The above image is during my solo trek to Serolsar Lake, Himachal.
Conversations about the pros and cons of solo travel keeps happening around me. Naturally because I travel solo. And all sorts of random places I land up solo – religious events, cycling in the countryside and recently trekking the himalayas. A lot of people look at me curiously and some of them make some comments (some surprised exclamation) and even fewer start a conversation.
It usually starts with ‘Why are you solo?’ or ‘You are solo :O?’ and then moves to other aspects.
Especially in India, it almost always touches upon the safety aspect.
Note that I don’t mean safety from sexual violence perspective. Because I have spent a lot of time in parts of India which are safe in that regards. I mean as safe as it gets (it’s never totally safe anywhere IMHO). I don’t have to worry about my fundamental safety here. In fact I have even been in places (for example Himalayas and Coorg) where people have told, “arey, yahaan aisa sab nahin hota. Jahaan jaana hain jaao” (here such stuff doesn’t happen, go where ever you want).
So, one of the recurrent themes in this conversation,
“While travelling solo, anything might happen – like you may fall sick or slip or get stranded, wouldn’t it be better to have someone with you?”
No, not if I don’t connect with that other person.
What can be worst than getting stuck with someone you don’t connect with?
Getting stuck with them during a bad time.
Really, I have spent a large part of my life so far surrounded by people who I simply didn’t connect with at any wavelength. It is a terrible ordeal. A consequence of this was that for a very long time I spent second guessing my most basic instincts and thoughts. Because every time I would express myself, these people would either criticize or contradict. Or they would respond in such a boring manner that I really wondered if it was my fault.
It took me a long time to understand that these people basically just bore me terribly.
And also to figure that I simply cannot waste my life Bored.
So, with this background…. let me share with you some of my thoughts on ‘what happens if something goes wrong when you are solo?’
First of all, let’s understand this: Shit happens.
Even though you are a group person, you will at some point of time in your life be alone. And something may go wrong. In fact a lot of times in your life you are actually alone. Like for example when you are commuting to office. Despite a gaggle of friends and family, surely you are alone?
So the thing is that a lot of people, even though they don’t consciously choose solo – life, they actually are on their own very often. It is just that, it is not often noticed because it is ‘normal’. And during this ‘normal’ routine – a lot of trouble can befall you. In fact I feel that the chance of trouble in a city ‘normal’, routine life is higher, than when you are out solo traveling.
And secondly, shit happens. And as I mentioned earlier I would like to be stuck in this either on my own or with someone who would add value during hard times. I have been around people, who would be a burden in hard times. Seriously. There are lot of people, who actually worsen the situation just by being there.
And so being solo during Shit Happens time makes you stronger as hell. And it equips you for life in a way that very few activities do.
Depend on Locals
Now this is another thing. I opt to be around people who I trust to certain extent. At least for my fundamental safety. So since I have that little bit of trust in my heart, when I get into trouble, I depend on the locals. There is no other way. If something goes wrong when I am cycling in the countryside somewhere remote – who else can I depend on? And I have often beckoned complete strangers and asked them for water when I am cycling. Have to. Usually they all help.
And this experience creates a completely unique bond with the world around you. When you know in your heart that, you CAN depend on the people who are living in these little houses you see dotted around you when travelling. That changes a lot of things and your entire perspective towards the world.
And I know in your mind you may be thinking, but why take a risk?
I am not sure there is a risk.
I mean you know everything in life has a certain risk factor. So I am not sure there is any higher level of risk here.
Ways of the World
I had to take a train from Agra station at around 8 in the night, but it was delayed by 6 hours. I would definitely not be caught dead so late on the Agra station, solo. So what can be done?
Well, I knew about this by 6 pm so I had enough time in hand. I checked a few home stays in the area, spoke to one and finalized it in case something else didn’t work out. I called my uncle who has experience with such situations. He suggested I request (vehemently) to the station master. So that’s what I did. First he refused, but my uncle had told me that I need to hang around there. 🙂 So I hung around and soon enough I got a 3 AC ticket in another train which was on time.
I learnt the ways of the world. Now I have managed a lot more such on the ground situations on my own, by just going to the station master and standing there with a little miserable face. It is like an act that both sides to some extent are aware of. I have to act a little damsel in distress. While they act high and mighty first and then make some ‘arrangement’. Because you know in India one can always make an arrangement.
Don’t get me wrong, I go by the rules as much as possible, but in India the rules are often hidden behind tonnes of fine print. For example, how to load my cycle on the luggage van of a train? 😀
It is unbelievably convoluted everywhere. But I manage. And very calmly most of the time. Sometimes I may make a scene too if I deem fit. Or if something bizarre happens. My point is I understand much better the ways of the world. So it is a big learning and makes me a lot more capable in the world.
