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The circus that Solo Travel has become these days, I needed to voice my opinion on what solo travel is really like. This blog is a part of my series on solo travel. I am tired of answering people’s surprised questions on WHY I LOVE TO TRAVEL SOLO. I am also tired of people making Solo Traveling look ultra-glamorous and trendy.
Here are some really simple and practical reason why I love to travel solo and why I prefer it (Nothing Cool or Trendy about it, eh!):
- SOLO TRAVEL LETS YOU DO WHAT YOU WANT:
You get to do/eat/see anything at your own pace. While traveling or dining in groups I often let go of my personal desires to see/do/eat things so that the group dynamics are not hurt. I end up eating lackluster Paneer Butter Masala when it’s actually the mezze platter which I want to eat. But my co travelers don’t even know what it is. They are not even adventurous to learn.
Even if you are traveling with just one more person, you end up making lot of compromises. ‘I want to hike up that hill but she wants a lazy evening in the café’ kind of a thing! Also, you see/do/eat things without being judged. I went to Pushkar Mela and enjoyed many swings solo. Those were meant for kids but I did because no one was watching/judging. I ate more than 70 Idlis in 5 days in South India without attracting peeled eyes. I like doing things in silence. Without explanations.
- INTERACTION WITH LOCALS ARE DEEPER DURING SOLO TRAVEL:
You get more time to interact with locals and absorb their culture and life styles better. When you have a company, the interaction with locals is minimized. On my solo travels across India, I have met some amazing people on the road. I can differentiate because I have been to same location on solo trip as well as group trips. Chennai, Goa, Pondicherry were a much different experience on solo travel than group travel. You also observe more when you are traveling solo. Traveling in a company always distracts you from observing small things. I was once traveling with a group of 20 other journalists during a Press Trip to a gorgeous destination. I was afraid I would miss out on experiencing the place if I wasted time in frivolous conversations, drunk nights and maddening photo sessions. I could do that in my city. I activated the introvert in me and would always take the last seat alone in the bus, so that I could see things from my window seat.
- NOT BOTHERED ABOUT LOGISTICS OF A GROUP IN SOLO TRAVEL:
You are more focused on making yourself happier than your co travelers. The logistics on the group travel is overwhelming. You have to co-ordinate every one’s dates/preferences/whims/fancies/eccentricities/morals/budget so much that you end up closing the excel sheet, shutting down the laptop and find solace under the dark blanket. It’s scary to plan a group travel. I never even plan solo travel except make a list of places I want to see through pre travel research, both online and print. On solo travel, I never book anything in advance except the tickets. Sometimes, even my tickets are booked on the spot. I just show up at the bus stop/railway station and hop on.
- SAVE MONEY ON SOLO TRAVEL:
You are not compelled to spend on alcohol or on the non-vegetarian food which you will never consume. I traveled solo to historic ruins of Nalanda and Rajgir under Rs. 1510 ($24) including food, travel, sight-seeing, stay for 2 days (ex Patna). I did rural Olympics in Kila Raipur solo for 3 days at Rs.2,225 ($35) again all inclusive (ex New Delhi). On solo travels, I can live at dingy and dubious places. I have found rooms in India under Rs.300 ($5) whether it’s Goa or Rajasthan, Kochi or Maharashtra, including the big cities (central location) and unheard of villages. I once even came across Rs.30 (Less than 50 cents, yes) stay option in Jodhpur. That was the only time I chickened out.
During a trip to Velas and Goa, my friends insisted on drinking during the day. I craved to explore the place on foot. I have been to Goa 10 times. But till now I have been unable to see a sunrise in Goa because I had been drinking every night. Maybe I should plan an alcohol free solo trip to Goa soon.
