It was a cold morning. Dull and gloomy, just another typical north Indian winter morning. Like a usual weekend, the hostel was abuzz with activity, which was an unlikely phenomenon during the weekdays. Inside the hostel room surrounded with friends, enveloped in the cozy quilt, I felt something strange. The feeling of being lonely even with a bunch of people around me. It made me realise that I had to act upon it. Enough with procrastination. So, sipping my subsidized cappuccino, I packed some essentials in the college backpack, wore my favourite blue shoes and left the premises. I knew what hit me hard right into my face - Wanderlust! I’d finally embarked on a new journey- to travel solo.
As I stepped out of my comfort zone, I knew at once it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. “If little labour, little are our gains, man's fate is according to his pains,” poet Robert Herrick’s famous rendition on No pains, no gains reverberated in my mind and with that the inhibitions were put to rest (at least that is what I thought).
The immediate goal of the journey was to make it to the interstate bus terminal. As the old auto was pulled to life , I made a quick call to my family back home and told them about my plan. After taking care of all nitty-gritties, I was set to breathe in the experience of travelling-all by myself.
Wherever I turned my head, I saw people. Everyday kind of people. I’d been to places like these before but never alone. The 17-year-old me steered its way through the crowd, asking strangers for directions while eyes searched for that one signboard of the destination and simultaneously pulling the backpack closer to heart for obvious reasons. For the introvert that I am, it was a big deal at that time to interact with complete strangers. And finally, I found it. Cross-reading the board above a bus, I asked the conductor if it was heading to the correct place. Maybe he sensed my apprehensions; he spit his paan and nodded in agreement.
A few people had already made themselves comfortable inside the dingy, old bus. Sprinting like a kid, I quickly called dibs on my window-facing, front-row seat meant for two people (I still do that!). Slowly and steadily, the seats got their temporary owners and then descended the captain of our ship- the driver. Clicking buttons here and there, he punched in keys and as the sounds of a sleeping engine filled the air, we left.
Much to the annoyance of my seat partner and some of others seated behind me, I moved the windows to make way for chilled air to warm my heart. As my nose turned red and wind caressed my cheeks, tears began to flow down. No, not because I was overwhelmed, it was mainly due to the wind piercing my eyeballs! I didn’t sleep throughout the journey, for I had tasted independence. Trees, people, water bodies, automobiles and other zillion things- I negotiated them along the way only to leave them behind. That was my very first solo trip. Even though I had mad fun exploring the city all by myself- uninterrupted by another human mind, however the journey towards that destination was exemplary- an unforgettable, life-altering experience. It put meaning into the phrase, “Live for the journey, not the destination”.
Since that day, I haven’t looked back. Whenever I could spare time and funds to back me up- with or without people, I left to experience the splendour of such experiences. Sometimes it was a new city and sometimes an unexplored village. But some things have remained consistent throughout all these expeditions.
Learn. Unlearn. Learn. Repeat
Travelling is a never-ending learning process, minus the load of voluminous books. It is an exhilarating experience, nurturing the growth of an individual. Unlearning is as important an aspect of it as learning is. When one gears up for a new journey, it is bound to experience things first-hand. And then, it learns to let it go- in true sense.
Everybody is different in their own way
We are bound to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds- different sex, race, country, school of thought. Sheer beauty of realisation of the fact that everybody is different yet similar at many levels is inspiring. And this paves way for acceptance which bypasses all boundaries of religion, race and even language.
There’s no independence like travelling solo
Born in a small city where the deadline to make it back to home was early evening, independence was a forbidden word. Travelling solo breaks all those unseen, nauseating shackles. One breathes in life, feels alive. As they say, you are the captain of your soul, one tastes blood of experiencing the joys of freedom.
Fall in love with yourself. All over again
We live in a busy world. Indeed, a very busy and competitive world. Career and money are the two goals set by most of us and then we put on blinders. In this maddening rush to lead the race, we forget who we really are. We lose the sense of self. There is no bigger joy in this world than to fall in love with oneself. Solo travellers would understand this. It makes them comfortable around themselves. Because what’s better than a scenic view, a cup of hot coffee and an enlightening self-introspection session!
Random conversations are enriching
I have travelled with a tribal. Shared my seat with an octogenarian. Conversed with a nine-month old infant. And tell you what- irrespective of their age or social status, they all have taught me something. First-hand lessons that books could never teach.
Becoming a global nomad has never been my aim. All I wish is to live the journey. Explore the unexplored. Interact and learn. Because life is short and uncertain. And while travelling can be exhausting, it can reignite the passion of existence even in a person who has lost hope. To put it in Ernest Hemingway’s words, “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is."