How to travel the world alone as a woman!

(A calling to all women)

Ever wanted to travel somewhere, but have been too scared to go by yourself? Have no more fear. The following is a step-by-step explanation of how you could overcome your inhibitions and easily travel the world all by yourself. 

Everyday millions of women travel the world alone either for work, vacation, or volunteer opportunities. But while it may be undeserved, your fear is not without merit. There are many challenges both men and women travelers deal with on a day-to-day basis – we both have friends and families who worry about our safety, we both come across similar financial situations, etc.

We aren’t so different in many ways, but then why is it such a big deal for women to travel alone?

Unfortunately, truth as it may be, women have different overall concerns, especially when it comes to traveling.  Women are more vulnerable and are attracted to different values and experiences.

So you may ask, “Who would ever want to travel alone?

Well, as a matter of fact, there are a great many benefits to traveling alone, as opposed to traveling in a group, even as a woman.

Traveling alone gives you complete freedom (in all aspects), to do anything and everything you feel like doing, there is nobody around to inhibit you. It also increases your problem solving ability, for you are entirely responsible for when things go wrong. It creates self-dependence, because you rely on yourself for figuring out your sleeping and traveling accommodations, and finally it tests your courage because you realize what you’re capable of.

So the real question is, “Why wouldn’t you travel alone?”

These are priceless characteristics that shape you into becoming a well-rounded, open-minded, and largely better person .  The point is that it is not just a mans luxury, the three main reasons that prevent women from traveling alone is fear of being alone, unsafe, and bored. Something that with the right amount of guidance and experience you can overcome with ease.

“Won’t I be alone?”

  • Smile. Sometimes just appearing friendly will elicit others to be helpful and welcoming towards you in case something goes wrong.Smiling will even portray an air of confidence suggests Liubov Russell, a Foreign Service Officer at the Department of State, “If you are confident in what you are doing – people will always accept and respect you.”
  • Set up challenges for yourself. Force yourself to ask questions, start up conversations, and keep discussions going. “At first I was very resistant to talking to people,” says Kimberley Harricharran, a Resident Assistant at St. John’s University’s Paris campus and frequent single woman traveler, “but then I forced myself to talk to some of the locals of the cities I went to and it provided me with a more profound perspective and understanding of the culture.
  • Have an open heart and be open minded. “Majority of the people that I met or had interactions with were very friendly, welcoming, and similarly to everybody else around the globe, are praying for peace, wanted to help their families and are dreaming for better lives for their children,” says Russell. Understand that you are in a different part of the world, and things are going to be very different from you are used to, do not be too quick to judge and say no to trying new foods and customs.

“Won’t I be unsafe?”

  • Be prepared. Do your research about the customs of the country you are traveling to “You should make an additional effort to learn about the geography, history, and the sensitive issues of the country. People are also very pleased when you learn a few phrases in their language and attempt to use them.” Russell suggests. Try to blend in with the locals, be this through the way you dress or your body language, in order to not draw any unnecessary attention.
  • Be aware. Before leaving for your destination, scan your precious documents, like passports, IDs, or credit cards so you have them on file. Tell a friend or family member where you are traveling so at least one person is aware of your location. Walk around the town or neighborhood the first thing you do once you arrive, in order to get a sense of your environment. Always know where your valuables are located, whether on you or in your hotel. Most importantly, with human behavior is to trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable go with your gut feelings. “We typically recommend to female students to not responds to taunts,” says Gregory Bruhn, assistant director of St. John’s University’s study abroad programs, “because they don’t necessarily understand the social cues or cultural treatment, it tends to provoke the aggressors to challenge their authority.”
  • Be smart. “I always arrived at my destinations early in the mornings, when it’s still bright outside and never stayed out past midnight,” Harricharran explains about her experience. Easiest way said: don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. For example, don’t get too intoxicated, accept drinks from strangers, or go hitchhiking. Maybe you will be sacrificing a little bit of the party lifestyle but its for the greater good of your journey and you will find other ways to have fun.

“Won’t I get bored?”

  • Check out apps and websites like Lonely Planet, Timeout, Project Expedition, and Spotted by Locals about events going on in the city you are in.
  • Seek out regional foods. Challenge yourself to never eat at chain fast food restaurants. Food Spotting is a useful website for discovering the best local restaurants where you are – who knows what you will like until you’ve tried it!
  • Create a bucket list of things for you to see and do before you leave or move on to your next destination. This will motivate you to do more in a short amount of time. You never know when you will be able to visit the same place again.

Anymore excuses?

