The Great Things about Solo Travelling

Parisian Pigeons

For the longest time in life, I resisted traveling solo. I was not as afraid of being lost as I was of the feeling of self-consciousness borne out of the fear of what would people think. I was afraid that this would wrongly indicate to the world that I was friendless, unsocial, and no one wanted to hang out with me. When I took the plunge, I discovered, much to my relief, that people are too busy to think anything at all. Better so, some actually thought it was very adventurous and brave of me to go around globe trotting. For the longest time, I was brainwashed into believing that sad, friendless souls travel alone. I was told that people who do not have families or who have been abandoned by their friends travel alone. I was told that one must wait until one gets married to travel Europe. Now what if you were not married, but had the time, money, opportunity, and the enthusiasm to travel? Would you still resist it due to preconceived social notions? The day I started having minor knee pains, I realized that I should start seeing all those places I would not be able to see a few years down the line because I need to hike, climb, crawl, or walk for hours. That was one of the most liberating moments for me. Over the years, I started to visit more places, more countries, and got addicted to the idea of traveling alone. I was still going places with friends, but I started to love those long solo drives as well. I started to realize the myriad of great things about traveling alone that I had overlooked before. Perhaps it is worth sharing some of them.

Yellowstone National Park

1. Knowing Thyself

Traveling alone gives you a chance to connect with yourself, and to the world around you. Your observation abilities improve manifold. You begin to notice and appreciate the little things you did not notice before. You significantly reduce the “noise” in your life, even if for a while, which is the first step toward knowing yourself better. If you thought you know yourself well, wait till you start to travel alone in unfamiliar lands, see how you handle situations, warm up to the world around you, and communicate with others. I never knew I love bridges or sunsets and sunrises until I actually got fascinated by them after my trips to Florida and California. I never knew I could navigate my way around reasonably well until I started reading maps to find my way around Paris. I remember the evening when I spent hours sitting by the Seine, watching the beautifully lit little boats ferrying tourists across. I had spent those hours in conversation with myself, realizing how much I wanted to be a writer and a photographer other than joining the scientific workforce as a professor. I was surprised how much my head had cleared after spending weeks backpacking, not having to see, hear, or talk to anyone familiar.

Disneyland

2. Taking Charge

Traveling alone teaches you to take charge of your life. You learn to plan your time and money to maximize returns. You build an amazing sense of accomplishment. You develop great confidence, a virtue that is reflected in the other spheres of life as well. You learn to walk up to a stranger and ask for help. You improve your communication skills. Sometimes you are required to communicate even when you don’t know the local language. In Rome, it took me a while to make myself understood, be it while asking for directions, or while trying to find out the locker room at Roma Termini where I needed to store my bags for the day. When traveling alone, you are your own boss. If you are not that scared of being your own boss, it is quite a liberating feeling. The freedom that comes with traveling solo, of visiting whatever place you want to, of eating whatever cuisine you prefer, of spending an extra hour at the museum although you didn’t plan it initially, is undeniable. In certain ways, traveling alone is like doing a PhD. You have all the time to discover, make mistakes, and figure your way out. While the disadvantages of traveling alone are more intuitive, it also teaches you skills like planning, organizing, maximizing, strategizing, forming an agenda, researching on things to do, taking charge of your life, and most importantly, not depending on anyone. You are more aware of what is happening around you. Just because you are open to the idea of traveling alone, you become more proactive in your approach and more observant of the little things in the world. This is because you do not have the distractions that come with traveling in herds.

