The Himalayas – Women Who Wander

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Day 1 of my 11 day Annapurna Base Camp Trek

14 days in Nepal, 11 days trekking.

This was the longest trip I had ever completed alone, also the toughest physical and mental challenge my legs and mind have tackled! Before Nepal the longest trek I’d completed (well they were hikes really) were a few day hikes high up in the Andes around the magnificent Cordillera Mountain Range in Peru.

So, why?

Why did I decide to complete the Annapurna Base Camp Trek? A number of reasons: I am adventurous and I wanted an adventure, the Himalayas have always intrigued me, I was craving a physical challenge, I honestly wanted to see what my mind and body were capable of, I felt that if I successfully completed this trek it would do wonders for my mind and confidence (and it did) and finally I live in the tropics so I really needed to cool down with some cold weather travel.

I never purposely set out to complete this trip alone, I knew that I was going to trek in Nepal and if anyone wanted to join they could but I was doing it regardless. I never said I MUST DO THIS ALONE, no, the only certainty was that I was going. The thought of being alone and undertaking this trek by myself  never fazed me, in contrast it fazed other people.

What? You’re going alone?

Why? Why would you do it alone? Wait, you’re not going with anyone else? Is there no-one you can go with (sad face)? You don’t have to travel alone you know (confused face). Are you not going to wait until you’ve got someone to go with (slightly annoyed face)? Why are you not joining a tour group (surprised face)? Are you really going by yourself (concerned face)?

The amount of puzzled looks, faces of concern, surprise, shock, confusion and even expressions of sadness that I was met with when I responded to the question ‘what are you doing during the Easter holiday?’ was really surprising. Ok, I admit travelling alone is not my usual form of adventure, therefore I accept a few initial queries, questions of wonder, but I didn’t expect the negative responses to completely outweigh the positive. In fact, the amount of positive responses were so few that I ended up really questioning my travel decision: am I doing something wrong? Should I not travel alone? Am I strange to feel happy and excited for this solo adventure? Maybe I shouldn’t go? Oh no, am I going to be able to manage this? Seriously. Ridiculous. Doubt never entered my mind until I was faced with these responses.

Adventure is the norm

Also, before you jump in to point out that it is a challenging trip it’s normal for concern to be voiced about a trek, I must point out that I have always been adventurous and I often take on physical challenges. I spent a year travelling South America (which included Venezuela!), Taiwan was my home for three years and a scooter journey became my daily commute, my backpack and I have also explored the heavily trodden trails of South-East Asia, I’ve completed a trail run in the hills around Mount Kinabalu in Borneo as well a a run up the Menara Tower in Kuala Lumpur. My point, adventure and extended travel, living in different countries and cultures have always been a part of my life, therefore trekking in Nepal should be welcomed as a normal, sane decision.

I’ll tell you what the difference is, apart from a week in Chiang Mai and a few days and weekends here and there I’ve always travelled with a partner, or a friend, I’ve rarely travelled alone. The fact that I was undertaking this adventure without my male partner, meant DANGER! *ROLLS EYES CONTINUOUSLY*

 

I’m pretty convinced the negative reactions are down to the fact that I’m a woman. I strongly believe that if my brother* answered the question ‘what are you doing over Easter’ with, ‘ I’m going trekking in Nepal’ he would have received a wealth of positivity maybe even envy (*if we imagine my brother as an adventurous traveller because he’s not).

Yes, I’m sure that women are more likely than men to suffer from unwanted attention, inappropriate behaviour, sexual advances, a myriad of depressing and revolting issues; this is probably why the adventures of solo female travellers are often met with crumpled browns, frown lines and worried eyes.

This needs to change now

These travellers should be celebrated and encouraged, let’s get the world used to women travelling alone, let’s make it the norm, so that eventually their travel plans are only met with excitement and positivity. In turn, unwanted attention and risk should hopefully decrease because the sight of a woman and her backpack will be a regular occurrence, no cause for concern or attention.

