The best way to approach it here, to avoid comments about female empowerment and "more of the same", is simply to tell my personal experience.
Law (and industrial chemistry) student, daughter, friend, and girlfriend: that’s how I used to describe myself when people asked me. And no wonder – it’s what I thought they wanted to know about me.
Depending on who was asking, that kind of information was incredibly important for me – it determines our “status”, which affects us so much in our day-to-day lives. And that’s how I defined myself until I conquered my inner self, four years ago, when I started traveling alone.
The change in my personal outlook didn’t happen because I stopped being those things, but because I understood on this journey that Ana Manuela (me, myself, pleasure!) was transcending them.
Allow me to explain: our reality is often a sheltered world of things we’re familiar with. We already know the "what", "how", and "when" of many situations in our daily lives, limiting our experiences of the world to just our perception of reality.
And suddenly, you throw yourself into a world where you don’t have the same certainty about what’s coming next. The most interesting thing is, when the people in this world ask you your name, they’re only interested in what you want to tell them about your life. This is the "solo" world of traveling. Your knowledge of yourself is broadened by moments of introspection and being in contact with the "new", which sharpens your creativity and forces you - more often than not - to develop your ability to "go with the flow".
All of this, aside from giving you great stories to tell, increases your confidence. For example, I remember being on my knees in a shower, wearing a kind of white tunic, while a Korean pastor baptized me in an Australian Evangelical church.
This and other memorable experiences would probably never have happened if I’d been traveling with a friend. Because not everyone is ready to break away from their pre-planned itinerary to listen to two Koreans at a traffic light who want to talk about why their “Father” (who was actually the “Heavenly Father”) commanded them to talk to you.
After this experience, I discovered that the amount of evangelical Christians in Korea has increased dramatically and that many of them go on evangelizing mission trips. I would never have expected that kind of thing from “Asians”. I apologize for using that prejudiced term, because I know that there’s a multitude of different customs and cultures in every country in Asia, and that the homogeneous perception of these cultures can seriously offend those people.
For example: never call a Pakistani “Indian”, and vice versa.
And by thinking back on all the situations I've been through during my travels, I can say that during the trips I went on alone, I was able to better appreciate the local culture. In terms of choosing our outings (and even surviving), we stay more in touch with the realities of the places we’re in.
Traveling alone, I experienced other cultures with different eyes, learning to see beauty in that which is different and to respect other kinds of opinions (as much as they may conflict with my own).
With this time totally dedicated to myself, I increased my confidence in who I am and what I want, thanks to moments of introspection when I felt true inner peace.
I began to let go of certain worries with the awareness that this is a true test of the human condition, "going with the flow", and understanding that the unexpected is a constant in this life journey.
However, knowing how we react in these situations is the key to them affecting us less. After all, this journey is also about getting to know yourself better, and freedom will always be your best friend along the way.
And always remember: freedom and femininity both begin with “F”.
By Ana Manuela Borges, contributor at M pelo Mundo.