When it comes to trailblazing women, most of them have one thing in common: they are unafraid to break free from the expectations of others. Sharon Angel is an Indian solo female traveler and an incredible example of one of these trailblazing women. We had the opportunity to ask her all of our burning questions about how travel helped her find personal freedom and break free from an arranged marriage.
Find out what Sharon had to say about being an Indian solo female traveler:
Tell us about yourself!
I was born and raised in India, then moved to Canada for my bachelors and then to America. Identifying as a Third Culture Kid gives me a sense of belonging as the transition from an eastern culture to adapting in the west has taken me through a whirlwind of emotions. Growing up with cultural expectations of a certain skin color, career, marriage and the type of woman I should be were all restrictions to who I truly was. Traveling the world as an Indian solo female traveler has helped me see life through a wide lens and understand that people are different and it’s ok to give myself the grace to defy all expectations of perfectionism. Today, after exploring almost 40 countries, I’m able to live in freedom by making decisions that move me forward rather than keep me in the mold that an Indian-American stereotype demands. My life is not perfect but has become much more free and peaceful when trying not to fit into boxes that society or culture draws.
What was the moment when you realized you were going to travel solo no matter what?
I have always wanted to see the world by myself as an Indian solo female traveler or with friends but the first time there was a need to get away was in my early twenties. There were a few triggers in my life that pushed me to find my identity after saying no to an arranged marriage. The question “who am I?” kept lingering in my mind. I had successfully shoved it down for many years until I couldn’t anymore. That question stared me dead in the face in my early twenties and that’s when I knew I shouldn’t ignore it anymore because if I do that, it would be detrimental.
Arranged marriage is an essential part of Indian culture. Sometimes, it is even an obsession for a girl to be married by early twenties, throw a week long celebration, and navigate colorism, caste, dowry and class system during wedding planning. When I said no to participating in these systems, I had to wonder who I am without these so called traditions that I must carry on because I am Indian.
“What if I turned out to be unrecognizable?” “What if this journey results in being bad rather than for good?” These thoughts were scary but did not stop me from going on that journey to find myself outside of the so-called “traditions” because I was more fearful of not finding an answer to who I truly was. That’s when the want to travel became a need – the need to find freedom. So to find answers and in many ways, find healing, I decided to travel by myself and have loved every moment of it.
What misconceptions did you have about being an Indian solo female traveler that you now realize were untrue?
A few misconceptions:
- A young lady is an easy target for theft and kidnapping so it is unsafe to travel alone. Though it might be true in some countries, being aware of the culture, common practices and recent happenings in the area help stay safe.
2. The fear that giving a young woman freedom will make her strong and defiant which is a threat to culture. The truth is that women who are able to navigate in a different country alone will not be blindly subservient to men or elders. Solo travel is empowering but that’s not what traditional female living is about in many conservation cultures. Solo traveling gives access to freedom and society is fearful of women having that freedom.
3. When a woman travels by herself, it is common to think that she might not come back to the reality of life and stay in a state of wander. Being a dreamer and changing one’s life after travel is true of all genders but women take most heat because of how unaccepting culture is of an empowered woman.
What does your culture say about solo traveling and how has that impacted your decision to do it?
My culture does not encourage travel. Women are raised to be subservient to the men of the household and a common phrase elders use when trying to plan for a trip is, “Get married and go anywhere with your husband”. It puts pressure on the marriage, creates unrealistic expectations and deprives the single woman of being able to discover herself in this big world.
India has modernized over the years and with that some families and young men take their wives on trips also allowing them to go on girls trips or solo trips. But these are usually under the banner of needing the man’s permission or reporting to the family every move while on the trip. I find that this can be a hindrance to the very idea of seeing the world on your own terms, through your own eyes.
This cultural commandment to travel with someone’s permission and security has not been a hindrance to me as my parents made it a habit to take my family on trips to other countries starting at a young age. When other kids were in summer school or sports classes, my parents exposed me to the history, lifestyle and food of countries that were not Indian. This edified me and left with me a travel bug to see more and have new experiences. Though my parents did not promote solo travel, they did not stop me from going. I have continued to make solo trips every now and then to stay on this journey of edification. This exposure to other cultures at a young age helped me transition into a new country easily when it was time for me to relocate.
What are some of the unexpected benefits of traveling alone?
Travel was my therapy. It was my escape to learn new cultures, see places I wouldn’t typically find myself in and pick up on other countries’ slang words. The best part was eating new, bizarre, emotion triggering food. I laughed, cried, mourned and hoped while on these flights to the unknown. This was my healing as I found safe spaces in people’s stories of struggle, fear, pain, shame and guilt.
The best part of travel therapy was –
- Distance from the (now triggering) world – healing needs space and boundaries
- Created a safe space of escape – journal, music, real connection with creation and the creator, mini-trips within longer trips, walks, deep-breathing
- Seeing a better future – focusing on where I want to be but being real with myself about where I am now. Example: Dealing with emotions and letting myself think through past events. What does freedom look like? Where am I now and where do I want to be?
How has traveling alone changed your life?
I can gladly say that my heart is full of memories from around the world and I owe my thanks to that travel bug. It has released me from having the need to seek someone’s approval, financial reliance and perspective. Solo traveling has been my therapy and a door to seeing both sides of a matter while practicing freedom for myself and allowing that freedom for others. My identity is much stronger and clearer now but more importantly, I am at peace with myself. I hope and wish this gift will be given to everyone by themselves as it is empowering and freeing.
We’re so grateful to have witnessed Indian solo female traveler Sharon’s bravery. Feeling inspired? Us, too! Find out more about Sharon Angel’s work on her website and give her a follow in Instagram to see what she’s up to next!