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Nepal, Annapurna Base Camp 4130m

The sense of achievement and empowerment travelling alone creates is huge

This solo trip did wonders for my confidence; I’m a shy person, joining groups or talking to strangers can feel really tough plus I can be quite self conscious, yet throughout my Himalayan adventure I did it, I joined groups, I started up conversations with strangers and I now know that I could easily do it again. Alternatively, solo travel shows you what you can do by yourself and that you don’t need to be with people all the time to feel safe and happy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being alone. I became happy with my choice to eat or walk alone, I felt strong, positive and self-assured.

Admittedly, I hold my hands up, I have barely contributed to the world of solo female travellers, which I now deeply regret, but this will all change, I must practise what I preach! A solo trip to Cebu, in the Philippines is on the horizon.

Advice I wish I’d embraced earlier

Don’t wait around for someone special to do things with, just do it now, book that trip, go to that restaurant. You can make your own magic and give yourself goosebumps. Don’t put off an adventure or a trip because you’re alone, you will be fabulous, just go.

In fact, even if you have a partner or best friends that you always travel with i’d really recommend that you do something completely by yourself, even if it’s out of your comfort zone, you’ll wow yourself with what you can achieve and the endorphins that will fill your body, honestly. It might also provide valuable experience for those times in your future when you may suddenly be alone because of separation, relocation or even death.

Post Nepal I definitely regret not doing more solo trips. Obviously if you have a partner, why wouldn’t you want to travel with them? Your person, your best friend, you want to make memories and have those unbelievable experiences together, however I now see that I would have gained a lot if I’d sprinkled my life with some solo travel. Confidence,  independence, overcoming challenges without anyone’s help and realising my inner strength.

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No matter what you will attract other female solo travellers

During my trek I met a number of female solo travellers, two in particular made a real impact on my journey. Both incredibly friendly, both with partners at home in the UK yet they were travelling alone (they both had Nepalese guides but no porters). We gravitated towards each other in a guesthouse (one in Chuile and one in Chromrong), exchanged information about our routes, where we had been so far, how many days we had left and then just chatted as new friends over more dhal and momos. They were both teachers on their Easter holidays, attempting a Himalayan trek for the same reasons as me. This! This was wonderful; conversation with complete strangers, women, who suddenly felt like friends was just what I needed and a important reminder of how normal my trip was, no negative reactions needed.

That’s another reason to jump on that plane and get solo travelling because no matter what you will attract other solo travellers especially women (if you’re a woman!). If you don’t want to be alone the whole time there will be people to chat to, people who are doing exactly what you’re doing. I definitely met more people and had more random conversations with strangers than I ever did when I travelled with my partner; this was unexpected and really reassuring.

This two week trip was a drop in the ocean of all the adventures women around the world undertake alone, nevertheless I do hope that I can offer a bit of inspiration and insight into wandering alone.

Open a new browser, scroll through destinations, zoom in on Google Maps and get that adventure booked, come and join the solo female travelling club.

 

Annapurna Base Camp Trek – Solo Female Traveller Q & A

Did you have a guide and porter?

Yes, I had both.

I had a guide, the lovely Shanta from 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking because I thought I’d get lost without one. It turns out that you really don’t need a guide to complete this trek. It’s all clearly signposted, you can’t go wrong and if you were ever unsure there are hikers and locals everywhere (lots of villages along the route) so it would be very easy to stop and ask for directions. On the other hand the guide does help you call ahead and book accommodation which is really busy and gets quite sparse the higher you get (read more about where I stayed here). The alternative to this would be to get your own Nepalese SIM card and call ahead yourself, English was spoken everywhere. For me, the guide also offered some company although I’d imagine if it was just my guide and I for 11 days that might have been too much but Shanta had Bhavana, my lovely porter to chat to as well. So, I spent some time walking in front or behind by myself or we’d walk and chat together, it was just the right mix.

After reading a wide range of blogs I decided to get a porter because I didn’t think I could carry my rucksack and walk comfortably at altitude, plus I absolutely love taking photos and I thought carrying a heavy rucksack would restrict that. Additionally hiring a porter is employing another person and putting money back into Nepal and I used a trusty, ethical company that aims to employ and empower Nepalese women.

