If you never go, you’ll never know — t2 explores why women are loving solo travel!

‘Travelling alone gives me a sense of liberation’ — Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, the director of films like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Nil Battey Sannata

  • Published 13.07.18

‘Travelling alone gives me a sense of liberation’ — Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, the director of films like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Nil Battey Sannata

It all started in my teens

I have always been a traveller. Travelling (alone) gives me a kind of happiness and a sense of liberation — the feeling of being at home even when I am in the middle of strangers in an alien land — that perhaps very few things can. 

I discovered the joys of travelling solo when I was in my teens. I would go off on treks and I found that I really enjoyed being away, discovering the world on my own and making so many experiences just my own. 

I studied in an art college, so there was an opportunity to travel alone because we needed specimens in nature to paint. It was at that time that the solo travel bug well and truly bit me. Over the last few years, I have travelled solo all through the country, but not abroad. My first solo trip outside the country will be in a week’s time [Ashwiny took off for Glasgow right after the IIFA Awards in Bangkok]. 

Why I need to get away by myself

My husband (filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari) understands my need to travel alone, to get away sometimes. It’s not that I am getting away from my responsibilities or my family. It’s just that after a point of time, the grind of daily life, the help constantly asking what needs to be cooked, keeping an eye on what groceries need to be bought... it does take a toll on you. I go away, be with myself, meet new people, gather new experiences and come back a better person.

Like me, a lot of married women I know are taking off on solo travel jaunts, with many of them opting to do a course. I recently spent a week alone in Goa doing a yoga course. 

There are a lot of young women who are travelling solo and have made it their work. They make money by documenting their travels on Instagram and use that money to travel again. I find that so liberating. 

When I was younger, I would switch off my phone while travelling alone and go completely incommunicado. But now, with my kids (twins Amarisa and Aradhya) around, I make sure that even if I switch off my phone, they have a landline number where they can reach me at least once a day. The best thing is that they understand my need for space and rarely call me more than once a day when I out alone. 

My most memorable solo trip 

It was Pondicherry. I just took off on a whim and landed up there. I put up in a homestay owned by an old French couple and after a few days in Pondicherry, they asked me if I wanted to go on a road trip to Madurai and Malappuram. It was a spur of the moment thing and though I travel alone, I like making friends along the way because I feel that greatly enhances my travel experiences.

My solo travel do and don’t 

I am not really the backpacker kind of traveller, I don’t plan my holidays as such. But as a woman travelling alone, I always keep safety in mind and make it a point to stay in hotels, hostels or homestays that have favourable reviews on the Internet. 

I am a budget solo traveller, but if I need to spend a little extra for a clean bed and a clean bathroom, I will do that — no compromises on that front. Also, it’s important to become friendly with the hotel staff or the homestay owners where you are staying because in an alien place where you are travelling alone, there has to be at least someone you can reach out to if you get into trouble. Feel free to ask around, make friends, chill with strangers you find have a similar mental bandwidth... people are normally always good, even if we doubt them. But always be safe and don’t go anywhere alone at night. 

I have enjoyed travelling alone all through India and it’s always been safe. I would recommend the Northeastern part of the country as well. It’s safe for women and I have travelled alone through Arunachal Pradesh without a glitch. 

Documenting my travels

I document my travels on my Instagram handle ‘No Makeup Story’ that traces the ethnography of people in the places I visit. Discovering new food and cuisines is a big part of my travels. And though I am a vegetarian, I have never struggled to find food of my choice anywhere. 

Fellow traveller I like to bond with

There is a solo traveller called Shivya Nath. She has an award-winning travel blog called The Shooting Star and it’s really wonderful. I would recommend all those who travel alone to follow her blog. I am in touch with her and whenever I feel like going away somewhere, I touch base with her and if she’s travelling anywhere, I see if I can join her. She was in Kerala once and I joined her there. It was two solo women travellers having fun together. It was something that I like to do once in a while. 

On my bucket list

I want to travel solo through South America, particularly Argentina, and also Cuba. That’s part of my bucket list. I also try and go to a jungle every year... this year I went to Kaziranga. The best thing is that my eight-year-old daughter feels inspired by me and says she wants to travel solo some day. I love that! 

