The first time I realised that the world isn’t friendly for women who travel alone, is when I was faced with a large bowl of spaghetti. In a battle between my appetite and a serving size beyond my abilities, I was losing. And of course, I had no one to share it with. I was at a restaurant in Amsterdam, on my first ever solo trip. I’d read the guides, done my research, and in the true tradition of solo travel in Europe, had even made friends with my dorm-mates. (Any resemblance to “Queen” is incidental.) But the tiny things that come with when you inhabit the world alone as a woman weren’t there in any guide. It’s a trove of hacks, tips, and revelations that only come when you decide to seize the day and decide to do things alone.
My first memory of seeing a woman travelling alone was on a flight. I was travelling with my parents, and on our row on the other side, there was a woman sitting by herself looking outside the window. I now realise that she must have been out on a work trip. She had all the usual accessories. A laptop, a bag, the cautious alertness with which she was checking her environment. (If you know, you know.) But back then, before I had found the joys of financial independence, she seemed to me the coolest woman I’d ever seen. And I instantly knew I wanted to be like her. A woman in the world; calm, confident, travelling alone with a purpose.
I was reminded of that woman again when I took a flight recently. It was my first post-pandemic flight. And as with everything post-pandemic, the familiar had become shaded with anxiety, worry, and a constant feeling of “is my mask slipping?” I am thinking of how much travelling, and being alone has changed with the pandemic. Solo travel that I once found comfort, and even some confidence in, had changed in imperceptible ways.
It’s been a while. I have been patiently waiting at the check-in line at the airport. Everyone around me is either one-half of a couple, one-fourth of a family, or one-third of a trio. I imagine myself to be a loner protagonist in a Guru Dutt film. "How many people are travelling with you?" I am suddenly asked. "Just one," I reply.
And it feels okay — not good, just yet — to say it.
PS: I'd love to hear your solo travel adventures! Reply and we can have a chat?