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HindustanTimes Tue,21 Oct 2014
How to travel solo, backpack and have fun
Satarupa Paul, Hindustan Times
June 06, 2014
First Published: 15:27 IST(6/6/2014)
Last Updated: 18:06 IST(6/6/2014)
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A while ago, I embarked on an ambitious two-month long trip across the US. The grand plan was to backpack and couchsurf my way through the country while making new friends, on the go. "How is that even possible?" "Or safe?" "Or sensible?" came the barrage of questions from family and over-concerned friends. Long story short, I spent my trip with relatives, doing the usual rounds of touristy spots and longingly eyeing all the travellers and locals who could have been friends.

Shed fears, gain friends
The travel scene has changed since and Indian travellers are now shedding their inhibitions; they're going out and meeting other travellers and locals. Facilitating this exchange is a number of social networking sites like TravBuddy, Travel Buddies and Companions2Travel that connect travellers across the globe. Nagpur-based Tourist Link began operations in 2011 and has fast gathered members from several countries. "I went to Nepal a few years ago and wanted to get in touch with locals beforehand so I could have an idea of the offbeat sites to visit," says David Urmaan, co-founder of Tourist Link. "The idea was born from that need."

The premise is simple: once you register, you can choose your destination and get in touch with over 12,000 local guides and 50,000 travellers worldwide, exchange messages, share travel plans, and the next thing you know, you are sharing a drink with your new travel buddy in a new destination.

Shyam Bapat, a civil engineering consultant, travels often and has been an active member of Tourist Link. "I have met several people through it when I travelled to Goa and Thailand. I also met a couple of travellers from Chile who had come to Nagpur. I showed them around and later, grabbed a few drinks with them. Now we keep in touch through Facebook."

Safety first
But how safe are these exchanges really? John Lewington, owner of UK-based Companions2Travel says, "Our area reps arrange regular meetings to allow members to meet in a safe environment for the first time. They're also issued guidelines regarding withholding personal information and using the facilities available on our site, like instant messaging, prior to meeting. Members are advised to meet in a public place and inform family and friends about whom they are meeting and where."

Anjana Nair, an architect and avid traveller, says, "Initially, I was sceptical about the whole idea. Now that I have warmed up to it, I am more excited each time I meet travellers in India or abroad. I now have friends from so many different countries and the list is only growing."

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