Last week I embarked on a 10-day trek through northern India—a much-needed respite from the consistent 40-plus degree heat of the desert and a chance to take solace in the resolute Himalayas. I had heard much about the charismatic hill stations of Himachal Pradesh and I had been scheming to visit the serene Buddhist region of Ladakh, in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, since the time of my arrival in India.
After securing some time off about a month ago, I started thinking about which places I would visit. I put it out to the other AIESEC interns living in Jaipur that if anyone wanted to join me for any part of the trip they were more than welcome to. I got two lukewarm responses and I’d be lying if I said that I was heartbroken to be making the trip alone.
I’ve always been fond of independent travel. Yet, people seem taken aback when I tell them I am taking a trip alone. Sometimes I question how normal I am—but then I remember all of the unforgettable trips I’ve taken alone or partially alone. So, here are the top five reasons why everyone should try traveling alone at least once:
1. “My way is the highway.”
When you travel with other people—no matter how well you know them—you will inevitably have to make some compromises. (Unless, of course, you plan to take your bathroom breaks together.) When you travel alone, you make your own itinerary. You see the things you want to see, you skip the things that you don’t want to see without feeling guilty and you go at your own pace (without having to wait for someone else to pee).
2. Take responsibility.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m overly lazy when it comes to making travel arrangements. I’m into spontaneous travel—I like to book things the day of and figure out where I’m going when I get there. That’s what works for me. When I travel with other people, I find that sometimes my go-with-the-flow attitude causes me to take a less than active role in trip planning. I will let other people make all the arrangements, to the point that sometimes I wonder if I have all the information I need to travel safely.
Let me illustrate what I mean: Once, when traveling with my family, a German woman besieged us, asking for help. She was a senior traveling with a tour group in Kathmandu and she had somehow lost the group when they ducked into a restaurant for lunch without her. She didn’t know the name of the travel agency or the name of the hotel she was staying at and she was in a panic. Although I think the majority of people tend to take a little bit more responsibility when in a new place, there is a certain comfort to being with a group. You feel safe in the company of others until the moment when you realize you don’t know how to get by on your own. When you travel alone, you know from the get-go that no one else is going to do things for you. You have to take complete responsibility for your travel plans and your travel safety.
3. Escape Your Comfort Zone.
It’s human nature to seek to be around other people. No one wants to show up to a party alone or eat dinner in a restaurant alone. Yet, sometimes it’s good to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable doing whatever you’re doing; it can help you build confidence and strength of character.
Some of my most memorable trip moments were those times when I was aware of being out of my comfort zone. For instance, being the only white person on a rickety local bus careening through the winding mountain roads to Manali, or worshipping amongst devout Hindu pilgrims at the Hanumanji temple in Shimla.
4. Meet people you wouldn’t normally meet.
This may sound paradoxical, but one of the reasons that I like to travel alone is that I tend to meet more people. I am more proactive in trying to connect with other travelers, compared to when I already have a companion—I do get sick of talking to myself! All jokes aside, I find that traveling alone gives you the best of both worlds: you can have the freedom to do things your way, be around people when you feel like it, and part ways before the honeymoon ends.
5. Get some "me-time."
As an introvert in India, I glean every single moment of me-time that I can and I never seem to have enough. It was refreshing to be able to spend my time how I wanted to spend it. I think that ultimately, if you can’t spend time with yourself, who can you spend time with?
This trip, I got an über-relaxing, full-body Ayurvedic massage for the first time and spent some time practising meditation and hiking in Ladakh. After having the chance to reflect on my life here in India and enjoying the grandeur of the landscape, I am heading back to Jaipur feeling fully recharged and appreciative of all of the experiences I have had in this country.