Cobbled streets of St. Louis

3. Reducing “Noise”

By traveling solo, you bypass the hassles of traveling with a mismatched travel partner. Nothing can spoil a trip more than traveling with people you are not able to warm up to. Traveling for me is mostly place-specific (when visiting a place is a priority) or people-specific (when spending time with someone is a priority). More things can go wrong during a place-specific trip. You might want to wake up early to visit as many places as you can, while others might want to sleep until late. You might want to go hiking while others might not want to. Sometimes, you want to spend an extra half an hour at a place taking pictures, while people might not share your enthusiasm and ask you to hurry up. You might not want to be dragged to every museum and every shopping mall in the area. Then there are other hassles you might face when in a group. Some people in the group might not get along with each other. Some people might be too busy talking on the phone although officially they are your travel partner. Some people are too busy bossing around and being the center of attention. I have seen all kinds of things going wrong in a large group. Who gets to drive? Who brings in the morning coffee for everyone? Who gets to take a shower first while who gets to sleep an extra few minutes? Why does she take hours putting on makeup? Why can’t they pack their lunch and eat on the way instead of wasting hours eating at a restaurant? Are they going to divide the costs equally, or should they pay more because they ordered more food? Is he trying to be more pushy, forcing us to go to places and not letting us voice our opinions? Do we need to see every goddamn geyser at Yellowstone National Park? Can’t we skip the boat ride in Crater Lake? Should we spend all that extra money renting a convertible? Do we have to camp in the cold? You can bypass all the unhealthy group dynamics, group politics, and adjustment issues when you are on your own.

Mountains of Washington

4. Leveraging the Opportunities

By not being afraid about traveling alone, you do not wait until you are old or rich to be able to start seeing the world. You do not wait for the right travel partner to come along. You do not wait until you have all the money to travel. Chances are more that by the time you have the money and company to travel, you might start experiencing those knee joint pains or muscle cramps during a strenuous hike you never noticed before. You steer clear of the expectations that come with traveling in groups. Just to know that you are in charge is a great feeling in itself. In fact, the world becomes your playground where you are free to decide where you want to play next. You can go just about anywhere, from the volcanoes of Italy, to the wonders of Peru. Nothing really limits you more than your own fears or doubts.

Traveling alone for me has come with multiple blessings. It has helped me develop skills like travel writing and photography, and get in touch with my artistic side. I am more observant of my surroundings, the people, what they wear, how they talk, and how they behave in social settings. This has helped me in being creative in research as well. Solo traveling has brought me in touch with my creative side, just because I am spending more time with myself in an alien setting, rather than being in a group where I am more busy having fun with a bunch of people I am comfortable hanging out with.

The majestic campus at Princeton

5. Improving Social Skills

Ironically, by traveling alone, you actually end up making more friends. Suddenly there are people who want to travel with you because you are more experienced and hence assumed to be experienced, knowledgeable and responsible. People develop a respect for you that you didn’t notice before, just because they know you can take charge and are not scared of being on your own. I have had people come up to me and ask, people I barely know or talked to, about the make and model of camera I use, about the way I plan trips, and about what to see at a particular place I have been to. People ask you for suggestions every now and then. If nothing, a compliment from a stranger like, “Wow, I wish I could travel like you” can make your day. Similarly you now find yourself being more friendly to people because every person you know is a potential contact at a particular place. When you meet someone from say Mexico or Brazil, you know that in future if you visit those places, you have a potential contact person who could help you. Thus not only people warm up to you, you warm up to people as well.

Statue of Liberty

Whether you plan to travel solo, or in groups, or want to do both, let nothing limit your abilities, confidence, enthusiasm, and your wanderlust. To set foot in the countries where great philosophers and thinkers lived, to see the same sights that Columbus or Vasco da Gama had seen hundreds of years ago, to see history unfold in front of you, and to marvel at the works of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo firsthand gives you a sense of accomplishment that no amount of watching television at home or growing crops in Farmville can give you.

P.S.: I have taken all these pictures during my trips. You are welcome to appreciate them and marvel at them, but please try not to be tempted into downloading, uploading, or passing them along as your own.

28 Comments

  • MN says:

    Hey DC,

    Just Awesome lady. You are a great story teller. Read the blog and really appreciate the finer points you have bought out about the advantages of travelling. Photos speak for themselves. Superb!!! 5*****

    Liked the B/W photo of St.Louis & horse carriages. I still say old B/W photos which we see bring back such memories.

    You were referring to Yellow Stone National Park & the Gysers – It is a Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park and many dont know what might happen and when. 2 days ago there was a program on Discovery channel on dooms day scenario – yellow stone volcano is 1 possibility apart from so many others..

