I will not deny that I am a casual escapist. When things gets particularly difficult I like to take some time off to deal with the situation and my emotions before I face it head on. I have found that taking a step back often leaves me with more clarity. And then there are times when I need to self-reflect- to make peace with an unexpected, unwanted outcome before I can move forward or to grieve the loss something I held precious or the end of hope.
In 2011 with college drawing to an end I was out of sorts. I abhor goodbyes. And, as funny as it may sound I just did not have it in me to stick around in Kolkata to stay for the convocation. I knew if I attended the convocation it would make the fact that an integral part of my life was over- for good- that much more real and absolute. At that point I was not ready to say good bye just yet. So, I did the next best thing- run away from that situation. I wanted to leave the city and I did not have anyone to who would come along with me. So, I decided to take a trip alone.
The decision was easy to take. Getting my over protective family to let me go was the tough part. However, I did get the permission and I took off for the weekend to Darjeeling.
Darjeeling has a small but beautiful Beatles themed boutique lodge called Revolver. For two days, Revolver was my refuge. And those two days have to be the most emotionally charged days of my life. Sort of. I went through bouts of fear and paranoia interspersed with excitement and mental peace. In those two days I learnt and realized way more about myself that I had in three entire years of my rigorous college life. For the first time, I felt what it was to be mentally free. And, since then I have been absolutely irrevocably in love with traveling alone.
While I am not a seasoned solo traveler, over the last few years I have done my fair share of travelling alone. I have had some fantastic experiences and some not so fantastic ones. But at the end of the day each of these experiences have left me with a deeper understanding of myself and the world. And, I would always, regardless of gender, encourage everyone to take a trip alone. It need not be far or for too long but the whole experience will give you a high unlike any other. Obviously, it will make you more worldly, stronger and smarter but more importantly it will make you self aware.
When you are pushed into an unfamiliar world the chains of your reality loosen. You are no longer bound by a code of conduct that is expected out of you by your family or society. Nor, do you have to conform to pre-established rules laid down by yourself. You do not have to adjust or make compromises. For a short while at least- you can be absolutely selfish, you can be whoever you want to be, be mentally free from expectations and taste absolute independence.
However, travelling alone is not easy- particularly for girls. But, it is also not as difficult as it is often projected to be. I have thus, created a few handy-dandy tips for those who want to take their first solo trip-
1. Research, research, research: The most important thing that you must do- irrespective of gender is research. Research everything. Thanks to the internet and its wonderful forums it is possible to get accurate information about almost anything. Make sure you research your destination, hotels, intra-city transport network, tourist help desks , things to do et al.
2. Chalk out your itinerary: When travelling alone do not keep anything to the last minute. Make sure you have a solid, well planned itinerary. This will help you avoid unnecessary hassles. When you know exactly how you will spend your day, you can plan out your transportation. If you can hire a car, do so. However, if you are used to driving on city roads remember that driving on a different terrain is a whole new ball game. If you plan on taking the public transport make sure you have a good idea about the pros and cons of the different modes of transportation and the routes on which they operate. It is very important that you are very well aware of the transportation network. Trust me, it is NOT fun to be stranded.
3. Keep in touch: I understand that a solo trip means getting away from your family. But, always keep in touch with them. Let them know in details what your plan for the day is, where you are going- everything. The mistake we often make is that we lie to our parents about our movements when we are on a trip alone. By keeping people unaware of our whereabout we might actually put ourselves in danger. So, call frequently. This also helps the family back at home not to constantly worry.
4. Choose your destination wisely : If you have never travelled alone before- don’t plan your first trip to be on to the other side of the globe. Choose a place you are familiar with and have been to before and not too far away from your own city. This way you are more in control of situations and you will have an idea about what to expect. If you do want to go to a new place, try sticking to tourist friendly cities you can leave your wild west adventure for later. Also be aware of the current political situation of you’re the city/country you are travelling to.
5. Safety should be your first priority: This one is a no-brainer. Don’t wander into dark dingy areas. Don’t set out to seek the answers to your life’s problem at the middle of the night. Return back to your hotel by the evening. Do not go to raves or random parties or some stranger’s house or … you get the drift, right? However, do always make sure you lock your hotel room’s doors and windows.
6. Pack wisely and carry an emergency stash of money.
7. Don’t get too adventurous: This point may seem a little contradictory to my whole mantra of “explore yourself, get out of your comfort zone” but it is necessary to put it in here. Use your judgement. Independence does not mean carelessness or being casual about you safety. Know where to draw the line. If you are going to drink, do so in your hotel room even if you are a habitual drinker because as everyone knows alcohol clouds our judgment and makes believe we are invincible.
8. Have fun, be open to new experiences and don’t stress: Things will go wrong. As long as you do not panic and think intelligently you will find a way out of it. So, use your time wisely. Enjoy the time that you are getting to spend with yourself. Indulge in yourself. Do things you always wanted to do and things you never thought you would do ( within reason, of course). I once went around all of Bangkok with dark Goth makeup on- just cause I wanted to. I ended up having a brilliant discussion about death metal and Goth culture with a lovely British man in his 60’s. on another occasion, I went around Bangkok speaking with Spanish accent to see if I could get people to believe I was Hispanic (They did)
What I am trying to say is allow yourself to be silly. No one knows you- hence you should not care about whether or not they will judge you.
Travelling alone is an experience that will always stay with you. One must leave their comfortable cocoons, at least once to travel on the bypaths of the world and explore and find fulfillment . So, take a chance on yourself and set out on a journey not only to discover the world but also parts of you that you never knew existed!