‘Shit Happens’ - The Ugly Side Of Solo Travel

‘Shit Happens’ - The Ugly Side Of Solo Travel

One Sunday morning when all my friends were busy and I had nothing to do, I impulsively took a train set off for the nearest hill station, yearning for ‘somewhere else’. I was quite sure that I had sufficient cash in my wallet and a decent amount of it in my account, thus I ended up splurging a little bit (okay, a lot) buying local delicacies and handicrafts for my friends. An autowalah had agreed to take me around the entire day to site-see for 300 bucks which I thought was fair enough. After a satisfying day that comprised of a beautiful hike and some shopping, I decided to head back to the station. As I arrived I took out my wallet to pay the auto bhaiya, I realised I only had a hundred bucks with me. Without fretting too much, I asked him to take me to the nearest ATM. Turns out I only had 250 bucks in my account (which was enough for me to pay the guy and get home) but none of the ATMs (I went to around 10) that day were dispensing an amount less than INR 500. Helpless and embarrassed with absolutely no money and a dead cell phone, I only had one option left. I went to the nearest store and sold the stuff I had bought – at half the price, post a lot of pleading. When I finally reached home that night and told my friends what had happened, they guffawed at my ‘presence of mind’ and ribbed me about my so-called adventurous streak. But the truth was I had been extremely stupid in not checking my account balance. I realized that day that what begins as spontaneous adventure can quickly go awry if you aren’t prepared for the unpredictable.

That’s the thing with travel, particularly solo travel. It’s extremely rewarding and empowering, but that is because of all the of the hurdles a traveller faces to get back home that make their great stories of adventure. Things are not always rosy on the road, as much as instagram accounts and retrospective rehashings of people’s trips would have you believe otherwise. When you’re out of your comfort zone in a low connectivity area with no one else to have your back, let alone share your grief, you truly learn to fend for yourself and survive, until of course, help comes along, more often than not in the form of a kind local’s support. Herein lies the beauty of travel. And there should be no qualms in admitting this loud-and-proud for newly-minted explorers to learn from.

Most of my fellow travel enthusiasts would agree that the bad ones are the ones that make ultimately make travelling truly enriching. We spoke to five ardent travellers about the harshest moments during their solo trips and the responses couldn’t have been more amusing or interesting. Here are their stories.

I. Shivya Nath, 29
Travel Blogger

El Problema in Costa Rica!

“This one incident really shook me up last year. After traveling safely and adventurously through some of Central America’s more notorious countries (like Honduras, labelled ‘the most violent place on earth’), I had pretty much let my guard down in Costa Rica. On a hurriedly hailed cab ride to the airport to impulsively catch a flight to the Pacific Coast, the cabbie and I chatted like long lost friends. Closer to the airport, he told me we’d get stuck in traffic so it’s better to drop off a street before and walk; I agreed without thinking twice.

When we arrived, I paid him and got off the cab, only to see him grabbing my small bag – the one with my passport, laptop and everything precious – asking for more money or he’d take off with it. FCUK. I had the equivalent of 50$ in my pocket and gave it to him, shivering at the idea of being left alone without my valuables. In retrospect, there were a lot of hints I didn’t catch; he asked me if I had family in the country, or if I had a local SIM card – pointed questions that should have made me wary. I felt shaken up for days, refused to trust anyone else I met along the way, and found solace in places crowded with other tourists, much unlike my usual travel style. It really wasn’t about the money I lost, but the trust I lost, and it’s taken me months to rebuild it.”

Biggest Takeaway

“Do not be too naive and trusting. Be smart. Also, Shit happens! In life, and on the road. We have to take it in our stride and move on. Because, otherwise everything would be really boring.”

To follow Shivya on her travels, visit her Instagram page here. Check out her travel blog here.

Shivya Nath

II. Indranil Datta, 22
Freelance Writer and Journalist

(Mis)Adventures in the wild!