As told to Priyanka Roy

‘Travelling alone has helped me become the person I am today’ — actress Parno Mittra

Ten years ago when I got my first cheque, I wanted to do 10 billion things with it. With a pay cheque of 40k, I  believed I could buy the whole world! That same year, the movie Into the Wild happened to me, and though it was a very grim film, it made a huge impact on me. I wanted to see the world. I fancied myself with a backpack looking all cool and venturing into the unknown all on my own.

So I secretly started saving up, looking up destinations and planning a trip. Finally, by the time my first TV show got over, I had a plan in place — a trip to the United States of America! The brave me wasn’t too content with anything closer home. I wanted to travel to the other side of the globe, all by myself. 

As a child, I had travelled enough across the country with my parents, even lived in the exotic Arunachal Pradesh , but now I wanted to step outside, and in all honesty, it wasn’t just a mere step, it was a big leap — 10,000 miles away from home! 

There was still an obstacle — convincing my parents. At 21, nothing happens easily to you even if you think you are strong and independent and ready to face the world. Daddy dear thinks you are still the nappy-clad infant! So, when I broached the subject at home, my overprotective father instantly refused. It took me hours of crying, cajoling and coaxing before we finally made a deal — I could travel, but only with a friend, and not alone. I felt crushed that my grand plan of travelling solo had failed, and half-grudgingly I convinced an old friend to also travel with me. Well, I got lucky as at the very last minute, my friend’s visa didn’t come through! 

Seeing how upset I was, my father relented, and so with my bag and my books for company, I was finally off! This trip will always remain the best trip of my life, even though I have often travelled alone since then. Back then, I was young, naive and carefree, with a very limited idea of the world. I travelled to Chicago and LA, Vegas and Minnesota, taking in the sights and sounds of the cities I visited, meeting all sorts of people from all walks of life. 

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, mind you. Even in a “first world” country like the US, I often came across people who raised their eyebrows at the fact that an Indian girl could travel alone so far from home. Not to mention the stories from home I got to hear, with my mom frequently sharing neighbours’ and relatives’ comments on how I could be allowed to travel on my own! 

But I just did not care. I was here, this was my time, and I loved every minute of it. Travelling alone helped me grow immensely as a person, from gaining more confidence to being able to make decisions without relying on others. It has helped me become the person I am today. I could walk into a bar without a care in the world, strike up a conversation with random strangers, and also use my instincts to understand when I was being duped. 

I’m glad to see how women are venturing out on solo adventures these days, and I would highly recommend every girl to try it at least once in their lives, wherever it may be. It is very important sometimes to be away from everyone you know; it will help you de-stress and declutter your life from all the bullshit in it. I had once read somewhere that travelling alone is the single best gift you can give yourself... and is the best way to be lost and found at the same time.

Getting on the road: A first-timer’s takeaways and tips 

With my birthday knocking on the door, I decided to gift myself a solo trip, something I have always wanted to do. But there were questions to be answered. Will it be safe? Will I enjoy being alone? Without letting more doubts derail my resolution, I made a plan and took off. Five days later, I came back happier, wiser and more confident. If you are planning your first solo trip, here’s what you need to know. 

Making your parents agree: Convincing your folks at home can be hell of a task. But as long as you have a foolproof plan about where you are going and staying, they will come around. If you have a sibling, it’s always better to confide in them about the plan first and win their confidence, so when you break the news to your parents, you have their support. Always works!

Choosing the destination: It’s cool to want to explore exotic places alone, but it’s smarter to start with a destination that is safe, or one where your friends/acquaintances have been to, so you have enough first-person information that will come in very handy. I opted for Bali, a place I had been to years ago; I knew the terrain. But I didn’t want to go to the the same spots, so I opted for a region that was unfamiliar. Another reason why Bali topped my list? You don’t need a visa; an Indian passport would do!

Stay: It’s crucial that you opt for a renowned property situated in the heart of the city. First, for safety reasons. Second, if you are putting up in a nice location, you’ll save up on travelling to a restaurant or a pub. You can explore on your own; or, if you are tired you can quickly walk back to your burrow. 

