The thing about solo travel is you have no-one to lean on but yourself. Sure you meet people along the way, you may even catch up with long-established mates while you’re halfway round the world! But at the end of the day the only person you can solidly rely upon to stick with you to the end, support you and keep you safe… is you.
You have to be more responsible, wary and wise than you ever dreamed you could be. You have to push yourself further than you ever dreamed you would, think clearer than you ever imagined and talk to more people than you ever believed existed! And you have to learn to fully trust in situations where you’d rather not but you quite simply have to. Fully, but half…
I remember one instance where I literally had no choice but to hand over my safety to complete and utter stranger. I had to totally trust him and, cliches aside, put my fate in his hands because I literally had no other option. I had been in Agra with two friends I’d met during my travels and that afternoon they were planning to drive to their next stop – Greater Kailash, Delhi.
Solo travel forces you to grow up.
I planned to go with them since they were nice sorts and I fancied spending my 20th with them (a wonderful date only 4 days away at that point!), but I couldn’t join them in the car because I couldn’t afford to pay my 3rd of the driver fees.
That driver was a scamming machine I swear. So it had been decided that I would hop on a local bus and make the 6 hour journey that day, to arrive before nightfall and meet them at our hostel.
Neat! I love local buses – theres a certain toxic vitality to plunging into the depths of everyday Indian life, cramming yourself between 7 sweaty bodies and soaking in the chatter around you, the spiced air and the ceaseless creaking of that questionable vehicle upon which you are all riding. I was excited!
The only problem was that my bowels were not. I don’t believe in ‘imodium’, you know, its unnatural and I kind of want my poo OUT of me rather than festering inside, especially if its runny and clearly unwell. But there were three times in my India journey that I simply could not get through the day without it.
And this, my friends, was one of them.
Another obstacle to my trip and an added complication to my groaning gut was the age-old Indian sense of time – namely that time isn’t really a thing. ‘You have to leave by 12? Nooooooooooo problem I’ll sort it for you nooooo problem, right after I go and read the paper for 4 hours…’ Gah!
And with that I was doomed to a bowely, night-time bus journey to a place I did not know at all.
I remember one instance where I literally had no choice but to hand over my safety to complete and utter stranger.
Thus, my nerves strung so high they may now be in space, ignoring my watch and my angry insides, I headed to the bus stand at 6pm and pretty much gave my fate over to god.
I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but as a solo female traveller with compromised innards and a hence lessened ability to run or defend myself, I was seriously worried about the other end of my trip.
Getting to Delhi, that HUGE metropolis of endless excitement and opportunities to get very lost, alone, womanly, and in the middle of the bloody night. Why did my friends leave me groaning in our hotel room? Why did I tell them it’d be ok, to go on and to meet me there? Ah well, such is life, and at this point my only option was to dam well trust.
But trust who? Who could I ask for the correct bus stop? Was there even a correct bus stop… So many times already in my travels had I arrived somewhere only to find that in order to get to my hotel I would need a lot of stamina and a love for walking, or give in to a very persistent tuk-tuk driver with a rather itchy palm.
Yay. But tuk-tuks were not a good idea late at night, alone. I knew that – that was why I’d not wanted to come at night! And walking…well honestly have you seen the size of Delhi? So…the metro. I could take the train… But where to and where from? Ah!
I sat on that bus for a long while with this cloud of frantic questions slowly smothering my mind. Worrying and passively nibbling my way through a pack of roadside biscuits, wondering if I’d actually see the hostel I had booked into for 2 nights and wether I’d turn 20 with friends or…not…when a young man with a long black coat and very well groomed hair plonked down beside me and got out his phone with a smarmy flourish.
That gesture was the first thing I remember noticing about Santosh. He was very neat, sort of…respectable in a way, and above his skinny black coat his shiny hair sat in a tidy mop, shadowing dark, soulful eyes… Ok so he was pretty fine to look at. He swiped the screen of his smartphone affectionately and flounced it up to his cheek. ‘Hallo? ha. Ha….hmmmmm…’
He talked for hours! Or maybe minutes but I swear I had such a long long time to observe him and his mannerisms that by the time he had flipped his phone off his ear and re-adjusted his dazzling hair I felt we were pretty much best friends. Best buds.
But tuk-tuks were not a good idea late at night, alone.
To be fair I was all alone, stressing my socks off and in need of a smarmy wealthy handsome young man with a sense of direction and a means to direct. So, I said hello.
Now this is an example of the complete and utter devastation that solo travel imposes on your usual social barriers. I am a shy person if you don’t know me, but my experience travelling has taught me to ignore that and become extremely bubbly and conversational when I have to.
I was careful not to reveal anything much about where I was going, why, with who or in fact who I was at all, but I did mention a certain apprehension as to how I was going to get to the general suburb in which I would spend the night. He was happy to help. Now firm friends, we bought a feast of biscuits, peanuts and chips (since dinner had not yet been achieved) which he proceeded to leave to me and only eat if I was also ploughing in.
During the 5 hours remaining on that shack of a vehicle, he advised me on my options in Delhi, paid for a woman who couldn’t quite afford the fare, helped an old blind fellow off the bus and over to a gas station where he could ask for the location of his intended address, accompanied me to the bathroom (not inside! Just past all the creeps in the restaurant adjacent), and finally, offered to help me through the metro and over to my hostel.
Clever bastard! He’d earn’t my trust he had, and all in the space of 5 hours. What a complete and utter idiot I was, listening to his cheesy assurances, observing his overly gracious acts of kindness, and falling hook line and sinker! I was a fool. A sucker, the perfect example of what not to do… wasn’t I?
And at this point I am going to say no.
No I wasn’t a fool. No I hadn’t fallen hook line and sinker, and perhaps no he wasn’t a clever bastard. You see the key in these instances is to make a choice.
The way I see it I had 3 options:
- Ignore him and get on with the probably hopeless task of getting myself to safety
- Give him the keys to my hostel and perhaps my passport while I was at it
- Keep my keys and identity, switch on my head and turn the awareness right up, and trust him as far as I had to
And option 3 is what I did. I let him guide me through the metro, out the other side and onto a tuk-tuk to get to my hostel. I allowed him to pay for it all (the kind kind man), and I even added him on Facebook so I could thank him, which is something I rarely ever do for people I don’t know.
I was NEVER alone with just him: I took the woman’s carriage in the metro and met him at the stop, I didn’t tell him the address of my hostel and I gave him no contacts. I lent completely on myself and trusted his kindness for the bits I simply couldn’t help myself with. I fully trusted him, with half of my burden. Get it?
And so I’ve learnt that in solo travel, and in travel in general, you have to learn to trust people. You won’t regret it, and from it you will learn new things, meet new friends and learn to depend on yourself, but that is the key: depend on yourself. Trust people, but keep your ultimate dependance for yourself.
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