By the 29th year of her life, travel blogger Elita Almeida had done what few 29-year-olds have – visited all the 29 states of India. She quit her full-time job in December 2014 to travel and has been a freelance writer since. She also conducts story-telling and expressive-writing workshops. In a conversation with RG Journeys, Elita shares the joys of and tips on solo travel for women.
Being a solo woman traveller in India
I started travelling on my own in 2012. It happened by chance. I had office leaves that would die a ‘lapsed-due-to-accumulation’ death and solo travel seemed like the only redeemer.
People imagine that solo travel is impossible for women in India. However, others often watch out for you – whether you’re a lone male or female or a group of people – and help you in whatever capacity they can. A little bit of humility and kindness on our part goes a long way in being recipients of kindness and warmth from strangers.
I have had bus conductors directing me to empty seats (when they realised that my bag alone occupies more space than I do). My homestay hosts have dropped me back to bus stands even when I had to leave at 7 AM (at no extra charge!). I have also learnt that rickshaw drivers are pleasant folks, be it in Madhya Pradesh’s Khajuraho or Odisha’s Bhubaneswar.
Dealing with safety issues
I don’t think one can label any particular destination as unsafe. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences and what might come across as unsafe for one person might seem completely fine for another. I’ve trusted my gut instinct when it comes to places, activities and people. Also, common sense goes a long way in ensuring you avoid situations that could be troublesome or awkward.
In 2013, I celebrated New Year’s Eve at Baga Beach, Goa. Things got a little nasty for me and my friends when some men approached us to pair up as couples for free entry to parties. However, the staff at the shack helped us fend off the unwanted attention. Like I said, people watch out for you.
Travel in general and solo travel in particular has helped restore my faith in humanity. The news leads us to believe that all is doom and gloom. But I have often found Good Samaritans who went out of their way to reach out (even in moments when I didn’t ask for help or assistance).
Lack of public toilets in India
This is a problem female travellers face all over India, whether travelling solo or in a group. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done. I limit my water intake when travelling by road, but it’s not a foolproof approach – definitely not in winter.
The joys of solo travel
Travelling by yourself gives you the flexibility to go about your day as you want to. Wake up one morning to catch the sunrise and sleep in on another day until noon, hop on to public transport one day and hire a cab because comfort beckons you on another… there’s nothing binding you from choosing one option over the other. The cherry on the icing is that you talk to people you might not have spoken to because you had company.
Another aspect of solo travel is that it allows me to have some downtime. So I spend days reading, writing, walking about aimlessly chatting with locals, watching mindless television (if there is a television set around) or at times, just doing nothing. This is my way of disconnecting from the world and reconnecting with myself.
The downsides of travelling alone
There is very little that I don’t like about solo travel. That said, there are times I do wish for company – when I have to constantly be alert about my surroundings, skip certain places because getting there on my own is expensive or when I want to share an overwhelming place/ experience with another person (as I don’t seek instant gratification in such matters via social media).
I would strongly recommend solo journeys to those passionate about travel, though I don’t think you can start out that way. First, you need to learn to be comfortable with solitude – watch a movie, eat a meal or go on a tour of your city by yourself. Overcome the initial awkwardness. Begin to enjoy your own company. You’ll realise this helps when co-passengers are curious (verbally or non-verbally) about you traveling on your own.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.