    I really liked & appreciate your point you have made about “By not being afraid about traveling alone, you do not wait until you are old or rich to be able to start seeing the world” Hope more people think like you do. You do not wait for the right travel partner to come along. You do not wait until you have all the money to travel”

    When they say you are such an experienced traveller – what they forget is that you too started taking the first step and did the first solo trip and the aprehension, tension and the initial loneliness might have been there but today you are like a free bird..and have become a seasoned player and you decide where you want to go, for how many days and what to see and when to return.

    Keep travelling lady & looking forward for more!!!

    WR, MN

    • Devasmita says:

      Yes, you are right, traveling is an art and an addiction, and solo traveling is an acquired taste that comes with experience. I worry I am showing signs of growing old these days, because sometimes even with the option of having company, I just take off alone, and thoroughly enjoy driving alone for hours. Unless I can get someone whose travel tempo really matches mine, I just end up saying, “No, thank you, I’d rather be on my own” :)

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Devasmita,

    A very well presented, very ‘good read’ article(s, two together) – a collectible, befitting the best of any travel account.

    The antimeric articles (‘Great…’ and ‘Not so Great…’) need to be linked (part I/II or , etc.) to present a fuller view.

    The issue of Solo v/s not-so-solo has been interestingly debated here. I would though bat for the verb ‘travelling’ – whichever way.

    Deavasmita, Great job…keep going…

    @ Nandan,

    perhaps Ghumakkar.com could create a separate head viz. travel essays or similar…, where such articles reflecting views on travel could be placed (including other articles already in this site, I can remember the series by Vibha).. you see, … a great collection is already in the making…

    Thanks

    Auro.

    • Devasmita says:

      Aurojit, thank you :) I was experimenting with the idea of writing a travel-related non-travel post, and I should especially thank Nandan and Vibha who gave me the freedom and opportunity to get creative with these posts, where I do not really describe a trip, but still talk about travel. I think an important component that develops in every traveler is the travel philosophy that is unique to everyone. My past experiences have given me my own philosophy of travel, which I have tried sharing here.

  • abhishek.aks says:

    This is a perfect complimentary article for yesterday’s one. Nice write up indeed :)

  • Stone says:

    I can totally see a best-seller travel book coming out pretty soon :-)
    Hope to get a signed copy of the same ;-)

    Keep traveling!

    • Devasmita says:

      Stone, come on, you are just being too nice :) I am sure there are enough talented Ghumakkars out there who would give me a run for my money.

  • Roopesh says:

    Hi Devasmita,

    Great post and interesting topic. I think traveling has come of age and rather than sight-seeing people even want to escape from the daily rigmarole. I have been to trips with companions as well as solo and can fairly relate to the pros and cons. Thumb rule is as you mentioned what is more important – people or places and we have to prioritize accordingly. I regret missing few opportunities when I could have traveled alone having everything in place but bogged down by hesitation of lack of traveling partner. With family it becomes tad difficult to go wherever you want. So, I advice people to just go lest you get tied down by job, family etc. etc.

    regards,
    Roopesh

    • Devasmita says:

      Absolutely Could not agree with you more. I have been working on looking at the advantages of traveling alone, and it has been a rewarding experience so far.

  • ashok sharma says:

    nice photos.

  • C V Kumar says:

    Hi Devasmita

    There is poetry in your writing and in your photography.

    And a great championing of travelling alone. Wish my wife would read this and get inspired.

    Regards

    CVK

    • Devasmita says:

      hehe, thank you :) I mostly travel alone because I have no one to travel with. However, do not overlook the fun and advantages of seeing places with someone. Alone or in company, it would be great either way I am sure.

  • Nandan says:

    @ DC – Well said. Very well said. And I say this because it is coming from a practitioner, someone who is sharing what happened during all those solo (and non-solo) travels. So, big thanks.

    Please link the two. I can do it as well. Let me know.

    @ Auro – Yes. I have not been able to visualize it cleanly in terms of format. I have been trying to think hard though, probably I just need to wait for more time and not rush through. I think you mean ‘Editorial’ which Vibha does once every month. That too came after only we could see it clearly (at least for us) on what this piece would be. Same was the case of ‘Interviews’ which at this point of time is only limited to ‘Featured Authors’. I see a need of ‘Resource Centre’ (how to shoot, how to cross a Nallah by Bike etc etc) and may be ‘Travel Essays’. Let the thought ferment :-)

    Back to the current story, Its a great essay out of pure personal travel experience. Traveling is Good.