“While traipsing through the forests of Kaladhungi on an early morning walk, my guide and I found ourselves surveying an open glade. The spot was one of unmatched splendor. And little did I know that there was more to it than its prepossessing beauty that met the eye. ‘This is where the Bachelor of Powalgarh was sighted by Jim Corbett for the very first time!’ my guide gleefully exclaimed. The Bachelor was known to be a tiger of unusually large proportions, and this made him a much sought-after quarry for the shikaris of his time.

This tantalizing piece of trivia had me in raptures; a photo of the place was most definitely in order. As I busied myself with the search for that half-decent frame, my guide strode ahead of me, and left me to my task. A couple of minutes down the line, an unearthly shriek rent the air with a vengeance. Unsure of what it may have been I carried on in my quest for a palatable shot when the same sound repeated itself. Two things dawned on me at once, there was an elephant or worse– an elephant herd –a few meters away from where I was standing, and one of the individuals had probably sensed our presence and was trumpeting in protest.

Photography was now nothing but secondary; I hoisted my tripod in its unfolded state and ran for dear life– in an open glade, I would be no match for a charging elephant. The trumpeting continued unabated; it almost felt like it was somehow gaining on us and getting closer. My guide was a few paces ahead of me and he too was struggling to hold his nerve. We didn’t have our eyes on the elephant so blundering about aimlessly wasn’t the smartest thing to do. It was then that he got his wits about, and asked me to run behind him.

I couldn’t quite make any sense of this abrupt course of action, until I finally figured out the reason behind our petrified dash a few minutes later. A tractor was coursing ahead of us, on the same path we were on, and his ears had picked up sounds I – in a state of terror – was entirely oblivious to. Soon enough, we caught up with the tractor trundling along the forest path and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. We had made it out of the jungle unscathed, thanks to my guide keeping his indispensable wits about.”

Biggest Takeaway

“The biggest takeaway from this experience was that keeping one’s composure in a jungle is paramount. But for city-bred individuals like us, it takes a while to mentally fine-tune ourselves into retaining our sense of composure amidst a perilous situation. Thus, it always helps to have the company of a local. Their senses are more in sync with the surroundings than yours may ever be, and in a jungle inhabited by wild animals, that can make all the difference in ensuring your safety.”

To follow Indranil on his travels, visit his Instagram page here.

The solitary tusker that had caused the scare, viewed by us later from an elevated, and safer perch. Photograph: Indranil Datta

III. Abhimanyu Singh, 20
Architecture Student

And into the mountains I go, to find my soul and lose my mind and (Err) stuff!

“Last year, I was really excited for this four day long weekend and decided to go into the wild in the lovely forests of Chamba Valley in Himachal Paradesh. One of the days, I was out hiking and I had to use the restroom real quick. There were a few public washrooms in the village of Darwin, but I had some luggage which I did not know where to keep. My past experiences in Himachal Pradesh led me to believe that the people here are nice and lovely and helpful. Still a little skeptical, I asked a local guy to look after my bag as I went to relieve myself. By the time I came back, my water bottle, flashlight, poncho and shoes were gone. The shopkeeper was amazed at the discovery and tried to rationally make me understand how he was there keeping a watch and all this couldn’t have happened but the truth remained the same. I’m sure the boldness came because I was unaccompanied.

I had 4 days left in the valley. I had to do major replanning to complete the journey. I brought a new water bottle and a flashlight but couldn’t find shoes and it was extremely difficult hiking in flip flops on the slippery terrain. The poncho had to be replaced with nothing but a polythene that kept shredding and tearing off

The reality of travelling solo throws the question of safety and security right at your face. If you do run into issues like this, you’re entirely alone to face them and sometimes outnumbered too. You don’t have anyone to watch your back, just like I didn’t. You fall into a social anxiety and a complex series of what-ifs.”

Biggest Takeaway

“I learned to pack only as much as I could fit into the bag. The locals are always friendly and helpful but you can’t expect generosity in all places in life. The most important thing however is to take care of one’s body because most material things can be replaced, even in the wild. Do not let anxiety get to you. It’s how one handles minor apocalyptic crisis in times of no support that builds up a person.”

