For Delhi-based Nupur Singh, 55, a few days of work-related travel to Bhutan way back in 1995 translated into wanderlust for life. She was mesmerised by the beauty of the hills and went back on a personal solo trip to explore the country. Eventually, she fell in love with the idea of travelling on her own. Singh now runs a Delhi-based travel company, Triponary, which offers experiential trips to students, women, and corporate groups.
Like Singh, for some women, it all starts with going on a work trip. For others, it is about travelling with their peer group or close friends in and around their hometown.
Purodha Kandpal, 25, a Delhi-based journalism student, began trekking and camping in and around her hometown Nainital: “Most of my plans are always impromptu, with me calling up my friends and asking at the last minute if anyone is up for a few nights in the forest.”
More and more women are now travelling solo. There is no specific data on women solo travellers, but some reports suggest that the number is growing over the years. Also, Women on Wanderlust (WoW), a community for women travelling solo, handled about 150 groups averaging 15-20 women per group on their domestic and international trips, adding to about 3,000 women travellers in a year.
Travelling solo can be a liberating experience for women, but one needs to keep certain things in mind before taking such a trip. One, it may need careful planning and selection of the destination to ensure safety. Two, it may cost more than travelling with family or a companion as none of the expenses will get shared.
Plan It Well
Singh, who has gone on multiple solo trips, says planning is the key for such trips. For her trips to Bhutan and Sri Lanka, she planned her itinerary down to the last detail, including stay and food.
Bengaluru-based Varuna, Phokar Valley, Kargil
“I got in touch with a registered guide for the Bhutan trip. It added to the experience as I got to hear many local stories and was able to explore the local culture and heritage better,” she says.
Travel partners usually handhold their customers. Sumitra Senapati, founder, WoW, says: “We have a very close handholding system. We send out the final itinerary in bullet form and create an info pack that gives critical information like what to pack, what is the temperature, currency matters, etc.”
The Stay: Nancy Gulati, 33, a Delhi-based PR manager for Truecaller, who prefers to travel with her close group of friends, says that as a matter of practice, they always hire a self-drive car and take the delivery at the airport itself. For accommodation, they rely largely on Google ratings and reviews.
Bengaluru-based program manager, Varuna J., 27, who is largely into off-beat and solo travel prefers a good backpacker’s hostel with female dorms or single rooms.
“It’s a good way to connect with other travellers, especially if you are in a completely new location where you don’t know anyone. Hostels which have a cafe (and most of them do these days) are convenient,” she says.
Safety And Security: Senapati says this should be the core of planning to ensure an enjoyable holiday experience.
Varuna feels safer in hostels, while Kandpal ensures that someone always knows her exact camping spot. She follows what is essentially a standard procedure in the wilderness.
Says Deachen Angmo, 30, a homestay owner in Leh, who is an avid traveller herself and handles flocks of tourists during the busy season: “As a rule of thumb, always keep your family and friends updated about your latest location.”
Delhi-based Nancy (Left) with friends in Goa
Creating a safety net for impromptu travel plans is also important. Gulati, who was stalked while on a trip to Goa, says she used an app to share her live location with a close group of people who received the signal at the right time. “Share your Uber location with a loved one if that makes you feel at ease during the first couple days,” adds Varuna.
In general, trust your instincts. “If you don’t feel comfortable with the place you have booked on the first day, move out,” says Varuna. Similarly, if you are not comfortable with your co-travellers, don’t hesitate to drop out. Kandpal did that once when she realised she had to share a single tent with a friend and a group of his friends who were unknown to her.
Avoiding secluded locations and creating boundaries with strangers, carrying a wrap-around on the beach and not attracting unwanted attention are a few things that should be kept in mind, says Singh.
Know The Costs
The cost of solo travel can be adjusted as per your needs and preferences. For instance, if you take a single hotel room, your budget may go up versus shared accommodation or a hostel room. When you are travelling with family, such costs can be shared.
Varuna, typically, avoids air travel because road trips in public transport offer better opportunities to explore. Besides, they may also be safer for individuals than hired cabs and may save money, too. Varuna spent about Rs 25,000 for nearly a week-long impromptu trip to Badami and Bijapur for which she used local transport.
The costs can go up as per your choices and the destination. For example, Gulati spent around Rs 35,000 for her 4-night trip to Goa, including air fare, stay, sightseeing and water sports. Her Pondicherry trip was cheaper, Rs 18,000 for three days. Varuna spent around Rs 1 lakh for her 16-day trip to Egypt.
Says Senapati: “The younger women (28-38 years) usually prefer Ladakh, Kashmir, Vietnam, Bhutan, and the prices range from Rs 60,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh. Those in the 35-70 years age group, typically, choose the Antarctic, the Arctic, South American destinations, Japan, South Korea, Kenya, Wellness programmes, and the trips usually cost around Rs 1.1 lakh to Rs 3 lakh.
You must compare rates from different agencies, but ensure they are reputed and check their reviews. Both Singh and Senpati advise against cutting costs to choose an agency that does not meet the basic safety criteria. Says Singh: “When travelling with an agency, check the people who are travelling with you. Also, go for agencies with a dedicated human helpline rather than a bot.”
The same goes for accommodation; just to save cost, don’t go for an unsafe place or location. But then compare costs among similar accommodation options.