Are there separate male and female bathrooms?

one of the better bathrooms and showers along the trek

No, I didn’t find any. Each guesthouse (guesthouse details here) had communal bathroom facilities, often the western toilet or squatters were separate to the showers however they were unisex.

Did you receive any unwanted attention during this trip?

Yes, a little.

I have lived in South-East Asia for many years and I am used to getting unwanted attention from men and women because my skin colour is white, I have light brown hair, blonde hair all over my arms and blue eyes. As this is different to the norm I can often get stared at, asked for selfies (which is bizarre, Indonesia has been the worst country for this) or asked a lot of questions.

More often than not people mean absolutely no harm, they have no idea that this behaviour can feel intimidating especially to women. I did experience this behaviour a little during my trek and only from men.

The Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu (and vice versa) was 95% male. I have never experienced a flight like it, but they were relatively friendly and when I was asked for selfies I just declined and kept reading my book!

I stayed in one guesthouse in Bamboo (read about it here) where I felt uncomfortable because the other guests were nearly all male, there were some Asian women but they stayed in their dorm room. The men hung out around the bathroom, so when I had to use the facilities I felt nervous. I believe this feeling just comes from being a woman and not feeling safe when surrounded by strangers. Have you ever walked home with your house keys between your fingers? Yes, a common act for women. Funnily enough I have just listened to The Guilty Feminist Podcast about the topic ‘safety’ and I would really recommend you listen, they make some excellent points about a woman’s inherent fear of being attacked and the differences in how men and women perceive safety.

My female guide and female porter got A LOT of attention on this trek. In 2018, it’s still practically unheard of to have female guides in the Himalayas and the company I used, 3 Sisters, is one of the only female owned trekking companies . If we ever passed another female guide they would be in the same red uniform and be from 3 Sisters. Other Nepalese guides would stop and ask them what they were doing, not in a nasty way, but they were surprised to see them. Bhavana, my porter, probably got the most attention from Nepalese porters who sometimes laughed at her, as they just couldn’t believe she was strong enough (she looks small and is 19 years old). I hope the guides and porters took it as a wake up call as to how strong women are and can be! Bhavana was seriously impressive, she put me to shame and she trekked with a smile on her face, often dancing as we crossed the enormous rope bridges.

Overall, it was just some looks, stares and selfie requests I was never concerned for my safety on this trip.

Did you have to share a room with any men?

the ABC trek is not luxury travel

The higher you climb on this trek the less accommodation there is. As a solo traveller at some point you will have to share a room. My guide assured me that I would only ever have to share with other women. However, on two occasions I had to share with a heterosexual couple and there was nothing I could do about it there was nowhere else to stay.

Were you ever lonely?

On that one Friday night in Bamboo, yes. I cried myself to sleep; I was absolutely freezing, I hadn’t found any English speakers that evening plus I’d had a slight disagreement with my guide. All of those things mixed together made me feel really lonely but you know what I did, got up early the next day, packed up quickly and got on with the day of hiking! Loud, uplifting music filled my ears, my eyes took in the epic scenery and I stomped my sadness right out of my body! I didn’t feel lonely again.

A few people I spoke to along the way didn’t listen to anything as they hiked, in contrast I felt podcasts were excellent company. S Town, The Guilty Feminist, Elis & John and Woman’s Hour kept me thoroughly entertained and definitely stopped any appearance of loneliness.

This may seem odd but recording Instagram stories as the trek progressed kept me company too, I felt like an amateur Nat Geo presenter! Talking into camera, recording sites, sounds, giving reviews along the way was really great fun. WiFi was limited so they didn’t upload immediately but eventually they did which meant my family and friends knew what I was up to and they could interact with my trip as though they were right there, I loved this.

If there are any other questions you want to know about hiking the ABC trek as a solo female, let me know below.

Read the specifics of my trek here (accommodation, restaurants and route).

Read about my earlier South American travels here.

4 Comments

  1. Norm

    I’ve done a few short trips by myself and really enjoyed them, so this is very inspirational, even if I’m not a woman! I’d love to do a solo trek one day, maybe do a bike trip.

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