Put a plan in place: Read up on the place you are travelling to, look up websites or travel forums, read reviews so you have a fair idea. Be practical; don’t try to do too many places in a day, else you’ll only be running from one spot to another. Remember, the idea is to slow down, spend time with yourself and enjoy it. 

Have a budget: It’s great if you are able to splurge, but even then keep a tab on the expenses. First rule of thumb is to split the cash you’re carrying and stash it in different places. Also, it’s good not to carry the entire amount when you are stepping out. Go for a Forex card that will save you the trouble of carrying too much cash on yourself. 
Go for fanny packs or sling bags as these are easy to use when you need to take out cash. If you’re carrying a backpack, try and keep the money in a pouch and clip it somewhere inside the bag with a safety pin. You can also wear the backpack in front in crowded places where you’re wary of pickpockets. 

Be alert: Travelling alone or in a group, one must always be alert of one’s surroundings. It’s always good to keep your folks posted about where you are going and when you are expected to be back. To do that, you’ll need a mobile network. You can go for roaming but getting a local sim card with Internet might be better, with calling options in so many apps. 
Note down your cab number or share the contact number of your cabbie with a family member or friend. When you are leaving the hotel, always carry a business card of the hotel and a map where you can point your location. 
For the first day out in a completely new place, it’s wise to rent a car from the hotel (even if it’s a bit pricey).

Communication: Google translator will be a life-saver at places where you’ll face the language barrier. Having said that, it’s an advantage to have a local with you (for me, the Indonesian driver was a great help. He could communicate in local language when Google translator failed). 
Also, knowing some keywords of the language of the country/place you’re heading to is always of great help to interact with the local people. 

Travel light: When you are going solo, smart packing is the key. Opt for basic shorts and tops that you can change, instead of lugging around several pairs of jeans. One pair of walking shoes/sneakers is a must; there is nothing like comfy shoes when you got to walk a lot. Carry a pair of heels in a neutral shade that will go with any dress for a night-out. 
Your backpack must have emergency medicines, a powerbank (it’s a saviour!), a note pad, money, make-up essentials like a compact powder, a lip tint that can work as a blush-on, mascara and kajal if you have a fetish for it. Roll-ons, instead of a whole perfume bottle, saves space too. 

Go local: The best way to explore a place is by trying the local cuisine and drink and chatting with natives. Also, if you are a photoholic like me, don’t shy away from asking a fellow tourist or a local to snap a picture for you. You don’t want to go back and not have enough photographs for memories, right?

Relax and enjoy: The most important thing on your to-do list is to sit back and relax. Enjoy your me-time.  Go on a phone detox, and more importantly, social network!

Pramita Ghosh

3 must-watch road movies on the solo traveller

Eat, Pray, Love (2010) 

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal story documented in her 2006 memoir of the same name was adapted on screen by Ryan Murphy, with Julia Roberts as Gilbert. Spanning three countries, the film tracks how Liz (Roberts) sheds off the emotional baggage of a broken marriage by eating her way through Italy, seeking the power of prayer in India and ultimately, finding love in Indonesia. Just the chance to see a woman rediscovering herself and finally living life on her own terms makes this one a pop pick.    

Queen (2013)

Road movies on a solo woman traveller is a genre rarely explored in Bollywood. Queen was a trendsetter, with a spunky Kangana Ranaut at the centre. The story of sheltered Delhi girl Rani (Kangana) who takes off on a solo “honeymoon” after being ditched by her fiance was delightfully told. The film inspired young women to take charge of their lives, while also tickling the funny bone. 

Wild (2014)

Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on her Pacific Crest Trail, this 2014 film directed by Jean-Marc Vallee had Reese Witherspoon in the role of Cheryl, a recent divorcee who, without any prior hiking experience, scripts a solo 1,100-mile journey of healing and self-discovery. Wild continues to be a favourite watch because it’s an evocative tale of loss and self-reliance, apart from its spellbinding visuals. Witherspoon earned an Oscar nomination for the role.