We're Indian, we usually love company. But more of us are beginning to travel solo. Why? Photo by AFPtravel Updated: Jan 17, 2010 19:06 IST
If dreaming, gazing aimlessly, and self-introspection is what sets your adrenaline flowing, you're not the only one. Today, many of us are looking at travelling as a way of spending some time alone - away from the bustle, or to get some serious exploration done.
Taking off to tour the Himalayas, trekking up the icy hills of Leh, breathing in the greens of the backwaters, capturing cultures and people on camera, caravanning through local eateries to try new cuisines, or simply sighing at nature's beauty: this is what the new traveller is seeking - alone.
The number of Indians travelling solo has gone up by almost 40 per cent, says Ravi Dabbiroo, founder of the adventure sports company Zice. "It's about finding your own space and trying to discover for yourself what lies ahead," he says. "Travelling alone has no pressure involved - you are free to do what you wish. Whenever you go without a plan or an itinerary, there's always the unexpected element that you come across. Lots of people like to travel alone because they want to escape."
Need to go
More people in the industry are noticing this trend. Anjali Pratap, director and owner of The Meadows (a hotel company in Aurangabad), says travelling alone can be very convenient. "The kind of freedom you can exploit when you're all by yourself is irreplaceable," she says. Nikhil Sood, founder of travel agency Weekend Travellers, also agrees that there has been a slight increase in the number of solo travel clients over the last two or three years. "One reason for this is that Indian families are becoming nuclear, and solo trips work best," he says.
They also work because you're your own boss, says Diya Roy, a 32-year-old who's lived in Mumbai and Delhi for large parts of her life. "I've gone off alone to different places on various occasions, and I love every minute of it. The advantage of being all on your own is that you don't have to bother about anyone else's plans," she says.
Roy feels travelling alone is more of an intellectual experience than a social one. "When you're alone, you have a purpose in mind, an agenda. You're often going to these places to be able to observe, understand, and learn something," she says.
Having explored or experienced something that you may not have otherwise, is a huge kick, and can make solo travelling addictive. "There was a time when I simply went and lived in Kolkata alone, where we have a house. None of my family members came along on that trip, so I was relieved of being wrapped up with relatives and family visits. That was a time when I actually got to roam about the city on my own, and saw things that I never did on earlier trips," she adds.
Roy finds it exhilarating because this provides an opportunity to mix with locals. "One starts chatting up strangers, having conversations with locals, and taking interest in new things. This doesn't really happen when you have company: you get far too caught up with your friend or companion. The chances that strangers will come up and talk to you is greater when you're all alone."
Pratap agrees. "People often get a fresh experience of the local culture of a place when they're all alone," she says. Zice founder Dabbiroo, who himself is an avid solo traveller, recounts a road trip he took across Goa. "Because I was alone, I landed up seeing many beaches and other things on the northern side, which are mostly hidden from tourist eyes. This would have never happened if I had gone with friends," he says.
Ups and downs
There's usually something that makes one take off for the first time, and often, it's just chancing upon the experience by default, as Roy says. "I accidentally happened to land up in Lonavala, where I spent a day alone before my friends dropped in. My parents have been a little concerned about my safety, since I'm a girl - but by and large, they've been all right about my solo travelling and haven't given me too much stress."
But every one agrees there are problems; it's not always a cakewalk to travel alone. Dabbiroo recalls the feeling of helplessness when he had health problems on a solo trip. "I remember desperately wishing there was someone around to help. It's very important to carry medication along," he says.
But Pratap is optimistic. There may be some problems, but there are advantages in travelling alone. "You need someone to take care of your luggage when you go to the loo, or help out with little daily niggles. These are things that just need to be dealt with," she says.
But unlike her and other brave young people who are willing to break all barriers and take on the streets, inhibition still lurks among Indian travellers. Like Sumitra Senapaty, founder of Women on Wanderlust, a women's travel club, who says that travelling alone can get both lonely as well as expensive.
"It's still an alien concept in India - you'd have to be really different to want to take off all on your own," she says. "One also lands up spending a lot more money, because costs don't get divided, and it becomes an expensive affair."
But for those like Dabbiroo, the kick of travelling alone cannot be sacrificed for these issues. Travellers like Kishore Repeka and Ekta Sapra also love their solitude. "It depends on your temperament," says Sapra. "I enjoy company that's open to experiment. Otherwise, I'd much rather travel alone."
Roy says that one of the downsides as a woman, is that taking risks like getting onto a late-night bus is never an option. "You have to spend more and make sure you're safe. At the end of the day, safety is the most important thing," she says.
That said, solo travellers tend to prefer going to remote places. Repaka, for instance, travels alone because he loves taking pictures. "I prefer the off-beat places, not the tourist ones. I like deserts, jungles, and places that are away from the usual," he says. He still uses a manual SLR that his father bought for him several years ago. "I'm comfortable with it and I love taking pictures with it, though I might replace it later with a digital one," he says.
Sapra too loves backpacking - because she is a food lover.Once enthusiastic about visiting metros, Sapra now goes to hilly places. Some of her favourite local food is Kerala's pepper chicken, Malabar paratha, appam, Ladakh's momos and Tibetan soups, as well as the barbecues of hot mutton with garlic and butter in northern hilly places like Uttarakhand. Sapra also loves Bangalore's buffet culture, and its wide range of eateries. "I love different varieties of food. If you look around, there's always local food available - and I like trying out all the varieties that are specific to a place," she says.
With the Internet becoming a great way to research and plan a trip - including hotel reservations, ticket bookings, you name it - travel agents only have an additional challenge to meet. "There's a lot of value addition that we can provide to customising a person's travel needs," says Pratap. "We do help in finding them a guide sometimes too," adds Sood.
Play it safe
Be informed of local conditions at all times.
Hotelier and solo traveller Anjali Pratap says it's a good idea to carry some innocuous little weapon, like a nail-cutter, for defence.
Stay in touch:
Keep your mobile phone charged and on at all times. Solo traveller Diya Roy carries two chargers with her, so that her phone never dies out on her.
Make sure you know how you'll get back if you're going to be late, says Pratap. Roy says it's a bett