The need for me-time is leading many mothers and married women to hike the road less travelled

Backpack, check. GPS, check.  Tickets, check.  Set for adventure, double check.

  • Published 13.07.18
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Madhumita Bhattacharya

Backpack, check. GPS, check. 
Tickets, check. 
Set for adventure, double check.

It’s that time of the year to connect with their soul. Putting on walking shoes, they set out to explore new terrains, meet new people and sample different cuisine. Travelling solo is not just for the single, footloose and fancy free. It’s also for the all-strings-attached.

Parama Ghosh

More and more women in their 30s and 40s are making time for at least one solo holiday a year, which offers them a breather from work and mommy duties. From going on treks and road trips to exploring new countries, these women are ticking off places from their bucket lists single-handedly, in between meeting project deadlines, helping kids with homework and organising family dinners. To them, solo trips are all about walking, indulging and educating the self through unique experiences.

Some have been backpackers since college days and are keeping the tradition alive; others have begun late but want to snatch some me-time that even vacations with the girlfriends were not offering.

Ruchira Das

Parama Ghosh, a lawyer turned fashion designer, travels a lot with her friends and husband of 12 years. Yet solo travelling is special. “It helps me discover unknown facets about myself as well as about a city and its architecture. For instance, I had visited Benaras in the past with my husband but I got to explore the city my way when I went back alone,” says Parama, who loved spending hours at Manikarnika Ghat. “Not everybody would like to do that when you have so many other things to see.” 

Travelling solo is also about trying new cuisines. “There are times when I end up having too much food on my table. Last year in Pondicherry, I shared my breakfast with an elderly couple at a nearby table. At another time I had asked the waiter to join me. It was a new experience sharing food with complete strangers,” says the Behala resident who lives with her husband and in-laws.

Tanusri Basak, a 40-year-old documentary filmmaker, needs to take a break once in a while from running a house, and looking after a six-year-old son and a dependent mother. “Every now and then I need to take off, handing over the reins to my husband,” she says. She has had more than 10 solo trips till now. 

“I prefer doing everything on my own — from the research to booking tickets and accommodation. The trip is like my baby where I get to call the shots at every step,” says the Garia resident. Walking, exploring, visiting non-touristy places and sampling local food, she likes to do it all in her own pace. “It’s the solo trips that make you grow. I need at least one such holiday a year.” 

Sangeeta Chatterjee Maitra

Finance professional Sangeeta Chatterjee Maitra, 42, discovered the joys of travelling alone when a family holiday got curtailed. “My husband and I had planned an extensive Europe tour last year but he got leave for only 10 days. I was not prepared to return halfway, so I did Munich and Prague on my own,” says the mother of a 10-year-old. The experience left her liberated. “I cycled after ages. I ate what I liked and felt like a carefree bird. Vacations with family can also get stressful,” adds Sangeeta, who followed it up with a trip to Darjeeling in March. “My friends were not free, so I decided to take off alone again. At times I just stayed indoors to read, rejuvenate and eat my favourite food. I sought pleasure in solitude.” 

The way to freedom is to worry less about home while travelling, say solo backpackers, though that is mastered with practice. Arts manager and entrepreneur Ruchira Das, for one, struggles with that. “I have a helpful partner who makes up for my absence at home. But I still fret at times,” says the 42-year-old who has been to Italy, Germany and Kerala on her own. “After returning I share my experiences in detail so that my family does not feel left out.” 

So does Madhumita Bhattacharya, a 45-year-old college teacher. “My daughter, who is in Class XI, would feel insecure initially when I left without her for a vacation. Mothers travel for work all the time but few travel alone for fun. But my solo trips have helped her become more self-sufficient. My daughter now respects my need for space and can’t wait for her first backpacking adventure,” she says. 

Tanusri Basak

A book is a must-carry for most solo women on the road. And so are medicines and ID proofs. Another mantra, travel light. “Since you are alone you don’t want to slow yourself down with too much luggage,” says Madhumita, who treks on her own and has travelled to Scotland alone. “I used to be careless about my stuff. But after losing my train ticket in Scotland, I have learnt to be more careful with my papers. I am also more tech-savvy now after all the research and online bookings and can read road maps better,” she laughs.