- SOLO TRAVEL ALLOWS YOU TO BE CREATIVE:
You can take 1 hour to click a single picture and no-body will be there to nag you. I have realized my shots during Solo Travel are much much better than the shots I achieve in group/couple travels. For hours, I can explore a single place and return with great still and videos shots, without the guilt of making others wait. My mother is very patient with my photography. Once when I was traveling with her in Punakha, Bhutan, I made her sit at a comfortable place under a tree and ran to take my shots of Punakha Dzong quickly. When half an hour passed, she finally lost her cool (She gets angry once in a decade) and reprimanded me, lol. Another friend of mine, Parnashree Devi waited for 5 hours patiently as I clicked and studied a single monument, i.e. Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh. I am obsessed with anything to do with the mighty Mauryan Empire of Ancient India. She had limited interest in the same. I made her sit under a tree (Not again,eh!) and bribed her with cold drinks, chips and inedible snacks (Not much was available). I lost track of time in the October heat of central India. I was brimming with guilt when I realized Devi was still sitting under the tree, perhaps cursing me in her mind, but nevertheless uncomplaining. It’s hard to find shady trees all the time. Got the drift?
- LOVE HAPPENS ON SOLO TRAVEL, OOPS!!
Solo travel allows you to fall in love with a stranger on the road. Just have an open heart and eye maybe!
- AVOID TOURIST TRAPS DURING SOLO TRAVEL:
You can avoid all the touristy frills. I have realized touts and agents harass me more with their offers when I have a company, especially a female company. No one really bothers when I am traveling solo. Yes, it’s a different game when I am roaming around solo with a backpack. I remember: as soon as I stepped out of the rickshaw with a backpack near Char Minar, Hyderabad, an excited agent approached, “Money Exchange? Money Exchange?” Surprised, I said in Hindi, “Arre Indian hoon bhai!” (I am an Indian, bro!”) But without a luggage, I mostly blend in when traveling in my country India. And if I have a female company, it’s a nightmare walking in touristy places. I am inundated with all the offers from ‘nada’ (String to keep your pyjamas on your waist) to ‘Psst, psst…Lodge, lodge? They would particularly ask the ‘Lodge’ question so surreptitiously that you would end up thinking booking a lodge is illegal in India.
That said, Solo traveling attracts its own set of pushy vendors. Sample This:
“Shilajit? Shilajit?” (Aphrodisiac) – Manali, Shimla, Kashmir etc.
“Massage? Massage? Nice friendly girls? – Goa, Thamel (Nepal)
“ Drugs? I have got the real stuff” That man in a dark corner in Goa. Avoid!
- SERENDIPITY ON SOLO TRAVEL:
Dictionary meaning: the development of events by chance in a positive way. The chance of serendipity increases when travelling solo. So often, on my solo travels, one thing has led to other things and I have ended up meeting someone interesting, found myself in unusual situation, discovering a location out of guide book or map, even find home in a stranger’s home. (I have shared bed with many strangers on my solo travel.) When traveling with a company, the dynamics demand that the group should travel with a plan. So there…
- SOLO TRAVEL IS IMMERSIVE:
Solo travels are more focused, interactive, and immersive form of travel. You may end up staying overnight in the staff room of a wildlife sanctuary as I once did in Wild Ass Sanctuary, rural Gujarat. During my solo travels, I hop on to local transport and end up connecting more with the locals. I was once traveling with a daily wage labourer in rural Rajasthan who thought that a passport is required to visit Mumbai from Rajasthan. (Both destinations are in India) During solo travel, I absorb more. I can make a pit stop anywhere in the middle of a highway or a village or city if I find something interesting (from the window seat of my choice of transport). In Thamel, Nepal I spent 3 nights alone in North Field café and Nagarkot Saanjh and enjoyed live performance of Nepali folk music. After my trek mates from Everest Base Camp Trek which I did in Nepal left Kathmandu, I decided to enjoy it alone for more days.
- SOLO TRAVEL HELPS YOU GROW SPIRITUALLY:
You get lot of time and opportunities for some soul searching, introspection and stealing some ‘Me time’ which is not possible in routine life. You have all the time in the world to think about your past, your ex, your life goals, failed relationships, stones in your kidneys, growing weight, your balding head, reflect on happy memories, assess your mistakes in life or just plain brood over nothing and grey your hair further.
When do you get this ‘Me time’?
- While watching out of your train/bus/cab window into the vast landscape. 2
- After the day ends and they are showing some trashy shows on TV in your room.
- While you are waiting for your transport.
My mother says, I have greyed most of my hair, thanks to over thinking during my ‘Me Time!” So, perhaps it’s not an entirely healthy thing!
Disclaimer: This is a male, Indian solo traveler’s perspective. A female perspective will be much different.
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