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Hit the road, alone

Have you ever travelled alone? No? Then you have no idea what you are missing! Solo travel is awesome. Here’s why:

Do anything, go anywhere

Bike 100km non-stop if you want. Don’t leave your hotel bed for the next two days because you have a sore ass from all that biking. Just sit by a lake and gather your thoughts in silence, or stop and stare at the rain as long as you like. Survive on sandwiches for a week. Head out for Rome and decide midway to go to Vienna. You’ll get to Rome sooner or later because all roads lead there anyway! You won’t have your travel companion(s) interrupting your travel plans. You don’t have to compromise and you can travel selfishly and this is amazingly liberating. Travelling solo is all about celebrating yourself.

It’s easy to make friends

When we say travelling alone, we don’t mean you have to be alone for the entire length of your trip. Other travellers will find it easier to approach you when you are travelling solo or sitting alone at a pub (but keep your antenna up for trouble). And you’ll find it easier to mingle with a group. At some point in your trip, you are very likely to meet another cool traveller and the two of you may decide to travel for some days together. Just go with the flow and you will find the world friendlier than you had imagined.

It’s easier to travel on a budget

It’s so much easier to stick to your budget when you are travelling solo. Solo hitchhikers are more likely to be picked up than a group. It’s also easier to get a Couchsurfing host while travelling alone for the simple reason that one couch is easier to find than two! Likewise, when searching for a bunk to sleep on in hostels during peak season, the chances of a single bed being available is more.

You learn to watch your back

There’s no one watching your back when you are travelling solo. You’ve got to be on guard at all times and trust your instincts about how to deal with various situations. While making the most of your trip, you also have to take care of your health because no one wants to fall sick in a foreign country when you don’t have a friend around to help you. All this teaches you to be responsible.

If you’re convinced that you really need to make that one trip at least all by yourself, here’s how to do it...

Pack light. There is going to be only you doing all the carrying. More than everyday outfits, make sure you have clean underwear.

Pack, and then repack with only half of the original items you had in mind: travelling solo is best done light.

Carry enough or more than enough money. Beg, borrow from your parents or from your own pocket. You will always need more than you anticipate. Always.

If you’re a girl travelling alone, carry a whole safety kit, complete with Swiss knife, razors, pepper spray.

Also, try and make your travels (by bus or train) in the day time.

When you’re travelling alone, other travellers will come up and start talking to you. Don’t run away from fear, that’s how you make new friends.

Read a good book, one that inspires you to see however much you can. That’s what the Beat generation was all about — so maybe something from that literature.

Always remember, you are completely by yourself. You have to talk to strangers, fix your travels and accommodation, and figure out your entire stay. There will be times when you will feel lonely and yet you will never be alone.

You will get lost at some point. Don’t freak out, take it as an adventure. Stay calm, follow your map or just ask people on the road. You’ll always find your way back.

Always look like you know where you’re going, even if you are hopelessly lost.

At any point, make sure you are in a state to walk or at least stagger back to your lodging. You are your own keeper.

You are going to get overexcited and spend exorbitant amounts of money on good food and alcohol. It will be difficult, but have a frugal plan. You need to survive with that amount for the next few days too. Or you know, you might have to end up selling your watch or washing dishes!

Your travel will probably be for a week or two. Make a practical plan, but don’t sit in one place for the whole trip. You don’t find adventure in the dingy busy lanes of a metropolitan city.

Adventure is present in every nook and cranny. You have to also go looking for it. And interacting with local people and listening to their stories that can change you — that’s a beginning.

Avoid unwanted attention by wearing a fake wedding ring. Create a story (preferably with photographic proof) of your imaginary husband, and practise telling it to your friends until it’s flawless!

Find out about hotel/hostel curfews: there’s nothing worse than being homeless for the night.

Invest in a bag with a sturdy zip/ fastening that can’t be opened very easily.

Get a realistic sense of how long and how much it would cost you to get from the airport to your hotel: this is the part of your trip where you are most likely to get ripped off.

Get used to eating alone. Perks include never having to share your ice-cream sundae!

Smile, whenever and wherever possible.

Make a travel blog, make a bucket list, and make it crazy.