Random acts of kindness have come by most solo backpackers’ way. Like in the case of Tanusri, who found herself stranded in Pahalgam because of a curfew, on her way down from a trek to Amarnath, and had to be moved to a CRPF camp along with other tourists. 

The stay at the camp turned out to be a whole new learning experience. “There was just a single phone booth that all of us could use to call our families. In those troubled times I found comfort in fellow travellers. Even the CRPF staff and those manning the kitchen kept bolstering our spirit. It was an unforgettable experience,” says Tanusri. “I have never faced any problem on Indian roads. In fact I have often been helped. But you have to trust your instincts. Do your research and travel safe.” 

A whole new perspective — that’s what is pulling this growing tribe of solo women travellers. As Ruchira sums it up: “In the end you are not actually alone. You are just not with the people you know and that helps broaden your mind.” 

MUST-HAVE IN THE BAG

Book
Headphones
Medicines
Match box
ID proof
Charger
Light clothes
Band-Aid
Old newspaper

Chandreyee Ghose

Giving in to her wanderlust, a solo traveller has the adventure of a lifetime

Ma put you in a bundle and parked you in the cabin luggage, you know?” This was my brother’s favourite line to make me feel embarrassed and perturbed during our growing-up years. I was hardly a year old when the family made its first air-travel to Puri, the mecca for the sea and fish-loving Bengalis. More than 30 years, jobs in three MNCs and a marriage later, the same girl was on her way to a lesser known hamlet in Sikkim. All by herself. That was my first solo journey to the lap of Himalayas. In between these two firsts, I had travelled to countries and cities I always dreamt of. I had stayed and worked in five countries and numerous cities, exhausting my bank balance more often than it reached five figures.
Travel, indeed, has been my constant muse, the one that I have never left behind. That journey to Sikkim during the season of love and festival of colours was more out of restlessness and a dire need to disconnect from the known world. I had to be with myself and I had to be closer to the mountains. And unlike the over-glorified solo journeys of today, back in 2016 it raised questions. Questions from family and friends alike — “Is there a problem in your marriage? Why are you travelling alone, is everything okay?” I chose to ignore or answer selectively, knowing well that little will people understand what it is that makes one go ahead alone in the wilderness even if none else wants to accompany. 

A first of many things

Those five days were an eye-opener in more ways than one. It showed a part of me hitherto unfamiliar to me. From bundling into an overpopulated Jeep on the swirling mountain roads to staying in a spartan local household, from loving each frugal meal offered by the woman of the family to walking hours in the hills and discovering viewpoints which were yet to be named — this journey was a first of many things. 

I came back with a lot more than what I had known about travelling, or myself. I realised how the world opens its arms wide when one travels alone and how you are never actually alone on a solo journey!

I came back with a promise to myself — I would live this life whatever it may take. Six months later, I resigned from my corporate job, bought a backpack, got a one-way ticket and left for my solo journey across the trans-Himalaya. I did not know when I would come back — may be a month, two or more! My husband later said, “I never imagined you would actually continue through all the harshness of the road for so long!”

Yes, there was acute harshness and difficulty at every level. To live on a shoestring budget and live out of a 10kg backpack for months was not easy. On the road, I realised that no amount of prior research is enough. I was travelling through some of the most remote parts of India and the only thing I could rely on was myself. 

Paving the path

The most difficult part was to convince my family of my decision to embark on a solo journey. My husband, being a strong believer in individual choices, never failed to understand my passions and reasons. In spite of that, it was difficult to convince the closest ones. But little did I know that a bigger challenge was awaiting from the people I would meet during the journey. To respond honestly and convincingly about my project was the biggest difficulty I faced. I chose not to ignore. Through my journey, unknowingly, I was paving the way for other women who have similar aspirations. So I chose to respond, patiently and without intimidating anyone from their comfort zone. Each such encounter made my conviction firmer and a little clearer to myself. 

So, after close to a year of travelling across several Indian states including the Northeast and a 15-day Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal, my family welcomed me back. The kind of warmth and happiness I saw in their eyes, especially in my Ma and mother-in-law, was another first for me. The best part of this experience was that it did not only change me as a person, it also helped my family accept certain things which may not be regular for an Indian (married) woman to do, but definitely something to be proud of. 

Debjani Paul
(A 35-year-old who loves backpacking and capturing trivial moments of life through her lens and words)

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