Conquering Stigmas: Traveling Solo Through The Silk Road
Traveling to over 50 countries, mostly as a solo female traveler, the most meaningful and life changing trip I ever had was through the Silk Road, starting from Xinjiang Province in Western China to Kyrgyzstan, to Tajikistan, to Afghanistan, to Uzbekistan, and to Turkmenistan.
I love traveling to off-the-beaten-track (fucking hate this term, it's so cliche, but whatever) to get a deeper understanding of the life of locals and to experience the rawness of the local people. I learn so much about others and about myself when walking in someone else's shoes, eating the same foods at the same restaurants, shopping at the same stores, sharing the same tea, and walking the same streets. Although there is always a language barrier, we can connect in other ways that words connect.
Kindness is a universal language that you can find anywhere in the world.
Believe me, there are those those times where miscommunication can get super awkward at the time, but ends up being a fucking hilarious story. Like one time, I texted in Chinese to my driver, "I am finished with work, can you pick me up right now?" and he was confused at what I was saying, he responded back with "In ten minutes?" Like with a question mark at the end... Why is he so confused when I told him right now? Later on, my Chinese teacher looked at my text and cracked up because I actually wrote to him "I am finished with work. Can you borrow my mom right now?" AWKWARD. WHY!? ONLY MY LIFE WOULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME.
But to connect with people around the world, only to realize how similar we are, this is what pushed me to travel to Central Asia. Also, it's so non-touristic there are no damn large Chinese/Korean/Japanese tour bus groups to deal with. THANK YOU LORDY!
Before my trip, there was so much worry and stress because of the American stigma of danger for these areas since it is predominantly Muslim, with the Taliban and ISIS so close by. Even my most courageous friends, whether male or female, did not want to come with me on this trip!
Was I crazy to travel here? Is this suicide?
Even the locals told me that I was crazy because there is Taliban everywhere, with bullets coming from all directions, and that the men will treat women in a disrespectful way through inappropriate touch and words. AM I SERIOUSLY A F*KING CRAZY PERSON?!
The cherry on top, was the visa process. OH HELL NO! I'm usually a last minute, on-the-go traveler (literally book 10 minutes before I get to a hotel type of traveler), but I had to plan months in advanced and spend a shit ton of money to obtain the right visas. Was the universe telling me not to go too? Real talk: AM I SERIOUSLY A F*KING CRAZY PERSON?! I was going against all odds, so I literally almost gave up on this trip.
Although the universe, my friends, and my family were telling me not to go, I had to - I knew this trip would change my life, and it did forever. Not only does Central Asia have a long (dated to Biblical Times!), rich, riveting history as the most influential route between East and West, the landscape and the people are completely untouched and unspoiled from the outside world that we know. The rawness of the hospitality and kindness was beyond anything I have experienced before.
As a solo female traveler, there is always risk, no matter where you go, so I was extra careful and mindful of the religious and racial traditions: I wore a ring to show others I was "married," had fake pictures of my "husband" (thanks Sonny) and kids (my cousins) on my phone if anyone asked, and I was respectful when speaking to both men and women. Actually throughout my whole trip, I only met one other solo traveler since most travelers who dared to come to this area, shared the same preexisting fears as I had, and felt that they needed a travel companion to keep safe. But even as a solo female traveler, I was treated with respect, I was safe, and I was accepted into local families as their own.
I am so blessed and thankful that all stars aligned, eventually, and I was able to experience, first hand, the most welcoming and hospitable people in the world, where the people who have the least, give the most. Everyday, I was invited to stay in homes of locals for fresh home cooked meals for free, there was always an empty bed given to me (also for free!), a seat in a local's car to go from A to B (ALSO FOR FREE! WTF), I was invited as the guest of honor at a local wedding in Afghanistan, and things were constantly gifted to me without anything in return.
I remember one time, a family had almonds served with tea (Yup, you guessed it, all for free!) and I mentioned how tasty these almonds were. The family were so happy that they tried to gift me their whole year's harvest of almonds. WTF! It was literally two giant bags, 20 pounds each full of delicious, organic almonds. It was such an amazing gift, but first off, there is NO WAY I can go across the Tajikistan border with this (I already had shady, possibly bribing, border issues, story on that later) nor can I carry 40 lbs of almonds with me throughout the whole Silk Road. And seriously, "NAH DUDE. This is just way too much! Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, keep it!" Gifts like these were so generous, anyone with half a heart would not be able to accept them.
This trip through the Silk Road made me realize, even more, that no matter how different we live our lives, or speak different languages, or physically look different - we are all the same. We, as humans, want the same things: love, health, education, acceptance, family, community. There is still an abundance of kind and loving people, even in these "dangerous" parts of the world. It was awe-inspiring and beyond belief to meet people who were so giving, just from the goodness of their heart, despite what they have or own.
I hope that my story will inspire you to not only travel to the untouched, stunning UNESCO Silk Road to experience the generosity and warmth of the locals, but also give you the strength and courage to go to places society and the universe keeps telling you, "NO!", when your heart keeps saying, "YES!" Don't let society weaken your beliefs and spirit, especially to you women travelers out there! As women travelers, let's break the stigma and the mold that we are weak. WE ARE STRONG! We can go where ever and do whatever any man or person can, if our will is there.
Also, I hope that my story brings faith back into humanity, to portray that no matter what society or the news tells us, there are still warm hearted people out there. Don't give up on people, because sometimes, people can surprise you!
For more photos of the Silk Road, check out my Travel Silk Road Gallery!