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How I Became A Solo Traveller (With My Parents' Blessings)

28/04/2015 8:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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An Indian boy dives into the River Ganges, as tourists ride a boat in Varanasi, India, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. Varanasi is among the world's oldest cities, and millions of Hindu pilgrims gather annually here for ritual bathing and prayers in the Ganges river considered holiest by Hindus. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

"Jab se nikli ho ghar gayi hi nahi ho?" (Since you've started travelling you haven't been home even once?)

This year I decided to tryliving out of two backpacks and a suitcase. If it worked, it worked. If it didn't, at least I'd know I tried. With that sorted in my head and my parents' approval, I accepted the offer of a six-month fellowship with a focus on taking technology to the grassroots. I accepted the fellowship because I wanted to know I could continue making a difference (somehow) and that the traveller's life was indeed what I was willing to commit to. I was aware that I'd have to travel on my own at all times and sometimes to off-the-grid places to meet NGOs and the changemakers steering the course behind them. My plan had little to do with a display of bravado because "Have Feet Will Travel" has become more than a catchphrase for me. My feet and hands have been happy doing what they are doing -- travelling and writing -- and have been doing both in sync.

How I decided that it would be "two backpacks and a suitcase" is a story for another time -- in case you were wondering!

Even as I got my act together to ready myself for the plunge ahead, I made sure to keep my parents in the loop. I did this not because this is India and it's all about loving your parents! I did this because I wanted my parents to know (and maybe then slowly understand) why travel meant so much to me. I did this because if I needed them to trust (and respect) my decision, I had to do likewise. I had to trust and respect my own decisions first.

"A big part of sustaining my lifestyle has been resisting that urge to speed dial my way home when plans go awry."

I can trace the genesis of my approach to the day in 2012 when I woke up and decided to go for a holiday on my own. My first solo trip. Perhaps my battles were not so hard because my parents are semi-nomads themselves. It couldn't have been easy for them to give me their consent. And just six months later they had to do it again when I approached them with another solo holiday plan!

"How did your parents allow you to go?" is an often asked question. I still get this, even though I haven't been home for the past four months. The underlying question, I believe is, "How do your parents trust you?"

Well, here's how.

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Showing (not just telling) them I'm responsible

Travel and solo travel in particular were not overnight decisions. I recall being the kid in the third grade who studied on her own for exams -- no tuitions, no coaching from mom. That was my first live lesson in being independent. I recall being the not-a-kid-but-not-an-adult-yet who took public transport -- no dad to chauffeur me around. That was my first live lesson on figuring out it out on my own.

And figure it out I did within the city of my residence and then slowly around its periphery before taking longer strides further away!

Keeping them informed

I let my parents know all the logistical details -- dates of departure and arrival, modes of transport, places of accommodation (along with the contact number) -- every single time I take off. I also let them know if there are days when I will not be accessible at all. Fortunately, my parents have never been overly protective either. I don't have to call (or accept calls from them) on a daily basis. We communicate at intervals we want to and not because they want to.

Being strong

A big part of sustaining my lifestyle has been resisting that urge to speed dial my way home when plans go awry. It has led to adventures and misadventures, often relayed to them weeks or months later as oh-that-funny-moment-when tales.

"I've had to fight and I've had to justify my reasoning in the same way I've had to demonstrate that I had within me the ability to deal with the consequences of my decisions."

It isn't easy being on your own on the road -- hopping in and out of buses or trains, crossing state borders. I've been to four states in four months already-- Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and now currently in Odisha. Needless to say, there have been days when suffered from nerves. It's not that my parents have just left me to my own devices. They are supportive and have told me that I'm being a little too hard on myself. They are understanding.

This doesn't mean it has been a cakewalk either. I've had to fight and I've had to justify my reasoning in the same way I've had to demonstrate that I had within me the ability to deal with the consequences of my decisions. If it worked, it worked. If it didn't, at least I'd know I tried. Right?

And while I've been away from home all these months and a few more to go, it gives me great pleasure when dad seeks my inputs to plan their Bhutan itinerary or when mom tells me that she's travelling solo with a group to Meghalaya and Assam!

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