Empowered Through Globetrotting!
As a woman, the decision to travel solo may not come so easily for some as you may worry about the uncertainty and insecurity that a new place may hold. More often than not, fear takes over your decision and dream to travel and explore never happens.
Travelling opens a whole new world to you as you discover nature’s beauty, accept new cultures and learn about mankind’s rich history as well as experience a personal encounter with today’s modern world. To top that off, travelling empowers you as an individual. You’ll bring home with you not only souvenirs and amazing pictures but also priceless life experiences and lessons.
Founder of Zafigo, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir speaks to us about the reasons why women should consider travelling and even to travel solo!
1Twenty80: How does travelling empower women?
Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir: Travelling can be a powerful experience, it teaches you so much about the world and with that knowledge and experiences comes personal growth. That often comes with the building of confidence and a more developed world view. You get to step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in other cultures. Women get to see how other women live and how they perceive themselves and their own barriers.
I have met many women for whom travel has been a soul-searching and life-changing experience that enabled them to push past their limits. For example, Marin Minamiya from Japan who was one of the ZafigoX 2019 speakers – she’s the youngest person to complete The Explorer’s Grand Slam; and she shared how she captured the world title by climbing the world’s seven highest mountain peaks and reaching both the North and South Poles. She shared a profound and interesting metaphor that I believe all of us women can relate to – that climbing the internal mountains within us can be more difficult than climbing real mountains. Her capacity to succeed was belittled by a man who had already completed the Seven Summits, but she proved him wrong.
Quote: Travelling can be a powerful experience, it teaches you so much about the world and with that knowledge and experiences comes personal growth.
1Twenty80: What are some of the positive experiences women can look forward to when travelling solo?
Datin Paduka Marina: I think that since women now understand that travel is a freedom they have, more and more women are interested in travelling the world solo. Travelling provides another path for women to discover the life that they truly want to live and feel good. I’ve met so many women who have used travel as a platform to greater meaningful things in their personal and work lives.
Solo female travellers look forward to meeting new people and experiencing different cultures in unique destinations. With travelling solo, you are more likely to converse with the people around you and from there new friendships can be forged.
Many of them also have a passion for doing good through volunteer work to help local communities in the places they visit. The result is often a fulfilling experience for many women travellers, who value creating memories and making a difference in the places they have visited and the lives they have touched.
Another one of the inspirational speakers we had at ZafigoX this year, Nila Tanzil, has travelled to 42 countries, driven with the spirit of travelling with a cause. She has established over 100 children’s libraries across 18 islands in Eastern Indonesia through the organisation she founded, Taman Bacaan Pelangi (Rainbow Reading Gardens). She has given the children of those isolated and hard to reach areas the opportunity to develop and have access to one of life’s basic skills – reading. Nila regards both the idea and tenacity required to do this as having sprung from her years of solo travelling, which she finds the most fulfilling experiences of her life.
1Twenty80: Would you encourage all women to have at least one experience of travelling solo?
Datin Paduka Marina: Yes, I do think that everyone needs to enlarge their world by learning about and experiencing other cultures and places. See the world, gain new perspectives and experiences. Knowledge is power. You will experience and learn so many new things about the world and about yourself, and along the way you overcome the challenges and fears that women face, especially those concerned with safety. It becomes a personal journey of growth that leaves you a more empowered, confident and world-wise person.
Travelling has expanded my horizons and pushed me out of my comfort zone. You can often read about a certain culture of a particular place but experiencing it firsthand opens many windows and breaks down barriers that you might have initially harboured about a certain country and its people.
1Twenty80: In your opinion, what are some of the concerns that women tend to have that are holding them back from traveling alone?
Datin Paduka Marina: Most women are held back by responsibilities, self-doubt and sometimes even fear. As a woman, travel can be daunting and holds many risks, but through information and careful planning, travelling can be safe and easy. Women are more conscious and are doing more research on destinations that would be safe for them.
I think they also worry a lot about the cost of travel, but there are ways of having good travel experiences without breaking the bank too. When it comes to the travel sector,
these days, women are in-charge of all the financial decision-making and are gaining notable
purchasing power. One of the breakthroughs for women is the availability of cheaper travel. It has come within the financial range of many, particularly the younger and even older women. I know groups of widows who go travelling together.
1Twenty80: For first time solo women travellers, what would your advice be when it comes to picking the right travel destination?
Datin Paduka Marina: Everything is about preparing ourselves with knowledge. Being alert is top of the list, even in places that are familiar or that you think is very safe. Be well informed and sort your itineraries well in advance too. That really gives a good head start to your travels.
You have to make sure you know how to manage things when they go wrong and precautions you can take. Unfortunately, some things you can’t predict. This is why platforms like Zafigo and ZafigoX exist, to give women enough information to assess situations objectively and decide for themselves. The more information they have about the places they want to go to, the more confident they’ll feel about where to go and about traveling there.
As I’m always saying time and time again, it’s all about knowledge because knowledge is power.
1Twenty80: What about when it comes to age, could it be a factor that might influence a woman’s decision to travel solo?
Datin Paduka Marina: I think it’s more about your physical and mental fitness, rather than age. I have seen a lot of older, even elderly, women travelling overseas on their own and hiking up mountains. It’s a matter of choosing a trip that suits your physical capacities and preparing yourself for them.
1Twenty80: How about breastfeeding mothers who need to travel, could you share with us some tips on how to cope?
Datin Paduka Marina: I’ve never had to travel and breastfeed myself, but I think women who breastfeed have an advantage in not having to lug a lot of baby-feeding equipment with them if they’re travelling with their babies. Also, as I understand it, breastfeeding a baby on the plane helps them cope with the changes in ear pressure. It may seem difficult but with some planning ahead it doesn’t have to be. If they’re leaving their baby behind for a short trip, I’m sure they know to keep bottles of expressed milk in their fridge.
1Twenty80: Where is your favourite travel destination and why?
Datin Paduka Marina: Patagonia, Argentina and Chile – There couldn’t be a place further than Malaysia to go to. It’s almost at the South Pole. But so beautiful and so different from our country. I loved seeing the Perito Moreno glacier – a giant block of ice in the sunshine! And the mountains in the Torres del Paine National Park. We would get up early in the morning to see the sun rise. Very cold but if you’re dressed correctly, it’s well worth it.
1Twenty80: Lastly, do share some words of advice for women who are considering travelling?
Datin Paduka Marina: There is no destination that does not have some degree of risk. Women should see the value of preparing for a journey not just physically, but in mind and soul.
Of course, don’t spend your time being fearful! You may lose out on some unique and interesting experiences if you close yourself off. What’s really powerful is hearing stories about women travellers and their good experiences,
as well as bad experiences and how they came out of it safely. Those stories are very encouraging for women. Empower yourself by travelling better and setting an example
that you can manage yourself, even in unfavourable circumstances.