It is not that I seek out to travel solo but solo trips just happen. Like first I thought I was going to Bhutan with my younger nephew but that didn’t happen. In the end the first trip of 2014 was to Kutch, my personal vacation and solo. I will recount conversations that happened because of traveling solo.
1. Somewhere in Kutch
Taxi Driver to me: It is all very nice but Ma’am you should have come with your family …
Me: Yes I know but …
2. At Narayan Sarovar
Man: Are you a journalist?
Me: No I am not.
Man: With that camera I thought you were!
3. A young Air-force boy in the the same coach of the train while traveling from Ahmebdabad to Bhuj
Boy: Ma’am where are you from?
Boy: Well you must be working there cause I can recognize a Haryanvi when I see one.
4. Taxi Driver to me at after coming back from the BSF Check Post
The officer was asking if you are a foreigner! I told him she is traveling alone but she is from Delhi and speaks Hindi.
5. At Great Rann of Kutch
Woman: Are you a scientist?
Woman: Well you are sitting on the ground and clicking pictures so I thought you must be conducting research.
So much so for trying for another angle for a photograph!
6. Me taking pictures at the Great Rann of Kutch
A stranger: Ma’am which country you are from?
Me: मैं भारत से हूँ और हिन्दी में बोलते हैं. (I am from India and I speak in Hindi).
7. Again at the great Rann of Kutch two boys come to me and ask
Boys: Can we take your camera and pose with it?
Me: Yes and if you wish you can take pictures with it.
Boys: No ma’am we are happy posing.
8. Again At Great Rann of Kutch
Girl: Are you a professional photographer?
Me: No I like clicking pictures but I am not a professional.
Girl: Points to the tripod and says- well with all this I thought you must be but you say you are not!
9. At the White Rann Camp Tents, Gorevali Village at Breakfast I got chatting with another woman
Me: Sometimes it is good to travel solo
Woman: Yes you will enjoy particularly if you are a loner!
Me: Scratching my head and thinking if I am a loner, I guess I am a bit of.
10. And for a change me to a boy at Great Rann of Kutch, he was the quietest boy around, was on cell phone for a while before, I guess with his girlftriend.
Me: Will you click a picture for mine.
I give him my cell phone and stand.
Boy: आप बहुत tension में लग रहे हो (you look so tense)
I burst out laughing!
People were a bit curious about me traveling solo but it was mostly fun. I never once was hassled.
The short answer is no. And then there is a long answer. Pay attention to my short answer first and only then read the rest. Anyway I wonder if I even need to write a post? There are a variety of posts doing round on the internet now on the same subject. Most of it was written even before the recent Mumbai Gang Rape. And that young girl was not even traveling. She was doing her job. She was not alone.
And yet when I was invited by Suryagarh (a luxury hotel in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan) on one of the Blogger’s Fam Trip we were an all women group. The PR person was a woman. So, clearly Indian women are traveling, writing travel blogs and going about their life. On a list of top 30 Indian Travel Bloggers at least half are women. That still does not make India a safe place for women to travel but if you really wish you still can, with loads of caution, with ‘when in Rome …’ attitude.
First of all many women have complained about sexual harassment in other parts of the world and that has to be true. But in India it is of a different magnitude. It is commonplace and if you are not careful it will happen to you. Here are some random thoughts on the topic. The brain just refuses to process it in any logical way right now. This is in the end just a rant.
Women Tourists in Agra, India
10. I will look at what the local women do when I visit a new place. If I do not see any local woman at a place I will get out quickly. If I see kids and women along that sea shore I will continue walking.
9. I avoid crowded places like plague. That is where it will become free for all most of the time. And yet on my first trip abroad to Singapore I boarded a packed metro and everyone tiptoed around me. I now actually consider spending my hard earned money on other nations, which give me greater safety. My personal trips to Nepal and Sri Lanka are a case in point.
8. Not every place is equally unsafe in India. There are safer places but then this is India. However as I have to get up every day and go to work, I will go out and travel too. And countless other Indian women will do the same. I know India is not safe hence I will take a lot of precautions.
7. I was attending a media even in Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. The director of International Marketing Division (South Asia/West Asia/Africa) Mr. Julkifly Md Said told us, “we welcome solo women travelers to Malaysia.” I am part of a powerful market segment and I will take my custom to those places that make an effort for keeping me safe.
6. In is not only women and travel, the rule of law is weak in every sphere in India.
5. After Delhi Gang Rape in December 2012 I have actually regretted my decision not to immigrate. If my daughter shows any inclination to go abroad when she grows up, she will have all my support.
