When I first took the decision to go ahead with my travel plans to Cambodia, even when I couldn’t find suitable travel companions, I spent hours and hours reading about solo traveling. I found great advice from various stellar travelers but almost all of them were westerners. There are just so many blogs narrating the stories of girls from the west traveling the world solo! But I could hardly find any Indian women among them. And rightfully so! A girl in the prime of her youth traveling alone to unknown places is unheard of in the society where I come from. “It’s a big bad world out there for girls, so never go out alone” was a mantra which was constantly chanted while growing up. With the heavily publicized recent Indian happenings, it does look like a sound advice to give young Indian girls. Or does it?
I hail from a fairly conservative part of Southern India. My parents freaked out when I said I traveled 7 days in Cambodia alone. Did you notice the word “traveled” ? 😉 Yes, I was originally supposed to go with some friends but the plans fell apart at the very last minute. I had two choices: either to abandon the trip & sit at home for the whole week watching boring tv & youtube videos or suck it up & carry on to see the infinitely beautiful Angkor Wat all by myself. You know which one I took. And it was the best decision I have ever taken in my whole life!
It definitely wasn’t an easy decision to make. Growing up in India, I am inherently cautious, so I know for sure that I wouldn’t lose my stuff or get scammed generally, because I have been careful all my life! But sometimes this becomes a bane, since it’s very difficult to loosen up. Trusting others, men in particular is so difficult! The feeling of insecurity in the presence of strange men, is something I fought hard to overcome and I still don’t think I completely have. I learnt so much about myself in this 1 week trip than what I have known all my life. Personally, I feel every Indian girl should shun the fear and embrace the uncertainty in solo traveling, and experience it at least once before she gets married. This would definitely give her more clarity of life and help in understanding herself better!
Let me stop my rant and get to the part where I share some tips for enjoying solo travel. If any of the girls out there got inspired by my words and decided to take the step forward (pat on my back 😉 ), keep the following points in mind to get the best out of your trip.
#1. Do your homework
It really helped that I did quite some research before I left to Cambodia. Try to have some notes in hand on the places you want to visit, the average price of essential stuff, some addresses of good restaurants and a rough itinerary. It’s always better to be well equipped, especially when it’s your first time.
#2. Remember that you don’t have a chivalrous gentleman around to carry your baggage
Pack light. Pack light. Pack light! I can’t emphasize it enough. Keep in mind that, it should be light enough for you to carry it around for a day if needed. So no place for extra shoes, makeup and fancy clothes (you are not going to use them any way!!). I carried with me a couple or more t-shirts and a jean for the whole week! I can see that you are judging me already. I did wash my stuff once in the middle of the trip and ended up buying one more pant since it was just too stinky! But you get my point, right?
#3. Trust your instincts
You meet a lot of people on the road. Both crappy and wonderful. And you need to trust your guts to distinguish who’s who. And most of the time, I’ve found that our instincts are spot on. If you feel something is off about a place, just leave! Same with guys, you’ll need to perfect your skills of saying “NO” and moving away whenever you feel the person cannot be trusted. At the same time, if your instincts say yes, go for it! When I reached Siem Reap, it was 1:30 AM due to a delayed bus travel. Sleepy, sore and tired, I got down from the bus and looked out for a tuk-tuk driver to take me to the hotel at that hour! A bit scary I know, but my instincts told me to trust one guy. And he ended up being my wonderful driver-cum-guide for all my 3 days! So sometimes, you just know!
#4. Be a nice girl
Always having a smile, not being fussy or judgmental about the country you’re visiting and in general sending out a positive vibe helps. Not just for your travels, but for your life as a whole. But I am not here to give life lessons, so let me just stick to travel. 😉 You might want to hide behind a mask of fake(or real) tough girl image but you’ll definitely have better experiences when you’re playing the nice girl. When the locals are comfortable with you, you end up seeing a lot more than a normal tourist! Trust me, language is never a barrier when you smile.
#5. Know when and where to splurge
I have always been a budget traveler since I’m still a student and don’t have a fat bank account (yet!!). A lot of Indians I know are similar, and are very cautious of their expenses. I am all for it and I hate when people spend irresponsibly. But you need to splurge when you must. I spent 25% of my expenses in Cambodia in a 2-hour zip-lining experience and had the time of my life. You might not get the opportunity to go back again, so try to make the right call to have an unforgettable experience.
#6. Have an imaginary friend at hand
This might sound a bit kiddish, but it helped me avoid me some awkward situations. People are not used to seeing lone Indian girls, so many of them are very curious. I try to avoid nosy conversations in general where they ask me why I am alone and whether I don’t have friends with me etc., But once, I got really stuck and just couldn’t wriggle out. And that was when, I put my creative brains to use 😉 It started with “My friend has gone to the restroom” to “My friend sprained her ankle and is stuck at the hotel & I am trying to take as much pics as possible to console her for missing out the fun” 😉 It just gave me a bit more confidence and yes, I loved spinning stories 😀
#7. Suck it up and never lose your cool
This is especially for people like me, who cannot tolerate anyone speaking ill of India unnecessarily. With all the media coverage on the unfortunate rape incidents in India, you inevitably get questioned on it. I was equally troubled by the incidents but strongly believe that these alone DO NOT define India. Such cases happen almost everywhere in the world, wherever sick perverts exist. It’s arguably more in India and things have to change, yes! But when all that fellow travelers ask is this, you get frustrated. Just one word of advice, be prepared and don’t lose your cool. (This is mainly for me 😉 )
#8. Know how to make friends and tackle compliments
A lot of solo travelers had mentioned that they make many friends while traveling. I made a few good friends but I wouldn’t call it a lot. I found that I didn’t belong to the usual category of travelers making it a bit difficult to make friends. So be ready to put in some extra effort. Also, as Indian girls, we are used to cat calls and inappropriate gestures but not genuine compliments. So when that comes, it’s awkward! Learning how to tackle compliments from strangers with a straight face is a skill one must master 😉
Finally, the last but most important point
#9. Don’t be too careful
You must think I’m crazy, but being too careful is the worst enemy of solo traveling. If you are always cautious about your stuff, you don’t get to enjoy and savor the whole experience. So don’t carry too much cash or any of your expensive tablets; have your passports in your pockets or somewhere on you, with important phone numbers noted on a paper. Now sit back and relax. Take in the beautiful surroundings you are in and enjoy the company that you’ve have, YOU!
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