Three Women Solo Travellers On The Charms Of Discovering Themselves Through Their Journeys
- IWB Post
- May 24, 2019
A foreign street in a foreign land and your vision gets clouded with the heady aroma of local food mixed with a riot of foreign words that slip by your conscience, making you aware of the human smallness and the vastness of the world in one go.
And just when you are about to lose your grip, magic happens, a stranger smiles and guides you through the city lanes in broken English. The beauty of the city strikes you, it is not hazy anymore and, like a legacy, you transfer that smile to someone else triggering a chain of subsequent smiles that travels from city to city and one kind stranger to another.
There is something about traveling solo that cannot be replaced by any other experience in life. It makes you grow, see things, and experience life in a way that transforms you forever, replacing the void in your soul with places that become a part of you forever.
IWB recently reached out to three women solo travellers who have been exploring the country and the world on their own and on their own conditions. Here are the excerpts:
Sagarika Prabhakar, 28, Student
“Once we transcend the barrier of “strangeness” and “otherness”, there’s a whole new beautiful world out there waiting for us. Romania was pleasing and unique, but more than the place, I am glad its people happened to me. I took with me a memory of a lifetime and a 100 stories to share.”
At just 28, Sagarika has already been to 21 countries. However, all things come at a great cost and recently when she was just beginning to get weary and homesick, a chance meeting with a Kashmiri in Bucharest, Romania, reminded her of her nomadic spirit and why she has been constantly following the allure of places unexplored and unknown.
She shares, “I met him in a bar. He was sitting right next to me and randomly started talking by asking whether I was an Indian? He shared that he was a father of three daughters and he told me that he would like to see his daughters independently traveling like me. That was the best compliment. I will always cherish it. Right before he was about to leave, he turned back and said, “Keep the exploring spirit in you alive and always stay as happy and cheerful as you are right now.” At that moment, he reminded me of my father, I got this nomadic instinct from him. He always chose to fuel my hunger for adventures instead of keeping me safe in a protective cocoon.”
You’d be surprised to know that Sagarika did her first solo trip when she was 22 and within a span of six years she has managed to navigate a vast chunk of Europe. Traveling for her is synonymous with freedom and she feels that every time she sets out for a new adventure, her soul gets liberated a little more.
She explains, “Liberation for me is in the realisation that home is a feeling, and it is inside me, it travels with me, and changes its forms. It is in the realisation that home is that hotel where I was staying for days or that friend’s place who is hosting me, on in that shared warm hug to that old friend in a new place. Travel in itself is liberating.”
However, like an unbiased mother, she refuses to pick a favourite child and is at a loss when asked to choose her favourite among all the places that she has been to. “We cannot compare places. Every place has its own story and a different beauty,” she says, adding, “Paris is an experience, whereas Rome is a story, perhaps more than one story, perhaps a 1000 stories. How can I compare the two? All of the destinations are my favourite.”
Sagarika owes a lot to all her solo adventures and says that traveling has made her an extrovert, and a friendly and accepting individual. Also, (she ensures that I don’t miss out on this) talking to random people is what she cherishes the most about her solo travels.
She shares, “I enjoy having these random conversations with strangers during my journey, or in a bar. Randomly asking the person next to me, where are they from or where they are headed is an experience in itself.”
“For me, whenever I am walking on an unfamiliar street of a new city, I tend to make it my own. That part where I feel it, touch it, its walls, gardens, the very peculiar smell, it is mine to have and keep.”
Rupali Sachdev, 21, Student
“Somehow, somewhere during my travels, I grew up and learned to take care of myself and maybe that has been the best part of it all.”
For Rupali, the most enriching experiences from her solo travels have been discovering hidden gems across the cities, be it a cafe or a park or a vintage store. As she says, “I particularly love walking around the cities and looking at people go about their lives and thinking about what their story is. Along the way, I always meet people from across the world and I get to learn about life in other countries. Also, sunsets! There’s something magical about watching the sun go down and filling the sky with colours.”
As an exchange student, 21-year-old Rupali has been to Greece, where she has explored Athens, Larissa, Delphi, Volos, Makrinitsa and Pelion. She has also been to Germany where she visited places like Berlin, Frankfurt, Mainz, Wiesbaden, and Heidelberg.
