A parachute on a Goan beach

A drug called solitude

The topic of solo travel came up in a travel group I belong to on Facebook. One of my fellow travel bloggers made an interesting observation – most solo travel isn’t really ‘solo’; you meet strangers along the way, who become a part of your journey. Indeed, the picture most have of solo travel is that of staying in backpacker’s hostels and going clubbing with motley groups of tourists. I’m sure that’s a charming experience but last year in Europe, I had the kind of solo travel where I met no one, spoke to no one and befriended no one for several days on end. Sounds scary? It was. But it was also exhilarating. And as an introvert, who often dreads social interactions, I learnt an important lesson:

Solitude is a drug that can only be enjoyed in small doses.

A twin shell on a Goan beach
A twin shell on a Goan beach

In college, when I was fatigued by the interpersonal politics I had to endure with my friends and classmates, I would crave to be alone and anonymous. I cherished my long walks from Churchgate to CST station; the sensation of enjoying the world with no judgement whatsoever. I know now, that perhaps half the problem was my perception of how people viewed me, but it is true that I still seek solitude as a much-needed respite from the inevitable travails of life. And that’s the reason I wasn’t as scared as I should have been, when I embarked all alone on my trip to London and Paris, last year in July.

Norfolk Square, where I stayed
Norfolk Square, where I stayed

In London, I stayed in a tiny room, whose window looked on to the roofs of neighbouring buildings. I’d switch on the television when I returned in the night (after a long day of hectic explorations), watch British news channels and movies, and dine on the bread and cheese I’d picked up at Tesco supermarket. I’d then spread my map of the city on the single bed and plan my day ahead. I’d count my cash, check the photographs on my camera and dwell on the day gone by, as I lay in bed, tucked under my quilt. It was all very homely and peaceful and a kind of meditative calm descended on my mind. This calm was rudely jolted when I nearly missed my hop-on-hop-off bus, lost my entire cell phone balance on a single call and encountered a rude (bordering on racist) old woman at Buckingham Palace. But these experiences only served to balance what would have otherwise been too ‘perfect’ a trip. And what is good travel if not riddled with eventful imperfections?

A bright sky in Goa
A bright sky in Goa

I was perfectly happy sitting by the window, alone, during the long bus ride to the English countryside. We went to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath and it was only at the end of the trip that I struck up a conversation with a Brazilian tourist of Asian descent. For a brief moment, I had a glimpse of just how much diversity there is in this wide world of ours and how much of it is unknown to the average human being. The trouble with always doing things in the company of other people is that you’re always rooted in reality. In their laughter, chatter and the feel of their warm skin, you can never forget who and where you are.

A beach in South Goa
A beach in South Goa

Travelling on your own is a surreal, meditative experience because in the silence and the solitude, your spirit can commune with the world at large. You don’t engage with bits and pieces but the universe in its entirety. And yet, we are earthly beings with time-bound desires. And if you lose yourself for too long, it gets harder to find your way back to the life you left behind in your city of residence.

A footprint on Goan sands
A footprint on Goan sands

When I travelled alone, I was no one. I could be anyone. I realised, that our identities are carved only by the guidance, responses and constant acknowledgement of other people. When your mother is around, you are her daughter. Alone, you are still her daughter, but the fact no longer governs your present moment. When all such facts fall away, you are free, not to play a role, but to simply be. From London, I boarded a train to Paris, the city of my dreams. It has become a cliché now, but when I was in school, I taught myself French and I dreamt of sitting in an al fresco cafe one day and indulging in the French pastime of watching the world go by. I listened to their music, watched their films and fancied that I was Parisian in a bygone lifetime.

Joan of Arc near the Eiffel tower
Joan of Arc near the Eiffel tower

In Paris, I had friends. I toured the city and sampled generously of its nightlife in their company. But there were some things I knew I couldn’t share with them; some experiences that had to be had, alone. The sunset cruise on the Seine, the view of the Eiffel Tower in the night and the breathtaking tour of the Louvre – these were some of the miracles I bequeathed to solitude. Would I have had those epiphanies at the Louvre or wept at the Eiffel Tower if I had been with someone else? I think not.

You do miss your better half when on a solo sojourn.

There were moments in Paris which I believe would have been richer if I could have shared them with a special someone. But to be honest, I think that blogger was right after all. There is no such thing as solo travel. When you travel without immediate companions, in fact, you travel with the whole world beside you. You travel with the sunsets, the birdsong and the roadside musicians. You travel with the churches, the nectarine vendors and the passengers on your train. You travel with the very air around you.

The sun sets on Goan shores
The sun sets on Goan shores
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12 thoughts on “A drug called solitude”

  1. Very well written. on similar thought,

    “Sometimes the further you go from where you stay, the closer you get to where you belong ” This quote was written by me and my friend in college in his hostel room, all over the wall, with a beautiful font . Everyone who came pondered over it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just returned from a solo trip in SE Asia yesterday. While I’m quite comfortable with the idea of solo travel I feel most of the people I speak to are amused by this idea. They always question me the motives behind a solo travel or explain their discomforts in the idea solo travel! like…don’t you get bored? how can you even think about it? and so on…. In all, its not a commonly accepted travel idea in India!! While I do travel with friends or family, solo travel is something else….its a deeply rewarding experience…(more towards intellectual or psychological side) ! Yes, I did make few friends during this travel… but its quite okay with me if I don’t! cause that was not the motive of travel….its just the side effect.. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Ankita,

    Your thoughts are amazingly well penned down. Though I would agree to disagree with you on a few aspects of your self imposed solitude, I would surely respect your views and emotions on it.

    On and off through your thoughts, I felt that though you cherished being alone, you still missed that important aspect of companionship which we sometimes long for.

    When I said I would agree to disagree, I meant that I fully agree that you would not have been able to cry silently had there been someone along with you, but then perhaps the pain/the anguish/the happiness/the excitement, or whatever feelings brought out that emotion in you, would have been much in control had we a shoulder to hang on or a hand to hold, who would allow us to cry out loud.

    Your style of writing is commendable and makes the reader just flow with your thoughts. Keep writing and I shall surely be reading each one of them.

    The tech-“unsavvy” me seems to be forced by the system to reply to you through my word press account which I seldom use. Till I can cajole my daughters to sort this out for me, please pardon this lesser mortal. 😀

    Like

  4. Eloquently expressed Ankita. I don’t travel solo all the time, but it has been tremendously liberating and rewarding when I have. I am hoping to intersperse our journeys with a few solo trips in the future. Happy travels 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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