The Hitchhiker's Guide To Travelling In India As A Solo Female Traveller

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(c) Prakriti Varshney

Photo of Spiti Valley, Marango Rangarik, Himachal Pradesh by Ishvani Hans

The drudgeries of life can sometimes overwhelm and ensnare us. No one can testify to this better than Prakriti Varshney, a fashion and apparel design undergrad, who left her 9-to-5 job to travel. Her love for travel came to life after a trip to Spiti Valley in 2016. Ever since then, she has been travelling to Spiti regularly and knows every nook and cranny of it. I recently got a chance to interview her. Here are some snippets of our conversation:

What made you quit your job?

After my graduation, I joined a fashion apparel startup and it took me just a month to realise that I am not made for all of this; waking up at 6 am, leaving home by 7 am, working endlessly till 7 pm, reaching home by 9 pm. No time for family, no time for myself.

Even though I was earning a good amount of money, I was never really at peace. In a month I emailed my boss for a week's off and, as expected, he said no. But I insisted, so he gave me 5 days' leave.

"That's when I first went to Spiti Valley (which was my dream since I was in 10th grade) with a couple of friends. I fall short of words to describe how mesmerizing my escape to this wonderland was."

After this trip to Spiti, my love for travelling had come to life. So, I saved every penny earned and asked for leaves on alternate months and like everyone’s 9-to-5, I struggled to get them, which, after about a year, made me quit my job. That's how it all began. I had no idea that I would come this far. I had no plans of making a living out of travelling.

"I never knew anything, I just followed my heart (with all the savings I did in one year of the job)."

How do you fund your trips?

Initially, while I was working 9-to-5, I saved money for about a year. I used to be that stereotypical ‘kanjus baniya’ and after I quit my job, I continued being the same. I went to places but never bought anything so I could save better.

I keep getting freelance projects which make me earn a few thousands every month.

"I stay with locals, eat just one meal a day and cut short on travel expenses by hitchhiking (mostly). This is how I have been travelling like crazy. Travelling is never costly but our comfort is!"

While it's definitely money-saving, hitchhiking could be dangerous too. What cues do you look for while trusting a stranger?

I firmly believe in Karma. I believe that if we do good, we receive good. For that, I keep helping people without any expectations. And I believe that if something is meant to be (any mishap), it will happen. So, I am less afraid of the bad people and more afraid of wrong deeds.

Moreover, I never feel afraid while hitchhiking because I strongly believe that this world is full of beautiful souls. I have made so many great friends while hitchhiking that I wouldn't have made otherwise.

I talk to a person for some minutes, after which I use my instincts to judge whether to trust them or not. My instincts have never betrayed me until now.

"For safety purposes and tackling unwanted situations, I have learned basic self defense techniques and I always keep a pepper spray handy."

What does a day in your life look like?

I have finally adopted the habit of waking up early and falling asleep as soon as I can. I have recently opened a hostel near Manali. Here, the days are so tightly packed that I don’t even find time to call my parents. From hosting guests to playing with Oreo, my dog, I cherish every passing moment in my life and regret nothing.

How did you convince your parents about quitting your job and being a full-time traveller?

I never had to try too hard to convince my parents. I took it slow. I made small trips so they could get used to it. I tell them the truth no matter what the case and they inevitably support me.

"I had no plans when I quit my job and because my parents were aware of this fact too, they gave me a year to follow my heart. "

So, here I am now, a full-time traveller who is also venturing into entrepreneurship - all game of fate.

Like all other Indian parents, mine are also worried about my safety and security but they know I am strong enough to fight all the odds.

Where do you see yourself five years down the line?

In the next 5 years, I am aiming to get well trained in mountaineering so I can fulfill the biggest goal of my life, climbing Mount Everest.

As a full-time traveller, do you face any struggles?

I had been trying to aware people about the struggles of travelling for a while but nothing changes. Almost everyone says "teri to aish hai!". How do I explain to them it isn’t as marvellous as it looks.

"Sometimes I need to give up the luxury of having two square meals a day."

If I had spent thousands to maintain the comfort, I wouldn’t have travelled so extensively in such a short span. I sometimes met wrong people but luckily didn’t face any mishap. I have broken my bones (literally) and I am still fighting the prevailing stereotypes, in order to do what I love.

"People think it is cool to travel solo but let me tell you, there have been situations where I felt so alone, felt like if I were with someone it would have been better. There are no networks either to call my family or a friend."

It all looks easy but isn’t. I lose myself to such problems but find back the composure to deal with them simply by reminding myself that I am able fight all the odds, no matter how tough, alone because I am much tougher than these shortcomings. My faith and hope keeps me going.

Prakriti's journey left an indelible mark on me and I'm already prepping for my next trip. While stories like Prakriti's are definitely inspiring, it isn't exactly feasible for everyone to leave their 9-to-5 jobs to travel. Read Sreshti Verma's story of how she took 12 trips in 12 months without quitting her 9-to-5 job.

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