For many of us, travelling is all about sharing the journey and the ultimate thrill of discovery with someone intimate. Be it with friends or family, from a traditional woman’s perspective, travel has always been a shared adventure. Much of it is to do with society’s prejudices and conditioning, where the individuality of a woman is often overlooked in comparison to the “role” that she is expected to carry out – be it a mother, partner or a friend. For the same reason, solo travel is an activity which most women – especially in our country – are yet to embrace. Not so long ago, solo travel was synonymous with those who were perceived to be rebellious, radically inclined and highly independent. Over the years as women become more non-conforming to the traditional norms, this perception has been slowly but steadily changing.
It is often the case that people who opt to travel on their own are stereotyped and painted with broad strokes. PeopExtremely self-sufficient peopleo could spend days exploring without any socialising, who are forever brooding and nomadic – these are some of the most common depictions of solo-travellers in media and films. How accurate is this? How manageable is it for a woman who doesn’t have any of these characteristics to enjoy a trip on her own? As someone who has been travelling solo for years (both within India and abroad), I can confidently say that much like various other stereotypes that prevail in society, this one also contains at best, just a grain of truth and nothing more. This article is an attempt to demystify various aspects of solo travel.
Set the Intent
Before delving into the practicalities of solo travel, it is important to take a step back and answer a fundamental question- what is the purpose of this journey? Before planning a trip that isn’t associated with a necessity like family visit or work, it is important to pause and ask yourself what is the intent of that trip. A clear agenda and purpose are necessary so that you could make the most out of it. Women are often bound by responsibilities and expectations – for many of us, individual time is a hard-fought luxury.
Therefore it is only pragmatic to put in some thought to optimise the “me- time” that’s available during a solo trip. A short trip by yourself is usually the best option if you are looking for some quiet time to relax, contemplate and rejuvenate.
Focus on Self
Universally, we women are expected to be caregivers and many times, we tend to neglect our own well-being in the process of caring for others. Being on your own, albeit for a few days, provides the much-needed space for unwinding from mundane, everyday chores and recharging the body and soul. While travelling with family or friends, the agenda and momentum are generally set considering the majority opinion. One has to mostly follow the instructions.
There is seldom any scope to do things differently, especially if your tastes do not align with the others in the group. In contrast, solo travel provides you with enough opportunities to make your own decisions, follow your heart and plan the trip that YOU want – be it checking out a gallery for one whole day or being lazy lying on the grass in a public garden – the focus is on you and your choices.
From a financial standpoint, family vacations are expensive and therefore need extensive planning in order to accomplish any substantial cost savings. In comparison, solo trips can be spur-of-the-moment adventures on a shoestring budget.
Compared to the West, women travelling on their own is still not a very common occurrence in India. How many of you have ever had a trip or vacation all by yourself – very few I believe. We accomplish so many complex tasks on a daily basis, but why are we still so reluctant to embark on a trip on our own? There are umpteen reasons, starting from familial restrictions, safety concerns, and societal obligations ranging to the ever-apparent sense of insecurity that is such an inherent part of the female psyche. Many of us who told our parents the wish to travel, would have been met with the response “Marry and then go with your husband”. The notion that a physically stronger, the male companion is necessary for ensuring a woman’s safety, should stay in the 15th century where it belongs. It is up to us to break this vicious cycle and prove to society (especially our daughters) that we are capable of planning, executing and moreover, enjoying a trip on our own without a man.
I will point out that safety aspects vary a great deal from country to country. In India, my experience has been generally very positive notwithstanding the general opinion that our country is not a very travel-friendly one for solo women. I was always treated with respect and have very fond memories of all my trips – especially around Himachal Pradesh and up north.
After finalising the destination, it is imperative to read about it to have a fair idea of what to expect. This would in turn help in handling any hassles that could unexpectedly come up. For example, if you are travelling to a religious monument, it is good to check if there is any customary dress code that needs to be followed. But also, leave enough room for spontaneity- no need to meticulously plan out each hour of your trip. It is important to have enough flexibility to change things up a little if required. One of the most alluring aspects of solo travel is the freedom that entails, make the most of it and let your mind (and body) wander freely. Every place is unique, and wherever you travel, there will be a few unexplored spots that may not have found their way to Google lists yet – put your adventure hat on and make sure you explore!
Ultimately though, the biggest challenge for a solo traveller is to have the ability to be happy and comfortable with their own company. Nobody to share the table at a restaurant, nobody to instinctively click your pictures and nobody to talk to during long journeys. Reach a point where you are comfortable enough to have a drink or eat alone in a restaurant without being bothered about others’ judgement – that’s the major psychological boundary which needs to be shattered. This is not just applicable for travel, but for life as a whole – the more independent and self-reliant you are, the world would seem less intimidating. So don’t wait for others to be free and make plans for you – there is so much to explore in this world all by yourself. Pick a place, pack a bag and off you go!
Solo trips provide ample opportunities to get up close and personal with the locals and be immersed in their way of life. Don’t be afraid to go to the local coffee
shop and join in on the conversations. Many people complain about being bored while travelling solo because there isn’t any company – turn that on its head and
use it as an excuse to find your own company and socialise! There is no one better than the locals to introduce you to a new place. Always make it a point to stay local, eat local and buy local – as much as your budget allows.
To address the safety concerns, here are some tips – it is always recommended that you are conscious about how much information is to be divulged. While socialising, it is advisable not to give away every minute detail regarding your accommodation, travel itinerary and other intimate personal information. Be trusting, but not blind. Of course, it ultimately depends upon how outgoing you are and how comfortable you are with putting yourself out there. Trust your instincts and common sense – having the sufficient presence of mind to handle tricky situations is invaluable!