She is sitting in a café, minding her own business, when a group of young travelers like her enter the place. The quiet café is filled with the sound of their laughter. Curiosity gets the best of her and leads her to their table. “Hi, are you guys here to explore too?” she asks them.
And this little question leads to the perfect night of stargazing, a barbeque and camping under the stars with people she knows she will part ways with tomorrow. No numbers or contact details are exchanged, for living in the moment is what they all believe in. That’s one memory Bhawna Sawant, 19, cannot forget even if she tried to. All it took was a solo travel trip for her to have an unforgettable experience.
The concept of solo traveling is comparatively new in India. Most Indians travel in groups everywhere and are surrounded by people 24/7. If not that, we glue ourselves to technology and electronic devices. The time we should be allotting to ourselves is reducing and we’re slowly losing touch with ourselves. But worry not. Here’s where solo traveling comes into the picture.
In general, people love to travel and almost all of them have dreamed about traveling alone. Traveling solo doesn’t only ground you and make you confident, but it also makes you realize your self-worth. For those waiting for a push to take their first trip, here’s five stories that’ll definitely do the job.
Imagine going to a foreign place and parting ways with your family? Staying in Air BNBs and meeting a Taiwanese family rather than in a luxury hotel? Well, Umang Sampat, 18, did it all last year. Photography being his passion, he went around Singapore with a camera in his hand and without a preset plan. Naturally, he photographed everything worth capturing, and he even barged into a pre-wedding shoot for a few photos. Since he was all by himself, he took notice of the people around him. He noticed a man in his Twenties with a fancy camera, and introduced himself to the man. The man introduced himself as a filmmaker looking for an idea, and parted after exchanging digits.
Her purpose of going to London was to spend some time with her aunt, but that backfired when her aunt got caught up in some important work. So of course, 18-year-old Sanika Govekar took up the task of doing touristy things by herself. What she didn’t expect was to find a home away from home. She met Ujala, a Pakistani girl, while walking around London, and they immediately got along. Ujala opened the doors to her house for Sanika, and they had a quite a sleepover for two days. Sanika admired the Big Ben for almost an hour and climbed a lamppost to look at monuments, all while eating tangy aachar and khakras. Looking back, she’s glad her aunt wasn’t the one taking her places.
London and Singapore have good local transport. Being on their first solo trips, Sanika and Umang made use of the metros, subways and buses, rather than private taxis. This was partly because their budgets were constrained.
Moreover, their trips were unplanned for the most part, because they believed that too much planning often goes for a toss.
Umang let Singapore decide where it wanted to take him. He had packed light: just a pair of jeans, boxers and a couple of tees. His travel companion, that is, his camera and its equipment were always in his backpack along with a torch and his hygiene kit. Sanika on the other hand needed her snacks, a comfortable pair of shoes, jacket and maps with her everywhere she went. She had a faint idea about the sites she wanted to visit but decided against making full day plans.
One 19-year-old youth, one motorcycle, ten locations, a 3000-km journey, over 15 days. Inspired by a YouTube video and driven by a hunger for seeking new escapes, Jay Krishnanunny drove off a couple of months ago. The route was Delhi– Dharamshala– Jammu– Srinagar– Kargil– Leh– Tsomoriri– Pang– Keylong– Manali– Delhi. Since he was solo on the bike, fellow bikers shared their stories with him. Many of them were Israeli soldiers taking a vacation after having served in the Israeli army. Another unique life he became a part of was that of a 50 years old man from London. It was the Londoner’s second time in India. On his first trip, he’d driven a bike in 1991 from London to Mumbai.
One night the bike of the person Jay was traveling with that day broke down outside Srinagar. Jay and his riding partner came up with a jugaad solution: they tied his bike to Jay’s bike with the help of a rope and rode that way for two hours till they reached help. Jay adds that though it was a slow and painful ride, he wouldn’t want to forget it.
