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A Journey of Her Own
April 08, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
A Journey of Her Own
By Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu
 
For some time off for herself, or to explore new places with likeminded female travellers, an increasing number of women are travelling alone. We take a look at the trend. From raising funds for monasteries in the Dzongu Valley of Sikkim to supporting old-age homes in Spiti valley and even sponsoring education for orphans, female travelers are likely to travel any distance.
 
Anant Mann, mother of two, and an architect by profession, loves travel of all kinds. But what she enjoys the most is travelling with other like-minded people, and lately, just by herself. “Solo travel gives me the space to explore things on my own, decide the pace, observe and absorb the world without being distracted by my travel companions. It is also a way of connecting with the self. You could call it soul searching. Also, I want to put myself out of my comfort zone. I feel I always come back richer after any travels,” she shares.

Commenting on the increasing trend of women travelling alone, she adds: “I think women travelling solo is a great idea. I see more and more of this happening in our country and its heart-warming, to say the least. In our particular socio-cultural scenario, women have not had the luxury of self expression or ‘me-time’, which is slowly but surely changing, and I’ll say cheers to that! So go forth, women, break the boundaries and explore the world!”
 
The sense of elation is more and more visible as an increasing number of women are echoing her sentiment. However, this was not always the state of affairs. There were only a handful of Indian women who ventured out by themselves, within India or overseas, until five years ago. The scenario is completely different today. A change in attitudes has made the notion less intimidating for those wanting to travel alone, or in women-only groups; fashioning and encouraging a surge in women-friendly spaces. Backpacking, too, a culture given to low-cost independent travel, is slowly emerging in India, with Indian women enthusiastically jumping onto the bandwagon.
 
“As a solo traveller, it’s exciting to meet others who share the love of exploring one’s own country, regardless of any gender bias,” says Supriya Sehgal. One of the duo that leads ‘Photography On the Move’ – a travelphotography initiative of Bangalore-based ‘Get Off Ur Ass’ – she is inundated with queries and requests. “These are the people who feel safer travelling in a group (even if they’re strangers). Meeting new co-participants, sharing experiences, a desire to spend on oneself as well as on a hobby, add to that the fact that all the arrangements are taken care of; then there’s this off -beat factor, and that they are safer exploring with others – these are some of the reasons why a large percentage of women sign up for these trips,” she adds.
 
While a section of the growing travel sorority believes there is safety in numbers and lives its dream by venturing out with similarly inclined travel companions, solo travel works best for those who are unconcerned and non-fussy about where they stay and what they eat. Having said that, this laissez-faire approach takes much trial-and-error before a confident comfort level is achieved. “Travelling alone is as safe as eating a meal by yourself and trusting the restaurant not to poison you! All I can say is, never let fear stop you from doing what you want. It’s good to be afraid – but even better to find ways to overcome it,” quips travel enthusiast Anjaly Thomas, also the first Indian woman to have walked the 96-kilometre long Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea; and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro by herself.
 
She echoes the sentiments of all champions of solo travel when she declares that she travels alone as she wants the absolute freedom to linger without having to put up with anyone’s idiosyncrasies. Above all, she loves her own company and that of absolute strangers, far too much to ruin it by carrying unnecessary baggage in the form of a familiar face. She loves the anonymity of a strange land, the bonding that develops at the back of a rattling truck when the last bus has gone, of sleeping in strangers’ beds when the only other option is to freeze in the cold, or sharing cold baguettes and bitter coffee in order to stretch the tourist dollar a bit further. What better than travelling solo to come back with a load of delightful stories?
 
Tour operators across India are quite elated at this rapidly increasing business opportunity, and are eagerly tailoring itineraries for all-women groups. The hospitality sector on the other hand, is wooing the segment with women-only sections or floors, ensuring personal safety and convenient timings.
 
Ankit Sood, of Sunshine Himalayan Adventures, an Ecotour Operator in the Himalayas, shares an interesting insight. He tells us that the new-age woman traveller is not a mere passive tourist, ticking off the boxes on her itinerary, instead she has picked up the gauntlet by trekking in remote Himalayan valleys, mountain biking or taking jeep safaris into the back of beyond. He adds that a higher percentage of women, as compared to their male counterparts, travel far to make a difference. From fundraising for monasteries in the remote Dzongu Valley of Sikkim to supporting old-age homes in Spiti valley in Himachal and even sponsoring education for orphans, female travellers are likely to travel any distance.
 
There is abundant evidence that this trend is fast becoming a way of life, and gaining popularity, though first-time adventurers will still face countless myths about travelling alone. You may want to, however, rethink them as most of them have been debunked many times over. For instance, how can the rest of the world be a terrifying place when we are the “rest of the world” elsewhere? Are we not as likely to be targeted on home ground? Don’t we meet unsavoury types at home? Do we make a habit of walking around late in the night or in suspicious quarters, alone or as a group while in a familiar environ? Evidently not. So, while you must take precautions and trust your instincts, there’s no reason why you should shy away from solo travel because of imagined and perceived dangers.
 
Mark Twain put it very concisely when he famously remarked, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
 
SOLO SURPRISES
Photography OnTheMove Supriya Sehgal
supriya@getoffurass. com +91-980655944
Unearth Equinox Vineetha Chinappa
equinoxunearth@ gmail.com +91-9880453380
Sunshine Himalayan Adventures Ankit Sood
sunhimalaya@gmail. com +91-9418102083
Women On Wanderlust Sumitra Senapathy
me@wowsumitra. com +91-9891655054
SKH Global Travels
manish@skhglobal. com +91-9810135973
 
DOs & DONTs FOR THE ROAD
Pack light. (Yes, it has been done!)
Choose comfortable, not fashionable footwear.
Wear a day pack designed with security features instead of carrying a purse.
First nights should be planned well. Arrive at a destination early evening to enable change of accommodation if found unsuitable.
Run at the slightest suggestion of danger (one of the reasons we pack light).
Stick to the When- in-Rome canon. Avoid inviting attention; avoid wearing inappropriate apparel.
Never flash money, jewellery or expensive gadgets.
Never have unprotected sex with strangers.
Ensure at least one person knows where you are going or will be at all times. Usually, fellow backpackers can be trusted to watch your back.
Stay in public places as much as you can – avoid suspicious areas after dark.
Ensure your food and water is reliable; you don’t want to be sick in a strange place.
Pack essential medicines.

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