4. As someone who has been born and brought up in India I am more clued to the local scene. A foreigner will find it more difficult.
3. Religious places and festivals are in no way a guarantee for safety. As a local I will never go to Holi celebrations with unknown people. Holi is trouble in general to all women, Indian or not.
2. I do not encourage conversation with unknown people, more so men, however harmless it may seem.
1. I will take a flight instead of traveling on a night train if I can, I feel safer that way. So I envy all those male bloggers who are die hard Indian Railway fan. I do not view it in the same light.
However India is my country and most of my travel is going to happen here. In spite of all what I wrote, nothing will make me stop traveling. It is this country that needs to change, not I.
Also I agree harassment is common throughout the world. But there have been places where I have felt much more at ease than in my own country. This is problem of mindset as well as general law and order. Why would women be safe when almost nothing else functions in this country as it should?
I recently went to Sri Lanka with my younger nephew who is also known as Brat 2. Of course there is a Brat 1, his elder brother, and there are two more, Brats 3 and 4. Brat 3 is my niece and 4 my daughter. The numbering is according to the age, Brat 1 being eldest and Brat 4 is the youngest. It is difficult to say who is the biggest brat of them all. The first time we traveled together it was Brat 1 and 2 with my husband I and we trekked through Goa. At that point I was taller than Brat 2 and he is 6 feet 3 now! Both of them were in school then.
I have a theory, the kids who start speaking late try to make it up for the rest of their lives. Brat 2 and my daughter both fall in that category. Brat 2 started speaking quiet late and so did Brat 4, Chhavi. And now both of them can talk to themselves! Brat 3 (my niece) also is on the quieter side and I shudder to think when she tries to catch up.
The last Brat 1, 2 and I traveled together was to Barog in 2009, they were college students then. Now both of them work! I had almost forgotten what fun it is to travel with them.
Brat 2 and I at Galle, Sri Lanka
At Sri Lanka almost all the time there was a constant chatter next to me! As I said he can talk to himself if need be and a topic is not necessary! And when I went to Shillong right after it, it was way too quiet for my liking. I actually like peace and quiet. I can happily be by myself but traveling on one trip after the other, one with a chatter box and one without, brought out a different perspective.
Brat 2 has done an internship in Russia and on the Unawatuna roads he would often say to me, “Bua that person is a Russian.” He said it so many times that I got openly skeptical!
Prakash, The Boatman at Koggala Lake, Sri Lanka
Then came a boat ride where the young lad who steered the boat told us, “Ninety percent of the tourists in this region are Russian. And I am learning Russian.” And after that I just had it, he kept telling me, “Why would you believe me? It has to be another person who has to say the same.”
Brat 1 has yet not got a passport neither has Brat 4 but one day I want to travel with all the four and see how it goes! Hopefully I will still have some black hair on my head after such a trip. In the end I have to traveling with chatter boxes is a lot of fun!
Many a times the first question that is asked about solo women travel in India is, “is it even possible?” If you go by my limited experience the answer is yes but with caution. I never really intended to travel solo and my first solo trips were for work abroad rather than in India. And I could quite happily negotiate my way in an alien land and come back safely.
My first solo India traveling experiences were because I sometimes got invited by hotels to write about them. I clearly remember my very first one and how concerned my family was about my solo travel by car to Nainital. Being the first time even I was not convinced and I asked my hosts if I could bring a guest along and they were very gracious and agreed. My younger nephew and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay! I have come a long way since then. Since then I have done many invitations solo and never faced any problems. I guess such trips are safer also because if you are invited people on the property know and treat you accordingly.
But off late I have also traveled solo and organized everything on my own. These are more adventurous trips! For example I waked in to a hotel in Mussoorie and checked in on my own. I usually like rooms which can be locked from inside and cannot be opened by a master key. This room didn’t had anything like this. Just the normal door lock which can be turned by a master key! I was way too tired and I stayed there. When I told the person at the reception he said the hotel was almost full if that gives you a better feeling! And it did.
After we adopted our daughter I quickly realized that if I wanted to trek I needed to find group options or some safe areas for solo trekking. I did a group trek last year but I wanted to find out solo options too. Nepal emerged as one option as many women trek solo there and I was one of them. Apart from fellow Indians no one expressed any surprise that I was trekking solo.
Some of the things that I do when traveling solo-
But having said all this I have been lucky and never faced any serious hassle traveling alone!
Do you travel solo? What precautions do you take?