Sunday, January 15, 2012

On traveling alone

Hello and happy new year!  Please feel free to take another look at my Christmas post: I've added some pictures.

After three great weeks in South India, I am back in Delhi, and scheduled to return to school tomorrow.  I don't know if I am ready, but I will be headed back nonetheless.  Though my three weeks of freedom from responsibility have been nice, I have to say that I have missed my little monsters, as well as my fellow teachers, and am looking forward to seeing them all again.

Currently I am still unpacking and sifting through my notes; blog posts on my travels through various locations in Kerala, Bangalore, and Hyderabad will come soon.  First though, I would like to write a few words on my experiences as a solo traveler.

I have only traveled alone once before, and that was a three day trip to Kochi, Kerala in 2009.  Even then, I remember being lonely and at times overwhelmed.  Getting lost in an unfamiliar city is scary even when one is with a companion; the fear multiplies when one is alone.  This trip also demonstrated to me the extra costs of solo travel; having a travel buddy to share rickshaw, taxi, and room prices with cuts down considerably on spending.  And then there is just the joy of sharing an experience with someone else.  The people who greet you upon your return will always say "tell me all about your trip!"  However, they will never truly understand what it was like.  Not in the same way that a travel companion would. 

But there are also distinct advantages to traveling alone.  You are answerable to no one but yourself.  When I wanted to go to bed at 8pm, I could.  When I wanted to wake up and take a walk at sunrise, there was no need for me to tip toe around any sleeping travel buddies.  I could eat at any restaurant I wanted.  If I felt that I would rather just pay more money for a rickshaw then try to navigate confusing bus schedules written in Kannada, then that was my, and only my, choice to make.

Another observation is that, for better or for worse, solo travelers attract more attention, particularly in India, where very few people do anything alone.  When someone is alone, people want to know why, and often come right up and ask.  There is no chance of interrupting a solo traveler in conversation with a friend, so he is somehow deemed more approachable.  Throughout my three weeks, I interacted with and talked to many people, some of whom were travelers themselves, others of whom were curious locals.  I breakfasted with students from Seattle and talked to them about their experiences in China and Korea.  I had dinner with two men, best friends, from Kochi, who had traveled together around Kerala every year since University, and now had families of their own.  I ate utthapam in the mountains of Kerala with a group of men from Kolkata, and a monstrous thali in Bangalore with a woman from Switzerland, who has been coming to India every year for eight years.  After disapprovingly pointing out that my shirt was riding up and revealing two much, a group of veiled Muslim schoolgirls in Hyderabad was very excited to talk to me, and we had a very nice conversation in Hindi/Urdu. 

I will admit that three weeks was a very long time to travel alone, and I did get lonely at times.  I ripped through three books (William Dalrymple's City of Djinns and his later book The Age of Kali, and Rohinton Mistry's Tales From Firozshah Baag) during my three weeks, which might give some idea of how much time I had to myself.  I haven't had time to read very much since coming to India though, what with school, dance, Hindi classes, English teacher training sessions, as well as day-to-day life, so it was nice to be able to spend some quality time with books again.

And I should also add that I was not really alone all the time.  In every place that I went to I either met up with friends, or visited their homes.  It was these times that were some of the best during the three weeks.

So although I had some difficult moments during my three weeks of solo travel, I have to say that I enjoyed myself very much.  The advantages of traveling alone outweighed the disadvantages, and I really had a great time.  And though I am very excited to take my next trip with my dad, who will be arriving in India in just two days, I have to say, my three week vacation was a great experience, and I definitely plan to travel alone again someday!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Cuz!
    I am enjoying reading your blog, got a late start on it but am really happy your dad sent me the link. I loved reading the above post in particular. I'm not sure if you remember when I took a year out of college to travel the US, Mexico and Canada (you were still quite young!) but I spent much of that year on my own. You're so right about the loneliness at times, and the wishing you had someone to share certain experiences with, but what you gain in return is an even tradeoff at the very least. I was "forced" to reach out more while on my own and met so many people that otherwise I most certainly would not have. I gained a lot of confidence (which snuck up on me as I traveled and stuck with me throughout life). I am so proud of you, Abby, and I am awed by your spirit, your intelligence, your humor and your love of humanity. Can't wait to see where you're going next. Much love, Beth