Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why I Travel Solo

Twelve years ago when my train from Ahmedabad to Bombay was cancelled, I faced my biggest fear. I had to take a flight for the first time. I tried to avoid it, make excuses but my job beckoned and I had to enter the dreadful airport – all by myself.

Unlike other people who face a serious fear of flying, I wasn’t scared that the plane would crash. The truth is, I was afraid to make a fool of myself. I didn’t know how to buckle a seatbelt. Let alone open it.

In fact I was quite reconciled to the fact that traveling for me was  limited to road trips where I could see the world pass me by or long train journeys where I would be able to smell the rust of the Indian Rail carriage on my skin for days after.

This first flight by myself was putting me on an edge that I was not accustomed to while travelling. Once in my seat I tried my best not to be fidgety with the belt. I felt its grooves and curves. My nervous, sweaty hands kept slipping on the cold steel. After a few attempts of putting it the wrong way around (does the silly thing go under the flap? Am I supposed to turn it around?), I observed my fellow passenger and followed her lead. I managed to close the seat belt and heaved a sigh of achievement.

Then, something magical happened.
The plane took off and I saw lights. The city I was leaving behind glittered like someone had laid out fairy lights just for me. The moon shone bright and when I kept my hand on the window, I was sure I could touch a star.

The world looks very different from above. They say that when you are faced with a problem, you should take a macro view. Rise above and try to understand the issue. Perhaps traveling is a solution to every problem. You need to travel, to get away, and to look at the world differently to realize how small your issues really are.

When we landed and I couldn’t figure which side of the flap to open, the lady next to me helped. A gesture, I reciprocate every time I am flying next to a first timer. For I know, there is nothing as stressful as the possibility of making a fool of yourself while doing something people consider to be extremely simple.

The one-and-a-half-hour flight on that fateful night changed my life. As the sun rose over Bombay and a pink light emerged on my window drawing away my fears, I was blissfully unaware that a few years later, I would sit on a flight and move to another country. That one day, I would fearlessly fly around the world.

I recently came back from Greece - my twentieth country in four years and eleventh solo trip.
People often ask me; do I get scared to travel alone? Do I get lonely? Don’t I get bored? Why do I travel alone?

Here’s why I travel alone and believe that every woman should push herself to do the same.  

I travel solo because in places where everything is foreign and I am by myself, I am forced to change.
When you find yourself in a South American village where no one speaks English or has a clue where you come from, where the food isn’t what you are used to and people think it is normal to ask your name and salary in the same breath, you adapt and adopt the culture and become one with it.

I travel solo to discover and to re-discover. I visit and re-visit cities that speak to me. I like going back to see how my likes, dislikes and memories have evolved. I often go back to Barcelona, (one of my first solo trips) and visit the Picasso museum each time. My experience is different in each visit. The paintings remain the same but the way I look at them changes.

Bustling cities like NYC have so much to offer to the solo traveler.

I travel solo to learn to be alone. Sometimes when I am traveling, I spend days without conversing. Except the usual hello or food order, I barely speak. For me, those days are like meditation. I am in-charge of my own entertainment, safety and survival.
Indian women are rarely taught to be alone. We are told to confine ourselves to roles set by the society and always find an anchor to support us.
Traveling solo teaches you to be your own anchor.

No one to take your photos? Be inventive. I always take half face selfies. 

 I travel solo to understand that friendships are not measured in time but in moments spent asking directions, over glasses of wine, sharing a home cooked meal, on the bus to the airport or while walking the streets of Athens at two am in the morning discussing cheese.

Met a bunch of fearless solo woman travelers in Greece. Sometimes just a smile can strike a conversation!
I try and go for activities like cooking classes and Eat With dinners. Great way to make new friends.

I travel solo to learn the art of letting go. When you understand that moments matter more than time, you cherish the NOW with all your heart and say goodbye when it’s time.

Another alternative to the selfie is a picture of manicured feet wherever you go!

I travel solo to find the missing pieces of my soul. Has it ever happened to you that you walk into a room for the first time and it feels like you’ve been there before?
I don’t have a bucket list so I go wherever I feel like or is affordable. I believe that destiny takes me there because each country gives me a missing piece in the puzzle I call myself.
Each city gives meaning to my life.
I come back with little things like new words, recipes, habits, magnets, snow globes and most importantly, I come back with myself. I come back whole.

I end up keeping simple things like a Metro ticket to remind me of "that time when...."


I travel solo to keep that magical feeling from my first flight alive. Even today, after so many flights, I always fiddle with the seatbelt to find the right side of the flap. And every time I look outside an airplane window and see the glittering lights below, I feel like a child in a candy store. I feel tiny. I feel blessed.

Never ceases to amaze me.

* Read more on my tips to travel on budget in The National Newspaper here 
* All photographs are from my travel page on Instagram @suitcasesandsnowglobes 


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