So, you think about travel all the time. Nothing seems so exciting as the lure of the road. The feeling of being free among unknown lands. Dreaming about travel destinations and how it would be in person. You have googled innumerable destinations and have a bucket list that runs into pages. You are the one who makes plans everyday only to see your friends back out at the last instant. When you actually travel with your friends, you want to do things differently and nobody agrees to see life your way.
Ok. A fleeting thought of travelling all by yourself has already crossed your mind. You are afraid, scared. What if something goes wrong? What if you don’t find accommodation? What if you fall sick? What if somebody steals your bags? What if? You have contemplated and thought of all the unforeseen circumstances, yet need a final push to leave.
Solo travelling for the first time? The hardest part is leaving from home and not listening to bothering parents (They will bother, right?!). You have taken care of the biggest hurdle. What next?
Tried and tested tips for travelling solo
1. Calm demeanour with a smile : However tumultuous your heart might be on your first solo travel experience, it is always a good idea to be confident. Not forceful or submitting, just your normal self. You will meet many people on your solo journeys, so don’t judge people based on their appearances. Take your own sweet time talking to them, knowing their stories; you will realise that mostly everyone is friendly. Do not be afraid of anything, let positive things come to you. Smiling is free, so might as well keep it on.
I had a dizzy night just before the summit of a 5000m pass at a parachute camp, but my calm behaviour ensured the dhaba owner helped me with some local remedies.
2. Flashing your expensive phone or dslr : It does mean missing out on some pictures that you dearly want to click, but it is imperative that you keep your dslr inside until you know the people around. For them, a dslr or a costly phone is a thing associated with the rich. Plus, when you are looking for budget accommodation, prices of the rooms will be invariably jacked up if costly accessories are seen. The hotel guys saw my dslr once and quoted astronomical prices!
Pack and keep your camera inside the bag before you arrive at your destination. That way you can click pictures from a moving vehicle.
3. Pack right (Read : light): Since you are travelling alone, it is highly likely that you will have to cover some distances by walking. It is very important that the bags you carry not be the reason to slow you down. Carry a big backpack and carry an empty daypack small bag inside it. Then you can establish a base and go for small exploratory trips. Carrying a briefcase or suitcase is not a very good idea if you are solo travelling (Unless it is a luxury trip).
I carried a suitcase on one of my journeys and had a terrible time carrying it everywhere. Wash and wear the same clothes again, works best.
4. Research and gather basic information : We are all looking for unforgettable experiences when we travel solo – whether planned or unplanned. It always helps to know basic details about the places and destinations you are visiting and have a rough idea about the food, culture, mode of transport, mobile networks, places to stay and expenses involved. If the destination is remote and not easily accessible, you must know beforehand about the means and ways of getting there.
Sometimes it is best to not know what to expect! My winter trip to Ladakh happened like that.
5. Think on your feet : Do on a solo sojourn as you would do in life. It is already evening and your originally planned destination is still three-four hours away. What do you do? Talk to the locals and find out the best possible solution. Looking for a place to stay in the evening is not a very good idea. You must have a faint idea about your end of day destination at the beginning of the day. Thats the rule of thumb in solo travelling. If you are in trouble and a situation turns uncomfortable, scream and shout and let the locals know. They are most likely to help.
Once when I failed to act upon my instinct, bad luck befell me and I barely made it out alive.
6. Fashion, style or comfort : Want to look all stylish and jazzy? You are most likely to be in a state transport bus travelling with the locals, and wearing sunglasses is a no no. They make you seem unapproachable and haughty. Simple and comfortable dressing sense is more important than fashion when you are solo travelling. Mind you, nobody cares how you look. It makes sense to be one among the locals than an outsider.
When I was a newbie, I once wore stylish leather boots to the mountains. Big trouble walking. Major blunder, fashion faux pas et al!
7. No English, please : We are all used to speaking in English at our homes and workplaces; but real India still speaks hindi (or other regional languages). Leave your fancy accents at home and try and be as down to earth as possible. Politeness is a good habit to have generally, and even more so on solo journeys. Some locals can cling to you and prove to be a nuisance, know where to draw the line. The hotel/homestay owner is likely to be your best friend.
In remote villages, where Hindi or English is not understood, sign language works best!
8. When in Rome, do as the Romans do : Watch the locals and observe and ask the activities in the destination that you are in. It is fascinating to listen to stories that very few know about. You can ask for recommendations of local delicacies and where to eat them. You can buy clothes, crafts, art based on talks with locals. Keep asking about specific things and they will be the best guidebook you never had. Who knows, you might stumble upon lost treasures!
A homestay owner inadvertently led me to a spectacular sight in Goa, by the river; in a coconut plantation.
9. A sturdy pair of walking and running shoes : Solo travelling means time for aimless walks and introspection. Ensure your shoes are properly broken in and are not a new pair, walking on snow can get tricky otherwise. Socks that you wear should be comfortable for walking long distances. Flip-flips are useful for water crossings and should be carried along too. Do not fall down a slope while walking on slender paths.
I trekked in my running shoes once, not a very good idea that. They tore halfway through the trek and had to be sewn.
10. Vague information : If you are not comfortable giving out personal information, be vague in your replies. Very few people you meet actually take the trouble of asking you many questions, be prepared and know how to respond. Refrain in saying that you are a businessman. A monday to friday job is a good answer for what do you do. There is no point divulging important information when you are all alone in an unknown location.
Avoid saying you are from Delhi. (I don’t know why, but it seems to have acquired a bad name.)
11. Cash in your pocket : It is necessary to have cash at all given times when you are solo travelling. Normally, three to four thousand rupees is a good amount to have. A wallet can prove to be easy pickings for pickpockets. Keep everything separately and remember in a foolproof way where you have kept what. Fidgety people attract attention, you might become a soft target for someone. Remember, not everybody you meet is a bad person. Never be afraid and keep your guts.
I had to help the villagers in pea picking, once when I ran out of money in the Himalayas, in exchange for food.
12. Identity papers at all times : Nobody knows when an unforeseen situation can arise. It is best to keep your identity papers in the pocket of your jacket even when you are sleeping, in case you need to make a quick escape. Do not show or leave your documents with anyone, tourists are easy prey for forged documents. Keep copies of papers that need to be given upon checking into a hotel. Its easy for them to pretend that they just lost your originals while copying them.
I nearly jumped out of the window in a remote village on the banks of the Indus when someone knocked on my door in the middle of the night, turned out it was a false alarm.
Read : Winds of change in Malana
Let people know that your family knows. Keep someone informed of your whereabouts when you are travelling solo. Let people around you also know that. Trust your instinct, it is unlikely to go wrong.
A huge tip for solo female travellers would be to wear a wedding ring to avoid untoward glares and glances. Has been known to work well, courtesy of female solo travel feedback.
Go, conquer the world. Life is meant to be lived. And come back and tell the world your fabulous stories.