I had the idea even before I left for Macedonia: After my internship I would pack my stuff and would backpack three weeks all the way from Skopje to Marseille. I would make sure my boyfriend would take all my heavy winter clothes back to Germany with him when I would come visit. And then I would, with my backpack and in the best company of myself, plan my route along friends and beautiful sights.
So far, so good. The idea was fantastic. There’s a small flaw to it though: my plan to travel with not more than a big and a small backpack didn’t work out that way. I could have known it before. It is an unwritten law that you always end up having too much luggage after a stay abroad.
Still, it was a great idea. The only problem is that it’s not as much fun to backpack with a big backpack stuffed and packed with bags, jackets, shoes and a hat on every available spot; and with a small backpack which itself weighs about 20 kilograms and has a pink pillow dangling in front of it; and on top of that with a big, unhandy bag which used to be white, but has changed its colour to some dirty grey over the last years and which is always at the risk to break. I don’t look like a young backpacker, I look like a tramp who was kicked out from home.
So, every time I have to walk for a couple of metres I try to stretch my back and keep straight while looking as happy as possible, to at least keep my dignity.
But all in all it isn’t too dramatic. My whole body aches and that means that I am growing muscles and that’s great. I am getting to know a bunch of people in the streets who invite me for a coffee break or who pitifully offer to carry my bag for a few metres (or whom I give no choice, but to take it before I collapse in the streets). But as I say, it isn’t too dramatic. I have no trouble to walk 500 metres with all that stuff and I didn’t have to make it any further so far by myself. Besides, the weather is fantastic, sunny and warm. I also got quite some appreciative looks, because I am strong enough to move that stuff and that makes me experience my own, personal pippi-longstocking-moments and it’s a good feeling. “If I look at you I can really see a female super hero”, said a fellow traveller in a hostel, after I made him known with “kohlrabi”, and I couldn’t argue against that.
With or without too much luggage it’s a good feeling to be on the road, all alone. “Are you not scared?” I heard that question many times in the last days and whenever I have been travelling by myself before. Hell no! If I am scared of everything then to end up as a lazy couch potato at some point without any desire to travel anymore.
Admittedly, I was a little nervous that my national ID card wouldn’t be accepted as travel document at the borders and sometimes when the curves were especially sharp and when the bus driver got a little crazy behind the wheel I panicked that I might vomit on the seat next to me. But scared that something would happen to me? Not at all.
To give one example: I arrived at 9.30 pm in Mitrovica, North of Kosovo. Mitrovica still has to deal with many ethnical issues and friends in Macedonia told me scary stories about the divided city. I arrived, it was dark, some old men were sitting in front of the mosque, but the most were having beer or coffee or tea in cafés, just like men in the Balkans do it. The bus driver exchanged a few words in German with me before he left and I trudged 200 metres straight to meet a friend at the main square. I loaded all my stuff onto a bench and just wanted to call my friend when a young men approached me, one metre safe distance, and ask me, shyly, whether he could help me. He could and called my friend with his Kosovo sim card. Before he left he apologized for bothering me and that he really didn’t want to scare me and that he hopes all goes well for me. “No worries”, I said. “I am a young woman, travelling through the Balkans with far too much luggage. I won’t be scared to easily.” (Unless somebody nudges on my shoulder or says “buh”, that will almost instanstly lead to a heart attack, but it could happen anywhere and it’s not precondition that I am discovering ex-Yugoslavia with luggage almost my own body weight).
Long story short, I am not scared. Next question.
„Does your boyfriend not mind that you’re travelling?“ Silly question. Of course he minds. I send him pictures and videos from the Adriatic Cost and UNESCO world heritage sites while the poor guy is close to the deadline for his BA thesis. That’s neither attentive nor supportive of me. But he doesn’t mind that I am travelling by myself. And that’s good, because I am a woman on the move and only if he’s in for that I will always move back to him with excitement and will plan our return to paradisic spots together while the coast rushes in front of my bus window.
„And what about your parents?“ I think they like what I do, even though they’re always happy to have me at home. And there’s also no need to talk about the most exciting (they would say dangerous) adventures to them before they happened.
To travel all by yourself is fantastic. To be alone all with yourself is – at least for me – an important experience. I didn’t meet many women over the last days and all in all only 2 women who were travelling by themselves (one came to Dubrovnik for a conference so she doesn’t even count). That is, considering the amount of people – and of solo travellers – I met, a pretty poor amount.
There are still too many factors which keep (young) woman away from solo trips. As with many things where people want to keep women away from the real fun the argument is always that women need to be protected. I am so tired of that! I might need help at some point, but I’ll go ahead and ask. I don’t need protection 24/7. I don’t need protection at all, I need support sometimes.
But, alright, women shouldn’t risk their lifes travelling. Let’s do it the safe way then. How about the Adriatic coast? Or city trips to any EU-country? Hiking in Ireland or Poland or the Pyrenees or the Alps? You don’t have to start out by proving that you’ve got Pippi inside you, a small, reasonable backpack will do. You don’t have to start out hitchhiking, but plan your route carefully with busses or trains. You don’t have to go for the real authentic couchsurfing experience straight away, but look up cozy hostels which promise to bring you together with other travellers. With the right self-confidence (which will be boosted after every trip) and a healthy gut feeling almost everything is good for a starter, at least in Europe. As much as I am happy about the admiring comments on my bravery, as happy I would be if my little trip would not be that special, only because I am a woman who can’t be without that occasional adventure.
My entire Route: Skopje (MK) – Prishtina (RKS) – Mitrovica (RKS) – Peja (RKS) – Berane (MNE) – Podgorica (MNE) – Budva (MNE) – Kotor (MNE) – Dubrovnik (HRV) – Split (HR) – Zadar (HR) – Zagreb (HR) – Ljubljana (SLO) – Kamnik (SLO) – Venedig (IT) – Bologna (IT) – Marseille (FR)