To follow Abhimanyu on his travels, visit his Instagram page here.

Abhimanyu Singh camping in Himachal Pradesh

IV. Raj Chauhan, 24

Trouble in Paradise!

“I was on my way from Jammu to Srinagar via Gulmarg in a packed tempo car, excited to what my next destination awaited me. It was supposed to be an 8 hour drive and I settled in comfortable with all my luggage placed neatly on the luggage carrier above the car. A few hours later while we were driving on the long winding roads, I saw a line of cars that had stopped just a few kilometers ahead. I was told there had been landslide and we would have to wait for a while before everything was cleared. As I waited patiently, anticipating that we would make a move soon enough, it unexpectedly started raining heavily. Soon enough their was a hailstorm and we were stuck. All my belongings, including my warm clothes were in my rucksack above in the carrier and it seemed impossible to get out,climb up and get the goods. So I waited and waited, shivering and starved. It was very late at night, when the hailstorm stopped and some locals came and started selling Rajma Chawal at extremely high prices. I was shocked at this unruly behavior of the locals taking advantage of tourists in distress. But soon enough some local vegetable vendors came along and distributed the veggies for free, which I instantly hogged. I was stuck there, cold for 24 hours, but after managing to get a few hours of sleep and waking up in the morning to those spell binding views of the Himalayas, I felt like it was worth it. The army came next and declared that no vendors would sell anything for more than 5 rupees. I felt hopeful again. Although it took me almost another two days to reach Srinagar....but in the hills, you never know what to feel.”

Biggest Takeaway

“Adventures like these are part of your trip. But its better to be prepared. Always keep your essentials with yourself in a little bag and store some food for emergencies. We tend to meet various kinds of people on our trip, good and bad, but do not stereotypical judgement about a state based on your interactions.”

To follow Raj on his travels, visit his Instagram page here.

The Jam in the hills. Image Source: Raj Chauhan

V. Monica Mahendru, 38
Actor, Dancer

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere!

“I have been travelling solo now for nearly ten years and have traveled to most countries in Asia, North America and Oceania. I always like exploring off the grid places. Thus, many times, I have made the mistake of booking accommodation away from the centre of the city or town in the quest of being non-touristy. I remember once in Koh Phangan, Thailand I was staying away from the main beach and it was nearly 11 pm when I decided to head back to my hotel which was about 30 mins away. I didn’t get the sense of the long distance so much during the day but at night with complete darkness outside and being alone in the taxi with the driver who only spoke very little English, I was really nervous. Suddenly couple of bikes surrounded my taxi and the driver slowed down to speak with them. It was at that point I freaked out and started shouting at him to not stop and continue driving. This was the time before google maps so I was entirely at his mercy to get me back to my hotel. Luckily I got back safe and sound but boy, that incident still gives me goosebumps. This happened again in Shillong where I lost my way in the dark and the taxi driver took me to a different suburb since he couldn’t understand me well. I had network issues so couldn’t access maps. Fortunately, I had the phone number of the hotel saved and got the taxi guy to call them for directions. The next morning I moved into a hotel in the downtown area.”

Biggest Takeaway

“My biggest takeaway was that if you are traveling solo, book an accommodation close to downtown no matter how much the reviews talk about it being too touristy or noisy. Unfortunately, Offbeat and secluded places may be better suited for couples and families. You want to be in a place where there are people around at all times and you can walk back to your hotel at any point. Remember in smaller towns or cities, it all goes quiet around 8-9 pm and even a 3-4 km distance feels a lot with taxis charging you exorbitantly and you may not have the hang or the option of local transport. Plus language can be a barrier at times. Keep directions and phone number of the hotel handy on a paper, can’t always rely on phones or networks.”

To follow Monica on her travels, visit her Instagram page here.

Monica Mahendru

Be Safe, be smart and go places, but be a responsible traveller!

Have funny/bizarre solo travel experiences of your own? Write in to editor@homegrown.co.in

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