The world has grown in uncalculated ways – many good and others bad. In the good sense, we, as women, have developed an access to resources, places, and people never before so easily available. And just like us, civilization is growing and evolving with constantly changing ideas and experiences. Therefore its our job as independent female explorers to share these concepts and shock those we’ve encountered with the knowledge that we’ve learned. Without further adieu, it’s these simple tips and tricks you’ll be able to conquer any of your biggest travel fears and inspire others with your greatness.

Procrastinate no longer! Spit on your inhibitors!

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A Report on Ukraine: an encounter with the fury of country’s geopolitical outcry

The fire of the Ukrainian democracy protest has not burned out.

On February 18th, the week of St. John’s University’ spring break. I made a decisive decision to spontaneously visit my mother in Ukraine. She was working there for almost two months as a foreign area officer at the U.S. Embassy Kyiv. Knowing she was by herself and under a lot of pressure, I figured the opportunity would be a perfect chance to spend some time together, while at the same time discover and understand a new part of the world. Little did I know, this would be an understatement.

Ukraine’s historic Independence square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), also known as Maiden Square lies in the center of Kiev.  Surrounded by post-communist assembly and city council buildings, the center lies atop an underground shopping mall.  On the right side of the plaza is a white screen that covers the Trade Union Building which was burned three years ago in a protest.  It has been transformed into a neo-realist movie screen that shows the 2014 protest events hour by hour with documentary precision.

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“It reminded me of some of the details I forgot,” said one of the protestors. “They were shooting at us from these windows over there,” he adds, pointing towards the windows of Hotel Ukraine. Then he looks around at the crowd, roughly 100 people and comments: “this time the young people are afraid to come out.”

The weekend of February 22 marked the three- year anniversary of the night the Ukrainian government killed 100 protestors here.  My hotel, the Senator Apartments, is right off the infamous Maidan Square.  Every morning and every night I saw people gathered in the middle of the square.  One warm and rainy Sunday, sick with curiosity, I decided to walk through the square to understand the perspective the people.  As I walked along the square’s corners, there were lined blue and yellow memorials for “the Heavenly 100” who died.

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Some of the people were withdrawn, while others were eager to share their stories.

There was a military chaplain among them, “He is praying for us,” a young university student told me proudly.

“Do you like our government?” another asked.

“We don’t.” added another, “They didn’t reform anything for two years.  It’s impossible to continue to live like that anymore.”  Another cynic quipped that the Ukrainian president had made his own visit to the square earlier in the day “to avoid the people.”

Since the days of the Soviet Union, Russia has for a great part of its history always overlooked Ukraine, whether linguistically, politically or economically.  In the beginning of 2014, Ukraine fell into an economic depression and at that time the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected a trade deal with the European Union (EU) and instead accepted a bailout from Russia.  Ultimately, the rejection resembled the underlying national divisions within the country which led to the protests and set the pro-Western against the pro-Russia sides.

Near, where a Vladimir Lenin statue once stood, there is a piece of graffiti which states, “a free Ukraine is possible if the Russian and Ukrainian proletariats unite; without such unity, there can be no free Ukraine.”  This statement alone explains the pro-Russian side of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. On the other side of the statue is another quote painted on the stone cold basalt: “No one can defeat a people determined to obtain self-rule.” The irony of the graphitized statue represents two world views and the underlying role of Ukraine in its battle of the West versus the East.

Yanukovych’s acceptance of Russia’s ($15 billion dollar) bailout was seen as a betrayal by the pro- West side.  A few days following the deal, people started gathering in Kiev’s center at Maidan Square to condemn their government’s corruption and declare Yanukovych’s illegitimacy.   The protests did not last long before the Ukrainian Government attempted to stop the rallies with violence from riot police, armed guards, and private army personnel.  Eventually, the protests resulted in Yanukovych fleeing to Russia. Petro Poroshenko was elected to take his place and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the former finance minister, became Ukraine’s prime minister.

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Three years later, the tents in the upper side of Maidan were less than ten.  The 100 protesters camping in the square during the last hours of the evening do not look like “left-wing” forces.  All sorts of different military uniforms were worn and as a result the difference between the state police and the people’s militia is very slight.  There was a feeling of resentment in the air, but this did not intimidate the protesters.  Some that I talked to were determined to stay, “until Friday.”  Slogans like “impeachment” and posters with the face of the Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk “decorated” the square.

The people’s fury remains tentative. The controversial trade deal was a result of the EU’s desire to expand into Eastern European economies and Ukraine’s desire to move into a more modern and productive civilization.  Too many Ukrainians joining the EU meant a more Western way of life, more jobs, better education, and an overall more valuable economy.

