By Malvika Sehgaal Kaura
I used to travel a lot with my kids when they were babies. My arms and suitcases full of strollers, Disney merchandise, and other sundry kids’ paraphernalia, I checked myself into wonderful child-friendly hotels, exploring new cultures, foods and destinations. I just loved the idea of showing my children the world.
Then, the kids entered their pre-teens and the complaints began pouring in. They didn’t have the same travel goals as I did, and our monthly getaways soon dwindled to once a year. I grew edgy and restless. Last summer, as my two children and I sat down to book our summer holiday, we faced a quandary: they wanted a relaxed vacation in Greece. I wanted to see Europe.
Finally, they pushed me to do part of the journey alone. Their suggestion, frankly, sounded like Greek to me! Me – this fearful woman who stays up while her kids sleep to ensure all’s safe – explore Europe alone? What about the language barrier? My excuses went on and on.
To cut a long story short, I did do Europe alone. And whoa, I’ve been a different person since.
As in everything in life, there are pros and cons to all journeys, but the personal growth you undergo during a solo trip – especially an international one – is immense. Experiential confidence is a lesson well learnt and I’d advise everyone to do it.
If you want a recommendation, the safest place till date for me has been Japan: it has breathtaking views, warm people and is easiest to navigate. Be prepared for pangs of doubt, loneliness, and men trying to get chatty, though.
What worked for me was to connect with Indian friends over a meal in different cities, take a day group tour or guided tour, and doing things I enjoy when I’m low, such as trying new food, shopping, and sometimes staying in with a book or Netflix.
As a female solo traveller, here are few more tips that I swear by:
Pack extremely light, and ensure you carry along sneakers with a good grip, along with all medicines and supplements from India.
Buy your local currency from India as well at least for the first couple of days, after which you can withdraw from a local ATM.
Keep the roaming on your phone activated from India (it is quite affordable, actually).
Avoid alleys or deserted areas. I don’t step out late at night post 8 pm. Pack dry munchies for evenings, so that you don’t need to step out of your hotel in search for dinner.
Dress according to the local customs.
Always, always ensure that your phone is charged.
Fix your daily sightseeing route and map it out in advance so that you don’t need to grapple for locations and stop strangers for directions. It causes unnecessary stress.
Allow yourself one indulgence daily: a dessert, shopping (it can be cheap), taking a cab when tired, and so on.
I try to pack clothes for 25 percent of my trip’s duration as they can be worn repeatedly and I always end up shopping.
I research A LOT prior as if I am planning to move to the country. I join all possible groups for my destination on Facebook and follow all relevant accounts on Instagram. YouTube is great research tool too, as it helps me zoom in to the places I want to cover. One doesn’t have the time or inclination to do all this during the trip.
Travel needn’t be extravagant; budgeting is quite possible. I now have smartened up (or so I’d like to believe). I spent prudently in my own city, Delhi – I’ve cut down on lunches, coffees and shopping as I’d rather save up for my next trip. That lets me spend generously on whatever I wish.
You can also be frugal while on the trip: Though admission to several tourist attractions can be quite expensive, many spots are free to visit. I’ve often researched and found interesting spots even locals were unaware of.
Food can be a major expense too; I usually do one lavish meal (such as late lunch) every day to pamper myself, and keep it light the rest of the day.
Solo travel is my time to talk to myself. My only regret is that I wish I’d started sooner!
Malvika Sehgaal Kaura is a travel enthusiast, fashion designer, marketeer and artist.