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Traveling alone as a woman can be a lot of fun, if you know what to expect, and how to go about it. Here are some universal tips for traveling alone!
I often hear today’s generation and a few from the corporate world say, “Follow your passion and you will be successful”.
I do not agree or disagree with this statement. But I do get thinking and ask myself: If I were to make my passion my job, which company would I be part of? The answer is either a travel company such as Make My Trip or, a food review company such as Zomato. I am an avid follower and a loyal user of their websites. It thus speaks of my two passions in life – travel and food. And both of these are not mutually exclusive. The interest in one goes hand in hand with the other one.
Travel is incomplete without tasting the food of the place, which is an intricate part of the culture of the place. I have always wanted to write about this passion of mine, but it was the pursuit of this passion, that delayed it. Sometime back, a BBC journalist had visited our office to document the role women were playing in the company. In a conversation with her, I mentioned my love for my job, as it takes me places. I love traveling and at that time I was literally living out of suit cases.
All of my jobs, or at least the ones I worked for the longest, gave me that opportunity. My banking job took me to the nooks and corners of India – Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mumbai. My IT job took me around the world, or rather to the West – my job throws me in Uncle Sam’s direction.
The roots of my love for travel go back to my childhood. I remember, as kids we would tag along with my father during our vacations, when he would tour his territories in Punjab, UP and Rajasthan. While my father would work in his office, my mother would take us around the city. I guess my mother’s love for travel also came from her childhood. She was an Army kid, and has traveled throughout India. with my grandfather’s transfers from one place to another. Even after my father’s death, whenever a long weekend would come, we would pack our bags, pick my mother from her school where she was the Principal and drive down to a nearby city such as Kurukshetra or Chandigarh for a weekend getaway.
When I am not traveling for work, I make it a point to go for vacations with my family, at least once a year. But frankly, I enjoy my travels alone the most. This is because, as a traveler, I have some unique choices. I am a sort of hippie who experiments with everything – food, music, places. I love to see most of the places, walking. Such adventurous trips aren’t possible with the family, which requires a more laid back and definite plan.
My travels have taught me that there is an Asian style of traveling – which includes Indian and Chinese style. and there is a Western style, which is what defines me. Asian style is like a marathon race, to cover as many spots as possible, ticking off places in a list. One clicks pictures and then moves to the next spot. The Western style is more relaxed and experimental. In the American operated tours that I have taken, most of the westerners traveling were old people. It’s like an attitude, that they have that, “I am done with all responsibilities and now, I am going to travel the world.” Another interesting thing about western travelers is that they like to go off the beaten path.
Where Indians would go to the crowded Kovalam beach in Kerala, a westerner would go to Varkala. I have traveled to Varkala and the beach is one of the most beautiful ones I have seen. Similarly, I found a great restaurant in Kovalam, in the back lanes, following recommendations on Trip Advisor. The place was a hidden gem, frequented by many foreign tourists. Western travelers always write about their experiences, which comes in handy to other tourists.
My travels alone have also inspired another friend of mine, who was on a project in London. She ventured on a Europe tour alone and she loved it. After years of traveling alone, both in India and abroad, I have devised a strategy on how to have a wonderful vacation. I have put in some painstaking research and have made a word document on the places I have visited, listing down all the things to be done during the trip.
Remember the movie – Yeh Jawani hai Diwani and Ranbir Kapoor’s scrap book on places to see? We all have our scrap books and places we want to see. Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls were always on top of my list to see in US, and Leh and Ladakh in India.
I had heard stories about Leh and Ladakh from my father, about his days in the Army when he was posted there, and how it’s all frozen at all times. His anecdote came to my mind when I went to Khardungla Pass, on the highest motorable road in the world. In the make shift toilets there, we had to force open the door as it was jammed with snow, and then inside the loo, it was all frozen.
But the bigger question is how do you pick the place you should go to? For me it’s quite simple. Every place has its own unique character and so do you. And where these two characters match, that’s your destination.
But the bigger question is how do you pick the place you should go to? For me it’s quite simple. Every place has its own unique character and so do you. And where these two characters match, that’s your destination. For example, I am more of a Nature’s person and love history. Thus, I pick a Grand Canyon over a Las Vegas, though I have gone to both. There is Alaska too. I always wanted to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. When I was in Seattle, I took a three hour flight to Alaska. Last weekend, I got a chance to travel to New Orleans which has been on my must see list for a while, after I saw it in my favorite Vampire series – The Originals.
Timing your trip is important. You would not want to go to Rajasthan during summers. I realized this when I went to Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh during monsoons. The major attraction there is the Dhuadhar waterfalls and Bhera Ghat. But due to the rains, there were no waterfalls, as the river had risen to the level of the falls. Similarly, my Alaska trip was a winter trip, and all I could see was snow. However, the Northern lights is not there in summers. So know the attraction in the city you are going to and, which is the best time to go there. This information is available on Google.
