**Trigger warning- This is not a rant. The article in no ways endorses group travel or traveling with someone as a better way of travel over solo travel. It is just a personal reflection on different ways of travel and urging readers to choose a style of travel that suits them. **
“ For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”- Robert Louis Stevenson
Travel has never been alien to me. Wanderlust, to me has been a genetic problem. However, two years back, a personal set-back and a tedious health condition prompted me to make travel a way of life. All in a night’s game- travel ceased to be an escape from my desk-job or an annual family vacation. I started to feel the itch to be constantly on the road, soak in the wonders of nature, visit destinations without mobile networks, whose presence could be put on a map, only in the presence of its people. But there was a problem. I could not travel on my own. My health condition meant- I needed someone to keep an eye on. I started talking to friends, my partner (a big proponent of solo travel, just by the way) and families. Initially, they caved in. May be out of concern or may be out of sympathies or let’s be a little positive here- They too craved for travel. But slowly, realities of life sucked in. Jobs, leave sanctions, not-so-supportive boss, studies, etc- the reasons creeped in. My partner tried his best to convince me to go solo. I didn’t. I told him, I don’t like being alone. He supported me, not once ridiculing me on my ‘not-so-keen to go solo’ mindset. He understood.
And through this post, I want to take an opportunity to give a voice to my heart, my feelings about travel. Yes, I have a confession to make. I feel the urge to speak on behalf of my yet undiscovered, unmet friends- who don’t travel solo perhaps, but are still travelers. May be they are just a couplet, may be there are hundreds like us, or may be a thousand. But I feel the itch to make a confession-
“Traveling in a group doesn’t make me any less of a traveler, than it makes you as a solo traveler!”
Not sure, if you get it. But the point is- Solo or no solo doesn’t matter. Because in the end, it is all about travelling, exploring new lands, meeting people and understanding cultures that are different from you. Now, don’t get me wrong! Solo travel or group travel, both are unique in its advantages and disadvantages. Both have its own reasoning. Both are incredibly beautiful in their own ways. But don’t label me. Let me explain:
If solo allows you the ‘me-time’, the endless soulful reflections, the opportunity to mingle with locals’, I am happy to share that so does group travel. If solo travel makes you take risks and teaches you courage at unearthly hours, I am happy to share that my group travels have over the last two years taught me the same.
As I traveled across the breadth and width of my country, I have realized- that traveling with a complete bunch of strangers has made me take risks. The risk to trust the unknown, believe in the larger goodness of humanity. In fact, during my last two travels, I have met incredible men and women in my groups. I have shared rooms with them, showered at the same time, in the same bathroom, yeah naked! :D
I have had three German woman co-travelers in my group open up to me about her their passions, trysts with travels, their lives, marriage and families. I have met a woman on my travels to Bhutan, who thoroughly inspired me to be fiercely self-reliant and still be sensitive. In the same group, I met a mother of an Indian Bollywood actress, who showed me- that even celebrities are human beings. Her ‘down-to-earth’ personality taught me that no matter, what you achieve in this life- it is your humility that keeps you glued to success.
Solo travel increases confidence you may say. Sure! But so did traveling with a bunch of strangers. I have trekked alone with the guy, I met in my group, with nobody else from the group along. I trusted the guy with my safety to take us through unmarked trails, to the comfortable bed of my home-stay.
Solo travel teaches you to be independent. So has my experience been with traveling with a group. Since I have been traveling in a group of strangers, the onus to take care of myself lies on me. Even in a group, I have to take care of my belongings, my luggage. Given that I don’t have my family or partner to rely on when things go wrong, I have had times when I fell sick on road or had an accident or lost my belongings. Some times, I have found myself deciding to take a different trek route or ditching the ‘group activities’ and my co-travelers have been fine with it.
Even in a group, I have had the opportunity to interact with locals and indigenous people of places where I traveled. In fact, I make it a point to research the groups I am traveling with before-hand. I travel with groups that have a touch of difference, with a focus on travels that are earth friendly, women-friendly or cultural-friendly. That allows me to connect with like-minded travelers who add value to my conversations with the locals.
The point, I am trying to make here is- that as a traveler, I have come to realize that there is no point to labeling any way of travel as right or wrong. There have been umpteen stances when my partner has gone travelling solo. There are times when he goes traveling with me. Having known the guy so closely, I can attest that traveling solo or not, he enjoys his time traveling.
Is it necessary to make travel as a way to “boast” about a passport as an achievement or a trophy for collecting the stamps? In a world ridden with poverty, slums, family-break ups, farmer suicides, droughts, earthquakes- let us realize travel is a privilege. Let us not misuse it to ridicule people, or make fun of people who travel solo or otherwise.
Do we have to label travelers as solo travelers or ridicule people who travel with their families? After all, isn’t travel all about cementing our differences, learning about people different from other, accommodating different mindsets and still living in a world full of hopes, dreams and equality for all.
Let people travel as they like, as they want. In groups, families, solo, doesn’t matter! After all as said before-
“ Travel is all about deepening relationships and enriching lives. The great affair is to move…”