Yes, we have all seen 'Eat Pray Love' and 'Queen'.
Yes, simply uttering these two words ‘SOLO TRAVEL’ fill us up with euphoric, exotic thrill.
It was something I always knew subconsciously, that I would someday do. And I would continue to do. I just didn’t know where and when to begin. But last month when my best friend took the plunge and came out victorious (she went to Bali for 12 days and came back in one piece), I decided it was time.
For my first solo trip ever, I chose probably the safest place on this planet – Bhutan.
Even though I booked my tickets on a complete whim, it didn’t take long for the excitement to get replaced by fear. I immediately realized that this was going to be a totally different experience from the one I’m living now, which was a nerve-racking thought to say the least!
Plus, I didn’t personally know a single soul in the country I was traveling to and that naturally made me feel a little lost, vulnerable and child-like scared.
But with solid push from friends, and some self- introspection, I decided park my fears aside and blindly take the plunge. I also kind of didn’t have an option - my tickets were already booked.
And needless to say, just like my best friend, I too returned back in one piece. But that wasn’t all. I returned from my first-ever solo travel trip – which also happened to be the most memorable trip I’ve taken to date.
So, through my solitude and my experience as a lone traveler, I wanted to share some of my bittersweet observations/insights on mindsets of travelers (especially Indian travelers, as Bhutan is majorly filled with Indian tourists) and their expectations from their travels. More like, let me burst some travel bubbles that Indians live in, when they set foot outside the comfort of their homes.
MYTH #1: Travel/Traveling IS NOT a free flowing stream of ‘fun’
Yes, by and large, it should be. Because you are on vacation, you are taking a break from your mundane routine lives and you are obviously spending your hard-earned money and time on doing something that will provide you a different kind of experience – positive experience. And it most cases, it does.
But that doesn’t mean every second of your journey or travel experience will be pleasant. And that is actually a boon in disguise. That’s what converts your planned & predictable holiday into a wild and exotic adventure.
So if something happens to you which was not mentioned in your itinerary, there is absolutely no reason to feel so miserable about. It’s another feather that needs to go on your traveling cap.
Tell me, within the comforts of our home and daily lives, where we are so familiar with everything around us and equipped with the know-how of our surroundings, ever so often, our minds are flustered and troubled and consumed with multiple issues.
Then, how do you expect, that in a completely new terrain, with unknown people, diverse cultures and unfamiliar traditions, you expect everything to go your way? Just because you spent a lot of time doing your research and making prior arrangements via virtual mediums - in real, physical space, nothing comes with 100 percent warrantee. And that is really the best part.
· I got caught in immigration upon my return because I didn’t have the necessary permit. That wasn’t fun. But now that’s a permanent and significant memory, etched for life in my brains.
· An old monk- looking man ( who was actually my hotel staff) walked into my hotel room with a master key in the middle of the night, while I was inside, getting ready to go to bed ( this was due to a co-ordination failure and more of an accident for which the hotel more than compensated) and that was scary. Not fun. Again, another permanent memory which also earned me free dinners in that hotel for the rest of my stay.
· The hike to Taktsang Monastery in Paro was grueling, almost life-ending. No amount of warnings or sound advices can prepare you for what you’d endure because each person differs from another in terms of stamina and capabilities. And I realized my threshold to endure such things was beyond negative. The loser part of me kept telling me to turn back, because I was on a holiday and this experience was turning out to be hard work and negative and painful- why should I endure all that when all I am supposed to feel is good, relaxed and positive? But there was this other part, who wanted to push further and see the finishing line. And now, having done it, it went on to become one of the most inspiring and defining moments of my life.
FACT #2: Travel can’t be LIFE TRANSFORMATIVE
Next time you come across someone who’s about to embark on a travel journey – ask that person what their expectations are from that travel and be prepared to get amused.
99% of them will say- “I expect to be a changed person.
My travel needs to help me achieve some deeper understanding of life, I need to overnight transform into a more matured, insightful, well balanced and sane individual, not to forget – also simultaneously become calmer, happier, saner”. How???
Holidays make you come back feeling refreshed. I give you that. And that too happens for a logical reason. You get out of your mundane routine and distract your mind from your regular issues. You forget your day to day problems and focus on whatever experiences your holiday brings in ( good or bad). So when your travel comes to an end, and you are back to your routine, it all seems fresh simply because your mind was elsewhere the last few days. It only takes minutes, hours and at best days, for that feeling to go out of the window and the monotony of daily life to step in.