This is entirely dependent on the number of days of leave you could take and your budget. When it is a family vacation, I generally prefer a longer break. But when I travel alone, my typical travel plan involves taking a flight on a Friday evening after office, travel over weekend and catch an early Monday morning or late Sunday night flight back home.
This again depends on the place to see. Is it accessible by train or flight or by road? What is the time you have and what is your budget? A train journey cannot really be an option if you are short on time.
This is one thing which you must research well. There are a lot of travel sites which give you a list of must see places in the city you are going to. Trip Advisor is one such very useful website. There are many more websites, some being place specific by the tourist department. When you search for places to see, there will be some which would be as per your taste and some which are not. For example, I like seeing museums, but I know most people don’t. There may be other things to do, such as taking a street car in New Orleans or San Francisco or, riding a metro in Delhi, or camel cart ride in Jaisalmer, boat ride in backwaters of Kerala, which you may want to include.
There are 2 ways in which you could visit various places –
Book a tour. This is a good option, when you are traveling alone. I generally like to book a tour. It is very easy; you don’t need to work on an itinerary and are shown around by people who really know the place, which you might not be able to pick up on your own. Plus, you get to meet new people. I met an Australian meteorologist on my trip to Alaska, who had seen Northern lights everywhere – in Norway and Canada. I learnt so much about global warming from him. I have met people on my trips in India too, who are now my Facebook friends.
Plan your own itinerary. This can be really simple in places where there is good public transportation, and is a smaller place. When I planned my trip to New Orleans – I actually located all the places I wanted to see and eat at, by myself on Google Maps. I saw that all places were located nearby each other and I could simply walk around. Google maps helps too as you just need to put in the address and it will take you to your destination, even telling you how to go. So, when a cab driver in Alaska told me that she could take me to Santa’s House at the North Pole and back in 60$, thanks to Google maps, I took a bus to and fro for just 3$.
My second passion, after travel, is food. I am a big time foodie and I believe you have not experienced a place if you don’t experience its food. When I google places to visit in my travel destination, I also search for things to eat and where to eat it. Apps like Zomato and Yelp are also helpful these days.
I believe you have not experienced a place if you don’t experience its food.
Just imagine a trip to Lucknow without tasting the original Tunde Kabab, Royal Café’s Basket Chat or, Prakash’s Kulfi at Ameenabad. Imagine a trip to Goa, without tasting the Feni or the Chicken Xacuti or, a trip to Hyderabad without tasting biryani at Paradise and a trip to Amritsar without having Kulche chole. Food is such an integral part of a place’s culture that your trip can never be complete without tickling your taste buds with local delicacies.
This is one of the least researched part in my travel plans generally, as I hate shopping. I will never go out to shop until I am left with no choice. I find shopping a big waste of time. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad idea to shop for things which belong to a particular place. Spices from Kerala, sweets from Rajasthan, Phulkari embroidery from Punjab, dresses from Gujarat and block printed clothes from Rajasthan are a must. But at the same time take care that you don’t end up paying more, in terms of excess baggage for airlines. Also, if you want to shop, plan your time accordingly, as it could be a time-consuming and exhausting activity.
How much luggage one should carry depends on many things. Do you have to pay for excess luggage? Are you traveling with kid or alone?
In India people ask me if I am married and I say no. In US, I am asked if I have kids. As a reflex action, I reply back that am not married yet. The person asking me would repeat it by asking again,”But do you have kids?” And that is when I realized that in different places my answer needs to be different too. In US you really don’t need to be married to have kids.
While I make this point about kids, I realize that in India it may seem like a contradictory statement – for a single woman to travel with a kid. But I realized after coming to US that it is not as strange. In India people ask me if I am married and I say no. In US, I am asked if I have kids. As a reflex action, I reply back that am not married yet. The person asking me would repeat it by asking again,“But do you have kids?” And that is when I realized that in different places my answer needs to be different too. In US you really don’t need to be married to have kids.
I always carry cabin baggage only, without any check in baggage. This saves time at the time of baggage claim. And despite traveling light, I always carry at least one dress more than I need.
It’s a good idea to plan for any known medical conditions. I suffer from migraine so not just medicines, but I also need to take care I get enough sleep and eat every 2-3 hours. I always catch up on my sleep in flights or train.
…the camera cannot capture all moments of your journey. It is the heart which captures all the memories. The experience is far more important than the pictures.
I think one casualty of traveling alone is having many of your photographs of the trip without you in it. But then there are a lot of people who are ready to oblige by taking your pics for you.
What I realized after clicking the Northern Lights in Alaska, is that the camera cannot capture all moments of your journey. It is the heart which captures all the memories. The experience is far more important than the pictures. So, just go out, enjoy the moments and live the journey.
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