At the beginning of 2019, I made it my personal goal to start promoting fellow Asian travelers as a way to help normalize, inform, and inspire the global travel community with the "Top 10 Kick-Ass Asian Travel Bloggers To Follow" article.
To continue my work on that, today, I'd like to introduce to you, Pashmina Binwani, a Malaysian-based solo female traveler, storyteller, and adventurer from The Gone Goat travel blog.
In early 2019, I decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur to do a micro-adventure trip and meet people. While there, I had a chance to meet up with Pashmina in person and she was kind enough to let me interview her.
I listened to her extraordinary stories as she showed me around the wonderful Kuala Lumpur. Here is her story on what it's like to travel the world as an Asian solo female traveler and how you can start traveling solo too.
Tell Us About Yourself
I am a visual storyteller and writer who blogs and document stories to inspire people to take up adventures they never thought they could be part of. Writing and photography is my way of understanding the world and capturing the beauty that I see in the simplest moments. I am particularly drawn to remote places, mountains, and instances of humanity in challenging terrain.
I am constantly on the hunt for adventures, human connection and the outdoors. Raw dirt under my feet is always welcomed and I feel most happy and excited when I am carrying all that I need on my back.
How Did You Get into Travel Writing?
Journalism and documenting adventure stories was something that I accidentally fell into. I studied journalism ironically but did not get to pursue it and ended up becoming a PR and digital media consultant.
Jaded and wearied by the corporate world, I quit my job in 2016 and travelled to the Indian Himalayas for 3 months to explore the mountain ranges in this part of the world. It was the raw and undiscovered India I wanted to see – the rugged landscapes and the people who live in their shadows. Not the India that I remembered visiting as a teen where you are ferried in comfortable taxis, heading to witness your cousin’s next big fat wedding.
The people, culture, landscapes inspired me to come back and share these stories via The Gone Goat.
Where Did the Idea of Starting the Gone Goat Come About?
As I got closer to some mountains that ranged between 4,000m - 5,000m, I was reminded of the past routine that I had dreamt of leaving for so many years. It was a stark contrast from the dull routine corporate world.
I was finally taking control of the life I wanted and it was a reminder of what it takes to reconnect with every fiber of your body compared to the meaningless tasks we are assigned to do on a day-to-day basis.
I vowed that day to try and turn around my life and it started with a travel website where I slowly started writing all these stories of climbing mountains, bicycle touring as a way to look back and remind myself (and others too) of our strength and the beauty of things when we need them the most.
Why Did You Decide to Travel Alone?
It was a no-brainer to travel alone because there’s no way somebody will come with me for a long trip to the Indian mountains. The media had always been on India case when I chose India as my first long solo trip - it was never truly safe for female travelers to travel there (but it can be!) and I couldn’t convince other people to join me, when I was trying to put up a brave front and go alone to India for 3 months anyway.
But beyond that, I wanted to do it alone and never believed in writing-off a country because “it is not safe.” Other affluent and supposedly safe nations are more violent in the past than it is today, and that never stopped people from visiting these places. Thus, there is no reason for thinking that chaos is just around the corner.
If you look at the 2019 crime index by country: The US ranks 45 and India 63. The United Kingdom ranks at 62, almost at the same level in terms of overall crime in India. The US, in fact, ranks higher in crime rate compared to other supposedly dangerous countries like Pakistan and Iran.
The stories of what we hear vs the crime statistics don’t add up, and violence is always going to be an issue, but what’s important is how you choose to approach it.
Beyond that, I personally feel it is empowering to set out on your own, and it is far more empowering when you’re on your own on a mission to hike, cycle or do something out of your comfort zone.
What Do Your Peers Think When You Tell Them You Travel Solo?
When I used to travel solo, many of my peers were indifferent to it. Traveling solo has become a trend and Instagram has normalized it, and other millennial websites have always pushed the ‘quit your job’ theme in which the next obvious step after quitting your job is to travel solo, making it very much the norm than the exception.
However, traveling solo in other new ways like hiking or bicycle touring, or even traveling solo in unfamiliar terrains tend to be met with curiosity. For them, the traveling solo part is not the mystery but it’s more about them wanting to understand how does one undergo unusual feats alone in world’s that are steeped in patriarchy, war, and cultural differences.
