

Books to be inspired

Free, Cheryl Strayed

The voyage of a woman hiking more than 1,000 miles [1,600 km] on the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State.

Um Lugar na Janela, Martha Medeiros

This book features the best travel memories of this Brazilian chronicler.

Viajeras Intrépidas y Aventureras, Cristina Morató

When and why did women start traveling? This historical account tries to answer these questions.