Updated: February 17, 2020 5:52:31 pm
In the last decade or so, the global travel industry has changed significantly. With the advent of different trends, the industry – it can be said – has received a facelift. Among other things, solo travelling for women has witnessed a steady surge. Why is this a big milestone? For a long time, solo travelling was considered to be too outrageous an idea for women. In a world dominated by men, the concept of a woman embarking on a solo journey was, among other things, considered to be blatantly unsafe.
But all that has changed now. With a great shift in mindset, the world has become more receptive to the idea of female-only exploration. According to a recent survey conducted by Klook Travel, of the 21,000 people surveyed around the world, 76 per cent of respondents said they have either travelled solo, or are considering it, regardless of age, gender and nationalities. Another study by Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) suggests that more than 60,000 women have travelled solo between 2018 and 2019. The same study says that of the 47 per cent of travellers registered with OAT, the majority is women.
Flight of freedom
With a general shift in gender norms and human psyche, it can be said that women have embraced their adventurous side like never before. This has led them to find like-minded travellers from around the world, thereby webbing a network.
Anuja Bhate, a 31-year-old human resource professional from Mumbai, feels that solo travelling helps boost a woman’s self-confidence, teaching her essential life skills. “It is worth reflecting and asking yourself if there is a reason as to why you won’t go on a solo trip. And if that reason has to do with self-doubt, or what others will think, it is worth breaking away from those barriers and taking that trip anyway,” she says, adding that her solo sojourns have taught her a lot. “My trips have taught me the difference between solitude and loneliness. I have discovered the gift of being with my own thoughts and observations. It has made a lot more trusting, and less judgmental. Everyone has a story to tell, if you are willing to listen,” she says.
Ditto for 29-year-old Priyanka Chandra, a Mumbai-based celebrity media consultant. Chandra, who has been on six solo trips in the last decade, says she was naïve and under-confident when she took her first trip back in 2014. “I wanted to experiment; I wanted to take the risk. I was going through a rocky phase in my personal life, and the hills of Uttarakhand gave me a sense of peace. I was clueless about a lot of things back then, but my first solo trip set free something inside of me. I realised there’s no looking back now. From then to my recent trip to the unexplored parts of Leh-Ladakh, I have had the most gratifying experiences that have metamorphosed me into a different individual,” she says, adding she cannot wait to head out to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh come April.
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But, it is not all hunky-dory and, as mentioned before, the safety aspect always comes into play. When Melissa Guzman (23), was travelling solo, she faced quite a few hurdles. “To begin with, I faced a lot of discrimination during my solo trip to Europe, because I am a person of colour. In India and Indonesia, I was sexually harassed. During one of my journeys, I lost my debit card. And once, I even missed a flight from Los Angeles to China. And while in some remote areas I felt out of place, since there were not many women around, I always believed in myself. I feel travelling is the biggest learning experience, and it helps that the internet allows you to do your research before heading out to a country,” she says. Guzman, an American student, who has just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and law, and will be exploring Sri Lanka next.
So then, do unpleasant experiences really deter a woman’s will to travel by herself? Bhate says that she is comfortable staying in a hostel, talking to strangers, walking alone at night, stepping into bars, and not having a cell phone service. “I have realised that if I get into trouble, I will figure a way out,” she says.
Solo, not solo
To give women the means to travel by themselves — without husbands, partners and families — and still feel safe on their journeys, many travel agencies have created a niche base, wherein they curate trips for kindred travellers. Among them is Jugni, a five-year-old Delhi-based organisation that specialises in “personalized travel experience” for women from all around the world. Its founder Nitesh Chauhan tells indianexpress.com that in the last 10 years, women have become more independent. “They are earning well enough to travel on their own. Also, travelling has become a hobby now, just like reading books and listening to music. Jugni was started with the idea that most women feel unsafe when they travel. So, when we plan trips in small batches of 10-12 people, I tag along. There’s always some initial hesitation and fear as to how the trip will turn out, but when it actually happens, it gives their confidence a big boost. It tells them that despite their inhibitions, they made it happen, and so they can move past any challenge in life,” he says.
Group travel provides both safety and solitude. You get to travel with strangers, and make friends on the way.
Back in 2005, it was the Women on Wanderlust (WOW) Club that spearheaded this concept. In a quick chat with indianexpress.com, its founder Sumitra Senapaty says that community travelling empowers women and makes them feel safe. “Like-minded women can travel solo, but with the security that a group provides. While safety continues to be an issue, women today aspire to travel more and discover the world. Essentially, you need be aware of what kind of trip you are looking at. Is it adventure, wellness and rejuvenation, nature and sightseeing, or shopping? Reading up about the place you are going to visit is extremely important and essential, too,” she says.
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