Home » 9 lessons I’ve learned from travelling to 100+ countries as a woman

9 lessons I’ve learned from travelling to 100+ countries as a woman

written by Martina Sebova January 17, 2019
A woman at the tanneries in Morocco

I consider myself a lucky person. My passion for travel became my profession and, looking back at my life, I am always either travelling or planning my next trip.

As they say: “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” So I did. I spent years working as a tour guide in Europe and later worked in the HQ for the biggest adventure travel company. I am now exploring the world and its lesser-known corners.

When people ask me what I love about travel, I think of the lessons I’ve learned from exploring the world and I struggle to offer a simple answer. As a female traveller, there seems to be a misconception that women are somehow limited in their experiences. I believe it’s the opposite. This is what I’ve learned:

1. Travel is the best education

A woman in a mosque in Iran

Inside Iran’s famous Nasir-ol-molk Mosque.

History used to be my favourite subject, and as a child I was always dreaming of visiting places where the stories of the Incas came to life, and the pyramids still stood in the desert. But it wasn’t until I travelled to these places that I really felt the past. I will never forget walking through the grounds of Auschwitz in Poland in tears. The unimaginable history of that place couldn’t be taught in the classroom; it had to be experienced. My recent travels through West Africa, one of the world’s forgotten regions, opened up my eyes to the horrific events of slavery. Standing next to the guide as he shut the door of the dark cell and continued his stories of everyday life here for the thousands of men and women who passed through on their way to Americas, had a bigger impact than any article or book I’ve read on slavery. Exploring Ghana as part of a small group was essential to my understanding of this fascinating country and its past.

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2. Being a female traveller is an advantage

A group of women having a picnic in Tajikistan

Picnic lunch in Tajikistan.

It’s true: your travel experiences will be different because you are a woman. But being a female traveller is often an advantage. There is an unspoken bond between women everywhere; there’s a look, a smile, a quick invite to come and join other women.

I accepted a lunch invitation in Afghanistan and it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of all my travels. I have learned a lot about the country and its culture from my well-educated Afghani male friends, but it wasn’t until I met with a group of Afghani women – enjoying a home-cooked lunch, sitting on the floor without our hijabs – that I was able to learn more about their lives. About their dreams, hopes and opinions. And of course, after we ate way too much, we ended up dancing in the living room.

RELATED: WHY FEAR CAN BE YOUR GREATEST TRAVEL ASSET, ACCORDING TO ONE FEMALE TRAVELLER

3. People are (generally) all the same

I grew up in a country with very little diversity, so travelling has introduced me to new cultures, religions and traditions that I knew little about. Travel has taught me is that people are all the same. We might follow a different religion, have a different skin colour or speak a different language, but when you strip that all down, we all want the same thing. We want to be loved, enjoy some food with friends or family, and live in peace. We are all human beings.

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4. The world is a better place than we think

A young woman drinking tea with an Afghani man

Enjoying a tea with a shopkeeper in Afghanistan

“Please be careful” and “Is it safe?” are phrases I hear often. Sadly, if I followed news programs and the media, my picture of the world would be one of disaster and danger. My travels in Africa have confirmed that our view of the world seems to be stuck on the last negative image we have seen. Over the years we’ve been bombarded with painful images of Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, however when I visited I experienced a joy I wasn’t expecting. Travelling as part of a small group with Intrepid has opened my eyes and heart to the beauty of Ethiopia (not to mention its delicious cuisine). I will definitely return. The truth is, many of the countries we may be hesitant to visit have so much to offer the adventure-seeking traveller – Colonial towns in Senegal, gorgeous white sand beaches in Sierra Leone and amazing food in Iran.

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5. The art of listening

Young woman on the street in Dhaka, Bangladesh

On the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

We all love to be right, and we all want to be heard. Travelling has taught me to sit back and listen; to really listen to others who might have a different point of view on things such as culture, religion or politics. I was captivated by every word of my local guide during my small group tour in Iran. This was by far the country I have learned the most about, by simply listening (of course, having a knowledgeable guide was the key).  My favourite moments were stories shared over dinner when I learned more about day-to-day life of Iranians; what they do, think or eat and how they celebrate their holidays.

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6. Less is more

Judging by the size of my carry-on this seems to be a no-brainer. Each trip I seem to pack a little bit less. Then I go on and meet people who own very little in the world and yet are happier than the ones with many possessions. Maybe that’s the secret to a happy life. Less is more.

RELATED: TRAVELLING IN ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES AS A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELLER

7. If you can’t speak the language, smile, sing or dance

Learning a foreign language is always worthwhile. It gives us the opportunity to really peel back the layers of the destination you are exploring. But when there is no common language, simply a smile or dance can provide the connection we need. While recently camping on a group trip in Guinea, the entire nearby village came to say hello. As we couldn’t communicate via a common language, we decided to sing a dance. Who knew the Macarena and YMCA can be so useful?! The response was phenomenal, as kids and grown-ups sang and acted out their own routines and we carried on for hours.

8. Travel is a privilege

A colourful plate of food

A colourful (and incredible) meal in Ethiopia.

Travel has taught me how privileged I am for being born in a country that provides me with opportunities, and that my personal circumstances allow me to travel. Over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day, so I am aware that “quit your job to travel the world” is the very definition of privilege.

9. To find a real connection, we must disconnect

I can see the irony of this statement since you’re most likely reading this on a tablet or a smartphone. But there is nothing like disconnecting for a day or two or even a week and spending some time away surrounded by nature.  So I will leave you with a quote that I love: “There is no Wi-Fi in the forest, but you will find a better connection.”

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8 comments

Anonymous September 15, 2020 - 8:22 am

I still remember being invited to dance in the street with a whole village celebrating something in Guinea Bissau. Drums and linking arms with the villagers. Wow! What an experience! There are so many things to learn from so many different countries.

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Kate September 14, 2020 - 4:56 pm

Very much enjoyed your story.

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Beverley Moss August 3, 2019 - 3:32 pm

It is so sad that people are so afraid and suspicious of so much; not only overseas but in our own country. It is so inspiring to hear of your travels for I too have travelled alone and it is the best. Love your comment on needing to disconnect – it is so true.

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Alison Acton January 25, 2019 - 2:48 am

Absolutely amazing. Brave, awesome girl! Our family also has superstar girls that have traveled a lot to many countries and learnt SO much and experienced joy and wonder.
Keep on sharing.

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Anonymous January 22, 2019 - 10:29 pm

Omg reading this I literally imagined me in that picture you’re a inspiration for all the young girl travelers ❤️

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Natacha January 19, 2019 - 3:41 am

Marty, I love your reflexions as I’ve come to similar realizations while and after my trips around the world. Following you and Rachel adventures is something I look forward every time on my Instagram feed. You show the real travel, the experiential and less glamorous but more memorable. Thank you for sharing your travel adventures with the world.

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Marty January 23, 2019 - 6:28 am

Thanks Natacha. I am glad to hear you enjoyed the article and can relate to it based on your own travels. Our adventures will continue for at least another year – so more Instastories to come. 🙂

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Anonymous January 17, 2019 - 9:29 pm

Fantastic story Marty. Loved reading your words and the pictures that they painted in my mind. Wonderfully thoughtful and inspirational.

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