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5 things I learned conquering Everest Base Camp as a solo female traveller

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Original blog post featured on The Journal by Intrepid, written by Tayla Gentle.

As a woman travelling solo you run the gamut of emotions; everything from liberating highs to paralysing fears can cross your adventuring path.

For me, independent travel has always been an incredibly freeing experience – I am woman, hear me roar/snore/speak terrible Spanglish kind-of-freeing. I guess you could say I’ve been lucky, in that solo travel has seen me encounter some of the world’s loveliest people and share an abundance of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Plus, I only had my bag stolen one time.

Person standing with the peaks of the Himalayas in the background wearing a backpack and similing

Solo adventures can be the best kind of adventures.

But when I started telling people that I was trekking to Everest Base Camp, I met a range of differing opinions.  Some people were stoked. Others were in awe that I was taking on the challenge. Others expressed unnecessary fear for my well-being.

I seriously struggle with that question, “Is it safe?”. I’m not sure whether I’m offended because it implies that I make risky life decisions; indignant because I know men aren’t asked that question half as often, or angered at the suggestion that I can’t look after myself. Not only was the EBC trek safe but it also quickly became one of my aforementioned ‘once-in-a-lifetime experiences’.

Besides learning that, yes indeed, women can do anything, I also came back down to sea level with a handful of other valuable life lessons tucked under my belt, scribbled in my journal and stored in my heart.

1. Social media does not validate your travel experience

Sign of Sargamartha National Park

Welcome to Sagarmatha National Park.

I repeat, social media does not validate your travel experience. Sure, I am a twenty-something who communicates almost entirely via DMs, but I try not to buy into the whole ‘if it isn’t on Instagram, it didn’t happen’ mindset. This pressure to update our life’s feed can be super exhausting, not to mention a hassle when you’re travelling. Nothing takes you out of the present experience more than spending 20 minutes trying to get the Wi-Fi password.

The beauty of my EBC journey was that I existed in a digi-free bubble. Sure, I could’ve paid to use the internet if I were desperate, but I felt no desire to scroll Instagram when the sun was setting over Ama Dablam or my mates had started a new round of cards.

It took me a few days to shake that sense of obligation to post, but once I was free, I realised that this experience, this crazy trek, was for me. And only me. And whether or not my handful of followers got to come along for the ride, it made no difference at all.

2. All you need is a little perspective

Peaks of the Himalayas

Peaks of the Himalayas

Perspective is a beautiful thing. Whatever anxieties or issues, troubles or fears that might be plaguing you can often be calmed with a good dose of perspective. Most of the time, I get this perspective from my friends, the ones who tell it to me straight.

But on the way to Everest, I got that perspective from the landscape. The immense Khumbu peaks and deep troughs, glacial plains and vast valleys have the power to both intimidate and inspire. You can’t not find yourself humbled when you stand surrounded by the Himalayas, where you’re just a speck in a kingdom of giants.

Whenever I felt my brain turning to my dear friend anxiety, I would look around, pinch myself and ask, ‘Will allowing myself to give into the stress make any difference?’ and the mountains almost always said ‘hell no’.

3. I’m in a very important relationship… with me

Three travellers with backpacks hiking up stars with mountain peaks in the distance

Slowly but surely climbing to Base Camp.

I know, this is all very Eat, Pray, Love but honestly – it’s true. For all of us, actually. I love ‘love’ as much as the next person, but enduring 200,000 steps up to the roof of the world made me realise how much I loved myself.

That’s why solo adventures are so incredible. Don’t get me wrong, my trekking crew were absolute gems, but EBC was always going to be a profound personal experience. I mean, two weeks of hiking equals A LOT of thinking time. Admittedly, sometimes I was just internally debating which Disney prince character would be the hottest in real life (the Mulan guy, obviously). But other times, I used the walk as an opportunity to evaluate my life, what I’m doing with it, and where it’s heading.

And do you know what I realised? So long as I’m doing something, anything really, that leaves me satisfied – in a joyously, unashamed way – then that’s all that matters. You’ve got to put you first, and your relationships will be all the better for it.

4. Women are just as strong as men

Group of travellers hiking along stairs to reach Everest Base Camp. White snowy peaks are seen in the distance.

Taking a break when hiking is essential.

This should come as no surprise, ladies and gents. I think us women have proven time and time again that we’re made of steel (ahem, childbirth) but even so, it’s nice to get a reminder of our power once in a while.

You see, there is no gender bias on the way up to Base Camp, and that’s because old mate altitude sickness doesn’t discriminate. I’ve known athletes, some of the fittest humans going around, who were brought to their knees at 5,000 metres. And yet all I know is that I hiked the trail with a bunch of physically, mentally and emotionally strong women who not only kept up with the men but gave them a run for their rupees. We can literally do anything, ladies.

5. Kindness is underrated

On the trail from Lukla to Gokyo Shep, a little goodwill goes a long way, and the same can be said in life. Our trekking leader Jangbu could often be heard saying “sharing is caring and caring is sharing” – most of the time he’d just spotted one of us cracking open a bag of chips, and he wanted a handful, but it also applies to general life on the trails. After all, EBC can be confronting: the people around you are tired, unwell and sometimes even homesick, so showing a little empathy (and maybe also sharing your chocolate) can make someone’s day.

I also learnt a lot about kindness from the local Sherpa people in Nepal. While it might sound cliche, they did always have a smile for you and would go above and beyond to help. These communities welcome troops of foreign trekkers through their sacred lands with an incredibly unique generosity of spirit, and I’m trying to bring a bit of that kindness home with me.

Is Everest Base Camp the experience you’re searching for? Here’s a few Intrepid trips that will give take you there:

All photos by Tayla Gentle.

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