Do I really prefer travelling solo?

Friday, March 08, 2013

“Traveling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller"- Ibn Battuta
Solo Travel Women

That’s the story of my life. When I am traveling, I prefer to be silent, to be quiet and to be calm enough to observe what is happening around me. In fact my travel days are one of those rare days where I let the other person speak and I listen, I listen intently. I am intrigued by new cultures, new destinations and new stories! Of course, once I am back I won’t rest until I have recounted each and every experience to my often reluctant audience. But how did I ever discover I liked all these?

In the very beginning, like everyone else, I used to look for company to travel. There wasn’t a travel plan which didn’t include a whole a lot of begging/convincing a friend(s) to come along. My travel plans revolved around others’ availability and others’ plans. When I met more people who were interested in travel, it didn’t take long before I made friends with them and went on several trips together. The trips were full of laughter, poking fun at each other and a whole lot of talking because all of us were new to each other and we there because of our common love of travel. What these trips were not was enriching. In the sense that while meeting new people was fun I didn’t learn anything about the place that we were visiting because we were so busy with each other. We were confined in this familiar protective bubble with little chance of interaction with the others. Conversations bounced between the closed contexts of our group, there was little that felt alien.

On some unsuspecting trip, clichéd as it may seem, I happened to discover the joy of discovery. I started traveling with few and actively avoided all such trips that included a huge group. After all, all that joking and talking and laughing got in the way of me experiencing the place. When I look back at such trips, neither do I remember the conversations nor do I remember the place. At this point I must be coming off as an increasingly anti-social person. I will be lying if I say I have nothing against such vacations, well, I hate them. Please don’t judge me. But what I do love is to travel in a way where me or my friends are not taking over a place, where I am not intruding. I want to be able to blend in, observe, learn and not seem intimidating.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t take to solo travel for a really long time. My first solo trip was only in 2011 to Sikkim. I have gone alone to join groups where I didn’t know anyone before but never traveled all alone until that point. And I traveled solo because I didn’t find anyone to come along and also because I didn’t want to wait for someone to come along. That was a small 5 day trip in the foothills of Himalayas and that one trip changed my life and how! Since then I have daringly set out travel to the remote islands of Andaman and to stay with the headhunting tribes of Nagaland alone and had some pretty remarkable experiences – both terrifying and breathtaking.

In India, especially, we are not accustomed to the idea of doing things alone. Be it, going to the movies or going shopping or god forbid, eat alone! Here, doing things alone will only attract pitiful glances and sympathetic enquiries. I have been asked several times if I didn’t have a family. If I did, how they allowed me to travel alone was invariably the next question. Always. The good thing about traveling alone in India is that everybody wants to know your story. They come to you, they are curious and let you immerse in their world. I have had some really long and interesting conversations with the locals wherever I traveled alone or with just a friend. The bad thing about traveling alone is that everybody wants to know your story. As a woman traveling alone, I do attract a lot of attention. Sometimes I just want to be left alone but that doesn’t always work in my favor.

Half the times, I am at my wit’s end with all the things going wrong around me, like the snakeskin in my room or landslides or falling sick or the lack of public transport or landing in a remote village where the hotel’s locked down and there’s no power for 2 days. Half the times I am also scared to death. But the confidence that comes from the knowledge that I survived all these and lived to tell the story leaves me in a far better state than I earlier was in. We all know that magic happens outside of our comfort zone. I am now willing to take on challenges and enjoy the freedom that I am given. By trusting myself and being forced to trust strangers, I now know that I can work my way around chaotic situations and that people elsewhere in general are quite nice and friendly. I have taken some stupid decisions too but I’ve learnt my lessons. 

Solo travel opens a whole new world that has been shielded by none other than our own presumptions.  In the process I also do have better and insightful travel experiences. There are loads of posts on the internet advocating solo travel, but I decided to share these thoughts anyway because to hear something from someone you know or relate to can make a bigger difference. I know that once a friend hiked all alone thinking “If Neelima can go solo, I can too” and I know I drew strength from my other friend who hiked alone.

