Good girls go to heaven, Leyla Giray Alyanak go everywhere

Women have been travelling and exploring the world alone for generations. Alexandra David-Néel walked into Tibet in 1924 disguised as a man. Freya Stark trekked into Iran in the 1930s and in 1963 Dervla Murphy rode her bike from Ireland to India. Brave women can be found everywhere in history.

Like Leyla Giray Alyanak, who has been traveling solo for the last 50 years and visited more than 80 countries. She has been lost in the amazon jungle; was shot at in Beirut and found herself stranded in a minefield in Mozambique.

How dare you?

Leyla Giray Alyanak got lost once in the amazon jungle

At the moment she is between travels and can be found at her home in France. I talked to her about vagabonding the world and sexist comments about women traveling solo.

I have accomplished quite a bit in my life and it has nothing to do with being a woman.

How do you deal with comments like this?  “Well first of all I find them extremely insulting. My instant reaction is: How dare you!? I have accomplished quite a bit in my life and it has nothing to do with being a woman.

It just has to do with having worked hard and done my best. I completely resent any indication that this was because I am a woman or in spite of being a woman. That said, as a Westerner I also am conscious of how privileged I am and of the many choices I have”, says Leyla G. Alyanak.

A strange beast

During her travels Alyanak has been met with the whole enchilada from curiosity to hostility. In some places no one raised an eyebrow. In other parts of the world she was looked upon as a strange beast.

Certain societies and in many cases men – have views that are disrespectful, that are misguided and that are self-serving

“As far as being able to go out there and do what you want there are all sorts of social constraints that make it harder for women. This is simply because certain societies and in many cases men – have views that are disrespectful, that are misguided and that are self-serving”.

Pushing for Equality

Alyanak tries to minimize the difference and promote equality between men and women. She has experienced many social situations, some of which she describes as harmful. She tries pushing back these attitudes as much as she can and works for that equality women should have been born with but unfortunately still have to fight for.

Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone

“We do not have equality. Someday – maybe – but right now it does not exist. There is no question that a woman has to work twice as hard to get the same place as a man”.

You should be having babies!

Leyla G. Alyanak has met people who felt sorry for her travelling by herself, assuming she didn’t have friends or family. In other countries she is met with a sense of protection.

“I am confronted with different attitudes in different parts of the world. In some parts people don’t care whether you are a man or a woman but in some cases there are hostilities. People saying: How could you be doing that? You should be at home having babies. That is not your choice to make. What you are doing is unnatural.”

She has met people who felt sorry for her travelling by herself, assuming she didn’t have friends or family. In other countries she is met with a sense of protection.

One thing Alyanak has learned without any question is that the world is extraordinarily diverse.

Internet gets the Credit

Are there more women traveling now compared to when you first started?
“When I began travelling in the 60’s and 70’s it was extremely rare to find women traveling solo. Today this has changed. There are lots of women out there”.

Alyanak gives internet much of the credit for this change. Now, it is easy to find and be inspired by other women travelers. Internet also has made traveling safer.

Ignorance is bliss

Leyla Giray Alyanak is one of many globtrotting women today

According to Alyanak people tend to think the bad stuff happens to somebody else, and ignorance is bliss. However for her this is different. She knows bad stuff can happen to her as well.

You can’t live a life in fear. You can’t not do a thing because you are afraid.

“When you have been there before and things have gone terribly wrong…to be willing to do that again, that is crossing my comfort zone. Going at it again and again, knowing full well what could happen”.

You can’t live a life in fear. You can’t not do a thing because you are afraid”, Alyanak explains.

Bridge between people

So what makes you do it? “If there is a place that I haven’t been to, I want to go. I feel very strongly that the world is becoming homogenized. We are breaking up into small likeminded groups. And I hate that. I hate the fact that people who are alike are sticking together and that there is less and less getting together with people who are different”.

“I try to bridge that by going towards people who are different from me because I believe I will learn a lot more from them than from people who are like me.”

Writing before the Internet

In 1996 when she started vagabonding, there was no internet; there weren’t even long distance telephones that were easily accessible.

If there is a place that I haven’t been to, I want to go!

“I carried a lot of books with me in my back pack. They contained all the statistics I needed to write my articles. I had no way of getting my hands on background information unless I travelled someplace with a library.  So I had to carry my library with me. And I did that across Africa for an entire year!”

BBC World Service

Back then if you wanted to know what was happening in the country next door you had to listen to the BBC world service. For that reason Alyanak carried a small short-wave radio to find out if a revolution had broken out and nobody told her.

Sometimes she would go to the border and wait for travelers coming in from that country to question them about conditions. Today of course you just use Google and in 5 seconds you have your answer.

The Danger Quotient

She was shot at in Beirut and been lost in a mine field. That does not stop her from travelling the world.

Alyanak describes herself as a scaredy cat and admits to be most comfortable when surrounded by the familiar. But that does not stop her from travelling and at the age of 64 she finally has stopped worrying too much.

She learned how to build a fire and how to poke somebody’s eyes out.

“I know there is a greater chance at being shot at in a war zone than being hit by a car in front of my house. But other than walking into a terribly dangerous situation I don’t find it any riskier to get out there and see the world than it is to stay home”.

She firmly believes her danger quotient does not increase due to her vagabonding the world.

Basic Survival Skills

Visiting more that 80 countries Leyla Giray Alyanak also has been to Istanbul, Turkey.

Even though Alyanak has stopped worrying she still has attained the knowledge of some basic survival skills.

She firmly believes her danger quotient does not increase due to her vagabonding the world.

In the 90’s when she first set out to Africa she learned how to build a fire and how to poke somebody’s eyes out.

Admitting that these might not be the most useful skills, they nevertheless served her well by making her feel safer and more secure.

 

Leyla G. Alyanak’s next journeys are to South Korea, Portugal, Georgia and Armenia. You can follow her travels and get useful tips on her blog: http://www.women-on-the-road.com/

All pictures are with courtesy from Women on the Road.

Another interview that you might find inspiring is with Astronaut Jessica Meir

If you want to read more about women travelling solo you should also check the blogs The Blonde Abroad or the Hostel Girl.

You could also read about Johanna Davidsson who skied solo to the South Pole. Or about Annette Birkmann who traveled through South America on her motorcycle.

 

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