Would You Travel With Strangers? - To Sojourn "Safely"
Travelling with strangers or travelling solo, takes guts. Be it a man or a woman. How will the people be? Will I get along? Will it be safe? These are just some of the many questions I’ve had people ask me in my rolfor a company that takes groups of strangers on trips across India, Southeast Asia and Europe (ahem... when life permits it!). And, after answering these questions to see that very person opening themselves up to unknown people during a trip, just leaves me smiling. Yet the hesitation and questions from women will always be a tad more. Understandably. A lifetime of being asked to stay safe and protected does program our minds into wondering what is and what isn’t “safe”.
Last December when I was visiting Tirthan for the first time, my friend and I got off our bus at 4 am in a place with not a single street lamp. Light only came when a vehicle approached so we were shivering in the pitch dark, waiting for ours to turn up. The moment we sat in the vehicle, my friend dozed off dead to the world, snoring at shocking octaves for such a skinny person! While I was extremely sleepy, I couldn’t doze off as the gnawing thought of empty dark streets and us being in a vehicle completely in this man’s control played on my mind. As my tense self gazed out of the window, it hit me that my comfort or discomfort is solely in my hands. So, I struck up a conversation with the driver. I’m pretty sure he was tired too and was wondering why is this woman being so chatty even before sunrise?! But haha there’s no shutting up this chatty Cathy! As we spoke about him, his family and his life in the hills, I developed a sense of familiarity with the man who just a few moments ago had concerned me.
Women are often taught to “not engage” anyone unknown. However, my travels have brought me the realization that when you open up yourself, to the people, to your surroundings and well, to the experience, that is when you begin to become comfortable even in unknown places. When you begin to see the other human being as simply an individual on the job or as a friendly companion or a fellow explorer, that is when the shadows creeping up in your mind die down and allow you to converse, to laugh and to just be.
Will You Let Fears Plague Your Travel Dreams?
Having lived in Delhi for so many years, in Mumbai and even in South India and to eventually dedicating my life to travelling, has shown me that no one place can be deemed safe or unsafe in a blanket statement. Incidents happen everywhere. And if you’re going to let the fear stifle your "wanderlust" dreams, then how do you step out of your house at all? What can happen on a small mountain top can happen in your city too. No, I’m not looking to scare you further. All I’m saying is have a little faith in the world, in your surroundings and in the inherent goodness of human beings. No, I’m not saying trust anyone, always be alert and aware of your whereabouts but at the same time give people and places a chance.
You never know where and how it may surprise you. And, the more you witness kindness and warmth in the world, the surer of yourself you will become. Travel can mean different things to different people but for women it can be empowering in unimaginable ways. It will give you the confidence to step out on your own, the independence to do as you please without waiting for the world to indulge to your wishes.