Nonetheless, there was a spirit of solidarity among the people at the emblematic square. They were making small improvised fires to warm up in the cold evening as it was just starting to snow.  Although it’s not quite noticeable where the food is coming from, somebody constantly brought salo (a Ukrainian delicacy of smoked pork fat), preserved food, compote, or tea.

“We are all volunteers here,” a woman in her 30s stated as she insisted that I try her tea. People know each other – some met during this weekend and others (they say) are veterans from Maidan 2014.

The protesters were informed by their colleagues that more participants will arrive from the Lviv and Ivano-Franskovskaya oblast’ in Western Ukraine by buses.  The group planned to present a petition to the government and to remain in the square until they received the government’s answer.  Among the participants there was a man who lost his leg – probably a war-veteran.  There was a student, a retired police-officer, and a white-collared worker who explained that he had to go to work the following day, but will definitely be back at the square in the evening.  They sang sad Ukrainian folk songs and got into passionate political discussions.

The Ukraine-Russia war conflict continues on as Ukrainian forces still battle combined Russian-separatist forces in a two-year-old war that has killed more than 10,000 people, wounded 20,000 and displaced more than one million.

Two years later, the protestor’s pleas were finally met.  On Sunday April, 10th, Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, announced his resignation from office.  The resignation was urged on by President Poroshenko and a no-confidence vote in the parliament because of his inability to implement government’s reforms as well as other accusations of corruption.

The resignation, however, allowed Poroshenko to escape public attention and political pressure, as recent investigation in the Panama Papers revealed an attempt to evade tax rules in his offshore bank accounts.

In an editorial following the resignation, the Kyiv Post wrote, “the nearly 25 years of tax dodging and misspent government budgets show every day in shortened lives, bad education, poor health care, dilapidated buildings, potholed streets and myriad other problems that Ukraine should not tolerate.”

It reveals that there is justification for the people’s anguish.  The apparent pattern of corruption reflects an even deeper issue of its normalcy amongst officials of post-soviet independence.

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The Kozatsky Hotel, whose bright and radiant sign hangs over the square, was dark and looks like it is not in use at all.  The building on the left side of Taras Shevchenko Lane was so crowded with people in uniform earlier, that night it even lost it’s lonely guard.

Back in the Senator Hotel, the TV reported that the protesters were a group of “paid Cossacks.”  I was taken back as I observed a completely different group of people on this cold brash night.  In the end, only time will be able to reveal where the truth lies – in the people or with their government.  For the good of that beautiful country – I hope that they are not on opposite ends.

What is Dromomania?

Dromomania (n) – A psychological compulsion or passion to travel, wander, or get lost. Regularly referred to as wanderlust.

While coming across this blog you may have obliviously experienced an example of dromomania, on a smaller scale. If this is the case, I think you came to the right place. Because just like me, you have this unrelenting desire to explore, travel the world, experience every culture to the fullest, and develop a deeper understanding of the complex human condition.

Whether you resonate with this term or not, I think it can be certain, that as reflective creatures, we are all on our own inner journeys.  Every place in the world retains elements, which provoke certain qualities in a person (i.e. the beach for calm and resilience, the city for spontaneity, and historical sites for curiosity). Doctors in the middle ages, once saw travelling as a form of therapy or medicine. Religions saw travelling as a metaphorical journey of introspection into one’s beliefs. Nowadays, no matter what is the reason, exploring has evolved and has become vital to our interconnected world.  The word has become more relevant to our lives than ever before.

Some may argue against this, but spiritual growth can only be furthered through the reflection of changing environments. For example, unusual challenges which we would otherwise not be exposed to, force us to adapt in ways we would never expect.

Personally, I can account for many of these obstacles – such as when I dropped both my phone and wallet in the Paris river on my twentieth birthday; or the time my friend’s rental car broke down during our road trip through Greece and we continued on with a missing window; or the time I was robbed of all my money and documents in Sofia, Bulgaria; or the time I lost my seventy-year-old grandma in Rome, Italy. The list goes on.

Truth be told, I don’t know how I would make it out of any of these situations if it weren’t for bit of luck, charisma, and my loving friends and family. Regardless, I would take none of it back. No matter how reckless or naive, it was experiences like these that develop the essence of adventure and stimulate inner-growth.

Yvion Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, an environmentally friendly clothing brand, once said, “It is not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

A saying that harbors more truth than it appears – not until you are truly vulnerable, is when you begin to understand the degree of your limitations and what you can accomplish. Ultimately, travelling enriches us by cultivating virtues of independence, fearlessness, and freedom. This is the power of Dromomania.