Because it was a biking trip, it was costly. But if it weren’t for the bike, Jay would have never experienced the things he did.
Bhawna has been traveling since the age of 16. Her reason for traveling is to absorb stories from people in order to write. She believes, “Everyone has a story to tell. They’re just waiting for the perfect ears.” She travels solo to enjoy time away from people. Call her selfish if you may, but she knows how important solo traveling is for her. Her latest (and impromptu) trip to Delhi, Kasol, Dehradun and Mussoorie lasted 16 days. The sunrise and sunset are the two things that brighten up her day. She made it a point to see them each day at a different location, because it gave her peace of mind. She vividly remembers the time when a woman in Kasol offered her a place to stay in without knowing anything about her. Would the same have happened if she was traveling in a group?
Her budget for the whole trip was Rs. 18,000. It was a last-minute trip, so the air fare and hotel bookings ate away most of her money. Once on her trip, she used public transportation. She rather enjoyed it because it exposed her to more stories. Other than clothes and mosquito repellent, Bhawna can’t do without her travelogue. It’s one thing that very personal for her and she jokes about how it’ll go to the grave with her.
At 28, she’s left a well paying job, and has been traveling for the past four years. Oh, and did I mention she is married? Elakkiya Ellavarason believes responsible tourism is the way to go. Responsible tourism is where you go to remote areas, stay with the locals and work for them in return. Elakkiya recently visited Rajasthan for four days. There she stayed with the camel-herding Bishnoi community. As people living in a big city, we don’t realize what people in a village go through. A necessity such as water has them walking miles in the sun each day, says Elakkiya.
An engineer by profession, she completed her Master’s degree in Denmark. Her first solo trip was to Austria and she’s been unstoppable since then. Her husband and she met in Portugal while they were working there. A cup of coffee led to a relationship for five years, and eventually marriage. Knowing her love for travel, her husband wholeheartedly supports her decision to travel alone. She’s been extensively exploring India since the last six months.
Elakkiya spends little on accommodation, because she stays with the locals wherever she goes. She is a frugal traveler, and believes you don’t have to spend much to get the best experience out of your trip. She’s saved a good amount from her previous jobs, and she uses it for travel. “A Tuktuk (rickshaw) in Rajasthan and a Tuktuk in Pondicherry make different noises. You get to enjoy that as well even though you’re an engineer,” she says with a laugh. Camera, hand sanitizer, a Swiss Knife and kurtas for when in a train take up most of the space in her cabin bag.
As a solo traveler you have the freedom to do what you like, when you like and how you like. Situations in which you’d have to compromise in a group don’t arise and you command how the day should go. Your perspectives broaden, and you gain in confidence and self-esteem. Adventure is not the only aspect of solo traveling, though. It also teaches you time and money management, decision-making and being a responsible person. But what tops the list is falling in love with yourself and nature again.
So now that I’ve convinced you to finally take the solo trip you’ve been thinking about, here is some advice to keep in mind –
1. Choose your destination wisely. Look it up online but not too thoroughly- so that the place can still surprise you.
2. Keep an eye on the weather and the transportation systems at your destination, and pack accordingly.
3. Pre-book tickets and stays to get the best deals.
4. Draw up a rough budget. Don’t calculate it down to every penny. Leave a margin in case your plan suddenly changes.
5. Pack light so it’s easier to travel, and leave early to avoid traffic.
6. Be mentally prepared to be alone. It’ll be frustrating at first but you’ll love to appreciate it as the days pass.
7. Find food joints you’re going to eat at so you’re not lost late at night.
8. Carrying your ID proof no matter where you go is a must.
9. Be open and talk to the locals. There’s no better guide and friend than a local.
10. First-aid kits and means for self-protection are an absolute must.
11. Take advantage of useful apps such GPS, currency converter, translator etc.
Remember, don’t over-plan and don’t over-think. “Travel leads you where you want to go and gets you answers. So don’t question it and go with the flow,” says Umang.