I do not want to paint a rosy picture of solo travel though. It is not going to be easy but is the reward going to be worth the effort? Yes! Words like safety, loneliness etc get thrown around generously whenever solo travel talk comes up, we’ll discuss that in a later post. Solo travel is difficult only to begin with but it is an incredibly enriching experience. I won’t say take a huge leap of faith and take that month long overseas trip just yet, but try. Time is too precious to spend it waiting for something to happen or for someone to come along. Pick up your bag and go. Don’t pin all your hopes on waiting for the perfect time or finding that perfect travel partner to begin your journey. In fact everyone should take a solo trip - to discover courage, confidence, freedom and to grow as a person!

Today it feels amazing to say “Yes, I am going alone!” I can and I will.

What are your thoughts on solo travel in India?

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2012 Women's Day postMy Little Secret (on How to get started with Travel)

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46 comments

  1. Fantastic..:) Enriching is definitely the word that is so much befitting for a solo travel....Exactly the points you have mentioned here, I too have come across locals who have been at loss of words to know that some one is travelling alone... Don't I get bored? is the most cliche question that I come across regularly... In fact, I don't use headphones or carry any kind of music accessory while travelling... The only answer I give them is that When you have nature as a company with you, then I guess its very difficult to bored... How varied and diverse something like nature you can come across... So there is no scope for getting bored... :)

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    1. Well I don't need music necessarily but I do carry a book to read and a journal to write down. Also I have the camera with me which keeps me occupied, without any of these I don't think I can enjoy solo travels as much. Still haven't reached that stage where I can just be in a new place without any familiar thing to anchor myself to. :)

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  2. For me travel is all about exploring the place and its people. And when we are surrounded by the familiar we are less likely to open to the unfamiliar. So I also prefer to travel alone as much as possible.

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    1. Exactly my point Shailza, even I travel to explore new places and cultures. Being surrounded by the familiar doesn't help much in this case. Cheers to our kind. :)

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  3. That was a thought provoking and as usual well written post Neelima. I've always traveled with family and invariably the people around me complain about my being an incurable recluse. The window seat in a train journey fascinates me to no end and I get so engrossed watching the things outside speeding by. And hence the complaints :)
    I recently took my first train journey alone(a day train from Bangalore to Chennai) and how peaceful it was! I looked out of the window, got lost in my thoughts, read .. It was wonderful.
    But scared paranoid that I am, I just cannot stay alone in new places. The resort cottages that are so beautiful and quiet during the daytime scare me in the night s even when I am with y family :(
    This post has triggered a lot of thoughts in my mind and I am going to write about it too! Thanks for that and sorry for the mini post here :)

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    1. Thanks Aarthy, I am really glad to know my post triggered a lot of thoughts. Will wait for your post on this matter. Fortunately due to unfortunate circumstances, I began my solo train journeys much much before this. I was traveling between places alone as early as when I was in 9th Standard. Solo travels although happened quite recently. And what I like about solo traveling is, much like you what said about your train journey, it allows us to get lost, in our thoughts and in other places.

      And I completely relate to you on that resort cottages, freaks the hell out of me too. As much as I obsess with the nights and nightskies, still scared to death of the dark. But a girl has to do what she has to do. ;)

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  4. One of the most inspiring articles I have read in recent times. U r right in saying that it gives confidence to do something new when someone v know say that v can do it. I hope the joy of solo travelling or hiking will b mine soon. .

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    1. Hey thanks Vani! Glad if my story can help an already dashing fellow traveler like yourself. :)
      For the record, I haven't gone on a solo hike till date. With just another guide, yes, all alone, nope. That thought is scary.

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    2. Hey Neelima, Thanks for the above article. It planted the idea in my head and I completed my first one day solo hike. You are a inspiration through your deeds :-)

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    3. And you are awesome! :)
      Solo hike is something else.

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  5. Very well written...Am yet to experience solo traveling....

    MANUPONNAPPA.BLOGSPOT.IN

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  6. A very happy Women's Day! Nice to read your post about solo travel. I am one of those who fail to understand why such a fuss is created about it?! Anyway, I would like to share my post on solo travel (It's not really about women traveling alone, but myths about solo travel in general)

    http://renuka-mytraveldiary.blogspot.in/2012/12/5-myths-about-traveling-alone.html

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    1. Thank you Renuka, wish you a very happy Women's day too. I've read your post and it definitely makes good sense. Cheers! :)

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  7. Mein akela he nikha tha janib-e-mainzil ....Log aatay gay aur karwan banta gaya.

