21 months ago, when I packed up my home into a backpack and decided to hit the road indefinitely, I wondered how long it would take me to crave a “normal” life again.
Here’s a confession: Even though I’ve been solo tripping for years, sometimes the idea of being somewhere remote by myself, without a known face or language, can send a shiver down my spine. My mind inexplicably conjures up worst case scenarios and I withdraw into my little shell of what the hell am I doing. The freedom, thrill and self-confidence of solo traveling is often interspersed with moments of anxiety, nervousness and fear. This is how I conquer them: Dreaming about the romance of solo travel. Our emotions tend to be a reflection of the thoughts in our mind. So to psyche myself when I’m off on a solo adventure, I focus on the romance of solitude; I imagine myself blissfully gazing at the snowcapped mountain peaks without a care in the world, or swapping life stories with a stranger who’s life maybe very different from mine but our souls sing the same tune. Indeed, before I left for Guatemala, my first tryst with Central America, I calmed my nerves by imagining chatting in flawless Spanish with a Mayan woman and becoming lifelong friends! (My trip …
An old dug-out wooden canoe waited for me on the banks of Yorkin River. Two cowboy-like young boys, dressed in vests and gum boots, greeted me with wide smiles and is-be-shkena. Dusk was fast approaching, so I had little time to voice my apprehensions. For an hour, we manoeuvred rapids upriver with an old motor and a wooden stick, slowing down to a crawl at narrow bends, tilting almost 60 degrees when sharp rocks rose from the river bed, nothing but dense forests on either side. My pumping adrenalin washed off the nervousness of being somewhere so remote, alone, in a country I had set foot in only two days ago (Read: Costa Rica Wasn’t The Country I Imagined). As night descended and finally on land, I lugged my backpack and followed my new friends into the home of the Bribris – one of the last remaining indigenous communities in Costa Rica. Deep in the rainforest, without electricity or connectivity, far from civilization as we know it. The boys made way for Don Guillermo, the head of the clan, to receive me. I expected him …
On a sunny afternoon, I sit on the steps outside my room, gazing at the bare, brown mountains and their snow-clad peaks. I’m lost in thought when four kids, wearing maroon sweaters and warm stockings, their heads shaved off, come and sit next to me. Word has gotten around that I speak Hindi, and the curious ones have come to check for themselves. On first glance they look like young boys from the village, so I ask Aap sab bhai hain? (Are you brothers?). They solemnly nod no, point towards the nunnery, and tell me they are nuns.
I often look back upon my life, wondering at what point I went from being a regular, 20-something Indian girl trying to figure life out, to someone who (sometimes) gets paid to travel the world! Well, I’m still the regular, 20-something Indian girl, and I haven’t quite figured life out. Someday, this blog will remind me of all the things I was in my twenties, and if you’ve been following my travels, I’m pretty sure this little list is going to surprise you.
There are some stories that I promised myself I would never write. Like the time I fell into an open drain in Rajasthan. Or when I was convinced a leopard was going to eat me alive. Or a painful trip to a hospital in ‘paradise’. In the crevices of my mind, I’ve been hiding away such memories. But it’s time to pen them, for these are the moments that keep travel real, and have gradually become good stories or memorable lessons:
Somewhere deep within, I feel a quiet longing. When I brace my ailing heart to say goodbye to a place I’ve come to love. When I’m filled with adrenalin by the uncertainty of where the road will take me next. When the soles of my feet hurt from days of traveling. When I feel my feet itch from being in the same place too long. On days good and bad, warm and cold, happy and sad. I feel a quiet longing for home.
One month ago, when I became one of the four worldwide ambassadors of the #WeGoSolo movement and announced a contest in partnership with Hostelbookers, I didn’t know that it was my turn to be inspired. I received over a hundred entries to the contest, and besides sharing your dream solo travel destinations literally in every part of the globe, you shared your stories and how you faced or plan to face your challenges. As the sisterhood of women travelling alone grows from strength to strength, the time has come to announce the contest results (oh yes, the EUR 150 voucher from Hostelbookers.com) and answer the big questions – why women travel alone, and what is on their list of dream solo travel destinations.
It’s been five months since my trip to Bahrain, but so many memories still linger on. Every time I’m at an airport and hear of a flight leaving for Bahrain, I am overcome by the urge to run and catch it. The warmth of its people was the kind that could get me through a cold night. I remember it as the land of a thousand friends.
Back in early 2011, I remember sitting at my cubicle on just another day at work in Singapore. I had pictures of Spiti open before me, while all my pending work lurked away in other tabs. After spending so much money, time and effort on obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a subject I really couldn’t care less about, graduating in the middle of a recession that people wouldn’t stop talking about, and spending the first six months of corporate life in a role involving spreadsheets that made me absolutely miserable, I was finally doing work I actually liked.