by guest travel writer
As the heinous Riddler of Batman and Robin fame would say, “Riddle me this Batman.” How many times have you heard:
- I can’t travel alone?
- I can’t go anywhere because my friends won’t or can’t go, especially traveling abroad.
- It’s much too dangerous to travel alone – especially as a female.
If you are like me, I am sure you’ve either heard or said these very same things. It’s natural to feel that way. It’s the unknown. Who would I speak to? Will I feel lonely? Will I look lonely? All understandable, but I have a story to share with you with the intent to help shake off some of those limiting thoughts, or at least extend the perspective on solo travel, especially for females.
Meet Delphina Perkins. She is someone who has lived the aforementioned concerns and overcame them, and – wait for it – lived to tell about it. Delphina lives in the San Francisco Bay area and has traveled internationally since the mid 90s. She is a middle aged professional, and single mother of a 4 year old boy. As a hiking fan, she gets her hike on in Yosemite, but also in Hawaii and the Grand Canyon. Recently, she bought a book on Tanzania, which boasts the mother of all hikes – Mount Kilimanjaro (Kili for short) which stands a mere 19,330 feet and this is where her story begins.
She began planning a safari. The motivator was Kili. She used this as a goal to get back into shape, which is no easy task with her hectic schedule not knowing which was more active, her son or her career. But being a single parent for 3 years, helping out family and some time spent being unemployed, the thirst to do something for herself was palpable. One problem – who will she go with?
This is where I enter the frame. I was doing a big global trip and Tanzania was on the agenda to do a safari. She jumped at the chance to go, however, I was not the hiking fan and didn’t want to go from hiking – err walking – in the city park to the mother of all terrestrial treks! She could join me, but she would have to Kili by herself.
After not being able to find a partner through meetup groups, networking, etc. she contemplated on bailing out of the hike. Her nerves were getting to her. Major doubt crept into this otherwise confident professional. She thought of other destinations, South Africa, even Machu Picchu but Kili kept calling, and she kept answering. She naturally thought about her son, but she received great support from her family, which encouraged her to go. Her dad even bragged to others she was going to Africa! So the trek was on – solo style. She became obsessed with conquering the mountain.
Delphina believes hiking is a spiritual experience, and she was about to find a whole lot of spirit in this one! We joined up on several aspects of the trip, but she set off for Tanzania – solo – and met up with the folks at Zara Tours, the top Kili tour company and largest tour agency in Tanzania. She proceeded up the mountain – not solo – but with 10 other men no women. Delphina points out that in the US, she NEVER would have gone anywhere solo with 10 men not her family. The Tanzanians are a very friendly people and were comforting to her and really took care of her along the journey. She felt safe.
After she climbed 14,500 ft, she developed a sickness and had to come down the mountain. So did she fail? No! As a single mother, who also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, battling bouts of unemployment, and a tough economy that saw her move back home with her mother, completing this journey was one more battle to conquer. Traveling solo for over 8500 nautical miles to traverse the physical mountain was not unlike the emotional one she already climbed back home. No, she won as she didn’t let the high levels of anxiousness she felt prior to the trip stop her. She conquered the aforementioned challenges and Kili was not going to stop her.
As life would have it, through what we think are dead leaves of failure provide the mulch for the seeds of fulfillment. The extra time she had before the safari and her gracious attitude led her to the Kilimanjaro Orphanage. She happened upon some dentists providing care to the residents and guess where they were from – the San Francisco Bay area! They trained her to be a “Dental Assistant for the day” and she helped with patients. And as the infomercial goes, “but wait – there’s more” – she met a young teen there whose name they both shared – Delphina! The co-leader of the orphanage invited her to join them when he comes to the Bay Area later this year for a presentation. Reflectively, Delphina believes this trip, and travel in general helped her develop a deeper sense of self.
Delphina’s trek is a contemporary tale of beating the odds. She overcame anxiousness, and dealt with a huge amount of doubt and financial sacrifice to get more than she bargained for. By not finishing the climb atop Kili, she trekked deeper into who she is as a mother and an individual, which includes being an inspiration to other women contemplating solo travel or just taking that first step when they can not see the top of the stairs.