    Once you start traveling alone you cherish every moment of Solitude.

    Safe Travels and a happy women's day

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    1. Ha ha, true that! It is not that easy to fall in love with solo travel, but I believe it is much beer or karela(bitter melon), an acquired taste that is hard to let go. ;)

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  8. I have never been into group travelling. I have travelled alone across the length and breadth of this country for over a decade now. While I agree with what you have to say, I have to admit that I have never been bothered too much by people. We Indians are intrusive people; but I believe it is up to you to draw the lines. Sometimes it appears rude, but most people understand. In the 10 years or more that I have been travelling I have also realised that people have become more open - to people, including women, travelling alone. The only thing I would like to say about solo travelling is before you get to a place understand the culture and the people. It is important that you don't cross any lines first. And when you respect others' boundaries respect comes far more easily from others.

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    1. Well, yes, people have surely gotten used to the idea of solo travel, but mainly thanks to the advent of solo backpackers in the country. There isn't a lot of questioning on why one travels solo, they just are curious about an Indian traveling solo. But like you said, they get used to the fact soon enough. And I do agree about understanding the culture first, doesn't matter if you are in a group or alone. Have had my share of faux pas and learnt my lessons too. :)

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  9. Great post. Good luck on your solo-travels. What I vaguely remember of solo travel (it was so long ago), it was indeed quite rewarding. Now all my travels are with wife and kid and that isn't going to change this lifetime. Hopefully one of these days we will bump into each other. If you see an annoying self-absorbed family, that would be us. Stop by to say hi :)

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    1. I understand that it cannot be possible to take solo trips with family around and I certainly don't find all traveling families annoying. If I see you, I'll surely come by to say hi! ;)

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  10. The beauty of the place lies within ourselves. So, when we see something extraordinary, it triggers something deep within and we feel elated. Solo traveling, in my way, is the only way to discover things that you won't able to feel with groups or even like minded people.

    Factors like security, safety, loneliness etc. are secondary. If one is quite aware of its surroundings nothing can perturbs the unwavering flow of joy while traveling solo.

    Nice write-up by the way.

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    1. I don't mind traveling with one partner actually, of course the attitudes should match which is what is the toughest probably. But yes, traveling alone does open up a different perspective of both ourselves and others.

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  11. I really admire you for going solo in India. I know it's not easy, especially for a woman.

    My 2-cents- I love traveling solo. In fact, that's how it started for me. Have you tried watching a movie alone? It's not as boring as it may sound.

    I haven't traveled solo since getting married, but would love to do it again some day...

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    1. I have taken dearly to traveling solo, also eating alone to an extent but couldn't get myself to watch a movie alone. Also maybe because the kind of places I go to, no movie theaters even exist so haven't tried it but maybe someday will do that too. :)

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  12. solo traveler is a force, you decide everything, comfort zones become non-existent and the adventure quotient increases. Maybe the age of solo Indian traveler backpacking all across the world is very close. Keep leading the way Neelima :)

    one more thing I have experienced from meeting people in dorm rooms is the risk taking factor, they don't have a good paying job like us, some are doing part time jobs as they travel and save up enough to buy their flight tickets to next destination and so on. But they experience a lot more, have a lot more time to take in the experience and I am so much envious of that. In essence traveling along is breaking of first safety net; jobs, family, social responsibilities etc etc soon follow.

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    1. With this post, I've surely seen many people who have come across and shared their thoughts on solo travels and their experiences. So, yes, maybe the age of the new age Indian solo traveler is here. :)
      I know, even I admire such pursuits, can't imagine myself doing such things yet but it definitely is a much better way to learn the ways of life.

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  13. Hey Neelima, glad to hear you step up for solo travel on your blog. I spent the most part of my 18-month journey in India also on a blissful solo mode. It took some getting used to, but far lesser than people imagine eh? :)

    After that, it still took me a couple of years before I worked up a full-fledged solo camping trip. If you haven't done that, give it a try (when you feel prepared). It's just as psychological as it is physical.

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    1. Hey Arjun, good to see you here again! :)
      Yeah, solo travel is definitely difficult to begin with, but once you get the hang of it, it is very enjoyable. And about hiking alone, normally I would've said no way, but I figure if I could try solo travel, I could try hiking alone too. Still very long before I actually try it, but I will definitely not eliminate the possibility entirely! The thought of being alone in the forest still freaks me out. ;)
      How was your stay at Antarctica? Uploaded pics yet?

