Travelling alone can be a scary concept. But to me, it is one of the best things a woman can do. I have never learnt more about myself, or more appropriate skills for business and life, than when travelling solo. I am writing this blog piece now while travelling solo in Paris. I am here partially on business, partially for pleasure. I am quite lucky that with my business(es), I get to travel quite a bit. Not as often as I would like though – travelling is definitely one of my biggest passion.
Of course it is very important to remain safe and wary while travelling solo, but not that different from having to remain safe and wary as a citizen of Johannesburg, South Africa. I love my country, and I am proudly South African, but as South Africans we can agree that safety can be an issue we all have to face on a daily basis. But that is something that prepares us to do things such as travel solo. We are equipped to be cautious and wary 24/7.
I am an avid enthusiast for all woman to travel solo at least once in their lives. I have honestly learnt the most amazing skills, and grown as a business woman through each journey. Here are the top 3 things I have learned through travelling solo that have helped me in the business world:
I know this sounds cliché, but it is so true. I have never learnt more self-confidence than while travelling solo. As a South African woman, we generally are constantly surrounded by people: friends, family, boyfriends, and colleagues. We never really have the opportunity to be alone. If we want to try out a restaurant, we call up our friends for a girls date night. If we want to go see a film, we have a fun family night. Drinks after work at the new bar that has opened? We go with our colleagues after a long week at work. It is so unheard of and unseen in South Africa to see a woman dining alone and enjoying her own company. So when we travel to a new country all by ourselves, and we have to eventually bite the bullet and eat dinner at a restaurant or café, or when we want to have some entertainment and go watch a French cabaret, it completely shakes your world up. It might sound silly, but it really takes a lot of courage to walk into a café alone and confidentially so. The first time you do it alone, you can feel every single pair of eyes on you. It is such a tedious feeling. The second time, still scary but a little better. The third time, you are absolutely fine and realise no one is looking and no one really cares. It is amazing how something as petty as dining alone can raise your self-confidence from zero to hero. And believe me, it does. Because when you raise your confidence by being alone, it doubles your confidence when you are around people, and in a good way. I am not talking about thinking you are the most gorgeous thing since Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wallstreet (although a girl can wish); I am talking about your confidence to present yourself and your ideas better. To believe in yourself, because at the end of the day, you – just you – are enough, and you come to realise you don’t NEED anyone. Once you realise this, you will really soar in business or in your job.
When travelling in a country with a language barrier, you will never get by without a little patience, believe me. We come from such a fast paced life back home, we tend to think everything is immediate. But when dealing with someone who speaks an entirely different language, it takes a little bit of patience and you need to slow your momentum down, in order to understand one another. This you will learn in the smallest ways, such as ordering a chocolate croissant at the local bakery or finding out from the security guards where to buy tickets for the museum entrance. Once you learn to have patience, you realise that you get a lot faster to the end results rather than trying to do something in a hurry. When you carry this through to your business and the way you deal with customers and suppliers, everything will run more efficiently and smoothly. Patience is so important in business. It will help build such a solid foundation.
A lot of people flock to familiarity when travelling to a place with a whole different culture. Want a coffee? Go to Starbucks. Want lunch? Find the nearest McDonalds. Want to view some sites? Find the Big Bus Hop-On-Hop-Off tours. What people don’t realize is that they are getting it all wrong. The best part about travelling to a new country is getting to experience a whole new culture. If you want McDonalds, you might as well save yourself a couple of grand and stay at home. You will never taste a better coffee or hot chocolate in Paris than by following all the locals to tiny bistro in the smallest alleyway you have ever seen. You will never get to view all the secrets of Paris than by following a walking tour by a complete hipster local who will show you parts of this amazing city that you never knew existed. There is nothing better than finding true authenticity, and this correlates into the business world completely. Why go for all the big, popular brands who essentially give you the same, dull, services and products as their thousands of other customers. Go and find the small guys, the authentic guys, the ones who will give you their full attention and place so much importance on the detail of their products and services. The ones that will give you new and interesting ideas. There is nothing better, or more important, that true authenticity. In life, and in business.
My advice to anyone contemplating whether to travel solo but a little worried: go do it! I have done it only a few times and it has made the world of difference in the way I conduct my life and business. I need to do it a lot more times, and I can only imagine how much I will grow and learn each time. The world is not as big and scary as it seems. You will always be able to find your way around, or get information from a friendly local. Invest in yourself. It will be the best investment you will ever make.