International Women’s Day is a celebration of nebulous origins, and dubious manifestations (should we thank or punch the colleague who holds the door for us “because it’s International Women’s Day”?).

However, this annual milestone has one merit: every year, for one day, it specifically focuses media attention on issues regarding gender equality—and, in this media age, the louder a concern resounds, the most likely it is to be addressed.

International Women’s Day is about looking back on what has been accomplished, assessing what still has to be done, and celebrating the role models who lead the way. Regarding the second of these aspects, it is my personal conviction that, if we want to achieve equal rights and opportunities on a global scale, we women should travel. Here is why.

girl traveling

Travel is education

Travel abducts us from the familiar and makes us dive head first into the unknown. Travel forces us to improvise, to scratch our head for solutions, or to learn how to rely on pure instinct. Travel challenges us, pushes us to make mistakes, and compels us to learn from them.

Learning about the world in theory cannot replace experiencing it for ourselves.; it is through education that women will progress towards equality, and in this regard travel is as essential as University degrees.

women traveling

Travel pushes the boundaries of what we thought was possible

Most of the time, it is not an explicit interdiction that keeps us from reaching for our dreams (or even daring to formulate those dreams, if only to ourselves)—it is self-censorship.

No matter how free we think we are, we grew up with an image of what a woman (or, more precisely, a respectable woman) can or cannot be, should or should not do. The power of this image comes from the fact that we have integrated it on a completely unconscious level, and tend to conform to it—or feel guilty when we do not—without even noticing.

The great virtue of travel is to drill giant cracks through the solid ground we thought was reality: when we land somewhere new, culture shock feels like a slap in the face because most things we considered natural (conceptions, values, habits) turn out to be cultural constructs. Conventions and beliefs are often very different—or do not even have an equivalent—in our newfound environment.

This is especially true of gender-related conceptions: when we travel, we women experience new (and seemingly incomprehensible) reactions to what we do, say or wear. We have to put up with looks, conventions or interdictions which make us boil inside; or, on the contrary, experience a latitude of action that we never had before. We learn to look at our own culture with a critical eye—and can choose to get back to our own ways, or to start challenging them.

girls traveling

Travel promotes independence and confidence

Travel removes us from the sight of our families, friends and social environment—and from the expectations and automatic behaviours that come with them. We are free to try, transform, experiment, and get closer to our personal needs and desires. We learn how to make more informed, more conscious choices, and to take our life into our own hands (rather than floating around like a piece of drift wood caught in the current).

This also means that we are cut off from the resources we usually turn to when faced with a problem: nobody else is around to deal with changing the tyre in the desert, facing the lethal spider on the door or chasing the thief who just grabbed our bag. We are forced to take charge of our own path, comfort, and sometimes survival.

Taking charge is terrifying, but once we have faced the fear, handled the situation (with stoic bravery, or high-pitched screams and tears) and made it alive, we know that we will be able to do it again. Lack of self-confidence is probably the greatest obstacle to the progress of women; this confidence does not grow on trees, but flourishes from experience.

women traveling

Travel inspires

When we return home, we might be overwhelmed with the depressing feeling that nothing has changed, that we are stuck in the same situation that we tried to escape in the first place, and cannot help falling back into familiar patterns.

Except something has changed: us.

We have seen natural marvels, tentacular cities, gravity-defying constructions. We have learnt new words, tasted new flavours, danced to new rhythms. We have met people who were larger than life, people who ripped us off, and people who saw things in us that we did not know were there.

We are coming home with new ideas, new skills, and an expanded point of view. We possess new weapons to defy what bothers us about our situation. We have moved one pawn in the game—if only by an inch—, and the others will have no choice but to adjust their position. It is now our task to spread the word, and inspire others around us; it is now our task to plant the seeds of change.

Girls, do the world a favour: go and travel.

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All photos by Katja Hentschel and Marie Colinet

mariecolinettravelettes Marie Colinet was part of the Travelettes team from 2013 to 2015. Originally from Toulouse, France, two years lived in Australia left her speaking English with an awkward Fraussie accent. In September 2015, Marie is starting the epic 6-month-or-who-knows-how-long road-trip along the Panamerican Highway that she’s been dreaming of since her teenage years — all the way from the U.S. to the very tip of South-America. You can follow her on Instagram @mariecolinet!