Hello friends! A few months ago, Expedia Singapore roped me in for an exciting International Women’s Day campaign called ‘Women with Capes’. It’s a series of interviews with intrepid female travellers in Asia about their adventures around the world, how it began, and how travelling helped them unlocked strengths to become strong, independent women.
Through ‘Women with Capes’, we want to girls to know that the world is yours to explore too.
I was excited to work with Expedia Singapore because that’s exactly the message that I’ve been trying to send through my stories of solo female travel. For us women, travelling independently can be difficult, but once you’ve travelled the world on your own terms, you open up a whole new world of possibilities for yourself
Here’s an excerpt from my interview about advice to young women travellers. You can also read my full ‘Women with Capes’ interview here.
How big a role does travel play in your life?
I’ve grown very dependent on travel as a form of escape, education, and empowerment. If I didn’t travel, I’d still be that frog under the coconut shell who isn’t aware of what she is capable of achieving.
What are the best and worst parts of solo travel?
The best part: Having the time and space to explore yourself. Falling in love with people and places.
The worst part: Witnessing how the world is not made equal for everyone. Another drawback of travel is that you start to miss the people and places you fell in love with.
As a solo female traveller, did you face any barriers or naysayers when you first wanted to travel independently? How did you overcome them?
The most difficult barrier I faced was my own family. When I first announced my plans to backpack solo around 10 years ago, their responses were: 1) Do you have depression? 2) You should see a psychiatrist. I was heartbroken, and angry at how unfair it was that my parents would’ve let my brothers backpack solo, but not me.
So I did what every disobedient Asian daughter would do – I lied to my parents about travelling with some friends for a month in Egypt and Jordan. I only admitted to my family that it was a solo trip, AFTER I arrived in Egypt! (Disclaimer: Please do not try this at home) From that trip onwards until day, it is a continuous learning process for both my parents and I – Me learning to assure them; they learning to trust my ability to take care of myself. Once mum and dad saw how important solo travelling was to me, they cautiously gave me their blessing. It was all I needed to overcome other people’s unsolicited advice.
What is a great lesson that’s come out travelling for you personally?
I grew up being dependent on the men in my life to take care of me and keep me safe. But what I have discovered from travelling solo is that I have a secret superpower – I can take care of myself. It was a new strength that I took home with me and used it to look after myself at work and at home. It was also an independence that allowed me to make things happen for myself without having to wait for someone else. I think that is pretty powerful and I want to inspire other Asian women to find that realisation too. Being able to help them with that through the stories on my travel blog Meimeichu.com is very meaningful.
Despite everything you have accomplished, I’m sure you sometimes still get negative comments. What is the no.1 sexist nonsense you get most often, and how do you shut them down?
“Your parents/boyfriend must have sponsored your holidays.”
Ignorant assumptions like this devalues everything I’ve done and sacrificed to afford my travels. So I tell them the blunt truth: I’ve done everything from scrubbing toilets in New Zealand, to working every weekend of the year to save up. I work 3 jobs, I consciously lead a simple lifestyle where I have no debt, and I save more than I spend.
Many people travel to have a fun time, really let their hair down and forget responsibility. What made you decide to work and help others (volunteering) instead?
As travellers, we take so much from the place we’re in, sometimes we forget to give back. Unfortunately, overtourism has altered the cultures of many rural communities, caused environmental damages, and create abusive industries that exploits people and animals. Travelling is about personal growth, but it should also be about giving back to the communities who opened their doors to us. As travellers, we have an accountability to use our power and privilege to travel responsibly, and to increase compassion through our global experiences.
To someone who is planning her first solo long-term travels, what is the most important bit of advice you could give?
Travel is most fulfilling when it’s to learn and experience, not when it’s for Instagram.
If there is one thing you could say to your younger self what would it be?
Dear young Mei, stop comparing yourself with other travellers, especially the European vagabonds you meet so often. They do not live the same life circumstances nor cultural values as you, so do not put them as the standard of traveller to become. A few years from now, you will learn to appreciate your Asian values and the burdensome responsibilities it comes with. Then, you will craft your own way of travelling that balances responsibilities with exploration.
What would you say to any girl who is out there thinking she would like to travel the world, but is afraid to do it because she’s been told she’s “just a girl”?
Being female is not a limitation, it’s an advantage. “Just a girl” is becoming an archaic term especially at time when travel is becoming inclusive; for gender, race and nationality. Admittedly, navigating patriarchy in foreign countries comes with some restrictions in freedom of movement, but overcome that and you will develop new superpowers that will take you far.
If fear is holding you back, try seeking out other women travellers, and find stories or travellers you identify with to get that nudge of confidence you need to take that first of a thousand steps.
Read more about solo female travel:
The biggest fears women face when travelling and how to overcome it
Your resting bitch face is secretly a travelling tool
Is it weird to go to a music festival alone?
5 important travel skills that’ll make you a better traveller