I remember feeling the jitters when I set out for my solo trip in India, to the cold mountain desert of Spiti in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh. Even though I was born and raised in India, and taken the ocassional train ride alone, I had never really travelled for the sake of travelling - by myself.
I was as excited as I was nervous. My parents' warnings of safety and the negativity potrayed time and again by the media echoed in my head. But the moment I arrived in the Trans-Himalayas, with those lonely, barren, stark peaks looking over me, and the friendly, welcoming locals always looking to chat, I knew that many of my fears were unfounded.
At the end of that month-long trip, I felt like a different person, with a different outlook towards travel, and a different understanding of solo travel in my own country.
Here are 5 tips from my personal experiences, on how NOT to travel solo in India, especially if it's your first time:
1) Just show up
As much as I love impulsive travel, India, and India for the first time, is not the place to do it. As with anywhere in the world, research and pick your destinations purely based on your interests, and not on popularity. If you love nature and solitude, you will most likely hate a chaotic city like Delhi, but are sure to fall in love with countryside villages, the golden Thar Desert and the mighty Himalayas. Rely on travel blogs and forums written by past travellers, and review websites like Tripadvisor, to figure out how you’ll get around, where you’ll stay and the things you’d want to do.
2) Lose touch
It's often hard to tune out of all the negativity associated with traveling in India, and while unwanted incidents can happen anywhere in the world, the probability is likely a tad higher in the touristy bits of India. So while it might be tempting to ditch all your gadgets while you travel, keep them in India, atleast on your first trip. Connect with locals using social media and let them (gladly) show you their region, stay in touch with friends you make along the way, and let someone not so far keep an eye on you. It will help shape your confidence, and hey, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
3) Choose hotels wherever you go
If you really want to experience India, pick a homestay, somewhere relatively offbeat (even if it's a local neighborhood in a popular city) and discover the cultural essence of the country - something that soulless hotels / guest houses seldom offer. More importantly, having a host family to look out for you takes away half the worry of travelling solo (and being safe) in a distant place. Look for specialty lodging on TripAdvisor or specialist websites like India Untravelled and Airbnb for family-run homestays - but be sure to read reviews thoroughly and interact with the hosts before you go.
4) Pack heavy
It’s tempting to pack for all contingencies when you’re going to be out there by yourself, but remember you’ll have to lug that weight around time and again, depending on the kind of trip you’ve planned for. Pack in layers so you can mix and match clothes, find miniature versions of toiletries, and know that you can buy most of what you need in any big store in an Indian city.
5) Ignore your gut
The only way to survive travelling solo in India is to shed the various warnings that will be thrown at you. Go with an open mind, trust that people are largely good, leave space for adventure – BUT, trust your gut. If you feel the vibes of a person or place are not right, quickly get yourself out of the situation, whatever the social damage maybe. Equip yourself with a safety weapon, keep emergency numbers on quick dial, and keep someone informed of your plans and whereabouts; remember always, better safe than sorry.
Would you travel solo in India? What tips would you add for first timers?