(Published in Khaleej Times dated Oct 18)
Ever since the scourge of Covid loosened its grip on us and we gingerly put our lives back on track, a new bug has bitten us, and that too, with a vengeance. Travel. We have all been seized by wanderlust of every conceivable kind. Airports are teeming with travellers despite prohibitive fares and the congestion and commotion are not deterring us. We have all been waiting to break free from the confinement of many months and are scattering ourselves to different destinations in search of distraction from our daily encumbrances.
Inspired by the globe-trotting sentiment around me, for the first time ever, I decided to depart from the tradition of travelling with the husband and go on a solo trip to a remote destination. While the joy of going with family and in groups is unparalleled, there is something uniquely empowering about going solo. I wanted to capture the spirit of true travel, leaving behind all the mental baggage I had gathered in the past years of strife and survival. I wanted to know how far I could go when I am unleashed and what new discoveries I would make about life and the world.
Solo backpacking has been in vogue for a while now, and more and more women are stepping out to explore the world without immediate company. I have read about women obsessed with expeditions that regular folks like me may not even imagine because to those of us who haven’t ever ventured out, it is an intimidating undertaking. Especially, with the kind of exaggerated reporting in the media about how perilous the world has become for women, setting out alone is always a matter of great self-doubt and debate for women. Add to it a traditional setting where women’s solo travel can easily be labelled as ‘daring’ and ‘unbecoming’, and as a mark of wild enthusiasm. There are the societal pressures and misconceptions about solo travel and then there is the fear factor that we have bequeathed ourselves from hearsay and imagination. The former did not cause me as much worry as the latter did. It was the fear of walking into an anonymous world alone that was paralyzing, although I had an inkling that it was more of a mental block that stopped me than the real state of the world. It was to rip this fence I had built around me with invented anxiety that I pulled up my socks and tied the shoelaces to go on a mountain trip alone.
The rewards of travelling alone, as I am discovering now, are not small. To begin with, it is the greatest ticket for a woman to taste freedom and an opportunity to break the fetters that she has placed on her herself with years of conditioning. It unlocks the innermost chambers of her power and brings her face to face with what she is truly capable of. It is an acknowledgement of her right to cross the threshold of her home and influence the world with her feminine voice and whispers.
And may we not mix this with the idea of women making huge strides and claiming a place for themselves in the material world. Women have been doing that with ample consistency for a
while, but what solo travel does to a woman is bring her in touch with herself. It puts all the pressures and expectations aside, and she goes on a journey where she is accountable to only herself.
There is a lot of difference in assuming who we are and knowing our true selves. Often, positions of power and influence in the material world only create a version of women that the world wishes to see; it puts them in a mould that fits the description of modern, emancipated women, and in striving to accomplish the superficial image and create false impressions, they lose connection with their real selves inside.
It was in search of this real, raw, rustic woman in me, the one that had lost her true bearings in the melee of the pretentious world that I set out when I packed my bags on my first solo journey shedding all inhibitions. While I am still on it, I am learning things about myself that I never knew because I had been too engrossed in other things. I am seeing the world through a different prism and making little notes for the future. I am taking this sabbatical from my regular life, alone, because I knew I had dimensions that remained to be revealed. Towards this ultimate quest to know what she truly is in the absence of fabricated definition, every woman in the world should embark on a journey at least once on her own.