My first experience in a religious environment – Varanasi was difficult. But since then I am very adept at managing myself and not getting shocked by the fervour and crowds. When I started walking towards the Kali temple of Kolkata (above picture) a group of Pandas (religious guides) gathered around me, and I dealt with them without much fanfare. Also they don’t see a lone woman as very lucrative, so they let me off soon. Nothing much now. 😀
Keeping ‘Safe’ and Feeling UnSafe
When we read negative stories – of people slipping in a trek or getting stranded or being attacked by a maniac while travelling – we tend to get scared and want to protect ourselves. The problem is that when we opt for a protected life, we never stop feeling scared. Maybe for sometime when you are surrounded by someone, you may feel safer. But inevitably that feeling will pass and fear of things comes back in the heart.
This is why it is often found that people who haven’t travelled solo are more freaked by the idea. The ones who have already travelled solo are well aware of what it entails. Only some few may unfortunately have a very bad experience on the first go itself. But as I said, it is one of those things – shit happens. And this can happen even when you are in a group, but decide to go for just a small stroll in the evening or some such.
So this feeling of ‘safety’ is very counter intuitive. And it doesn’t really stop bad things from happening. But some street smart and strong sense of independence might help you remain aware and intelligent in dire situations.
Develop a Sense Of Safety
A lot of what I have said above may seem all theoretical. But from what I understand, we (solo travellers) develop a certain sense of things. Not exactly like a sixth sense, but just being aware of many factors. Like for example, very naturally I am taking note of a lot of factors around me to gauge the environment. I am very attentive to the tone of the person, what kind of questions they are asking, body language, authenticity of the person. Along with this I am also aware of the environment around – other women around, people I could ask for help, who I can call if in trouble. If I am trekking or cycling then having GPS and mobile connectivity. In case I don’t have connectivity then even that I keep in mind. All such various aspects have been thought out before embarking on the trip.
And over time it comes very naturally.
I remember once meeting a person who had spent 30 years in fire safety planning. And he told me that whenever he entered a new building, he would always notice the various exits and layout. He would even ensure that every time he exited the building, he would use a different route as much as possible. This is because, it had become so natural for him to gauge the situation, in case of a fire.
Same way solo travellers or also other rugged travellers would naturally develop a sense of safety. And this sense would naturally help you choose safer options – and these options would actually not be apparent to a person without this exposure.
Because you have come here Alone and will leave Alone
Cannot skip the spiritual reason to solo travel here. Was chatting with a local villager here in Himachal and she had recently lost her husband. She had one son who lived with her, but was completely useless apparently. While the daughter who was nice, was away studying in Shimla. And for this lady who was now alone in her house – she kept saying this a few times…. ‘anyway we have come alone and have to go alone. Look at me now, all alone.’ There was some sadness in her, but also an understanding of this basic reality. And in reality a lot of people are feeling lonely and lost amidst all the people in their lives.
So this is an inevitable aspect of life.
And you don’t need to be solo all your life, but surely you need to be ok just being on your own. You should be well capable and even happy on your own. It is the least spiritual thing one should ensure.
And even from a non-spiritual perspective this is important as you gauge you inner strengths and weakness. It can be of great help in hard times in your life. Traveling solo I am quite capable of dealing with completely random situation on my own. Even tough, freaky situations I manage well enough. And especially after my long distance solo cycling, I am super capable to tackle tough times on my own. And this brings a certain level of independence that honestly I never imagined.
Managing my supplies, gauging my health, gauging the route ahead, understanding various situations, preparing for them, and also internally in a state to enjoy and also manage in case of any troubles. Solo cycling, long distance has been a brilliant experience of inner growth.
And then there is other aspect that applies to me and a few others. Just the other day I met another rugged biker (motor cyclist) and he actually asked me this, ‘what is your strength in tough times when you travel solo’.
Spiritual fire in my heart.
…spirituality demands that I seek for the truth. And so more and more I am looking deeper into this sense of safety. And more and more I am overwhelmed with this feeling that the only true safety is in the spiritual fire burning in my heart. It is in shedding all falsehoods and lies that I keep telling myself as part of the social process, as part of creating a sense of comfort around me. A sense of comfort that is only psychologically numbing and allows me to be dumb.
And at all times let only the spiritual fire in my heart be strong and nourish me till the very end. Because in it alone lies the least risk. It allows me to treat each moment of life well. Death will anyway come.
Here I talk about why ‘Social Acceptance Shapes our feeling of Safety and not Reality‘
The Opportunity To Help A Stranger
So again this may sound counter intuitive.. but my being there solo, gives others an opportunity to help me. I mean help a stranger out. And there is beauty in that.
Like when a monk begs for alms, donating to him is considered a privilege. Same way, helping a stranger on their solo journey is a beautiful situation.
So these are all the many thoughts that I have on this topic – Of What will happen if some trouble comes your way and you are Solo? 🙂
Hope it helps you.
Would like to know your thoughts on this too…. share in comments 🙂