There’s something freeing and rejuvenating for women who travel solo. It’s a break away from the humdrum of everyday life, all the schedules on yellow sticky notes and the alarms and reminders on your mobile phones. There’s the curiosity of discovering new sights, sounds and tastes. There’s stepping out of the comfort zone to tackle something strange but exotic. Travel is about losing oneself to find the tiny spark buried under stress and chaos. In this last piece in the solo women’s travel series, let’s talk about the abstract relevance of it.
In the earlier articles, we spoke about the safety precautions and packing tricks — these are real concerns yet travelling as a phenomenon is more than this. It is healing, healthy and introspective. I remember the first time I stepped out of the house, I was hardly 15. It was a long two-day train journey from Kolkata to Mumbai, and that solitary time spent on the top bunk surrounded by Frooti and chips and biscuits. Ma had stuffed quite a bit of money in the bag, and I felt I had to be responsible and judicious about it. Since then, I have never looked back.
Travelling solo has taught me a lot of things, including faith in humanity. Two nuns have shared their dinner with me, a physicist told me about his interest in astronomy, a farmer explained why he doesn’t educate his daughters, an old woman taught me to string a garland of fragrant mogra. I have discovered tiny tea shops in the middle of nowhere for that perfect cuppa. Humanity has different shades, and my trips have made me realise that it is fluid, just like nature. Today, I am less rigid and more accepting — of flaws, of love, of betrayals and of friendships.
The world looks at solo women travellers as brave and adventurous but I am scared every time I begin a journey, sometimes even petrified. I have decades of patriarchy-fed fears ingrained in my genes and it is not easy to ignore them. We tend to categorise feelings and experiences, give definitions and box them under neat little labels. Yet, life is messy, fragile and resilient, all at the same time. One may be scared and lonely but must consciously let the world in, because it will happen whether you like it or not. Travel just prepares you to deal with it better.
It is also a very private and personal engagement — people travel for varied reasons. Say the experiential traveller who likes to be on an organic farm and potter around in the field a bit, reconnecting with the earth and nature around. Some prefer yoga retreats and others shopping paradises. The reason to pack that bag can be anything and everything — even ghosting from a job you detest. As the Bollywood movie Queen very aptly put, one begins a solo journey for a certain reason but then the path takes a life of its own. It can be frightening, liberating and also revolutionary, but it is an experience that surely transforms the woman.
It is time for more and more women to step out. The way has been paved by women before us who fought the odds to travel solo, defying traditions and even risking family displeasures. We should be a common sight for all, not the exception. Internet has been a huge factor in helping women step out and so have mushrooming women-centred travel groups in every city. Working women have an added advantage of financial independence and there is no excuse for them to not book those tickets to their dream destination.
You don’t need answers to every problem, and there will be issues when you travel solo. So will it be in a city and even in families — frauds, gropers and fake business proposal holders are everywhere. Scamming babajis and jamming drug users can be found at every nook and corner. Trucks ram into cars on a highway and autorickshaws can turn turtle. Dangers and risks are a part of our everyday lives, and we women are better at handling them. So don’t let those worries keep you at home. Take the plunge and let all these experiences soak in.
Then, snap your fingers, flip your hair and get ready to have the time of your life, all by yourself.