Solo Travel Is More Than An Item On My Bucket-List
Ever since I discovered within me the nerve to travel solo, I’ve heard everything from the almost disbelieving “How many days of paid leave are you really entitled to in a year?” to the slightly irritable “You are always travelling. Are you ever around?” It started off with me being strategic about how I used to utilise the leaves I was entitled to when I had a 9–6 life; which also means that when I wasn’t travelling, I was living quite the sedentary lifestyle and doing things that revolve mostly around the mundane.
Because it was always going to be mundane in comparison to the exhilaration of discovering new places — man-made and natural. I’ve been transported back to 2500 B.C. and also been drawn into a reflective silence along the banks rivers. I’ve had the blissful fortune of waking up every morning right in the middle of a coffee and spice garden plantation as well as watching turtle hatchlings making headway for the water just the way I’ve had the pleasure of watching elephants, sloth bears and deers strolling around freely in the wild.
And then again, I haven’t only explored new places but also discovered a whole new me during that process — from the experiential sorts of acquiring a taste for locally brewed alcohol or orange wine to the introspective kind of realizing that I don’t get bored in my own company. I guess this probably stems from the fact that I take off on my solo travels realizing fully well that this is meant to qualify as “me time”. In other words it’s time for me to catch up on some long overdue reading (my backpack will have no less than 3 books) and writing (or what I call ‘distilling thoughts’). But what solo travel really did (and still continues to) is that it lets me disconnect from everything around me mostly by default (read: no access to data on the phone hence no emails; nor social media updates to give or receive).
It has taught me how to be adept and think on my feet. I’ve learnt what it means to deal with delays. And how delays can throw you off your otherwise well-planned trip. Those contingencies have to be figured out. And that, calling your folks back home at that very second isn’t the wisest call you’d be making.
It means that it has helped me become a lot more resourceful (for my own good). Over time, I’ve only gotten better at planning my travel budgets. I’m quite comfortable without necessarily being either too stingy or too liberal with my spending. And I love the independence that comes because of travelling.
It’s put my faith one-little-bit-at-a-time back into humanity because of what I’ve observed or have had the opportunity to experience through the genuine-acts-of-seemingly-random-and-hence-not-perceived-to-be-important-acts-of-kindness.
I say this in spite of the face that a very random Google search on ‘travelling solo in India’ will pop-up a number of websites that talk about a list of do’s and don’ts; particularly if you’re a female. Having answered the question, “Don’t you get scared of traveling by yourself?” way too many times myself, I’ve listed down a few of the things I do when traveling (solo or not) and I think they have worked quite well for me so far:
- Wear your no-nonsense game face. It’ll help disguise any trace of anxiety or fear (that otherwise has the potential of inviting unwarranted attention) even when you have every reason to be anxious or scared. No, make that ‘particularly when you have every reason to be anxious or scared’.
- Keep your family and friends in the loop regarding your whereabouts. I get asked often (and not just by aspiring ‘female’ solo travellers), “How did your parents allow you?” or “What did you do to convince your parents?” I did nothing except providing them with all the details. Every. Single. Time. And frankly, you do a good job of being responsible the first time around, no one panics. Ever.
- Yes, you will meet people who are uncomfortable because you’re travelling alone/holidaying by yourself. Let them be. You don’t have to entertain them. But don’t be a shady recluse either!
- No, languages are NOT a barrier.
- Moderate your expectations well within what you’re willing to pay and that safety, security and comfort are critical.
- Use local transport, if nothing then at least for the experience. Most often than not, they’re clean and reliable. Road and rail trips are a toned down version of a local excursion and are worth the investment of time (…if nothing else; even when they add up to 36 hours)
- Learn to decide for yourself. Most importantly, trust yourself. Opinions (of what’s right or wrong) and advice (of why this is right and that is wrong) have and will continue to flow like a river. Be grown-up enough to chalk your own destination, your route, your days, and your budget — be open to suggestions, but don’t get overwhelmed. But be responsible. No crying buckets, hurtling expletives or flailing hands in the air when things don’t go as per “your” plan (as it is bound to happen anyway).
In hindsight I’d say that there comes a point when you decide to throw caution to the winds and instead let them just carry you. That is probably also how I decided to finally quit my job and take up traveling as a full time vocation, currently far away from everything that was once familiar.
It’s still all a little too premature but one thing’s for certain: I am a fledgling in motion.