However, out of all the destinations that she has been to, Delphi has a special place in Rupali’s heart, owing to her love for Greek mythology. She shares, “I have read about the oracle of Delphi and seeing the Tholos of Athena Pronaia and Temple of Apollo was a surreal experience.”
Greece was like an experience unlike any other for Rupali. She made new friends there and they spent nights just lying on a cliff and looking at the night sky. “I had not seen a sky look so beautiful before,” she says.
While she makes the most of the present, Rupali also ensures to be safe while she is at it. “I make sure that I either travel during the daytime (and luckily, the sun sets here around 10 so I have a lot of hours of daylight) or if I’m travelling at night, say for dinner or to go to a club, I travel with friends. I avoid the less safe areas of the city and usually walk in the city centre or take the main roads at night. I always have pepper spray with me and stay alert about my surroundings,” she shares.
For Rupali, traveling gives her an opportunity to do a plethora of things that she wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. She explains, “When I travel, I get to be me, living alone and taking care of myself is something I love. The independence and joy of choosing what to cook and what to wear and where to go is simply incredible. I have lived a very sheltered life in India and wouldn’t have been able to do any of this had it not been for traveling.”
To add to it, traveling has helped her explore an entirely different side of herself. “I have discovered that I can be independent and learned to think on my feet. When you travel to another place and don’t speak the language, you learn how to adapt, how to communicate without even using words. I learned that I can stay calm in situations where things aren’t going well and think of solutions.”
Meeting new people and getting engrossed in the kind of conversations that rub their ever-lasting essence on your soul is perhaps a part of every solo traveler’s odyssey and it isn’t too different for Rupali either.
Recollecting one of these stimulating conversations, she shares, “I had gone for a coffee and art event to a gallery in Mainz in Germany where I met this French street artist. We were both working on our sketches and discussing art and life and everything in between. He taught French to school children in Germany and put up his street art around the city in his spare time. He gave me a few stickers to put up around the city when I go back to Bombay. Every wall in every city would become his art gallery. I’ll always remember this conversation because I realised that art transcends language and distance and somehow connects us all.”
Niki Ghamande, 28, Social Entrepreneur
“I prefer to learn about a new place from the local people instead of Google. It helps me grasp the real essence of the place.”
Niki also inherits her travel bug from her father who was a trekker in his youth. Sharing the beginning of her tryst with solo traveling, she says, “I was around 17 when I had my first solo trip to Matheran. That’s when it all started. Since then I have tried to go for at least two solo trips every year. I have been to Indore, Jabalpur, Pondicherry, Auroville, Alibagh, Bhandhardhara, and Pawna Lake on my own.”
Niki has her own traveling firm called Utopia Journeys, through which she is basically attempting to connect urban people to rural people by organising camps, treks, and similar short trips. Through her endeavour, instead of reaching out to big brands and resorts, Niki seeks the assistance of the local people to cater to these travelers and thus helps them in making a livelihood.
She has also been helping them in setting up their our camps by buying tents and setting up toilets. “I focus on local people’s development. They don’t have a steady livelihood and this gives them a chance to make up for the non-agricultural seasons,” she says.
In fact, engaging with the local population is an integral part of Niki’s solo journeys as well. She explains, “I prefer to learn about a new place from the local people instead of Google. It helps me grasp the real essence of the place.”
Out of all the solo adventures that she has taken till date, Auroville remains a distinct memory. She explains, “It is an entirely different world altogether. There is so much of freedom, and no class, no fear, no gender discrimination. The kind of freedom that I experienced at Auroville has helped me get rid of a constant fear that I used to have whenever I traveled alone.”
Also, Sarafa Gali in Indore is a place that Niki visits just to hog on the heavenly food and it’s also her favorite destination for the purpose.
As a solo traveller, it’s trekking that has Niki’s heart and she often goes to remote and far off villages for the same. She shares an experience from one such trekking trip in a remote area near Mumbai where there was zero network coverage. She says, “I was all alone and since there was no trekking season there was no one around me and I got lost somewhere on the way. That’s when I came across a family who were milking their cows at that time. They asked me where I was headed and upon realising that I was lost offered me accommodation at their home, along with delicious food, and an evening full of beautiful stories.”