I don’t remember much from that day. It was sunny and regular, but one that changed my life forever. On the 21st of September 2016, I decided to finally pack my bags and head out. Far away from the city, into the lands unknown. One where I’d wake up to the chirping of the birds, and bask in the morning sun upon my skin. Someplace, that would make my worries melt away, and douse me with the lingering scent of adventure and peace that I had forgotten. So I booked my tickets, grabbed my bags, and set out for Rishikesh- alone.
The feeling when you finally decide to move away from people, from known lands- driving away into the plains until their figures and the city lights all become distant and faint- like tiny specks dispersing into the horizon. It’s scary and huge, the world bidding us goodbye. But when we lean forward to our next scary adventure, beneath the skies, our hearts know it’s going to be worth the while. When you travel alone, being totally responsible for yourself, it is inevitable that you discover how strong you are. You have no expectations to fulfill but your own. It charges you with a sense of adrenaline that is empowering and scary at the same time. The best part of traveling alone is rediscovering how much you can enjoy your own company. You will be pushed out in the open, raw and vulnerable and you will learn to survive. You will be guided by your instincts and sometimes you’ll be wrong, and learn that sometimes it’s okay to be. And if you are lucky, you will travel far enough into yourself, with yourself.
Whether fueled by a search of self-discovery, recovery from a personal trauma, or simply seeking adventures without the hassle of coordinating schedules, budgets and interests with family and friends, a solo trip can be liberating and empowering. To make the journey easier, keep the following tips and hacks in mind for being savvy on the road alone.
• TRAVEL LIGHT
Do a test run at home and make sure you can comfortably carry all your bags on your own. Given the fact that you’re without company, there is nobody to keep a track of you wearing the same shirt twice. Carry only what you need.
• LEAVE YOUR BLING AT HOME
There is no need to impress anyone or a particular specter of an event to attend when on a solo travel trip. So avoid carrying any expensive items of jewelry, gadgets, laptops that may not serve a ubiquitous need on the go. The lesser you have to worry about, the more relaxed you will be.
• KEEP CASH HANDY
Even though credit cards are widely accepted these days, you don’t want to be caught without money when you’re alone. While the exact amount depends on your personal comfort level, splitting your cash up in various locations of your baggage will prevent a quick theft. Perhaps a few bills go in an envelope rolled into a pair of jeans and another gets tucked into a foldable shopping bag pouch. Consider investing in a money belt to store money and your important documents while you’re on the go. Some normal-looking leather belts even have secret compartments to make your cash less obvious.
• LEARN THE BASICS OF THE LOCAL LANGUAGE
If you traveling to a place where the locals do not speak your language, chances are you might be forced to dive into their dialect. So make sure, you know your way out with basics given if you need directions to someplace or help around with ordering food, etc. Similarly it will keep troublemakers away from trying to take advantage of you.
• MAP OUT A PLAN
Traveling without an itinerary may sound thrilling. And although the spontaneity of the trip is the most exciting catalyst that drives many to travel solo, once you reach your destination, map out a plan. Do your homework and have a sense of the general geography, main attractions and local eats. Since you’ll be relying on yourself, read up on the weather conditions, special events and political scenario so that you appear informed to the locals and be prepared for any possible detours.
• KEEP YOUR EYES AND EARS OPEN
Keep your ears open for anyone speaking your language or your mother tongue. You may be able to get practical tips or get help to find your way out of sticky situations. Similarly keep a watch for people with suspicious behavior. Do not give away information about the hotel your staying at or your day’s plan to any random traveler/local you meet. Let your instincts guide you, but be cautious of questionable people and behavior. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, leave immediately.
• KEEP IMPORTANT PHONE NUMBERS AND BUSINESS CARDS
From the time you arrive in the city, to wherever you decide to go next, always keep a phone book handy in your pocket with all the numbers of people you may need to contact in case of an emergency- for eg , if you lose your luggage .
Similarly, always keep business cards of the hotels you’re staying in with you at all times. So in the event of you losing your way back, you can always refer to the card or hand it to the transport people.
Also keep friends and family informed about your whereabouts.
• SCREENSHOT BOOKING AND PAYMENT CONFIRMATIONS
Once you’ve made your hotel, flight/train bookings, take a screenshot of those on your phone. It will come handy if you were to lose your data connection or network. It will also save you the unnecessary hassles of carrying printouts around.
• CARRY ENTERTAINMENT
Although solo travel is great because it forces you to meet new people and takes you out of your comfort zone, it doesn’t mean that every single minute is like that – there’s a lot of downtime when you’ll really be by yourself, and it’s totally fine to tune out the world and pick up a book or listen to music. Carrying your entertainment options with you can save you money as well – a book, an MP3 player or loading up songs on your phone on the go.
• ACT LIKE A LOCAL
Appearing confused and looking like a tourist is like sending a signal out to troublemakers. You can be far more discreet with maps downloaded on your mobile phone; it should look like you are checking messages. If you need to refer to maps or guidebooks, do it inside a shop or a cafe.
Don’t do things you wouldn’t do in your own city, like giving out private information to strangers, or inviting people you don’t know well to your stay. Acting like a local can even mean not buying something at the first price quoted by a vendor.
• TAKE YOUR OWN PICTURES