Wind in my hair, spring in my step, joy in my heart, and a song on my lips – I clearly remember every sensation of my first solo vacation ten years ago. I was slightly anxious, a little nervous, but happy nonetheless—and relieved to be alone for a change.
As a new mother overwhelmed by sudden changes in my life, I had an urge of running away from everything. Since that was not possible, I had chosen to do the second best thing: travelling to a far off place where no one knew me. While today, when Instagram has made every city familiar and travel blogs are buzzing with itineraries, a solo trip may not seem like a huge thing, bur a decade ago, it was. It had taken a lot of courage to hop on a plane, a bus, and a car to reach an obscure hill station. That I am afraid of hills only made it harder. But the experience also gave me a high like nothing else had. Planning my own time, being with myself, not having to rely on anyone else was liberating – after years I had felt free. I was hooked.
But while I had found my calling in travelling alone, I also noticed that there were not many women who did so. The few who travelled on their own were either bound by work assignments, family commitments, or, in the rare case of travelling for pleasure, were in a group. Things have come a long way since and many women chose to travel alone, but the majority is still restricted to traveling with family, spouse or at least a friend.
While travelling solo is rewarding in equal measure for all genders, for women, it turns out to be much more intense for they not only are more sensitive and perceptive, but also because the opportunities women gets to step out are much lesser. Travel for work is a need, travelling with family is a duty, but travelling for self is an indulgence not many can afford.
Travelling solo as a woman is especially hard in India. If taking time out from running a home, managing work, and care giving was not hard enough, there is the added pressure of having to take care of oneself. Our public spaces are not built for women, our systems aren’t friendly; our transport is not safe. And yet women fight all odds to get the experience that nothing else can give them. “There is a feeling of adventure, excitement and empowerment when I head out alone,” says Natasha Ali, a communications professional in Bangalore. “For me it is an immersive experience, where I get to understand my own self better, and also find my equilibrium and centre,” she adds.
Freedom, independence, joy, solitude – women discover many emotions in their solo sojourns. Some find it liberating to not have to adhere to someone else’s itinerary, some find spending time with themselves therapeutic, and some are happy that they do not need to wait for their companion to wake up from their everlasting slumber. “I am an inquisitive individual and do not believe in restricting my travel to traditionally set itineraries,” feels Poulami Banerjee, a communication professional in Hyderabad. Travelling alone, she says, helps her look at and experience a place the way she wants to.
If being with oneself is important to some, knowing new people excite others. “I travel alone for solitude and socializing in equal measure,” asserts Jenny Jose, an entrepreneur, who feels that you can not only have long free slowing conversations with yourself when you travel alone, but also with complete strangers, which is impossible when you are in a group or with a companion. Being alone on a beach in Krabi, backpacking with strangers in Bali, going on an impromptu walking tour with the bartender in London — travelling on your own not only liberates your from others perceptions of what you can or cannot do, sometimes it does that from your own notions about yourself.
While travelling alone surely empowers, emboldens, and enriches a women, it is not always as romantic as it may outwardly seem, especially on highly curated social media. Unplanned events, security concerns, last minute contingencies, much can go wrong, and sometimes does. “Being in India, there is always that fear, that there is someone lurking at the bend, or I will be attacked and left to die,” says Jenny. Fortunately for her it has stopped at an attempt of a selfie. The trick, according to Ruth Dsouza Prabhu, an Independent Features Journalist, is to always be alert and never tom-tom the fact that you are alone. Staying close to urban spaces, being careful of how much you reveal about yourself, and keeping someone back home informed also helps. “Making friends with your host, following the local norms, and not taking unnecessary risks is vital,” says Kiran. The idea, in short, is to be aware.
The joy of travelling solo however outweighs its challenges significantly. From learning to take care of yourself to connecting with others, it teaches you self-reliance, self-care, and self-sustenance and in turn makes you more aware of yourself. “Women tend to lose the sense of who they are; solo travel frees them of their obligations and helps them be their real selves,” says Kiran, who strongly recommends solo travel to all women. “Solo travel is like challenging yourself to bring out the best in you. You will not only make new connections but also meet a new you,” feels Poulami.
What if you have never stepped out before, or are intimidated by the thought? The trick is to start small – a dinner date by yourself, a weekend out of town, an extended work trip are all great ways to explore if you enjoy travelling by yourself. Sometimes you would instantly love the experience, sometimes, it will grow on you, sometimes you may complely abhor it, but it will always pull you out of your comfort zone and put you face to face with your real self. And that is what makes it all worth it.
Tips for first time travellers:
- Learn about the place you are travelling to, its transport system and authorities
- Don’t admit to traveling alone if approached by anyone. Always say you have a friend or partner back at the hotel who is expecting you. This gives the idea that there is someone waiting for you and tracking you.
- At hotels, ask for rooms next to families. Keep the staff informed.
- Research well and plan everything to the last detail, even last mile connectivity. Being stranded, solo, is not fun.
- Never carry out or flash your wallet in open, leave valueables in the hotel and know who to contact in emergencies.
A version of this appeared in Provoke Lifestyle Magazine.