Are you travelling alone?

Shucheesmita Simonti:

“As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”-Virginia Woolf

21st September. This day will forever be remembered- not only because that is the birthday of my younger brother, but also because on that day I first pushed my boundaries and set off for a solo journey, towards the unknown. I have often felt bothered about the fact that when a woman tries to be independent, for instance- travels alone for official/educational purposes, many people frown upon her independence. Often, these expressions of independence are considered as an anomaly.

Prior to my solo trip, I have traveled from India to Bangladesh and vice versa. I flew alone to few places for conferences but those journeys were within a particular setting. If you do it once, you can do it over and over again by yourself. You do not need a guardian or a male figure to escort you throughout. And when you are traveling to a conference, often your accommodation is provided for. But when it comes to solo trips, in our part of the world, that is South Asia, it is yet not widely accepted. However, after reading articles across several travel blogs, I was very much eager to go on a trip for at least a couple of days by myself, stay all alone in a room and read a good book, and explore nature. But when I voiced my desire, the most common response that I received was “Are you ok? Have you lost it?! (In other words, have you lost your sanity?)”. And then there was a Facebook acquaintance who in a comment thread jokingly suggested that since I love to travel so much, I could probably save up and wait until I am married!

These jokes and negative comments fueled up my enthusiasm. There were some who did not object to the idea of a woman traveling solo but didn’t think I could fit into that role. I was appalled by their idea that I was too fragile to travel by myself. I wanted to prove everyone wrong.

I still remember the day I set off for the journey. I had no destination specifically in my mind. I just wanted to go to a hill station. I did not book any bus/train tickets, let alone booking hotels. I packed all the necessary things in a backpack and went to Kashmere Gate, New Delhi. I still remember the surprised expression on the agent’s face when I told him I was traveling alone. “Are you traveling alone?” He asked me twice to check if he heard it right. Probably, he thought I was a lunatic because not only was I traveling alone, but I also did not specify where I wanted to go. I told him I wanted to go to “any hill station”.However, he didn’t say anything further and gave me a ticket and said I had only 5 minutes and hence I needed to rush. He sent me away to the bus stand in an auto with his assistant to ensure I found the right bus.

The journey went smoothly. However, a part of me was scared and few times I checked inside my bag if my pepper spray was there or not. I got a few sympathetic stares when the bus stopped for dinner and I sat all alone and happily ate my paratha.

The next morning, when I opened my eyes I gasped in awe of the marvelous view.

Mcleod Ganj

I can never forget the feelings I experienced at that moment. For a while, I forgot about all the restrictions I experienced in my life for being born as a girl. I felt like a victor for pushing the boundaries a bit. I felt like an explorer who has accidentally discovered new, magical territory. The rest of the trip went smoothly. I did not book a hotel earlier, but the city was tourist-friendly, and getting a modest hotel on my shoe-string budget was not very difficult.

One of the highlights of my trip was my interaction with the people from Tibet which I will cherish forever. One such person was a sweet woman called Nima, my “‘Dadima(Grandmother)” from Tibet, as she chose to call herself. I had a long conversation with her in the Dalai Lama temple; she fled from Tibet when she was just 18/19 and lost her parents in the conflict. She was over 70 and talking to her was an amazing experience.

She was quite surprised to hear I came for a solo trip….”Akele(Alone)?” she exclaimed! ‘No husband?” she asked. I replied, “No”. She said it was quite surprising that a girl has traveled so far all alone; in her generation, it was unthinkable. However, she wished me luck to carry on doing what I love.

Hence, I did what I always wanted to. I climbed to see the waterfalls. I tasted the amazing momo from a cafe near my hotel. And  I ended my trip by watching the Bollywood movie “Pink.” Throughout the trip, never I felt vulnerable. The experience was not just amazing, but also fulfilling and enriching on a spiritual level and I learned a lot from the trip. A lot.

The reason why I am sharing my experiences is that I would like to see others going through this life-changing experience and realizing that being a woman is not an obstacle, rather it is a superficial idea that is socially constructed that women are inferior. It is the patriarchal society that wants to tie chains around us.

However, keeping the grim reality in mind, there are few tips I can suggest for those who are considering going on a solo trip:

  1. Choose the place wisely– As this is going to be your first trip, ensure that you have some idea about the place you are going to.
  2. Carry enough money with you– It can be quite useful if you do not rely on your cards. Sometimes, in remote areas, it can be very difficult to access ATMs.
  3. Carry safety weapons- Always carry pepper spray with you. However, pepper spray is not legal in many places. Nonetheless, devise your own safety strategies.
  4. Make sure you have the number of the local police, just in case.
  5. If you have a good internet package on your mobile, it is better. One tip I once stumbled in a Facebook comment thread was, if you are facing danger, you could turn on your Instagram live to let people know about whereabouts. It may not be feasible in some cases, but in some situations, it can be helpful.
Cheers! Don’t be a damsel in distress waiting for your knight in shining armor, pick up your own sword!

The writer has completed her M.A. in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi, and is currently working as the editor of the English site of Women Chapter. An avid traveler, she has undertaken several solo trips in India. A spiritual individual, one of her passions include inter-faith peace-building. She has volunteered with United Religions Initiative-North India zone for a few months.

P.S. “Pink” was released in 2016. The movie addressed the challenges that women of the new generation face in India which are universal and happens in many countries across the world.

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