7 reasons why every woman should travel solo to become a better leader
I tossed and turned, my stomach ache getting worse every minute. “If only someone could be here with me, bring me water and help me to a doctor… “, I thought to myself. My fever was so high there was no point in measuring any more. All I wanted to do is stay in bed and feel sorry for myself.
I was alone in a small hotel in north India.
I needed to act fast, make critical decisions and get myself out of the situation.
Act Fast, Make decisions, Get out of situations — Sound familiar?
Constantly learning, finding a path within the uncertainty of changing conditions.
All my points below are true for both men and women but I am focusing here on women for a few reasons:
- The glances, looks and remarks I got for going on my trips alone — would make many women change their minds. I hope this article will add another perspective you may not have thought about and convince you to just do it.
- From a young age, girls are over protected and taught to think ‘what if something bad happens?’ There needs to be a balance between risk taking and caution. But what is the right balance?
- We seem to be hard wired and encouraged socially to please others and do what is expected of us. Traveling solo around the world is not usually on the list. I think it should be…
If you want to start your own company, run a business or lead a team — traveling solo can teach you a lot!
Here are 7 reasons why you should venture out on your own and come back a much stronger and capable female leader:
1. Learning independence
Traveling solo doesn’t mean you are alone, it just means you are in charge of yourself and you make your own decisions.
In most cases you meet people and join them for a period of time with no strings attached. When your joint adventure with the group is over, you can decide if you want to keep traveling with them or go to other places, do other activities or meet new and different people.
It’s your choice!
As a solo traveler you make your own decisions, constantly, and build your own agenda. You take into account weather conditions, the character of the people you meet, availability of money, schedules and passions — As a solo traveler you decide what to do and you deal with the consequences. This freedom is addictive and has many advantages. For example, you meet more people when you are alone, see and experience exactly what you want to experience. But independence also comes at a price. The price for this independence can be harsh — as mine was, in India — being sick in a hotel when I didn’t know anyone around…
When leading a company or an organization — you have a team around you and you’ll listen to their arguments, but eventually you’ll make the decisions and deal with the repercussions of those decisions. Your head will spin from the number of decisions you will need to make daily and no one will make them for you.
Knowing how to be independent as a leader is crucial and you need to be really damn good at it.
2. A solution to every problem
I walked happily to the train in Bolivia that would take me to the beautiful salt dessert. But when I walked up to the train conductor to hand him my ticket, he looked at me seriously and said “You can’t go on the train because your bag is too big. The next train is in three days you can try to make it on that one.”
For someone traveling for 5 months, my backpack was relatively small but had a sleeping bag and tent attached to it from the outside, Making it look bulky. I tried persuading, begging and suggesting workarounds for how he could allow me on the train, with no luck.
Is this it?
Am I stuck here for three days?
What if the next train doesn’t have room either?
I stepped away from the train trying to think what else I could do and decided to try detaching my sleeping bag and tent from my backpack and holding them in my hands. Now my backpack looked tiny but my hands were full of stuff. Doubting this would work, I walked towards the train again and handed my ticket to the train conductor, somewhat embarrassed. Shockingly, it worked! Apparently your hands stuffed with crap is ok but everything tied to the backpack? Not ok. Oh well.
I made it to the salt dessert and learned my lesson. For every problem, there are a few obvious solutions and many hidden ones. Make sure you learn to think fast and see all possible solutions — it’s a precious trait.
In business, how many times did your developers tell you ‘impossible’, investors said ‘No’ to a meeting, or something you tried to do simply failed? Just like in travel, there is always a way — you just need to learn to find it and not take ‘no’ for an answer.
3. Smile at the world and it will smile back
You will run into many people who are different than you with different looks, beliefs, and economic situations.
Smile and say “hi” — why not make this a happier world?
Lend a hand when possible — whether its volunteering in some remote school, helping an old lady with her bags or bringing small gifts to locals — Its amazing how much more connected you will feel by making these small gestures.
The same goes for your business. Whether it’s the shy engineer in the corner, the admin or the person cleaning the office — stop for a second to say “hi” and smile — it goes a long way. You will be rewarded by a much better atmosphere around the office and more motivated and dedicated staff.
4. Don’t be embarrassed to be assertive
Whether the hotel gave you a filthy room, the taxi driver took you to the wrong side of the city, the trip you wanted was much more expensive than advertised — you’ll need to be assertive to fix the wrong. No need to shout. Be firm and make it very clear that a line was crossed, and you simply wont accept it.
It’s OK to be assertive …
I take it back.
Its crucial to be assertive. It will teach you important lessons in negotiation, how to have crucial conversations later in life and make your point politely, in a controlled but VERY clear manner.
5. Trust your instincts
I was on a bus in Thailand heading back to Bangkok. Somehow the bus felt way too empty. Usually these buses are packed with travelers. Mmm… this seemed weird. Where did I buy the tickets? Did it look like a sketchy place? I couldn’t recall but felt like it was wrong to go on that bus. It was my first trip solo and I was still not sure what to watch out for. I thought to myself that I must have been wrong and so I took a seat on the bus. The bus left on time and made its way north.
After 20 min it stopped suddenly.
“Weird — there is nothing around here and we have about 12 hours to go…” I thought to myself. The driver got up and asked us to get off the bus and to give him $100 each otherwise he wouldn’t continue. Angry with myself for not trusting my instinct, I climbed down and everyone gathered outside the bus. The driver disappeared presumably to let us gather the money he requested and possibly to call for ‘helpers’. What would prevent him from taking the $100 and stopping again in 30 min? Would this end with just money or should I get out of there? I remembered we had passed some houses not too long before, so I told the few tourists with me that I was not staying. Everyone agreed and decided to join me and we started running back towards the houses hoping it was the right decision and that the diver wouldn’t see us. We made it safely and we will never know what would have happened if we had stayed.
No one knows.
But both in travel, and in business, you should listen to your instincts. They are usually right. Obviously in both situations you want to back your decisions by data, but instincts are critical.
So how do you build these instincts?
In travel, especially when you are alone and can’t rely on others, you develop your instincts about people, places and surroundings very quick due to the constant changes.
In business you’ll use this capability constantly whether you are interviewing new hires, assessing how your team is doing, or at assessing customers’ reactions to your latest demo.
6. Do things out of your comfort zone
If you are not a hiker — go on a hike.
If you never bungee jumped — go ahead and try it.
Being a solo traveler, by definition, is being outside your comfort zone but taking it to the next level, you’ll feel more alive and build stronger memories.
By experiencing life out of your comfort zone you build coping tools that are extremely important. Starting your own business venture or leading an organization requires being almost continuously out of your comfort zone. There are always new things to tackle and you can’t let stress and anxiety interfere with your thinking and decision making.
7. Every voice counts
You can learn from everyone. Don’t try to be the smartest in the room.
These are some of the important lessons you learn quick when traveling. Fellow travelers will know where to find cheaper tickets and what trails are nicer than others. Locals can tell you a lot about their life, politics and topics you usually know nothing about.
Learning to listen and deciding what to take from any conversation is key and will be extremely useful as you listen to the opinions of your team, executives or customers. You won’t take everyone’s advice, but listening and evaluating all opinions makes people around you feel like they count and allows you to make better decisions and be a better leader.
So, no excuses.
Pick a spot on the globe that you want to conquer, decide how much time you have to explore and go do it.
The world is beautiful and you’ll feel so much more alive experiencing it. But on top of that, you’ll simply come back a more mature, independent and strong woman with great instincts and superb people skills and you’ll be ready for a life of entrepreneurship, leadership and making your dreams come true.