This is a guest post by Neetole Mitra of Living Unplanned, who quit her job 4 months ago and has been travelling ever since, alone. Encouraging more females to follow the league, this is what she has to say…
It’s surprising that so many of us love to travel yet so few actually do it. It almost makes one wonder, if travel is ultimately as coveted as everyone would have you believe. I mean, if people really want to travel, why don’t they?
Travel has become a benchmark of sorts for ‘freedom’. It’s what we say/think every day. I wish I could be free. Just get the hell out of here. Go where I want to. Etc.
But we are free. As long as there’s no literal chain holding us back, we are all free. Yet, most of us create alibis for ourselves. I can’t travel because there’s no money. I can’t travel because I have to take care of the family. Because it’s not safe. All of them completely sound barriers that hold us back from hitting the road.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s better to know that traveling or not is a choice we make consciously. It’s not something that god drops on our lap.
This was the first realization that hit me before I took up full time travel earlier this year. I had had it. I wanted to travel since the past three or four years. I was moping around all the time because I wasn’t doing that. Then one day, a dear friend asked a very simple question and confused me no end. Almost pushed me into depression. You want to travel? Then go. That’s all he said. And it dawned on me that I didn’t have the guts to just go. Like I so desperately wanted to.
No, I was waiting for company. I was daydreaming about my perfect life but I was waiting for someone else to join me before I could make it a reality. And that turned out to be a real pity, because in the process of these past 3-4 years, I had managed to kill most of the romanticism that I had initially attached to traveling (the good old angoor khatte hai trajectory).
And when I realized this, I ran. I dilly dallied with the idea of leaving for a week, bought rainproof jacket and headphones and then one night I was on the bus. Rushing away from the dusty grey capital of India where no one has time for anything. Since then, it’s been about 4 months or so and I have been claimed by the road. I am one of her own.
Being on the road is addictive. I feel closer to reality there. Somehow, the outside is where everything seems to be happening and I am there, making a first-hand claim to that space. It’s exciting to be in a new place, with different customs, with a different language, walking an unfamiliar geographical terrain. Watch your mind accept the shock and then adjust itself accordingly.
However, it often gets lonely for a solo female traveler. It feels isolating to navigate through a world where men have a stronghold on everything. Shops, restaurants, lodges, liquor and lingerie stores, even the white sand beaches. I wish more of you would drop whatever it is that’s holding you back and hit out. It’d be nice to have more women out on the road making their much needed presence felt.
In case, you do decide to just give it a shot, reading this article, then here are some quick tips to solo female travel. Just to share what I have learnt on the road the hard way; just to give you a heads-up.
Fear Is A Tricky Thing
It feeds on you and grows. Keep it in check. Because if you think of demons, you will see just as much. No, keep calm, breath and look people straight in the eye. Most of those you meet on the roads will be helpful. At about 10.30 at night, a month or so back, I was walking in a dark street somewhere near Edava thinking I’m heading back towards Varkala north cliff in Kerala. I would have reached Kollam (the adjacent district) if it hadn’t been for the drunk but kind chetta who pointed me in the right direction (without me even asking for it). I guess he figured I wouldn’t be walking to Kollam that late.
Communication is extremely important for a solo traveller. It keeps you informed. The more you know about your surroundings and about the people you are with, the better and more enriching your experience will be. Talking helps you keep an open body language which in turn encourages others to interact with you. It helped me land a local homestay in Kibber village some time back. Initiating a conversation is the first step to building trust and rapport. A solo traveller who has overcome shyness and has learnt to plunge into conversations shall never be lonely on the road.
Pack Light And Smart
I once travelled together with another solo traveller who had over stuffed her bag so much that it tore. We would be constantly burdened with finding a place to dump her bag before we could do anything else. It really slows you down. If you are to backpack (I’m presuming), then you need to pack only what you need. I don’t pack more than 5 pairs of clothes for a month long trip. There’ll be plenty of chance to wash dirty clothes but to mend a broken back is complicated. Remember, only what you absolutely need.
Observation can get you a glass of free chhang (local wine), it can help you land a cheap stay, get you halfway through a film you didn’t intend to watch and it can keep you safe. This isn’t even a part of travel as much as it is of life. Just observe. Sometimes, it’s a very good idea to keep quiet and hear what others have to say.
Take Care Of Yourself
Learnt the hard way. Don’t eat without thinking. Don’t invest in shoddy footwear. Don’t push yourself when you can’t breathe. Eat well and drink plenty of water. Keep fruits and other munchies in your bag always. And take rest. Travel can be tiring. Give yourself a break from time to time if you don’t want to end up with sore feet and back pain.
This is something words can’t teach you. This is something you can’t pretend to be. But trust me the road will guide you to it. Travel will constantly challenge you. You’ll have to push through crowds to enquire about bus schedules, you will have to bargain with auto walas in unknown languages and you will have to prove to the world that as a single unaccompanied woman out on the road, you mean no harm. You will eventually have enough of it and will learn to say NO with a growl that will make you proud. So yeah, you’ll be just fine.
Neetole left her job, friends and a steady lifestyle to find inspiration on the road. You can read about her adventures at Living Unplanned. Picture Credits: Neetole Mitra.