Elita Almeida quit her job to travel and write about it. But she also travels solo and not just around the ‘Top 10 destinations in India that you must visit’ but also to lesser known places. At the time of this interview, she was in Orchha while recently she spent 32 days in Bihar as part of a fellowship. In this interview, she talks about her love for travel but most importantly about travelling solo. She blogs at nomadicthunker.blogspot.in. She tweets as @NomadicThunker
Tell us a little about yourself and your blog?
I am an avid traveller and blogger who is more keen on experiencing humanity than striking a pose next to a monument. My travel bug grew tentacles so I’ve recently quit my 9-6 job as a development sector professional to travel. Therefore, ‘Have feet will travel’.
Travel has been my muse when it comes to writing. That’s how my blog has evolved into a travel blog over time. For me, blogging about my travel experiences are not only an opportunity to relive my travels once more, albeit through words but also a form of expression that can be shared with everyone else
1. What inspires you to travel solo? Why solo when you can easily travel with a travel company, group of friends?
I started travelling on my own a little over 2 years ago. And I haven’t looked back since that day I travelled solo for the first time. It happened by chance – solo travel wasn’t on my bucket list waiting to be ticked off. I had office leaves that would die a ‘lapsed-due-to-accumulation’ death and solo travel seemed like the only redeemer. Little did I know it worked as a drug. It’s like when a fortnight after returning back from Ladakh to the ‘ghadi-ka-kaata-pakkad-ke-
chalo’ lifestyle of Mumbai, I noticed how an attempt to smile at familiar faces in the city resulted in me receiving blank stares. Back there in Ladakh through long walks and treks I was greeted and warmly welcomed by perfect strangers!
But this isn’t to say that I only travel solo. I have since by myself, with my friends as well as with groups (making friends out of strangers). Traveling with a bunch of strangers to Ladakh made me realize that while we may have been a small group of 11, it was the range of thoughts, ideas and perspectives that was potent. We came from different backgrounds – geographically, academically/
professionally; our life experiences so far had been unique to us, and us alone. Yet amidst that we resonated with each other.
2. What are your thoughts on travelling solo in India? Especially for a solo woman.
Solo travel in India is possible. Even for women. For most part of it, people watch out for you – whether you’re a lone male or female or a group of people traveling to anywhere for the first time – people generally watch out for you and help you in any capacity they can. So, I had conductors directing me to empty seats (when they realized that my bag alone occupies more space than I do!), my homestay host not only picked but also dropped me back to the Coorg bus-stand the day I left (I had to leave at 7 AM which is early enough if not too early at no extra charge). I also learnt that rickshaw drivers are pleasant folks.
I was recently in Madhya Pradesh and have been around Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra as a solo female traveller. The more I’ve ventured out the more I’ve returned reaffirmed in my belief that it ain’t as bleak as it’s been made to seem.
3. How do you deal with untoward attention and curious questions from co-passengers?
A majority of the people you meet are mostly just inquisitive to see a woman out on her own. Remember they read the same newspapers you do. Hence the curiosity, which is different from untoward attention.
Curiosity can be dealt with by simply smiling or engaging in conversations while ignorance is the best remedy for any untoward attention. I sometimes don what I call the no-nonsense-poker-face 🙂
Also remember that it’s alright to be uncomfortable on the first day of your solo travel – even if this isn’t your first solo trip. Find a spot that’s less ‘happening’ if it’ll help you ease a bit.
People around you may not be used to a solo traveller. Whether in the train (or any other local transport) or the restaurant and hotel, come prepared to be ‘watched’. And if you’re a solo traveller with a pen and paper/diary then even more so. Be assured its harmless watching, mostly out of curiosity. That’s why you need to be at ease with yourself before dealing with everyone else’s uneasiness. Nevertheless don’t discount your gut instinct. Be aware nonetheless. If something doesn’t feel right may be it really isn’t. Don’t forget you’re out to’ enjoy yourself’ – it has no definition for a reason. So do as you please
4. Did you ever face any serious instances of harassment while on the road? How did you deal with them?
I wouldn’t say this was particularly serious but I did get approached by an evidently drunk man while in Gokarna. He tried initiating a conversation and wanted to know where I was from. To which I had to look him point blank in the face and simply ask “Why?” That was sufficient enough to end that conversation.
But New Year’s in Goa last year got a little nasty for me and my friends with a running stream of men approaching us for pair up as couples for a free entry to parties. This time around the staff at the shack were there to help us fend off the unwanted attention. Like I said people do watch out for you (even if you’re not traveling solo)
5. What safety precautions do you bear in mind before planning a trip? To what extend do you plan your trip?
Planning (and more importantly, executing) your own trip doesn’t require as much coordination as it does when with friends or groups. And that has been my biggest reason for traveling solo – but if someone wants to tag along I’ll be more than grateful for the (extra) company.
Zeroing in on the destination is pure guesswork for me – anywhere is perfectly okay, just as long as I am going! Tripadvisor has been a real boon when it comes to identifying accommodation (particularly for a solo female traveller). I recommend nailing down transport before even thinking about accommodation because if flight prices flare up or train/bus tickets are not available (for whatever reason), your stay arrangements are rather useless!
I sometime tend to undertake a thorough search and chalks out the itinerary before setting out so this allows me full visibility on where and how I might want to go. I also mostly opt in for homestay experiences as these not only prove to be more cost effective but also provide a good safety net – you won’t be entirely alone the entire time. It also works as a great way to mingle with local people and learn more about a place and its culture
6. What tips would you give fellow solo travellers especially women who’d like to travel solo within the country?
As I’ve written in one of my posts, I don’t think you can start by traveling solo. And as strange as this sounds you definitely need to be a lot more comfortable with yourself, by yourself – watch a movie or eat a meal or take a lil’ tour of your own city by yourself. Overcome that initial awkwardness. More than that enjoy your own company! You’ll realize this helps when co-passengers are curious about you traveling on your own.
Wear your no-nonsense game face. It’ll help disguise any trace of anxiety or fear (that otherwise has the potential of inviting unwarranted attention, let alone company). Even when you have every reason to be anxious or scared. No, make that ‘particularly when you have every reason to be anxious or scared’.
Keep your family and friends in the loop regarding your whereabouts. I get asked often (and not just by aspiring ‘female’ solo travellers), “How did your parents allow you?” or “What did you do to convince your parents?”. I did nothing except providing them with all the details. Every. Single. Time. And frankly, you do a good job of being responsible and then reachable to the extent possible the first time around, no one panics ever.
7. Have you travelled abroad and if yes, are there any noticeable differences/experiences as compared to travelling solo in India?
I haven’t travelled solo abroad yet. I did go to Bhutan with a group last May. May be it’s the proximity but it did feel a lot like traveling around Leh or Spiti in India.
8. What are the three most memorable experiences from your travel? Something that defines your
i. The people I encounter be it drivers, conductors, locals because they sum up the essence of a place for
ii. As clichéd as it sounds – the journey itself. Be it road or rail and in exceptional cases air travel, it’s the
sights and sounds that make up most of my memories (and inspiration to blog)
iii. Food. Need I say more?
9. What’s next on your travel wishlist?
Northeast India and the islands.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us, Elita! We wish you keep on wandering across this wonderful country! All the best.
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