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Though not seen so commonly in India, women traveling alone is slowly catching up as a trend. Here is what a few frequent solo travellers have to say.
“Some journeys in life can only be traveled alone.” — Ken Poirot. Honestly speaking, to travel alone is a risk that anyone takes. But if you do take it, it will definitely change your life.
If you take a look at the travellers nowadays, they tend to travel solo. Why? That’s because there is a sort of thrill in doing so. You become independent. They say that if you travel alone you get to know yourself better. It is true because I, personally, have gone through that phase. You have the opportunity to meet strangers, mingle with them and get to know their stories. Everyone has stories to tell.
But, you should also know that women traveling alone is not as great as it sounds. It involves being able to adjust to various scenarios, making the right and wrong choices and keeping an open mind. This is the sort of transformation that you get to see within yourself when you travel solo.
Women traveling alone is seen as somewhat equivalent to a mother asking a child not to talk to strangers but it is OK to marry them – in an arranged marriage! Of course, this only exists in India. Similarly, women traveling alone are usually looked down upon in India because of various reasons.
Firstly, it comes down to safety. I totally understand that part but that should never stop anyone from trying to do what they want. That’s life.
Secondly, the whole ‘cultured women’ aspect wherein good women are considered to be timid and helping out at home and so on, which prevents women from any form of mobility. This is utter balderdash. Culturally, women have always been restrained from doing various activities, though that sort of thinking is changing.
Thirdly, parents usually discourage women from traveling, again, because of the first two reasons.
Women traveling alone break the ‘cultured women’ norm and set out for a great journey ahead of them. What is it about these women that sets them apart from others? How do they do it? And why do they love traveling?
Here are some stories of my friends who have reflected upon their experiences of their travel. Hope you readers, out there, get inspired by these women and start your journey.
“I began traveling (solo and with friends) during my undergrad days. It started as a fun thing to do with friends in the first year. The concept of travel slowly changed for me. I started loving the idea of escaping to new places on every possible long weekend. It’s addictive. All week long I would be planning another escape for the weekend. It was no longer about hanging out with friends, it was about me. Solo trips was a turning point. I started enjoying my own company too much,” confessed Hitha Maureen, an MSW student.
When asked about her parents’ opinion about her traveling to many places, she said that they have no clue about any of this. “They will probably kill (or rather disown) me. They will never understand why I need to travel for myself.”
“I used to go trekking as a child and in high school would go out for weekend trips with friends. It was a luxury back then, being given this privilege. So I have grown up feeling like I deserve the break and I often make sure I’ve done something worthwhile before I take a trip,” said Shraddha from MWS. Shraddha’s parents saw it as fruitful to travel and she, itself, got a “sense of independence and liberated to visit new places.”
There was one important thing that Shraddha pointed out that I feel most women traveling alone go through. “My relatives are judgemental when they hear of my travel and taunt me when we meet. I just shrug them off cause I know my parents are on my side. But, I often feel that things won’t change in my extended family. I can’t imagine my female cousins traveling with friends or alone a much as I do, they don’t even see that as a result of patriarchy or anything. Just strict parenting, they say.”
This sort of disapproval is because of many fears and it is quite common in many Indian households. I do understand both these points of view. It’s just that the conservative mindsets of our society has prevented our very own significant others from thinking beyond the social norms of our society. Some parents just discourage their children to do so. Therefore, they do not communicate much to them.
Shreya, a Masters student, said, “Traveling and trips started since I was 12 years old but, mostly, traveling to various Naval Camping trips. It was after my first trip that I developed an interest in adventure activities.” In contrast to Hitha, it was Shreya’s family who introduced her to the joy of traveling and meeting new people in every trip she had gone to.
Both Hitha and Shraddha are budget travellers. “I would save up from my monthly allowance. It’s actually possible. I sacrifice shopping and eating out at nice places all just to save up for the next trip. Only cheap state buses and trains (general), even sleeper is a luxury. I tend to stay a friend’s place or taking my own camping gear or find out really cheap online deals,” said Hitha. Similarly, Shraddha would also save up money from the work she does. Whereas, Shreya has always been lucky to get her trips funded by her parents – “Negotiations has never been an issue. My parents have always managed to send me whatever I need for wherever I wanted to go.”
When asked about their experiences so far including their fears and the measures they had taken to grapple with those issues, it is quite interesting to see what Shraddha had to say. She said, “I always have to look over my shoulder no matter where I am, especially while traveling alone. Once, when I had noticed that I was the only one in the bus, I started texting all my friends. Another thing that I find annoying and scary, in the long run, is how women’s toilets are always shut during the night. It’s a battle each time, in every new place, challenging the men there and trying to get it opened. Sometimes, I don’t even bother.” Shreya said, “You get to learn how to live (even if it is for days) without family and adjusting with new people. You get a sense of working in a team and each member of the team feels responsible for the other.”
Now, whether traveling alone is a good choice or not differs from person to person. But, from what I have seen and heard from my friends, it can lead to many changes within oneself. You feel good about yourself. Solo trips will definitely boost your confidence and become more thoughtful in nature.
The problems with women traveling alone in India is that they would be hit upon by unwanted elements of society, harassed. But, one should also know that this should not inculcate a fear that would prevent people from traveling. We have to learn to tackle these issues and move on with our journey. Travel and inspire others to do the same.
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Doing my Masters in Women Studies in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
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