Movies like Eat, Pray, Love, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, "Wild" and our own Queen tend to give an impression that solo travel is the refuge of a depressed, solitary person facing a tragedy in life. This just isn't true!
My own path to travel started with a solo trip. It was during my postgraduate management studies and I had my whole life ahead of me. I hadn't lost any loved one, wasn't stuck in a monotonous life and relationship woes were still years away. In fact, I remember I was very happy with how my life was going 20 years back. And still I chose to go on a solo trip. It was driven by my allegiance to the "Free Tibet" movement and my curiosity to see the then-small-and-sleepy, mostly-unknown town of McLeod Ganj—seat of the Dalai Lama's government in exile. It was as adventurous and as exhilarating as you can imagine. Suffice it to say that it set me on a lifetime of travels and I undertook many solo trips thereafter. I continue to do so once in a while even after travelling to 70 odd countries, two kids and an open chance to travel with family, friends, strangers, groups or colleagues whenever a plan gets made.
Most people think that solo travellers have no friends or there's no love in their family and that's why they couldn't find a travel companion.
I recommend starting solo travel early on in your adult life and that you should continue going on these even when you have a full, good life, unlike the common picture painted by the movies above. There are more misplaced notions about solo travel and I'll try to bust a few here.
Myth 1: Solo Trips are long journeys into the unknown
It's not necessary to wander off to a faraway land for a long period of time. While there is indeed something charming about heading out into the unknown, if you haven't taken a solo trip before, try a place close by somewhere that feels more familiar to you. This will help build your confidence and also make your families back home feel a bit more secure about you heading out on your own.
Myth 2: It can get boring
On the contrary, there will never be a dull moment. You will always be alert and busy absorbing the multitude of activities happening around you. You won't even have to read a book, watch TV or spend time on social media to keep yourself occupied. You might think it gets lonely but in today's day and time, if you can find any place where you can be unto yourself, consider it a blessing.
Myth 3: It is unsafe
Let's say it is not any more or any less safe than travelling with someone or staying at home. Of course, bad things can happen to anyone, anywhere and news around you isn't very confidence-inspiring but it is not as bad as the media makes it out to be. And like a popular ad film once proclaimed, "Darr ke aagey jeet hai"—beyond fear lies victory.
If you see travel as this journey for a personal quest, a path that you walk to centre yourself, then you'd see that it's best done alone.
I deal with a lot of questions about safety in my travel workshops, especially from women. And my advice is always to be alert and careful. It is true that girls and women travelling alone are an easier target and you'd be wise to not worsen your odds by being irresponsible, ignoring the local culture and practices or by not following the same precautions that you'd follow back home.
Myth 4: It is selfish to go on a trip alone
Ah, a good old guilt-trip. If your travel is this fun-filled, party max, drenched-in-debauchery sojourn then maybe a pang of guilt is not misplaced because of course, you'd want your loved ones to have fun too. But if you see travel as this journey for a personal quest, a path that you walk to centre yourself, then you'd see that it's best done alone, leaving your kids and others to homely comforts.
Myth 5: It takes too much planning
Actually it is far easier to plan for a solo trip than for any group trip. In fact, you don't need to plan too much at all as you are at your own pace and can do as much or as little as you want once you reach the destination. You can even spend hours outside a museum—just watching the world stand in queue. I did. At the Niguliste Museum in Tallinn, just because I didn't feel like going in and nobody could force me to. I had gone to see Notke's famous Dance of Death but the weather was really nice so I just sat out.
Myth 6: It is not as much fun
There are different kinds of fun. Travelling with your partner or with friends and family has its own fun quotient and travelling solo is a totally different kind of chill. There's no comparison. Odds are that once you have tasted the deep experience that a solo trip to a new place can bring, you will yearn for it repeatedly. All the new friends you make, all the new skills that you discover in yourself (deciphering a complex route written in a foreign language), finding what interesting company you are to yourself, and being at peace with yourself is fun unmatched by anything or anyone else.
Myth 7: It is pathetic to travel alone
Most people think that solo travellers have no friends or there's no love in their family and that's why they couldn't find a travel companion. It is ok to not have friends/family members who can come with you for that trip. Most of the times people head out alone because of the logistical difficulties of syncing up schedules or not having a common travel agenda with friends. And because, after all, it is so much easier.
Because of such myths, a lot of us have done our first solo trip by telling lies at home about going with someone else instead of alone. While lying is never a good idea, what is even worse is if you say you are going alone; when actually you are going with someone. You are not only betraying the trust of your loved ones but also of the whole solo traveller community.
You are not an evil person for wanting to go on a solo trip. I have 45-year-old men and 65-year-old women talking to me at my travel workshops about their plans to go on a solo trip but being hesitant because of this social conditioning. And each one of them has headed out after our chat and come back a more fulfilled, satisfied person, knowing a little bit more about themselves than they did earlier. Even at their age.
On the other hand, I have 20-year-old boys and girls complaining that their parents aren't "allowing" them to go on a solo trip to Europe. I always ask them what have they done to inspire confidence in their parents—have they displayed a sense of responsibility and maturity? Our families only want us to be safe so as long as you can take care of that, the whole world is open and waiting for you.
Ansoo Gupta's next travel workshop is all about special tips and tricks for your solo travel. Including how to get permission from your parents / girlfriend / husband etc.
Venue : Doolally TapRoom, Colaba
Date and Time : Sunday 26 March, 11 am
Prior registration necessary at oh.pn/solo.