Use your contacts if you have friends or family in a place where you’re going; don’t be afraid to ask them for advice, or better still, a couch to crash!

Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance, in some countries medical care can cost an arm and a leg.

Have a general idea of what a good exchange rate is; it’s so easy to get ripped off when you’re not familiar with a currency.

Text: Arnab Nandy,
Sibendu Das, Heenali Patel, Clio Zauner and Sanjana Ray

Tips to make travelling on your own smooth-sailing

• Always take a spare passport photo or two — you never know when you’ll need one.

• Take photocopies of your passport, visas and travel insurance papers.

• Try to take two bank cards — if you lose one, it can take weeks for a replacement to arrive.

• Have somebody at home who you trust to access your bank account if needed.

• Take basic medicines with you, i.e. painkillers, disinfectant, rehydration powder.

• If you’re thinking of buying a travel guidebook, buy it in digital form for easy carrying.

• Take a padlock; it always comes in handy.

Naysayers will try and dissuade you even before you start planning a trip. Here are some of the oft-said things you should give a royal ignore to

• Don’t you have any friends who’ll go with you?

• I went there 10 years ago. It’s such a backward place.

• When are you going to get a job?

• Your mum’s going to miss you so much.

• But you’re a girl!

Some nays to keep in mind

• Don’t expect everything to go according to plan, because it won’t.

• Don’t take out your map on the street and look like a clueless tourist. Do it in the relative privacy of a cafe or restaurant.

• Don’t be afraid of talking to other people. Often the best adventures come out of chance encounters.

• Don’t be put off by stares.

5 films that celebrate the solitary traveller

Queen: The smartest thing Delhi girl Rani (Kangana Ranaut) ever did was to go on her honeymoon alone when the groom-to-be backed out of the wedding. Getting lost in the streets and making friends with strangers, Rani finds herself and gets a life.

One Week: A man hits the road on his bike after he hears he has cancer — but the one week he spends riding the motorcycle he had bought on a whim turns out to be a life-changing journey. From surfing the high waves to sleeping under the stars, Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson) lives his entire life in that one week.

Before Sunrise: Travelling solo, Jesse Wallace (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train in Budapest. The two strike up a conversation and before long the sparks start flying. The romantic benefits of travelling alone!

Under The Tuscan Sun: Much like Eat Pray Love, this film is about a recently-divorced San Francisco writer Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) who takes off one day to start life anew. Travelling through Italy, Frances falls in love with a villa in Tuscany and ends up settling there. She helps a young couple get married, before finding love herself again.

Into The Wild: Directed by Sean Penn, this is about a young man who one day gives up a life of security and stability — cutting up his credit cards and donating his earnings to charity — to drive into the wilderness in his beaten down four-wheeler. A wish-fulfilment film on many levels — taking the road less travelled and living life on one’s own terms.

books to pack in your backpack

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: Young shepherd Santiago’s journey across the Sahara forms the heart of this allegorical novel about following your dreams. The journey here is not just the physical act of going places but also the journey within.

From Heaven Lake by Vikram Seth: The “Suitable Boy” started his literary career with an account of his hitchhiking trip from Nanjing in China to New Delhi via Tibet. On the way he met nomadic Muslims, Buddhist monks and Chinese visa officials wrapped in red tape. Beautifully written, it’s a classic.

Travel books by Bill Bryson: Bryson usually travels alone, slipping, sliding and bungling his way across half the world. Not just a funny bone, Bryson has a keen eye for description and a knack of ferreting out a local speciality and is dogged in his pursuit of a whim. All his travel titles are a delight but special mention must be made of his book on the UK, Notes from a Small Island, and on Australia, Down Under.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: In this candid memoir, writer Elizabeth Gilbert chronicles the yearlong road trip she took across Italy, India and Indonesia to survive a messy divorce. Footloose and willing to take what comes her way, Gilbert fumbles through a pleasure life and spirtuality before finding her soul and her soulmate.

Chander Pahar by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay: This is more an adventure tale than a travelogue, but the descriptions of Shankar’s discovery of unknown Africa makes us want to pack our bags and set out for those magic lands immediately. Read the Bengali original or the English translation by Pradeep Sinha. There’s also a graphic novel published by Penguin.