Few of you might have noticed there's a new #AskNeelima page I've added here on the blog. I know a lot of you have many questions on travel/ freelance lifestyle/photography etc and I keep getting similar questions time and again. To make things easier, for both you and me, I have started this new initiative. Since putting up the page 3 days ago, I already have 6 questions to answer. I'm hoping this would a be a good platform for us to interact more often. So if you have any questions on travel/photography/writing/blogging, shoot right away.
Every Thursday, one question answered!
And you can find all answers here - Answers to Questions
Let's get started with the first question of the series then.
Avinash asks: How do you find people to travel with? And if you are traveling alone, how is your experience?
It is very difficult to find someone to travel with you always. This is the reason I'm prepared to travel irrespective of whether I have company or not.
So how do I find people to travel with?
In the early days, I joined a lot of travel clubs to go on treks/trips where I made a lot of friends. I used to go with clubs like Bangalore Ascenders, Bangalore Mountaineering Club, Chennai Trekking Club, Indiahikes, Youth Hostels Association of India etc where I met a lot of like minded folks interested in travel and adventure. I formed some lasting friendships with whom I still travel regularly.
In the beginning, I was apprehensive of joining a bunch of total strangers on a trek into the forest. The first trek, I had to move heaven and earth to get a few friends join me on a trek because I didn't want to go alone with strangers. But as I found out, my fears were unfounded. I made friends easily and people were quite supportive. I would suggest going on day hikes before venturing out on longer trips with such groups just to get a feel of it. Also, please note I haven't traveled with any of the groups mentioned above in a very long time and things might have changed. Use your better judgement before you take a call. To find people to travel with, try to join travel clubs and companies active in your vicinity. Facebook is a great place to begin with, to look for such companies. See how the response is from previous participants and join a small trip to see if it works out for you.
I have also convinced my family to travel with me. As it turned out, they enjoy the adventurous, offbeat outings just as much as I do. So we take many vacations as and when possible. I've traveled to remote corners of Ladakh twice with them. We have traveled to Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and even Bhutan. Every time, we manage to squeeze in a hike or two in the itinerary.
And when I have to go some place where solo travel isn't quite possible or turns out to be very expensive, I travel with reliable companies to join a group. For instance, this year I'm traveling to North East again with a responsible travel company called Kipepeo which organises a lot of fixed departures. I traveled to Mongolia with Intrepid Travel which again is a nice company specializing in small group adventures. In case of Intrepid, I already knew their reputation and since many solo travelers join their expeditions, I had no qualms joining the trip.
How is my experience of traveling solo?
Everyone has different preferences and the resulting experiences vastly differ as well. My kind of travel takes me to super remote places where I'm shit scared half the time and the other half of the time, I'm marvelling at what I get to see. I stay in dingy rooms, wake up with spiders or snakes or insects next to me. Many times, I'm the only guest in the whole hotel and sometimes only visitor in the village. Despite the troubles, I love traveling solo because of the reasons mentioned here - Do I really love traveling solo?
But I have to tell you, traveling solo isn't for everyone. I like my solitude. Take away the creatures and the scares, I'd happily travel solo all the time without a worry in the world. It's not the case with everyone. I know many friends who want someone next to them to share a beautiful moment. But with solo travel, there are problems of budget and safety at times. I cannot afford to hire a vehicle for myself and will have to depend on haphazard public transport entirely. I might not be able to go on a multi day trek.
So, depending on whether I'm traveling with someone or not, I choose what to do and where to go. But irrespective of company, I always choose to travel. At the risk of sounding trite, let me just go ahead and say "where there's a will there's a way"!
I hope this answers your question, Avinash. For the rest of you, have a question? You know what to do. Ask Neelima!