The growing tribe of solo women travellers share their experiences

When 25-year-old Neerja saw the Bollywood film Queen, she felt like she was reliving her travel experiences. At the age of 21, she had discovered what travelling alone can do to her soul and since then travel became the central metaphor of her life. “I could relate to every liberating moment the female protagonist of the film felt during her journey. May be that’s what one calls as ‘absolute freedom’,” says the passionate traveller, who has completed close to 25 treks travelling alone or with different travel groups in the past five years.

Now, she swears by it. “You can explore the place at your own pace and you tend to be more thoughtful and focussed,” she says.

There has perhaps never been such intense awareness about travel and treks among women travellers as there is now. While metro cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bangalore top the list in the number of women travellers exploring the road less travelled, Vizag has also seen a growing tribe of such people, who have no qualms in travelling alone.

Twenty-three-year-old Kritika Chauhan bats for going solo when she says: “It has a different charm. You get deeper insights into a new culture and there are many life’s lessons that you learn by simply being observant. When you go in groups, you are more engrossed in chatting among yourself and main purpose of travel gets lost somewhere.” Her recent solo trip was to Gujarat where she explored the Rann of Kutch and the Indo-Pak border in the region. “Being a student I have limited resources. So travelling alone came as a great way to just go backpacking ,” says Kritika, who is pursuing her post graduation in Psychology from Andhra University. Her two companions throughout the journey were a map of Gujarat and a guide book that listed out all the famous eateries of the places she visited.

And trust these seasoned travellers when they say you won’t be alone for long when you are on the road. Many bonds are formed with co-travellers in the railway stations, airports or bus stops. For instance, when Surya Mani, who is fondly called as ‘Suma’ by her traveller friends, embarked on her first trek from Vizag to the hills of Tirumala six years ago, she had no idea that she would strike a close bond with two of her fellow travellers who she describes now as her best friends in life. “We met at the railway station waiting room and discovered that we had come for the same trek. It’s strange how it happens, but during treks the associations that form are usually very effortless and long-lasting,” says Suma, who is in her late 40s.

After 15 treks across different regions in the country, Suma says that it is during travelling alone that you make friends across different age groups. In one of her treks to Himachal Pradesh, she bonded well with a young girl from Mumbai, who later came down on a holiday to Vizag just to visit her.

However, the percentage of women travellers travelling solo or going for treks in diverse groups is still very small. “Women are conditioned to believe that they should travel only with families. Even in the film Queen when the female protagonist expresses her desire to travel alone to Europe there is a reaction of disbelief from her relatives and family members,” says Anita Rao, a passionate traveller and a psychologist. Drawing on her own experiences during treks and bike trips she says, “There is tremendous self confidence that comes when travelling solo or with unknown travellers. You will have a chance to recreate yourself and be who you want to be. Travelling alone challenges your fears and insecurities,” she adds.