So NO! Holidays don’t transform you as a human being. They give you a break from monotony and that too is short-lived. Nothing more. Nothing less.
FACT #3: GROUP TRAVEL IS FUN TRAVEL – JUST FOR THE GROUP
This is something I have always wondered about. Especially because I come from a tiny nuclear family and we never really practiced the culture of traveling in big groups.
Why is it that people who travel in a group- become so unempathetic towards others around?
Just because you are traveling in a group, doesn’t mean the world ceases to exist beyond your circle, right?
Group travelling seems all fun and jolly when you’re in a group but not so much so when you’re on the receiving end.
You had planned your perfect getaway holiday; planned everything meticulously from start to end to be perfect but in the end; you end up with a group of travelers just waiting patiently for their next prey. The unsuspicious prey falls into their trap and suddenly they find themselves suffocated and escapeless. Trust me, I know from experience.
Talking loudly amongst them is just the start of the problem. They become obnoxious and become oblivious of their fellow travelers and have a sense that they own the place. They not only disrupt your travel experience but the worst part is that the memory and pain you went through lingers on for the rest of your travel.
· As the night fell in our quaint little riverside resort at Paro valley, and the weary guests made way to their respective rooms, the predator group stayed wide awake in the lawn, enjoying their vegetarian barbeque, for they must engage in multiple rounds of antaakshari. Their melody wasn’t melodious at all – to the tired guests, they were just harsh echoes which kept the whole valley awake. And when that died down, the babies woke up – whaling and crying till daylight.
· Every time fresh parathas arrived in my breakfast buffet, cute little Chintu ran to pick up his parathas first. But alas! Chintu wasn’t just picking up parathas for himself. There was dadu, dadi ( old people- so sweet gesture), dad and mom ( always put parents first), Pammy aunty, Sunny uncle, Pinki didi, Sonu bhaiya, etc etc etc. The list simply went on. I gave up my hopes of eating fresh parathas or any parathas and instead settled for plain coffee.
FACT #4: Indians love STICKING TO Indians, outside borders.
Pledge of our country, India, says “We are all brothers and sisters”.
Sometimes, Indians are way too patriotic. They are communal within the country but polar opposites outside. Even if they step out only for a short while.
In my four days in Bhutan, I met Indian families from all across the country, everywhere I went. Right from the flight to immigration, hotel to restaurants, hikes to shopping - everywhere. And everyone felt an easy sense of sisterhood or camaraderie just because they met a fellow Indian.
Friendships were formed over seconds, if not live, definitely on FB. Secrets were divulged over a single glass of wine. Shopping plans were made for the following day and numbers were exchanged to share pics on watsapp. After my 4 days solo stint in Bhutan, I have 3 new friends from Gujarat, 1 from Kerala and 3 more from Bengal. Sadly, not a single Bhutanese friend ☹ except my guide.
FACT # 5: MY TRAVEL BETTER THAN YOUR’S!
Doing things differently is what makes every travel experience unique. Checklists of places to visit, food to eat, things to buy etc. are made by almost everyone while travelling. But this process of comparing check lists and trying to prove how yours is better than the rest- I find it simply incorrigible.
You may have the perfect holiday planned out every single step of the way, but one thing you cannot argue on is that your travel checklist is not the perfect one as everyone experiences their travel differently, even while doing the same thing.
What you did in your travel might not be done by others but that doesn’t necessarily mean than their travel was any less enjoyable than yours. No checklist is better than the others- every list is unique from the rest and that’s what makes travelling a different experience for everyone. So instead of squabbling over checklist and exchanging notes, next time do yourself a favor and enjoy your stay the way you like it.
FACT # 6: IT’S ALL IN THE GENES
Everything comes in a full circle. In childhood days while going for excursion, holidays, etc. mainly our beloved Dad takes initiative and goes through a process of knowing the places thoroughly where we will be visiting, taking various precautions, summarizing the entire holiday span with activities, not planning a hectic tour, etc.
It is the general habit of a child to inherit various qualities from their parents. Now as one grows up, he or she might be exercising those special qualities that their parents had implemented while going for a travel. Sub-consciously we start making those arrangements and take necessary steps that we have inherited from them.