Let go of baggage

Let go of baggage

TRAVELLING SOLO

Let go of baggage

“All around the world/ We could make time/ Rompin’ and a stompin’/ Cause I’m in my prime,” sang the Red Hot Chilli Peppers 16 years ago. But these lines are probably more relevant today, when travel has become less of a luxury and more of recreation. Yes, it is rather easy to be seduced by our desires to abandon routine and run across the glades, wade through streams, stare at towers and climb mountains until our legs can walk no more.

And if you’re an Indian woman, it wouldn’t be presumptuous to state that you are already thinking of how to do all of these with your huge baggage, concealing pepper sprays, Swiss Army knives and other sharp, pointy objects disguised innocuously for self-defence.

The term ‘solo woman traveller’, which had once taken on oxymoronic proportions in India, is now slowly becoming a reality. Let’s look at Rutavi Mehta from Mumbai, who is all set for her Rickshaw Run soon. She’ll be riding an auto rickshaw 3,500 km across the country with two  teammates. And this is the second time she is doing it.

Rutavi was working in the hospitality sector until a few years ago. Long hours at a flamboyant job would bore her often. So, after a while, she quit her job and decided to travel. And she has been doing so for the last eight years. She is quick to rubbish away the sentiment that travelling alone is not an option for women.

“In India, women are always made to realise non-existent limitations like family, responsibility, jobs etc. It is wrong to think that travelling is unsafe and hence, it’s better to stay inside your comfort zone. If you are aware of your surroundings and know how to set your boundaries, travelling becomes both safe and enjoyable,” she elaborates.

Rutavi, who learnt how to ride an auto rickshaw for the Rickshaw Run, recounts how she trained for it. “I would practise everyday around my house, where everybody would stare at the girl in a rickshaw. But that passed over time. The Run in itself was scary, driving over 300 km everyday in unknown lands. It was the only time when I’ve had to carry something for self-defence. I had a metal rod and pepper spray, but I never had to use them,” she recounts. Rutavi is of the opinion that international travel is safer, compared with travelling in India. “When you go abroad, try staying in hostels. They are safer and generally more fun, because you get to meet more people,” she offers.

Wallet factor

If, by now, you have mustered some courage but are worried about the finance aspect, meet Leena Bansal. This Delhiite has travelled to over 32 countries in the last two years. She was one of those who kept putting off her travel plans because she thought it was a ‘thing of the rich.’ But at one point, that changed. It had to be now or never, she thought. So, she looked into her finances, did a few practical calculations and chalked out a plan.

Leena’s first solo trip was to Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. After that, she travelled to the Mahakumbh Mela and then there was no chance for taking a pause. “I was always reading about solo travellers and was very excited to take a trip all by myself. I felt so free, waking up early, walking down the streets with no one telling me what to do. Although I was cautious, I learnt to keep my irrational fears behind me,” she quips.

Leena, who is set to travel to Mongolia next, says her international trips were
different at various levels. “There are safety measures everywhere abroad. There is a general stress on safety of tourists. But I have never felt the need to secure myself or anything. In fact, I wouldn't even lock my bags,” she says.

Although she is always cautious and follows her intuition, Leena has had her fair share of hardships too. “I had to once trudge along a 14-kg backpack. My back was sore and I didn’t realise it for long. And I remember in Cambodia, I came down with a very bad stomach ache. So, be sure to take care of your food and water at all times. If you can, eat at a place where you can see the food being prepared. And don’t skip meals to stick to your budget. You cannot afford to fall sick on your trip,” she advises.

Making it work

Women like Leena and Rutavi may be few in numbers, but the tribe of Indian women who are rearing to defy convention in pursuing their passion for travel is growing. The key to making travel plans work lies in first making up your mind and then, sorting out the finances. Don’t discard practicality. Many solo women travellers work as part-time travel consultants with tourism boards to finance themselves. Others offer teaching services — English speaking, for instance — in return for accommodation in a foreign land.
While quitting your job and travelling the world does sound enticing, there are some caveats that come with it. Here are some pro tips to aid you:

 Do your research before starting out. Read blogs and network with people on social media.

 Don’t carry too much stuff; you don’t need it.

 Everything is uncertain — food, weather, people. Learn to adapt constantly.

 Wherever possible, use public transport instead of a taxi.

 Save on laundry. Roll your clothes instead of folding them.

 Eat well; you’ll be getting your exercise with the constant walking anyway.

 Ditch the old wives’ tale of don’t ask questions. Make friends.