“I did it! The weather was average, I did not visit everything I had intended…but still it was the best trip ever. I never knew I was capable of making so many friends, or finding my way when I am lost…I love myself more than ever.”
When 22-year-old Archana’s best friend decided to back out of their much-awaited 5-day trip to Pondicherry, Archana decided to go alone. It has been 6 months since she took the trip, but Archana is still dripping with a sense of achievement. She can already see another trip in the horizon – this time a planned solo venture.
There are many like Archana for whom their first solo travel is meant to prove “the happy to be by myself” point, to either their happily married/dating/ busy friends or ex-boyfriend – ultimately to themselves. Meanwhile, quite a few others, start off purely for the experience of a solo adventure, or because they are getting an extension of the official trip with minimal costs. Irrespective of how one starts, every solo travel redefines a part of life at that time – in no uncertain terms.
SOLO TRAVEL STORIES: THE POWER OF EXPERIENCE
“I made a friend near Eiffel, and then we had coffee together. In fact we started enjoying ourselves so much that eventually she and I ended up at a party…”
Tanya Wadhawan, a lawyer has many such stories to tell. In fact, as Tanya says, the adrenaline rush that comes with pampering one’s sense of adventure and experimentation functions to re-configure the system completely – “You feel like a new person who can keep pace with herself…take her own responsibility.”
Such stories, in fact are never the same for two people. Anju Joseph, a market researcher, for example talks about the purity of an experience. A history, culture and food lover, Anju neither shops nor takes photographs during her solo journeys. She does not want anything to interfere with that moment and experience – that for her is refreshing.
There are thus no set formulas. The trick actually lies in planning the trip. While some solo ventures completely junk the conventional itinerary, others often leave themselves enough time to experience new things even in a set itinerary. To not have a very rigid itinerary and leave some scope to go with the flow is important.
COUNTERING THE SAFETY THREAT
One of the biggest threats to a complete travel experience is safety. Investing good time in choosing a hotel is therefore required. Taking a hotel close to the most popular means of public transportation not only makes it easier to explore the city, but also reduces the walk between the station/bus stop adding to safety and convenience especially after a long day in the woods. Internet reviews and blogs, along with travel agent opinions make the information about the hotel relatively reliable (with a room for 5 to 10 percent exaggeration).
Sometimes the language barrier can make places feel more unfriendly than they are. If your are travelling to a country where you are unfamiliar with the local language its best to keep a phrasebook and dictionary handy.
Additionally, during the city stay, it is the hotel staff who is often best equipped to give detailed daily tips about the local transportation, dress code, weather etc – to be able to communicate effectively with them is critical.
WEAK ON BUDGET
Let’s face it! Solo travel is annoyingly expensive – at least 15 to 20 percent more than couple travel to the same destination. While hotels are usually the main culprit, food and transport also inflate costs. If the travel plans have not begun with a particular destination in mind, it makes sense to choose a destination where one can budget generously and live comfortably.
Irrespective of the destination however, the guru mantra is – bargain shamelessly. Bargaining of this sort is relatively simple – talk to 5 travel agents, take the quote of lowest one, deflate it by ten percent and float it to the other four – the results can be spectacular.
I was also surprised to know that many people reduce a part of their budget by finding lodging partners through social networking sites and travel portals. Says Smriti, “during my trip to Manali, I saved at least seven to eight thousand in a tie-up (through Facebook) with two girls…the hotel gave us a family suite kind of an arrangement with two rooms and two bathrooms…my room was smaller, but its ok…”
Booking a bed and breakfast or a dorm arrangement if one is not opposed to shared washrooms is another relatively effective way of reducing costs.
In one of her philosophical musing, a very dear friend compared life to the multi-layered onion. If one keeps that comparison, then everything from planning to executing solo travel helps in peeling a couple of those layers to get to the core. A travel freak’s advice – NO HARM IN TRYING.