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Nandan,

    Probably there was a slip between what I thought and wrote.

    Point being that such nice articles may not get categorised under any head in ‘Places’ window of this site. Consequently, they may fade away due to lack of a visible link (except probably Author’s page/article link) – whereas they deserve better. So I was thinking of a separate ‘head’ where these articles could be placed so as to be accessible to a visitor.

    And fully agree with ‘Resource Centre’ concept – two aspects are intrinsically related to a traveller, viz photography and in many cases, information on driving/vehicle maintenance etc.

    @ Devasmita,

    Great posts, once again.

    Auro.

  • Nandan says:

    @ Auro – Ok. Got it. Probably a new category, on the similar lines of ‘Editorials’ and ‘Interviews’. Good idea. I am hoping that our Editor is taking note of this discussion. Since everything gets published with some level of control from Editorial Desk, may be this new category (as we think about a good name to categorize this category) gets a place in the ‘Editorial’ (the link for this months’s blabla) or may be a place in the newsletter.

    Would think more.

  • jaishree says:

    Devsmita,

    Finally went through most of your posts and loved reading and viewing……all of them. So much so that I am doing JUGALI of many photos and write-ups.

    But surely this one had the grit to steal the heart.

    Elaborating on this solo travel, there is another tender branch which just shoot-up…Solo Family Travel. Me and Manish have been travelling since the day we got married and always Solo (I can proudly say ourselves Solo as bide by oaths taken during marriage) except a few trips perhaps not more than five. And as we extended our family, still never felt the need for any companion.

    And yes there are Pros and Cons, but mostly P outweighs C, for us. And that is one most important reason that we have traveled far and wide with limited and sometimes not so limited resources, then ony small kid in a pram and then another and both were travel-trained before they were toilet-trained.

    And being Solo allowed us to know that we love to walk and walk, we love photography and birding, and we learned to rush every weekend when in Europe and allowed ourselves to have leisure weekends when in India.

    I wish you more travel and more creativity.

    • Devasmita says:

      Dear jaishree,

      Thank you for your wonderful comment. I wonder how I missed replying to it. You are right, the pros outweigh the cons any day, and we keep seeing newer places :)

  • jaishree says:

    Nandan,

    I agree with Aurojit about having another head say INDRADHANUSH( or anything better) which will have so many hues yet when looked together will be only and only one thing -TRAVEL.

  • Nandan says:

    I have connected both the stories under a new series called ‘Travel Essay’.

    Regarding having a separate section of logs which may not be destination focused, the thinking-through exercise continues.

  • Nandan says:

    Folks – We discussed the topic of having these stories under a more focused head and here are our thoughts and plans.

    1. We would put these under a new category called, …….., and have it show up in footer just like ‘Editorials’ and ‘Interviews’.

    2. To lend them some more structure, we would publish them on 22nd of each month and would try with 1 per month. As of now, ‘Editorial’ comes out on every 15th and ‘Interview is published’ on 30th/31st. This new category would have a permanent date.

    3. If it gets more traction, we would find a way to highlight them more (in our monthly newsletter etc) and if there are more stories then we can have it on 7th as well.

    Now, we need ideas on what do we call this category. Lets the ideas flow.

  • Nandan says:

    Update – It would be called ‘Ghumakkar Insights’ and the first story is up. Thank You Very Much for bringing this up and building enough traction, without which it would have fallen through.

    Do read the story – https://www.ghumakkar.com/2011/12/22/what-is-on-your-mind-and-what-goes-into-your-bag/

    and read my comment on the story for more details around schedule etc.

    • Devasmita says:

      Dear Nandan,

      Kudos to you and to team Ghumakkar for this great initiative :) I look forward to reading more of such posts.

  • Hi DC,

    Very nicely written, both the articles. …
    I dont know, how I missed reading both of them till now. The courage and conviction, both are admirable.
    You have definitely givem me an inspiration…

    -Manisha

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