On being an Indian girl and traveling solo

On being an Indian girl and traveling solo

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!

First day of solo travel - Angkor temples
First day of solo travel – Angkor temples

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.

IMG_1449
Me in the shabby hat & oversized sunglasses..yet the smile does the trick & strangers agree to take a pic 😉

#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 😉

One of the Danish girls that I met & became friends with, and explored temples together on Day 2.
One of the Danish girls that I met & became friends with, and explored temples together on Day 2.

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!

What did you think about this article? Please leave your comments below.

This post was originally published on Shmruthi’s wordpress blog from 2014.

32 thoughts on “On being an Indian girl and traveling solo

  1. I’m so glad you didn’t abandon your plans and miss out on this wonderful trip! You approached it with a great deal of wisdom and much of your advice would help any traveler, solo or not. I especially enjoyed reading about your tuk tuk driver. We had a similar experience in Siem Reap. He called himself “Tiger” and was a wonderful, friendly guide for our entire visit.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Elaine 🙂 Nice to hear that you had a good experience with your tuk-tuk driver in Siem reap too. When you find a nice driver, the experience becomes much more enjoyable, doesn’t it? And I’m so happy that you think my article will be useful 🙂

  2. Bravo! I am cheering and clapping for you. Here in North America my own daughter has been taught there is nothing that is impossible. I applaud you stepping out, safely and wisely. You go girl!

  3. I share the same sentiments! I like to travel solo too but I don’t usually get to meet much asians who are doing the same so it can get frustrating when I explain my solo travels to my friends cos they just don’t get it. Haha. 🙂

    1. Haha.. 🙂 Thanks Tresa! Great to hear from you after so long! Ya, life has taken an exciting course and I’m thankful for the opportunities that are coming my way. It definitely is different from my nerdy high school life 😉

  4. When I read your posts before, I thought you had a nice company for all your crazy adventures !! But that’s so courageous of you to venture on all these adventures alone ! That ‘buk buk driver’ part was a bit scary indeed 😀 And your trip seems to be not only filled with some fun but I think u also acted with quite some wisdom too ! Geez, you really did your homework quite well I think 😉 Hope you have so many “fun and safe” trips in the future !! It was so inspiring to read this post !! Go girl Rock on 🙂

    1. Haha.. thanks Poornima 🙂 I was also used to having company in all my previous adventures in Europe. This was the first of my solo travel and I indeed learnt that if you use your common sense and act wisely, there is nothing to be afraid of. I’m so glad to hear that you found it inspiring! 🙂 🙂

  5. BRAVO my dear child. I too want a share about a solo indian girl. If I am right , way back in 1980, we 10 a group from southern States, went for an Himalayan Expedition, in fact to scale a peak shivling. Only two of us from Tamilnadu, a young engineer Ayyamperumal were successful to complete the task. With this Pride all with ourselves we were descending down leading in front. There the blow hit both of us so violentlyshattering all our pride and Ego. Yes , a lone GIRL TREKKER , MOUSHMI from Calcutta was ascending to the base valley from where we started our climb. The climax is that she said that was her 12th lone treck and she used to stay alone (camp). at nights.

    So,dear see Moushmi in you. Hats off. Periappa

    1. Thanks so much peripa for sharing the story of Moushmi here 🙂 I have been secretly wanting to do a Himalayan trek for long, this is really inspiring me to go after that dream =)

  6. Full of brilliant advice for travelling long haul solo! I love the local colour you bring into the writing. The small details tell a big story that I enjoyed reading. So glad to be in touch on the blogosphere. Looking forward to having a read of more of your beautifully written work! 😉

  7. I’m waiting for the day when I can travel alone and put your tips to action. 😀 Great post and it’s spot-on about the Indian perspective!

  8. True pack light…and that translates later on life when you realize you don’t need to own a lot of stuff.

    A (Chinese-Canadian) friend of mine, cycled all over the U.K. She made up having a hubby somewhere else on her trail. 🙂

  9. Amazing read! I soooo wanna travel alone…but haven’t got the courage yet..m 27 …nd will probably get married soon…but I really want to experience such an amazing trip atleast once before getting married..just wish I could have a travel companion with whom I would feel a little secure and at the same time have my own space too..

  10. Hi, i’m glad you didn’t abandon your plan and went ahead. Really happy for you. Me being an indian girl born and grown up in malaysia. I love to travel and guess what my first solo backpack was to india. It was pretty hard to convince my parents. i was in north india about 3 weeks only due to limited time. I wenr for 1 month southeast backpack as well. After the backpack, my parents no longer reluctant me going backpack alone. I don’t have blog caz I’m a lazy person to write. But i will have soon. Best of luck ?

  11. Hey,
    At least on the first place your parents allowed you to go with your friends to Cambodia..
    My parents allowed me to go from Delhi to Jaipur with friends when I was 29.. 😛
    Anywz.. Great going.. Traveling solo is a real challenge for an Indian girl. In first place she herself is scared and on second place not even a single person will be thr to support her..
    But as they say:
    If no one responds to your call, (Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ase Tobe)
    then go your own way alone (Ekla Cholo Re)

  12. hey.i created my blog account just to comment here!! i will be thankful to get suggestion from u. I am homeschool south indian girl. my parents are so protective that i never went out alone. Am 20 now. Being at home aall this time made me want to travel rest of my life. U had a chance, u knew where to go then..but where can i go at once? I dont even hav friends. And many times i just want to get out house to hav adventure and to discover myself. But i dont understand what i should do

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