What Solo Travel Has Taught Me About the World – and Myself.

Japan solo travel

There are plenty of perspectives out there about solo female travel – some that encourage women to travel solo, others that question it. Personally, over the last six years of frequently travelling solo as an Indian woman, I’ve found plenty of reasons to continue to “Say yes to the world”. Why travel solo? Read on:

As I boarded my flight to Japan earlier this month, the familiar anxiety and excitement of travelling solo to an unknown country overwhelmed my senses. I thought of the first time I had faced the world alone. The year was 2009, and I was in Hong Kong for a job interview; with my flight covered by the company and no other commitments, it made sense to extend my stay for a few days and explore a bit of the city. In those days, I still relied on my family’s approval to make such decisions, and luckily, they agreed on the condition that I would stay with some family friends.

I had no agenda for those three or four days in Hong Kong. I vaguely remember walking along the waterfront by myself and taking the ropeway to a giant Buddha statue. I also summoned the courage to hike in the mountains surrounding the city. But the thing that remains etched in my memory is how starry-eyed I felt watching the world go by in a country unknown to me. How disoriented I felt trying to figure out directions and explain food preferences in a language unknown to me. How human I felt to smile at a stranger – who’s life, upbringing, color and perspective were completely different from mine – and have the smile returned.

Those sentiments often come rushing back on my solo adventures, even all these years later.

So when Lufthansa India reached out to me about their new campaign, asking people what makes them travel and love the world, I felt compelled to pen all my reasons for travelling solo:

Exploring the world has made me challenge societal norms I’ve grown up with

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On a trip with friends to Genting Highlands, Malaysia.

Perhaps you know that I grew up in a small town in India. A regular upbringing and schooling, with average ambitions to become an engineer or banker. I lucked out with a chance to study abroad in Singapore. A regular college, with average ambitions to score a well-paying corporate job.

But it wasn’t until I began to travel – to take off during long weekends and annual leaves from work – that I slowly began to realise that I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing. That I could define my own “normal”. And so, with time, I quit my 9-5 job, stopped living in a big city, gave up having a home to go back to, rebelled against the idea of marriage and refuse to have children on an overpopulated earth. It doesn’t matter that I’m young, Indian or a woman. The world – or what I’ve explored of it – has taught me that it doesn’t matter where we come from, the only thing that matters is where we are headed.

Also read: Unexpected Ways Long Term Travel Has Changed Me

I’ve learnt to stop judging strangers by their appearance

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Living with a Jordanian family on the rural countryside.

In 2012, when I was invited for a cultural exchange program to Bahrain, many people filled my mind with scary thoughts. About life in the Middle East, the way women are treated and how locals can look down upon a woman travelling by herself. There is no doubt that women have battles to fight in the region (as we do in India), but no one ever told me that the people of Bahrain – women and men – are some of the friendliest I’ll ever meet. I got rides with strangers without even putting my thumb out; many let me in to their homes and lives; some even showed me their favourite parts of the country. It was in Bahrain that I first pledged never again to judge people by what they wear, what religion they practice or the color of their skin.

Since then, I’ve learnt that the world is full of people different from you and me – and when we embrace those differences with an open mind, we go from being citizens of one country to that of a shared planet. A planet that is as much home to the primitive forest tribes of Odisha in eastern India as it is to the Welsh folk of Great Britain.

Also read: An Open Letter to Parents: Let Your “Kids” Travel

My comfort zone has expanded in the most unexpected of ways

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Contemplating my comfort zone in the Swiss Alps. 

I’m penning this post after a rejuvenating evening at an undersea onsen on a remote island in Japan. For the uninitiated, an onsen is a Japanese public bath with hot water from natural hot springs, where only nude bathing is allowed. Some onsens are separated by gender and some are mixed – and well, I’ve tried both on my current trip in Japan!

To be honest, I said no to a lot of things in my pre-travel days. I was afraid to push myself, challenge cultural norms that society imposes on us, question values I was brought up with and go beyond what felt familiar.

But the more I travel, the more I learn to face fears that hide deep within me. And facing these fears has led me to some of my life’s most beautiful experiences – like fighting my solo travel anxieties to board a flight to Central America, getting over the fear of falling and injuring myself while attempting to ski in Switzerland, and well, getting over my notions of nudity and being comfortable enough with my body to soak in a hot bath filled with naked women and men as part of Japan’s onsen culture.

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Awestruck by the volcanic beauty of Aso, Japan <3

So although I can’t quite pen down why I travel, I can tell you that I love the world because even after all these years of exploring it, it never ceases to surprise, challenge and excite me.

And you, why do you love the world?

*Note: I wrote this post in collaboration with Lufthansa India, as part of their #SayYesToTheWorld campaign. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter for inspiration to explore the world!

Connect with me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter to follow my solo travel adventures around the world!

