Travel of a kind

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To travel or not to travel alone, is a dilemma many must face, says E. Vijayalakshmi Rajan. She loves to travel and does so at the drop of a hat, but always in company. The thought of solo travel disturbingly tickles her fancy more often than she would care to admit!

Who doesn’t like to travel? From time immemorial man has travelled, as a nomad, as a seeker of adventures, to conquer new worlds, the human history is replete with the burning need of humans to travel. In recent years, travel has become all-encompassing. Some statistics say a whopping 1,300 million international tourist arrivals are recorded every year, worldwide.

Indians are travelling like never before. It is said that about 50 million Indians will be travelling abroad every year by 2020. This doesn’t include domestic travel. I love to travel too. Having been around a bit, it is not travel which obsesses me though, it is the thought of solo travel. Everything about making a trip on my own, fascinates me. The thought that I could spend days alone, being wholly and solely responsible for me, is a scary prospect. Yet, a very alluring one.

It’s not as if I have never travelled alone ever. I have. As a reporter in the Tamil heartland, I have often travelled alone. In fact, I have taken overnight buses and trains, often arriving early morning, when the night still cast its inky blackness on the world outside. Prudently I would wait it out in the relative safety of the station, waiting for dawn to break. But, all these trips were work related.

That’s the thing about work. It focuses you, channels your attention to the tasks at hand. In my case, it was always a full schedule of interviews to be done, places to be covered, the necessary people sought out. There never was time to dilly-dally, distracted by stray thoughts. Somehow, the professional ‘kavach’ or armour sees one through many a sticky situation.

I never documented my travels then, which I regret today. My articles and reports about places and events got written out, but not my personal experiences about a particular place. And by jove, weren’t there plenty of those! Try as much as I can to find those memories enveloped in the mists of time, I come up empty-handed. They are well and truly lost to me.

And, I digress! In the years since those active reporting days, I have got used to a life where travel is only about pleasure. And I travel only with my family. I look forward to these travels. In fact, the planning is half the fun. I try not to YouTube to death the places we are about to visit, as I feel the charm of the place is lost. But a lot of planning goes into each trip. When we reach the destination, we do everything together. The point I am making is, I am never alone. And it has never bothered me, till recently.

The sole obsession

So, why am I obsessed with solo travel? The obsession got triggered because one fine day I realised that the thought of a journey alone, terrified me. It was a stray comment by a friend which triggered it. As often is the case, I don’t remember the context, but the comment, “You must be so used travelling alone”, brought the realisation that no, I wasn’t comfortable any more with travelling alone. I had got out of touch with it. I had become almost entirely too self-conscious about solo travel!

It’s not just the physical aspect of travelling on your own. That, is the easy part, especially today, when Makemytrip, TripAdvisor, Expedia and YouTube throw up enough information and reviews about flights, places and hotels. Organising the nitty-gritties is so very easy. My husband does it so effortlessly, so I have learnt it from the best. It’s the other aspect of travel – where you are on your own in a new place, where you have to decide your day’s itinerary, where you are finally alone with the entire day to chart out, make decisions about everything from whether to take the tram or bus, where to eat, when to retire, how much farther to go on a particular day…and the realisation that there is no one waiting at the hotel or apartment for your return, that, is what one needs to come to terms with while travelling solo. You are, well and truly, alone.

I think at the base of my conflicting thoughts about solo travel is the fear that I will fail myself in a myriad ways – I will discover that I am not the fun company I imagine myself to be, that I bore myself to death! On the other hand, my rational mind tells me that solo travel will be a way of getting to know myself better, push the envelope further in terms of spending ‘me time’ in the purest form of the phrase. And really getting to know the person that I am, with nothing – no company, family or distractions – to hide behind. Believe me, it would be easier to go spend a few days alone in a Himalayan cave!

One of the biggest problems with solo travel, at least in my mind, is getting over the self-consciousness of being a solo traveler. A high degree of comfort with one’s self is absolutely necessary, I would imagine. Your own presence in a particular place is not secondary, or due to another person’s plans. You are in a place because you chose to be there. And that puts everything – the blame, the success, the happiness – squarely on your shoulders.

Strangely, the safety aspect of solo travel has never struck me as an impediment to solo travel. One can google to death these variables, and information does arm you well. I imagine travelling solo must make you a more alert, empathetic person too. Travelling on your own must make you more alive to your environs, more open to local culture and influences. So, there is a lot going for solo travel. If only….

As I said earlier, the thought of solo travel terrifies me. But this is one fear that I want to conquer. Like that line in that famous commercial, Dar ke aage jeeth hai. Amen to that!

E. Vijayalakshmi Rajan

E. Vijayalakshmi Rajan is Assistant Editor, One India One People.

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