Experience the unknown...
My mother introduced me to the joys of travelling at a very young age — when she and I would go to places, take photos and enjoy different cultures and food. This was in the early 2000s, when women travelling in India by themselves would still be extremely shocking and unheard of. For my mother, it began as an escape from the marital strife which would ultimately break-up the family, but soon she fell in love with it. Today, as a woman in her late fifties, she often packs her bags and heads out to experience a far more liberating and fulfilling life.
From her, I learnt tackling the unknown with an open and positive outlook. I believe that’s what travel does to the human soul, it opens up a vista of the wonderful, simple and strange which can be terrifying or amazing.
Travel shows us the better side of nature and civilisation but for women, solo travel is also about taking ownership and empowerment, specially in a society where gender rules are still strictly conformist. Solo travel for women, of any age, is fraught with risks and tension, internal as well as external.
To minimise the risks, planning is crucial. If it’s your first time travelling solo, make sure you carry a map of the route or have noted down the crucial travel points. Expect zero internet connectivity, and that even your phone network may be patchy. Being stranded without the basic information is unlikely because locals often help, but for your mental bolstering, you may want to feel in control for the first few solo trips. Chalk out your route, your hotel stops, your travel bookings and reservations. Research on best seasons, weather forecasts and local spots.
Carry your notes, including the contact numbers, addresses and other details. If possible, call the person concerned at your accommodation a day in advance, and arrange for transport from your railway station or airport. While booking tickets — rail, bus or flights — make sure you have confirmations well in advance. In India, making last-minute travel arrangements can be cumbersome, and unreliable. It is also a more cost effective mode. It is also the best part of the experience, a build up to what will surely be an exquisite experience.
While planning, keep in mind that there should be enough time buffer. You never know when transport may be on strike, or you may miss out on a few hours because you decided to bathe in the river. Give yourself enough time to breathe in the place, enjoy the walks, views and let the experiences flow through your being. This is the best part, and this is when you find the secret of travel — the appeal all around you, not in one particular sunset point.
Once you have decided on the itinerary, you can move on to the next crucial step — your health. If you are travelling to the interiors of the country, then keep in mind that city conveniences like medical shops, availability of drugs and doctors don’t exist there. The local clinics will be insufficiently stocked and the medical practitioner may not be experienced. One must be careful of their physical health before taking on an adventure for the first time. Visit your physician for basic guidelines, take enough supplies if you are already on medication, keep SOS medicines on hand and carry the basic for fever, indigestion, cuts and bruises.
Keep in mind that until it’s a serious health problem and your physician expressly denies permission, you can travel with ease and come back home a healthier and happier individual. From diabetes to motion sickness, smart planning and proper support can help in everything and also improve your travel experience.
Join the gang
If you don’t want to curate your own travel, the next best option is to do so with a group. There are plenty of women travel groups across the country now. You can join them for a trip. If you are keen on any hobbies, there are particular travel groups as well — for instance, hikers, bikers, ornithologists and so on. Connect with such groups and travel with them. It means that you are already in the company of familiar people and a lot of the travel expenses and planning get shared.
This is with regards to travelling to locales which are remote and faraway. Then you are dependent on local transport, food and the people of the place. If you know how to ride a bicycle or motorbike, you can hire one at most places so that you have better mobility and can cover more ground of exploration. If you plan to drive your own car, you must know your car well, including the basic mechanics of it to avoid being stranded. Also carry the proper road permits for which you need to apply, specially while crossing borders or travelling to security-sensitive areas.
In cities, one can have access to better facilities, internet and up-to-date information. Services and mobility are convenient, including plenty of news on places to visit, eat and shop. Plan efficiently to make the most of your visit to the city spots, and take references from locals for the authenticity of it all. Internet can be misleading at times, and for you to discover those tiny nuggets of city experiences, you need the guidance of a local.