Tell your friends (or better still, your parents) that you’re taking off on a solo trip, and they’ll look at you as though you just sprouted an extra nose. “But why would you even want to do that?” is something you’ll often have to answer for the fourteenth time after rolling your eyes. That’s what I’ve had to do, in any case. Or perhaps you’re wondering right now why on earth anyone would want to do that anyway. I’m glad you asked.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
How often have you asked your friends if they want to go on a trip somewhere? And how often have they gushed with an enthusiastic “Yeah, I’m totally in!” just to tell you a few weeks later “Umm, so I’m really tied up with work… maybe another time”? Going by experience, I can tell you, that time will never come. So just go already. That’s what I did.
While the younger Indian generation is just about warming up to the idea of giving the mummy-daddy-chacha-chachi-and-all-other-extended-family-appelations-in-between holiday a miss in favour of jet-setting with nobody but your backpack (yes, as your most trusted friend, it deserves personification) on a holiday, most of the world does it all the time. Or at least, isn’t in the least fazed when you announce that you’re all by yourself. If you’re born an Indian, you come with everyone in tow. That’s a default setting.
But we’re beginning to shed our inhibitions bit by bit and dip our toes in foreign waters. But once you dive in headlong, you’re swimming for life.
What to look out for?
Anything you want! The world’s your oyster.
Travelling solo offers you endless possibilities. You decide where you want to go. You decide your pace. You decide whether you want to see seven things in one day or just hang out all day long with the staff running your hostel. And nobody will heckle you to see the Red Fort when all you want to do is pig out at Parathe wale galli. Pick a place, do your research, and book your ticket. There may be a list of things that you intend to you, but don’t let an online top-7-things-to-do-when-you’re-in-XYZ-country list dictate your trip. Instead, open yourself to new experiences and make your own list. You can either plan your entire holiday from head to toe, or just vagabond your way through it.
What about food cravings?
Try the local cuisine. Or, occasionally, you could even treat yourself to the food at the tiny restaurant tucked away in a surreptitious corner in Kullu, run by an Italian couple, if you’ve had four straight days of dhaba food and need a break. Sample tidbits at roadside stalls or discuss art at fancy wine and cheese tastings.
How do I get there?
By plane, train, bus, car, tram, hitchhiking, foot – you name it. You can either go all Phileas Fogg and wing it (both figuratively and literally), or have all your bookings in place and opt for a clean journey with neatly tied ends.
You fix your budget. You can either opt for hostels (which can cost as little as Rs 450 a night) or five- star hotels. Couchsurfing and volunteer travel are great options if you want to eliminate your boarding cost entirely. You can be prudent or extravagant with your money. Or you can be prudent and extravagant, depending on what’s more important to you.
Any other tips?
Always be aware of your carbon footprint and try to cut it down to a minimum by avoiding flying as far as possible. Make sure not to leave a trail of empty chocolate wrappers or plastic cups behind. Be a conscious, responsible traveller. Be friendly but on your guard. Talk to the other backpackers in your dorm room, listen to their stories, join them in their travels. Or befriend that person smiling at you in the café you’re sitting alone in. Travelling solo is the best way to meet people and make new friends. If you’re with a bunch of friends, chances are, nobody will walk up to you and strike up a conversation. But if you’re by yourself, you’ll find yourself chatting into the night with people from all around the world, and traipsing around with them in whichever city you are. Sometimes you’ll meet someone, spend an entire day with them, hug them goodbye, and never see them again. But sometimes, you’ll end up sending tea and spices to Japan.
One basic truth: when you’re travelling solo, you’re never alone.