The travails of a lone woman traveller

The travails of a lone woman traveller

“Hey, I am finally going on a holiday on my own. Imagine, all by myself,” confided my friend one fine day, sounding all excited. I smiled to myself, and wondered secretly whether she knew what it meant to travel alone. Trust me. I’ve been there, done that.

And, not enjoyed it one bit. Well, let me confess. I love being alone. I enjoy my personal space. But, when it comes to travelling, I hate being alone, among strangers, when ‘travel’ actually becomes ‘travail’.

I was never like this before. One of my fondest dreams had always been to explore new places, all by myself. However, looking back on my many journeys alone, I have to confess that each one of them has been rather unpleasant, experiences I wouldn’t look forward to. For, lone women travellers face problems galore, problems that are, at times, difficult to articulate.

Take, for instance, the simple issue of next-seat neighbours. Well, I have seen them all. They come in all sizes and shapes, and curiosity levels too. For my misfortune, most of them have been men, and the one question I have faced from almost all of them is, “Travelling alone?” This is just the beginning. Then the questions that follow will put even FBI agents to shame. I once even had one of them spill all his food, sauces included, on my brand new pair of Lee jeans, in his zeal to educate me on the desired consistency of gravies, while another constantly kept thumping and yanking my seat from behind, in his over-enthusiasm to help out a ‘lone woman traveller’ who actually liked being left alone!
This is just a teaser. The attention single women travellers attract is almost unparalleled.

Taxi and auto drivers hound us to death, wanting to take us to hotels and restaurants of their choice, even offering a piece of ‘friendly’ advice — “The other drivers are not trustworthy, you see.” At times like this, I want to scream out, “Stop bugging me and get the hell out of here,” but muster only enough courage to say a meek, “I know whom to trust, thank you.” Frankly, I don’t know whom to trust and there lies the problem. I have mostly gone by looks and age, but have realised that both looks and age can be deceptive. However, the one lesson I have learnt the hard way is to stay calm and keep quiet. Even if the cab driver talks a load of gibberish, spouts political rhetoric or keeps posing personal questions, I just stay silent or nod my head politely, at the cost of being branded dumb. Better dumb than sorry, right?

Come to think of it, after every one of my adventures alone, I sleep like a log back home. For, nights in hotel rooms are spent counting sheep in all colours and breeds. Every time I close my eyes, scenes from horror movies start playing out in my mind, and even the slightest sound outside sets my imagination on fire. To add to my problems are the hotel staff who keep giving funny looks every time I venture out, or knock on the door at regular intervals to check if I need something. It is at times like these that I wish hotels were more lone-women-traveller-friendly with an entire floor reserved only for women, where even the room service is rendered by women staff only.

Interestingly, when travelling alone, I can set my own pace and do only things that interest me. If you ask me, engaging the hotel taxi is the safest option to explore the new place. Even then, I hold on to my handbag hard, as if my life depended on it, and make a mental note of the various ‘secret’ places I have hidden my money in. After all, I’ve learnt the hard way not to trust a soul while out alone. I step into the shopping arcade, but find myself being followed by men, coaxing me to step into their shops. I try to sound and look confident, but my facial expressions betray my feelings of being lost. A particular window display attracts me and I dreamily step into the shop, only to be jolted by the shopkeeper’s, “Alone, Madam?” Such observations always unnerve me. I particularly remember my trip to Kathmandu where almost every other person I bumped into only had to ask, “Bideshi? Akheli?” Trust me, I have always fled from such people and such queries, to the ‘safe’ confines of my hotel room, and done all my shopping at airports.

For women, travelling alone is challenging, to say the least. Definitely not recommended for the faint-hearted.

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