By Colleen Sinsky

My Facebook photos might make it seem like I’ve mastered the art of independent travel, but there’s usually a lot of self-doubt behind my smile. I think that discovering empowerment for me has been living out the realization that I can go anywhere by myself despite that nagging self-doubt.

Whether a world map or just a map of Oregon on a long weekend, having made the discovery that I am capable of looking at a map, deciding what I want to see on it, and going there, has been life-altering for me.

Maybe this has always been so natural to you that you don’t think about it, or maybe you’ve never felt the desire to explore alone, but I’m in neither of those camps. I was the last kid to ride a bike without training wheels, and I was too afraid to venture studying abroad in college.

I’ve had to work through dozens of individual fears to be truly comfortable traveling alone as a woman. The fear of being robbed or raped. Fear of bears. Fear of being lost in a new city. Fear of the dark. Fear of sleeping alone in the wilderness. Fear of being alone and injured somewhere off the grid. Fear of the loudness of the insecurities in my head when I’m free from the usual distractions.

It’s not that I’m ignorant of, or unafraid of those things. But I’ve repeatedly made the conscious decision that the experience of solo travel is worth more than being limited by my fear. I think that facing my fears away from the usual safety net has allowed me to develop into a more independent person. I’ve developed the hard skills and knowledge to minimize my risks, and also have been forced to stare down those internal fears that would otherwise have limited me.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not naturally a loner or introvert. I love the great people in my life and it’s always hard to tear myself away from them, and to miss out on shared experiences. But as I’ve realized that my soul craves quiet, alone time away from cell service, or the challenge of navigating a new country alone, it has gotten easier to prioritize seeking out those moments. I like to think that my friends and family get why I have to do this.

I don’t share this for self-aggrandizement- I know that my life has required relatively little bravery to get through. I’ve been inspired by thousands of women I’ve met who take on the world gracefully, without letting what society tells them to fear rule them. I’ve been moved to tears talking to Syrian refugee women brave enough to flee their home countries for the unknown, and listening to Central American migrant women at the border describe the horrible journey that they are on. I’m nothing compared to their bravery.

I get to be friends with badass mountain guides, social workers, artists, moms, nurses, archaeologists, and consultants who redefine each day what it means to be a woman in 2016, and gracefully prove that women are no match for the expectations that have been set for us.

I want my little sisters to grow up in a world where they’re inspired to do more by brave women, rather than be subconsciously oppressed by a fear-based society. I want them to be encouraged to venture out alone.

I’m being vulnerable and sharing this for my female friends, acquaintances, and family members who don’t hear the countercultural message often enough that YOU CAN GO ALONE!