Challenges Faced as a Solo Asian Woman Traveler
The constant need to justify my marital status and purpose on why I am doing this. It feels like the tide might be changing in some cities but if you go to remote places or rural villages, it can be hard.
In Georgia, Mestia, to evade constant speculation, I told them I was on assignment and had a family of my own back home. In India, Sikkim, I wore a fake ring to avoid being followed and pretended my partner was waiting for me somewhere around the corner.
What Was the Best Experience You Had Traveling Solo
One of the best experiences traveling solo was in Slovenia, in Bovec, the alpine region. Traveling in Europe in Summer made it hard for me to find a place to stay as everything was booked and exorbitantly priced from dorm rooms to even mid-size budget hotels. I was in the Soca Valley, where The Chronicles of Narnia was shot and it was a magical place to be in Summer.
I tried Couchsurfing to connect with local hosts and that’s how I met Tomaz and Mojca, two Slovenians who hosted me. I was inspired by their willingness to host solo travelers and how they found a modicum of peace on doing things on their own terms.
They were vegans and we bonded over food, travels, documentaries, and hiking. I ended up staying with them for one whole week and they took me to some hidden lakes in Slovenia which would not have been possible if I didn’t stay with them.
What Was the Worst Cautionary Tale from Your Years of Solo Traveling?
I don’t have completely unpleasant stories as they all had a silver lining to it. But one that stood out was when I traveled in Ladakh, India 3 years ago to do a trek.
At the end of the trek, all the people I met went their own ways. It was Winter in Leh, and the towns are unusually quiet considering that the mercury drops to -30 degrees.
However, I had befriended some locals and returned to my guesthouse at 11.00pm after spending the day getting to know their families and being stuffed with local hospitality. The doors of the guesthouse were shut and there was no way the staff could hear me until I continued knocking on the doors for a good 10 minutes.
Minutes later, the owner of the hotel looked crossed when he opened the door. He was mad that I had returned late without informing them. I wasn’t aware that I had to inform them considering it was Winter and because I was traveling alone, the owner felt it was his duty to look after my safety and it was almost unheard of people returning back to the guesthouse at 11.00pm - their cut-off time is usually 9.00pm.
They had lodged a police report and even hired a search crew and spent the last 4 hours looking for me, and had thought the worst that I was “dead and chopped into pieces” according to his vivid statements.
Perhaps, the best advice would be to not stay too late at night especially in mountain towns and remote places and to pay special attention to the locals or owners rules.
What Advice Do You Want to Give to Fellow Asian Travelers Who Are Looking to Start a Solo Journey of Their Own?
The best advice is to focus on one place that fills you with excitement and one that signals a strong desire to explore. When you think of these places, fear automatically becomes secondary.
It could be the history of the place, or the people or the landscapes that draw to you most. Whatever the reason, it won’t be hard to figure out that traveling solo to these places is the only way you can form unique experiences to come back and share with people you love most.
The other best place is to also read and draw inspiration from other solo travelers or writers who have documented and written about these places.
What Is Your Favorite Hiking Trail That You Have Done so Far?
I have a huge problem with picking favorites because every experience was equally memorable and beautiful in their own way. But if I had to choose one that blew me away, it was probably some of the mountains I climbed in India.
It was not a difficult trek and it took me to the highest Shiv temple in the world, the trek was called Chandrashilla and it stood at 3,680m above sea level.
It was more than just the picture-perfect landscapes. There were small unassuming villages with jaw-dropping backdrops and hours spent in the company of the locals.
While trekking, we were surrounded by some of the highest Indian mountains such as Nanda Devi, the 23rd highest mountain in the world and Chaukamba which forms the head of the Gangotri glacier, all standing at approximately 7,000metres above sea level.
It was surreal to be this close to the stratosphere and experience not only one mountain but thousands of other magical massifs that surrounded me.
Where Would You like to Go Next?
I would really love to visit Central Asia and use bicycle touring as a means to slow travel and see these places. I read somewhere that a woman was so fed up of being in a car in Central Asia because it boxed her up, and all these wonderful landscapes were often sped past.
So what she did instead was walked across Tajikistan alone with zero prep. She was done being in a box and missing out on beautiful people and landscapes, and just hopped out of a car.
Looking for more inspirational articles? Check out The Solo Traveler’s Inspiration section where we will discuss topics related to the nomadic and traveling lifestyle and shower-thoughts that will invoke wanderlust in all of us.
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