I think it was a quarter of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild blended with a quarter of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and a full half of my wanderlust fibre that nudged me to take down my first solo trip off my bucket list.
At first it comes across as this insanely corny idea, the kind of stuff that Hilary Duff’s Lizzie McGuire movie is made of, but the minute you book those tickets, you know you’ve taken the first step into adulthood, however shaky it might be.
So how to crack it and get going? Wait. Let me rephrase this question. Why do you need to crack it and get going? Does going far away from home actually guarantee a sense of self awareness and introspection? Here’s a heart to heart, from a fellow wanderer who can’t wait to explore the world, breaking down the Hows and Whats and Whys of solo tripping.
How to kick it off:
I would be bluntly lying if I tell you that I wasn’t nervous. It’s the most human reaction to have at the first go. It’s always advisable to check your radar of comfort - how far are you willing to travel alone? Is the journey going to a be a couple of hours via plane or a bus or a car? How many days are you ready to block for yourself in a new city? You get to be the boss of all these decisions.
Note to fellow excited travellers, please check your flight timings correctly twice otherwise you will land up booking the wrong one in sheer excitement and paying more than the actual ticket in exchange of cancellation and rebooking. I did that. *Facepalm*.
It’s always advisable to hack TripAdvisor back and forth to get the perfect blend of budget and comfort when you’re looking for your ideal accommodation.
Check how far it is from the airport, railway station or whichever mode of transport you plan to take. The devil is in the details, so make sure you’ve sorted out everything in terms of commute and stay to the T.
Make all the required calls at the front desk of your desired B&B. See if you can negotiate the rate further down from what the inter web is offering. You never know, how and when you can get lucky. Also, mentioning that you’re running on a “student budget” never hurts.
Keep all the confirmations in written. It’s always advisable to have your confirmations and bills over emails. You don’t want to be stranded the minute you arrive at your destination.
Make a list of all the recommended places or the eateries you are dying to eat at. I bookmarked and managed to cover as many cafes I could through Zomato. This way you will never feel lost when you’re hungry. Translation: You will never Hangry.
Make digital apps your best friends. From bus reservations to flight tickets, quick reviews to instant Ubers, know how to make the most of your BFF - the mighty smartphone.
What to expect?
Now, here’s the first lesson that will come flying the minute the idea of travelling has been conceived: Your plans may not work. Well most of them. Except for the one that you are going to embark on a wonderful journey.
Be prepared for alternate routes of travels. You may not find direct flights or trains at times, so keep your options open to mix and match a couple of commute routes. Getting a direct flight to Puducherry gave my wallet a heartache, so I decided to take a bus ride down the East Coast Highway of Tamil Nadu. Best decision ever! It’s dotted with serene views and a dose of Tamil movie as on board delicacy for free viewing.
Now, staying in North for the last 22 years has made my ears accustomed to Hindi, English and a hefty dose of Hinglish. So, it genuinely took my mind a full minute to understand that I am in different state, that speaks a different language when I asked a gentleman at bus stop tucked away in Puducherry for directions.
So, here’s a tip: Be aware of your immediate surroundings. It’ll be really handy if you learn the basic conversational tokens - like ‘Hello’ or ‘Help’ or ‘Thank You’ or ‘Please’.
After my three hours bus ride, I was finally in the land of picturesque temples and expats. My hotel room was just as I had expected it to be, so it’s always best to double check the information with fellow visitors who have rated it on various travel blogs. More or less the information is always accurate.
Befriend the hotel concierge. They’re always the source of all the important information that you’ll never know you may need. Like, what if the food is not upto your expectation, if so where is the next place to eat? Rack their brains. They are well prepared for FQAs from travellers around the world.
Expect a few ‘Who is she and why is she with her camera alone in this part of the world’ looks. Don’t let them bog you down. Remember, you’re the boss here. So continue doing your thing.
What will you gain with every mile traversed?
Here’s the thing, it makes you your own person. Yes, it’s the Meredith Grey and Christina Yang kind of logic, only that you will befriend your own company and cherish it the most. Isn’t it magical, to fall in love with yourself when you’re having well-cooked eggs and well-done bacon by the sea?
You will meet people. Some strange, some amazingly great. You’ll learn about a new city, a new way of life that’s different than yours, a culture that you’ve never encountered.
You’ll learn to rely on your strengths and getting lost will seem less daunting when you’re navigating on roads you have never charted before.
It’ll prepare you to take quick decisions and stand up for yourself in situations which are unexpected. A delayed bus an abrupt flight cancelation? You’ll hack it and take control of the situation.
So basically, an investment in an escapade is an investment made well in a brewed series of life lessons.