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 was close enough to my imagination). Firing up your imagination might sound like a petty thing to do, but I’ve found it can change the way you approach solo travel.
Surrounding myself with inspiring people – even if virtually.
There is only so much I can control about the wanderings of my mind. The people I interact with, the movies I watch, the music I listen to and the books I read dictate the rest of my outlook. Since I socialize more online than offline, I closely follow the journeys of fellow solo trippers on Twitter and Facebook, drawing inspiration from their adventures. On my most recent trip in Kumaon, where I was to hike alone – with a local guide and no connectivity – through remote villages for three days, I drew conviction from Sorrel Wilby’s book, Journey Across Tibet, documenting her solo trek across the roof of the world! It’s hard not to get influenced by the company you keep – virtually or otherwise – so pick wisely.
Blocking out the negativity.
Obvious as it may seem, hearing fearful stories of far away places can make anyone reconsider traveling solo. Even after all these years of traveling by myself, listening to my mother’s endless apprehensions can dampen my spirit. As an adult, I believe in taking precautions for my own safety and don’t need someone worrying about me back home. I also choose not to read media reports propagating fear about traveling in countries labeled unsafe; instead, I try to seek out past travellers to get a fair assessment of a place. Truth is, news reports about India (or say, Honduras) and my own travel experiences in the country differ so vastly, that the former don’t influence me any more.
Being prepared for the worst.
Before you label me as a reckless traveller, know that I take every precaution to make sure I’m safe. If not my parents, I always have a trusted friend in the know about my plans and whereabouts. If not the news, I thoroughly research my destinations through blogs and travel forums. And yes, to be prepared for the worst, I carry an electric taser gun and pepper spray with me wherever I go, keep local police numbers at hand, trust my gut, and try to stay far away from sticky situations.
Having a well-researched plan.
To me, this is one of the most important aspects of shaping my solo adventures. I pour in days of research into deciding where to travel and where to stay. I like to interact with locals and get insights on their way of life, and it’s always comforting to have someone look out for me in an unknown place – so I choose accommodations where I’m personally hosted by someone, typically an Airbnb or a homestay, and rely heavily on reviews of past travellers. There will always be unpredictable adventures, but having a fair idea of what I’m getting myself into quells much of the solo travel anxiety.
Giving myself a pep talk.
For me, the first step out of the door is not the hardest. It is usually the first night, or the second day, after I haven’t been by myself for a while, when the bed, the room, the walls, the darkness, everything feels lonely. That’s when I remind myself of the romantic images I had conjured up, inspire myself to put my introverted self out there and make new friends. After the mugging incident in Costa Rica a few months back, I felt devastated and so far away from everyone I knew. I had to rely upon myself to cheer me up and find the inner strength to continue on, and sitting on the beach, drinking beer, hanging out with myself worked wonders!
Opening up to the kindness of locals.
On my first solo trip ever, to the high and remote mountains of Spiti, I was so busy fighting battles at home that when I finally set out, I was ecstatic. But my energy crashed when I started to dwell over the long month that lay before me; was I really up for the challenge? I quickly realized that a simple smile was enough to break the ice with the mountain people, everyone had a story to share, and I would hardly ever be alone. And so it has been in the rest of the world – from Bahrain to Romania; even an introvert like me has been able to crawl out of her shell and witness the kindness of strangers.
I’m not one of those people who switch off from social media when they travel. In fact, I draw much of my conviction from my followers and readers, for a simple ‘like’, ‘retweet’ or word of encouragement can change my state of mind from why the hell do I do this to what an adventure my life is. When the going gets tough, I only need to get online and browse through my timelines to find motivation in the adventures of fellow travellers, or even in a beautiful picture of someplace remote. And on my part, I hope that my adventures will inspire someone else to step out of their comfort zone too.