The Day I Travelled Alone: Breaking Stigma of Solo-Travel
By Arathi Devandran
I have just returned from a trip to Nepal, though I wouldn’t quite call it a trip as much as it was a pilgrimage for peace and perspective. It was a 12-day trip (one of the longest holidays that I’ve organized for myself) and it was a trekking expedition to Pune Hill to view the Himalayan Range.
Oh, and I went on this trip by myself.
When I first mentioned to several friends that I was heading off to the mountains, most of them expressed their awe (“Omg, Nepal, it’s going to be amazing!”). When I casually let it slip that I was going to Nepal on-my-own, it quickly changed to exclamations of horror and worry (“Omg, are you serious; please be careful! I can’t believe you’re going to another country by yourself, will you be able to manage?!?!”)
It’s interesting that there is so much taboo surrounding this whole solo-travelling shenanigan. I concede that there is a certain amount of risk and danger that is involved; what we fail to realize is that this risk and danger is present everywhere, even in our own safe-as-anything countries, but familiarity masks all of these hazards and lulls us into some kind of pseudo-contentment with the environment we live in. This is not the first time I have travelled alone; I usually prefer to take off to different destinations on my own, though I have been blessed thus far to have known people in these places who have helped me out when needed.
There is nothing more liberating than finding yourself in a foreign place, where no one knows who you are, and where no one carries a life-long worth of expectations of how you should be, and how you should dress, and how you should speak. Not that you should lead your life trying to match up to someone else’s idea of you; it is just a relief to be given a chance to let it all go. And traveling, especially solo-travelling, allows that.
Back to the pre-trip announcement scene: I told my parents that I was going to be heading to Nepal, on my own. At first this was met with some hesitation and concern, but I had expected that. I mean, they were my parents; worrying was one of the things they did best when it came to their only daughter. Eventually, though, they came around, mostly because they knew how much I needed this trip. It was coming at a time when professionally and personally, I needed a time-out to gather the strands of myself that were slowly drifting away, and make sense of my person and what I stood for.
Routine, long working hours, and stagnation in one physical location can do that to the mind and body – it creates a lethargy and exhaustion that goes beyond the muscle and bone to something deeper, something a lot more intangible, and results in some heavy, dead-weight living. I wanted to shrug that dead weight off; I needed to shrug that dead weight off.
Then, I mentioned that one detail that I’d completely forgotten about.
I was going to be away from home during Diwali.
Naturally, my mother went ballistic. “You’ve been away for so many years, and you’re telling me that you cannot find any other date besides this one day when I would like you to spend time with the family?!”
My mother is big on family events, and really, who could blame her? In name, my parents and I live together in the same house, but with our hectic schedules and crazy working hours, we usually see each other in passing during the working week, and find time with each other where we can during the weekend.
So, long story short, mother was not happy, and it took me a long time to placate her and emphasize that every day that we spent together as a family was akin to a Diwali, anyway.
One would think that all hurdles had been surmounted and the next thing I would be surmounting would be a 3210m high Pune Hill.
That was not quite the case.
Diwali is also a time when we would have various pujas for family members, who had passed away, to honor their contributions to the family, and to honor their spirits. I would obviously be missing this set of prayers as well. This incurred the wrath of the members of my extended family (who by the way, are pretty good at nitpicking the life choices that I make for reasons best known to them).
“How can you ignore your family tradition and disrespect your grandparents? How can you be so unfilial as a daughter? How can you walk over your parents’ wishes like that?”
Naturally, I ignored this noise. Noise is something that people are very good at creating for several reasons: a severe insecurity about the way their own lives are going, an inability to understand another person’s perspective on life and living, or as a loud, incessant cry for attention.
Also, this noise was not new in my life.
Several years ago, when I had left to the UK to pursue my undergraduate studies, these were the same individuals who criticized me for being an unfilial daughter, for not being around when my mother was undergoing her radiotherapy sessions. These were the same individuals who had the audacity to criticize their ailing sister (my mother), but hardly offered to help when she had needed it.
What these people taught me then, as these people continue to teach me now, is that no matter what an individual does, there will be naysayers. You could be saving the world, and finding a cure for cancer, and there would still be people who would be able to find fault with the way you live.
This is the way of the world, and there is no way around it. This is also not a battle that is worth a war.
My parents have reminded me time and again, that as long as I can go to bed at night knowing that I have done the best I can for the people around me and for myself, regardless of the circumstances, then, it has been a day well lived.
Let the barking dogs bark. That is all they know how to do, anyway.
If you must know, I did conquer the Pune Hill Summit. At 3210m, I watched the sun rise over the Himalayan range, and I celebrated Diwali with the village kids in the Himalayan Mountains.
It was worth it.
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