Introducing a New Solo Traveller Series – Asia edition
Meet the First Solo Female Traveller from the Maldives
Meet the Courageous Indian Woman Travelling the World Solo – On a Wheelchair

Inspiring reads from other solo travel blogs:
Solo Traveler: Why travel solo? 12 reasons and a personal note
Adventurous Kate: Why travel safety is different for women (and solo travellers)
Breathe Dream Go: Why you should travel overseas even if you’re scared

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  1. Stephen H Gamber says:

    Illuminating! Nice!

  2. You don’t learn lessons of life in the school, you learn them when you explore the world on your own. Travel and living alone are biggest teachers in life. You learn to survive…you learn to understand & trust your instincts. Great post, Shivya

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Well said, Arv! I used to hate being a student, but now I know I’m a student for life 😉

  3. Kudos to you and your courage!
    I would love all of us to be as strong as you

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      I’m not the most courageous person I tell you. It’s just a little leap of faith at a time that has taken me this far!

  4. Would love to travel like this and challenge myself .. so where do I start from??

  5. Dear Shivya, I so relate to your experience of solo travelling, although I don’t do it to extend as you are living it. My first trip to India a few years ago, solo and my camera, has been so far the most amazing solo trip. I remember telling myself each morning ” I am in India, just by myself” it was happiness pure. Well have in mind I am in my 60es of age, yet I’m not scared to wander around in unkown alley’s where nobody would walk.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      I’m so inspired by your comments, Cornelia. I have tremendous respect for people who are able to survive (and love) the chaos of India – especially solo travellers like yourself! I sure hope to see you here sometime 🙂

  6. spectacular pictures and all… loving in reading always i love you post thanks for sharing n keep it up thanks a alot

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Thanks for reading Shrey!

  7. These are great insights and learnings. I especially relate to being pulled out of my comfort zone and the rewards it brings. I’d also add the joy and ease of “being in the moment” when I travel.

    1. Shivya Nath says:

      Thanks Caroline! I agree – I always find myself more in the moment, and in tune with my surroundings and myself when I’m on my own.

  8. Well done and congrats for being so brave! I have yet to overcome my own fear and do a bath at an onsen. Perhaps some day .. Where was that lovely shot over the Swiss Alps taken? Looks freaky, might be something I have to do!

  9. Anshul Sharma says:

    It takes a lot of courage and determination to do what you are doing.


  10. arunsadasivan says:

    Great experiences perfect you to become a better person with each passing day.
    The seasoning is evident in your writing style too, as it seems evolved over years from first post to this one.

  11. Beautiful!! Pushing beyond your comfort zone, getting to know people and accepting them, no matter from where they are….Life is that simple, but we complicate it with our own boundaries…. Keep moving with your passion, this world is a beautiful place for sure, lot to explore, learn and enjoy the surprises….
    My wishes for you….😊

  12. Ronish Baxter says:

    Absolutely wonderful blog. What I like about you is that despite being a female you gave up the wordly pleasures and chased your dream which is great. I too want to travel the world and have my own travel blog. Can you advice how should I approach it?

  13. Hi Shivya,
    I have just started a sabbatical leave with no precise plans except finding myself… and for once, as I am used to follow you on the instagram, I took the time to go to your blog. Your words are touching and truly inspiring, and give me the will to travel and “extend my comfort zone” ! Thank you ! I wish you a lots of more beautiful travels 🙂

  14. I love the part about challenging societal norms and defining your own ‘normal’! As a young Nigerian, I think that’s definitely the phase I’m going through and that’s why I change my mind every so often and that’s perfectly okay. I hope to travel more very soon. Great post Shivya!

  15. Hi Shivya, you have explored it very nicely. There is a lot more left to explore, keep the pace up and see the rest of the beauty of this World.

  16. Deepak Kaushik says:

    Hi Shivya, just go through to ur journey and it’s very inspirational. Even I plan very often to travel but due to non availability of friends or someone close, I couldn’t go for. I just love travel, it gives a special courage, moral and love for everyone. Next time I will also be a solo traveler. It’s only d way to accomplish my love.

  17. Ahitagni Bhattacharya says:

    Hi Shivya, all the best in your life and may it be filled with endless adventures .But after having watched movies with messeges poles apart like Taken in one end and Forrest Gump on the other ….I suggest you write down the dos and don’ts a solo traveller (be it man or woman) must keep in mind while taking the leap of faith to ensure the levels of safety are maintained .

    Good luck.

  18. DDayDreamer says:

    Hi Shivya,
    Loved your post. The best trip of my life so far is my only solotrip, to Pondicherry. It was actually Liberating for me, in the way to help me in making decisions and take care of myself. Please write more on solotrips to various locations in India.

  19. mahesh chhanga (m@ck) says:

    you are very talented and Brave. I’ve been trying for a long time to put my job. but i don’t.
    i love to travel as you do.
    I’m recently join your blog and insta now i Realize.
    and thank you so much…😊

  20. you inspire me. Each and every word you write makes me a better person bit by bit. i wish i could gather some courage to be like you some day

  21. Jaiprakash Rathod says:

    Hii mem im jai and im 22yr old and i want to be like you and ur my inspiration i just saw ur post and photos and stories that make me more inspired to tarvel and i want to travel all around the world.

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