Despite the countless number of India travel advice I regularly read, Alison Karlene’s Can Females Travel India Alone? jumped right out at me when I came across it. What stood out about this article was the travel blogger’s honesty on recommending solo travel in India to women, because it touches on a sensitivity beyond just travel – the difference between ‘can’ and ‘should’ and our relationship with these words.
Alison’s point of view is succinctly summed up here:
“Can you travel India alone?
Well, of course you can. Before trekking off to India, countless travel bloggers told me ‘Yes! I can travel India alone!’ Unfortunately, they never told me if I should – whether or not the day-to-day life in India would be exhausting or exhilarating; whether or not the risks were worth the reward.”
First, the facts: Yes, you certainly CAN travel alone in India. You can do anything really, as long as you set your mind to it. You can shoot for the stars and set foot on the moon, in heels, with a cocktail in one hand, and your yoga mat in the other. Sounds familiar? This has become the background score for our lives… Open letters on Hufftington Post from wanderlusted women and Instagrammed photos of blissful solitude (#womantraveldiary) are part of an ever-growing narrative of just what all women CAN achieve. It has us feeling like we SHOULD all pick up our passports and be that brave woman you see in stock photos with her back against the camera, a backpack on her shoulders, and the world before her. Just like this one:
The truth, of course, is that we can. An equal and perhaps greater truth is that it’s downright exhausting. And here’s where the question of ‘should’ comes in. Just because we can travel solo, should we?
Solo travel isn’t for everyone, and that’s not a bad thing. It simply depends on your need for space versus your appetite for company. But solo travel is now being touted as a rite of passage. While I can vouch for its value, can you just try it outside of India, please?
Alison does a quick sweep of the number of instances where you might appreciate a travel buddy – “Buses don’t show up, descriptions don’t meet reality, and people are extremely aggressive.” (She is also kind enough to explain that last bit as people “simply trying to live.”) This, however, barely skims the surface.
Many Indians would describe living in India as a full-time job, and bear in mind, these are the relatively privileged lot. Add to that a layer of unpredicatability brought on by travel in a developing country, amplify that by being a stranger, and now multiply that by being a woman.
Alison describes the awkwardness of being female tourist in India perfectly,“As a woman, even showing my ankles, wearing a floor-length dress without tights beneath, or simply looking a male in the eye can be interpreted as a come on. I was constantly hassled, haggled with, and stared at.”
She goes on to say: “Certainly, the culture around me was vivid and captivating and new, but it was almost impossible to enjoy it when I felt incessantly bombarded.”
Here’s the heart of the matter. While you most definitely can deal with it, will you be able to enjoy your India experience (one that is without a doubt worth enjoying) without a friendly face and a helping hand? While it’s doable, is it desirable?
That delayed bus is easier to wait for in the dead of night with a friend watching your bags while you snooze; that somewhat strange look is easier to judge when your intuition is backed by another’s;the decision to stop here or there for a bite is easier to make when you’re deciding for two.
If you’re a solo flyer by nature, that might not sound appealing nor comforting. By all means, India is doable on your own. But some joys multiply when they’re shared, and at least for a first-time traveller, India is one of them.
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