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  14. After reading your blog I can remember one incident when one of my close friend told me that its her dream to travel alone..my comment was how can one have such dream to be alone..but gradually I could understand solo travel doesn't mean to be alone ..its basically to be with yourself, with nature and with new world. I absolutely agree with your thoughts neelima

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    1. You've summarized solo travel very well Varsha. It takes a bit of understanding and getting used to, but some alone time for us to ponder on our own thoughts, experiences does a whole lot of good.

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  15. As a confirmed bachelor,free spirit and solo traveler I dread the idea of touring with a group. The constant chatter and silly jokes etc. puts me off. I'll share this article with my friends who keep badgering me about the reasons why I prefer to travel alone. Saves me some work :-) As for traveling solo in India, I have been trekking,biking and touring for over 50 years now and not once I have had a bad experience. I haven't lost my baggage. purse etc.etc. (Touch wood). In fact, people are eager to show you around and make efforts to make your journey more comfortable. Indians take 'pity' on a solo traveler and it works to his/her advantage :-)

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    1. I can so relate to the silly jokes thing! It gets in my way of experiencing a place, I really don't mind travelling with one or two like minded travel partners but beyond that is just crowd. Unless I am on a trek or such. :)
      Yet to try hiking alone, will do that someday too.

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  16. Correction to my comment..I meant traveling for over 30 years :-)

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  17. Superb! I've always wanted to travel solo! Hopefully in the near future!

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    1. :) All the best whenever you decide to start solo travel!

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  18. I travel alone in England and I prefer to do so as I don't need to compromise my preferences for others. I am sounding selfish here but when I try and be courteous everyone has always taken advantage of it...So I decided to go on my own, It has been a very good experience so far and thanks to the very friendly and warm English I have never felt bad or lonely about being on my own...

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    1. I know what you mean, when traveling with partners there is always some compromise, with solo travel that problem is taken care of.

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  19. So it's just been a month of solo travel on my own first trip through the US and South America. And I have to say, it's everything I thought it would be. I'm glad I didn't have to go through the process of discovery that would enable me to finally ditch group travel - I've always been a solo traveler! :)

    I find it gives you more time to properly absorb the experiences and apart from having to get someone to watch your stuff while you visit the restroom there's no real downside to it!

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    1. True that Vahishta! Solo travel is a great way to meet new people and absorb more of the surroundings. Glad to know you are enjoying your solo travels, looking forward to all your updates. Now following you on twitter. :)

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  20. Hi Neelima,
    I have just started following your blog and have found it really adventurous and inspiring(as I love travelling solo). I'm not a big time traveller but have taken some trips alone and didn't get bored even though I was just carrying an ipod and some magazines. I specially love travelling at night coz everyone else is asleep, the weather is cool and you can keep staring outside the window endlessly without any hinderances. Your blog has motivated and inspired me greatly to make trips more often. Looking forward to more of your travelogues. :)

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  21. That is why i think you have lots of lots of small stories to share. I am sure there are many more experiences in your life which remain unshared at blog....

    Hats off to you..

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  22. i too prefer travelling alone... or may be with one other not more than that.. it give immense opportunity to listen, observe, learn and much more .

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  23. I loved this post. thanku you for clarifying all the doubt in my mind. But now only difficulty i feel is with convincing mom for it. ive decided a solo trip to manali this september. m excited n kind off scared too with the hiking stuff. i dont know if this feeling is normal or not. i need little help with regards to dis..

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  24. It feels great to us especially when we have certain ideas that keeps an impact according to everything and this is the thing which has so much to do 3 days trip from new york would certainly be supportive in every kind of uses it has i am sure.

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  25. Thank you so much for this inspiring post! I am enamored by your blog. <3 I am currently planning a trip to Rishikesh to get my Yoga Teacher Training, and then to Nepal to go trekking. Now I am falling in love with Meghalaya and need to find a way to make it fit into my trip! :)

    This will be my first trip ever leaving the U.S., and I am SO excited to go alone. I, too, want to deeply experience the land in silence, listen, and learn. <3

    Hugs!
    Ashley

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