By Mrinal Semia
Travelling is an important part of my life. I started travelling at a young age but the idea of travelling solo as an Indian girl was still a big deal for me. In 2018, at the age of 22, I decided to travel solo to Europe (my first trip abroad). Post this trip my perspective about myself, others and life, in general, changed a lot, which has also led to me becoming more open to experiences, particularly related to travel.
In late 2019, on one of many such expeditions to McLeodganj in Himachal Pradesh, I decided to visit Dharamkot, a beautiful village about 8 km to the north of McLeodganj. The idea was to stay in Dharamkot for the night and start the Triund trek the next morning. The same evening, I visited a café nearby, and while walking myself back to the hostel, I took a different trail.
On the hike back to the hostel, I saw a lady resting on a rock around 50 meters away from me – resting, I thought at first, because the slope was high. As I continued walking, the trees on the right to me started to disappear and there was a gorgeous view of the mountains in front of me.
Now I realised why she was sitting there, not for resting, but to take in the view of the mighty mountains. That rock had the perfect view and so I too went to the spot and asked if I can join her in solace, to which she politely agreed.
She was in her mid-50s. The thing that caught my attention was her appearance. She was holding a cigar, wearing a cowboy hat, with a bulky camera – in other words, “breaking the stereotype”. I sat down and looked at the mountains and I was consumed; it was such a beautiful evening!
Now at this point, I was curious to know about her, her story. I started a conversation with her. I asked her where she was from, to which she answered she is a nomad. She was born and raised in Chennai, spent most of her adult life in Bengaluru before she decided to become a full-time traveller, investing all her life savings for this.
She mentioned how she had all this planned: that she was going to take a work retirement at 50 and travel. It had been six years of her staying in places for months, attempting to understand the culture, and then moving to a new location. She mentioned how going from one place to the other feels like being born again. Her story gave me hope, the hope of dreams and fulfilment.
There were a lot of things we discussed and a lot that she shared with me about her life journey so far, and the lessons she learnt. “I wish somebody had told me these while I was young, I might still have done things my way but it would have helped to put some things into perspective,” she said.
Well, I agree with her. The best way to learn things is from our own experiences, but listening to stories like hers can help in providing an outlook that’s different from ours. I’ve narrowed down her lessons in three points:
- Don’t settle for less
She didn’t mean to be a rebel with no cause. What she said was, “Your life is a reflection of the choices you make and if you settle for less than you believe in, it’s on you. Work hard enough for what you think you should have, ask for it and if someone disagrees, back it up with substantial reasons. It’s easy for others to tell you what you should have and what you should not. Don’t agree with what you don’t want, it’s never up for negotiation!”
- Express your emotions
“For the longest time,” she said, “I thought showing my emotions to the world was a sign of weakness. I seldom asked for help, trying to figure out everything on my own. It was as if I was trying to prove a point that didn’t matter. But with time, I realised that expressing how you feel is important and it not only helped me share my emotions but also made others comfortable sharing theirs with me, especially young women and interns in my team. The social life around me got better. Even now when I am a thousand miles away, I get calls from them, sometimes they need a bit of advice and other times they call to check if I am alive.”
- Be on your own
I like how she mentioned this part. She is single, in her mid-50s, and she didn’t get married ever. She playfully said she was too good for it. What made this interesting was when she mentioned, “I believe in love, I think it would be the most amazing feeling, but I also believe that not everyone is lucky enough to fall in love or to find the love of their lives. We all do better in some aspects of life than we do in others. And I am not saying that it can’t happen, love can still happen in my 50s, but the point here is not to wait for it and to be content with yourself first.”
To this day, I do not know what her name is as we did not connect over social media – it was such an old-school way of meeting a stranger – and then we parted ways. I do not think we will see each other again, but the meeting with this fellow traveller will stay alive in my memory.
Mrinal Semia, 25, works as a management consultant on weekdays and turns into a poet on weekends. She’s also interested in travel, photography and basketball. Reach out at email@example.com