Women Only Travel, Wanderlust, Solo Traveller, these are some of the terms we often hear for female travellers going it alone or in groups with other women. There is something very liberating about being on a journey all by yourself. Shouldn’t be, in my view. We live in a democracy, a free country, every individual has the right to go anywhere, anytime, and travel shouldn’t look like an achievement. Yet, even in today’s day and age, or should I say, more so in today’s day and age, solo female travel is not the norm but an exception. It is glamourized by the media, travel industry and popular culture, alike. Solo Female Travel is a growing niche market.
Given the law and order situation in the country and more importantly, the societal mind-sets that don’t accept a woman on her own trip, going ahead with her business, using her own mind. Remember the dialogue from the movie ‘Jab We Met’? ‘Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai!’ That sums up the general mind-set we have, as a country and society.
Most women who have travelled alone will tell you stories of curious co-passengers, the over friendly uncles, the match makers, the saviours who will rush to help you even when you clearly don’t need it. The elderly ladies who will demand to know why no one is accompanying you, what is so important that your family let you go alone!
The fears are not unfounded though. Open the newspaper and you will find enough headlines to scare you from setting out alone. Safety, especially for women is non-existent. Yet, that does not mean we cage ourselves and our girls within four walls. What lurks outside, lurks inside the four walls too. Not going out is not the solution. Changing the mind-set, tightening the laws, making roads and transport safer is. That topic is for another day. Let’s come back to travel.
All travel need not be leisurely or road trip kind. Some is essential. Like travelling to study in another city. Travelling back home. Travelling for job, projects, work related travel, meetings, conferences, interviews, personal events, weddings, ceremonies and so on.
Travel helps you to learn how to manoeuvre the unknown. It gives you confidence to face the world. Making arrangements, packing your stuff, managing time, meeting stark strangers, not all are the good kind, learning to handle the unwanted attention, the creeps, learning how to trust the genuine and good people, handling paper work, transport, navigating roads and maps, finding new addresses, being able to handle the loneliness and more.
Travel teaches you life skills. To not depend on anyone. To trust your own ability to handle yourself. Travel broadens your horizons, perspectives and possibilities. If you have travelled enough on your own, you will not hesitate to take up a new job or project in another city. You know how to manage new place and people, being on your own feet.
Travel brings you closer to disparities of life. You learn to appreciate your privileges. It also brings you closer to diversity. Not all people speak your language or practice same religion as you or eat the same food. Yet, we are human, we are the same with all our differences and quirks and that’s the biggest truth. Many of our prejudices dissolve when we shed the masks of our social identities and meet people who are different in some way.
Travel shakes our routine existence, throws us into a routine-less day or week or hours. As a child I often used to wonder how 24 hours in a train, the 24 hours that I would have spent lazily at home inside four walls, and catapulted me to some other corner of the earth, in the same time. It seemed like magic. It still does. For this reason, many a journeys spark creativity by shredding the mundane routines.
Travel takes you closer to nature. The trees, fields, huts, farmers tilling the soil, standing ankle deep in paddy fields, the hinterland, the rivers, streams, waterfalls, mountains all come alive from text book pages when you gave outside from the train window. No Geography class can teach you the lessons Nature can. Travel and touch those trees and snow and rivers. They will make you more human than any civilised city can.
Whenever, wherever, life gives an opportunity, shed the fear and travel.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” -Maya Angelou