On my solo sojourns, Instagram has become my new companion; it is where I share the smaller, deeper joys of travel. I’ll be running a themed series every month, to inspire wanderlust and share practical travel tips. The first theme was “Solo Travel”, delving into the whys and hows, and exploring the notion of solitude.
Come with me, for if you never step out that door, you’ll never know how far you can walk.
What to expect when you travel alone?
“I made friends, not just with locals and fellow travellers, but with my own self.”
My first solo trip took me to the high Himalayas of Spiti; I was on a sabbatical from my corporate job, and spent a month volunteer traveling, helping the local organisation Spiti Ecosphere set up a “monk for a month” program for travellers. I hiked and hitch-hiked to remote monasteries and nunneries, and spent my days talking to monks and nuns about their daily lives (Read: Traveling Alone in India: Am I Crazy?). It was the beginning of a long and evolving relationship, one that continues to urge me to travel alone, seek solitude and experience the world on my terms.
Why go solo?
“Because how else can you feel complete freedom – to shed the baggage of everyday life, make your own choices, and even simply be the person you always wanted to be?”
Back in 2011, I decided to travel alone for a reason – I wanted to test the boundaries of my comfort zone and let my dreams fly, without anyone who had known me in my regular life, judging them. I wanted to be anonymous, build new relationships, experience a way of life different from mine, introspect in the mountains and well, just be…
That first solo trip was full of so many firsts – watching a lunar eclipse amid a million shooting stars, sleeping in a monastery, stopping cars for a ride with my thumb, riding a makeshift ropeway from one mountain to another, chugging chhang (a local brew) late in the night (Read: Spiti: 10 Experiences That’ll Take Your Breath Away). But it was a journey as much within – as every solo trip since has been – it made me realise that I can be solely responsible for myself, revel in my own company, learn as much from fleeting encounters as deep relationships, trust my gut yet put my faith in strangers, feel utterly free in my mind and soul. And for that feeling, I urge you to travel solo atleast once in your life.
Are you ready for your first solo trip?
“The thing about solo travel is, whether it’s your first trip or tenth, you might never feel 100% ready. There will always be a little voice at the back of your head asking, are you crazy? “
I try to quieten that voice by pouring a lot of time into researching my destination. Having a fair idea of what I’m in for, while leaving enough space to be impulsive, is the right balance for me. You just have to experiment to see what works for you – some people prefer to plan to the t, some prefer to show up without any plans at all.
If you’re on the fence about traveling solo, start small (Read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears). Take the coming weekend and explore your own town or city as though it’s your first time. Have a meal alone, speak to locals you’ve never had a conversation with, spend time with yourself in the kind of place that you’d love on your travels… or take a short trip out of your town to somewhere you’ve been before. It doesn’t have to be long or expensive. See how far you can stretch your comfort zone without getting bored or lonely.
Ultimately, solo travel is a leap of faith – you can jump into the deep end or slowly test the waters, floating there.
How to plan your solo adventures?
“You have to set your own criteria, do your research, and find a place that excites and engages you so much that you don’t crave the company of someone you know.”
My criteria is no crowds, local interaction, natural beauty and a unique culture – that’s the way I like to immerse myself in a destination. Some simple planning tips:
- Plan to arrive durning the day and book a place atleast for the first night. The first step out of the door is the hardest, so go easy on yourself even if you like to show up without any bookings.
- Look for experiential accommodations and homestays. Take the time to read reviews and ask questions. It’s nice to have a host to look out for you and interact with you in an unknown place (Read: Practical Ways I’ve Learnt to Stay Safe While Travelling Alone).
- Pack light and keep a self defence weapon (like pepper spray or a taser) at easy reach for your peace of mind.
- Stay in touch with someone who inspires you to keep going when the road looks tough or lonely. In my case, that’s my social networks.
- Be open to adventure and new friendships, but trust your gut (Read: Practical Tips to Plan Your First Solo Trip).
How to convince your parents to let you go alone?
“Grow your parents into the idea of solo travel, just as you would grow yourself. Don’t ask them for money, and don’t treat it as just a holiday.”
Truth is, every trip comes with a mini battle for me, even after all these years! But I handle my own finances, make my own decisions and feel responsible for my own safety – as any adult should. When I am out having my adventures, it’s difficult for my parents to imagine what things on the ground are like; the media is forever propagating negativity. So I don’t tell them everything I’m getting upto, and keep in touch (via Skype / Whatsapp when I’m out of India) once every day. Sometimes you have to fight for your happiness when it comes to Indian families (travel or otherwise), and in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile battle (Read: Dealing with Travel-Wary Indian Parents).
How to deal with loneliness on the road?
“Many people associate solo travel with loneliness, but just like life, you can choose how lonely you want the road to be.”
You could plan your trips around meeting fellow travellers or locals – I often do the latter by choosing homestays and local-run accommodations. But I also crave solitude often, in a remote village where no one knows me, seeking fleeting interactions over deeper relationships. When loneliness threatens to creep in, here’s what I do:
- Get on my social networks and enjoy virtual company.
- Write; words are like a balm for lonely nights.
- Talk to the locals; everyone has a story and it’s not hard to find someone to swap yours with (Read: Traveling Alone? 8 Ways to Deal With Loneliness).
What are your thoughts, experiences and apprehensions about solo travel?
My next Instagram series begins in a few days, and will feature fellow Indians who have quit their regular jobs to travel, how they make a living on the road, and how you can do it too.
Join me on Instagram @shivya.
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