SHEFALI WALIA, a New Delhi-based business and marketing strategist, has been a travel enthusiast for as long as she can remember.
Whenever she would get a little time off work, she would just pack her bag and venture out to a new place. But unfortunately, and always, she would struggle to find someone to accompany her on those trips. Her friends would either be not up for anything on such short notice or they would have already been to the place. For some of them, it simply wouldn’t be the place to go to.
“I wanted someone who could be there for my travel plans, but I did not know how to connect with such people,” says Walia. The result was We Travel Solo, a travel start-up she launched recently to help people venture out alone and bring like-minded people under one platform.
Walia and members of her travel community are not alone. Many people in the country have started travelling solo and many more are aspiring to do it in the near future. “Travelling is a simple feeling of going out, exploring the unseen and breaking the monotony of life. But it is not always possible to find company when you want to travel. What do you do then? You go ahead and travel solo,” explains Walia.
As per travel industry observers, the market for solo travellers is expanding, with both singles and those in relationships increasingly choosing to travel alone. “Solo travel is a recent phenomena and is restricted to people who do not have the time, but have the budget to travel. This segment cuts across age barriers, though it is primarily restricted to those who are between 19 and 30 years old. Those above 40 years constitute around 10% of this segment,” says Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox & Kings. “Lack of time and the need for space are some of the reasons behind this new trend… you may not have someone to accompany you or you just want to be alone. Finally, it all boils down to individual choice. At times, people on business trips extend their holidays by a couple of days and explore the destination on their own, and it is less expensive as well,” he adds.
As per Neelu Singh, COO of travel portal Ezeego1, the concept of solo travelling is certainly evolving in India, although it is not as prevalent as in some of the western countries. “The freedom and sense of adventure that come along with solo travel are often what compel people to embark on a trip alone. With the right planning and safety precautions, solo travel has a huge potential to be one of the most rewarding forms of experiential travel,” she explains.
As a category, solo travel may be still small, but it is nevertheless growing at a fast pace year-on-year. In fact, around 13% of all trips that HolidayIQ witnessed last year were solo tours, says Hari Nair, founder and CEO, HolidayIQ.com. The travel and holiday portal has information, content and travel advice shared by over three million actual Indian travellers and it is used by eight million travellers every month to plan holidays. “We have 50,000 hotels and 2,000 Indian destinations listed on the site,” Nair adds.
Talking further about the trends, Anand of Cox & Kings says many solo travellers undertake group holidays, as the tour operator takes care of all the arrangements, such as flight tickets, sightseeing, hotel accommodation and meals. Though part of a group, they can be on their own.
Some people also want to explore the destination on their own. “They buy air tickets and hotel accommodation from us, and explore the destination on their own. They typically take a three-night/four-day holiday, which is enough to explore the destination,” Anand says.
Singh of Ezeego1 adds: “Over the past three or four years, enquiries and bookings from single travellers have been steadily rising. Some of them only book the flights and accommodation, and manage their itinerary on their own. However, we create customised itineraries for most customers who plan to travel solo by understanding their raison d’être in taking this holiday and providing them with experiential holidays accordingly. We also offer small-group adventure trips, which often largely comprise solo travellers, whether they are single or are simply travelling without company.”
Interestingly, the trend is fast catching up among women travellers, too. As per the Women Traveller Survey 2015 undertaken among 1,300 female respondents across India by travel portal TripAdvisor, 41% said they have travelled alone this year vis-a-vis 37% in 2014. While 47% respondents said travelling solo gave them the freedom of doing whatever they wanted, 39% said they liked the independence and challenge of travelling on their own.
Nikhil Ganju, country manager, TripAdvisor India, says: “It is encouraging to see an increasing number of Indian women travellers planning solo travel despite the challenges that confront them. Also, it appears that lesser Indian women now perceive travelling alone in India as unsafe (only 11% this year versus 33% last year).”
As per Piya Bose, a corporate lawyer-turned-travel enthusiast who founded Girls on the Go, a women’s-only travel club that takes members to new and exotic destinations, says: “Indian women are finally coming out of their closet as far as travelling solo is concerned. They have the time and finances to explore the world and are finally packing their bags to travel to distant places like Mongolia and Antarctica without having to drag family and friends along. Greater self-confidence due to working with multinational companies and media support to the concept are also pushing more Indian women to step out.”
Age is not a barrier for these women, who can either be in their 20s or late 50s, college students looking to backpack or stressed-out corporate employees and business owners. They are even taking off to remote locales like the Arctic region. “If the destination is simpler to travel solo to and the ladies are more free-spirited and willing to take more logistical responsibility, they may travel on their own. The majority of Indian women, however, prefer to travel through an established company or travel clubs for women,” adds Bose.
TRAVEL WITH CARE
We live with risks every day, whether it’s walking on Delhi streets, travelling in Mumbai trains or partying at night. Here’s breaking down a few myths of travelling solo, courtesy Shefali Walia of We Travel Solo:
* You’ll make connections along the way and it is impossible to get bored: If you ache for conversation, chances are you’ll find it. But that doesn’t mean you will make friends all the time. You might experience patches of loneliness, but that instinct will naturally drive you towards people. Being solo makes you interesting for other travellers.
* You’re more vulnerable to attack on the road: Studies have shown that the odds of getting (sexually) assaulted by a stranger on the street are negligible compared to it happening from someone you know. You can reduce your vulnerability by taking precautions like not wandering along dark alleys alone at night and using a money belt.
* You can meet unsavoury people while travelling: Nothing is certain in this world, but staying at home because of the terrible things that might happen is very silly. After all, you spent all those years improving your instincts and learning how to take care of yourself, and continuing to use them on the adventure trip makes it worth it.
* Don’t go into bars unless you’re in a group: There’s nothing wrong with having a pint or enjoying a cool drink during your holiday in Goa or any other happening place. You may get last-minute deals. If you don’t want to be disturbed, the bar staff are always quick to deal with troublemakers. Just never leave your drink unattended, and don’t accept any drinks from strangers.
* Never tell anyone where you’re staying: Isn’t it sometimes a good idea to let any travel buddies you meet along the way know where you are in case something happens and they need to find you? You may also learn about cheap travel packages or air tickets, which you may have missed on travel sites.
* You won’t pay more to go alone: To avoid the high fees attached to single rooms in hotels, look for group accommodation and hostels. Research before you buy holiday packages at historical places in India and try to create your own itinerary, which dodges this fee entirely. If that’s too much work, consult travel advisers.
* Tips for women solo travellers: It is necessary that every woman solo traveller confides in someone about her whereabouts. Whenever you are in any city, keep the women helpline number or the phone number of the nearest police station on speed dial. One tends to ask directions from strangers while travelling, but these directions should always be reconfirmed. A pepper spray in the bag and basic safety tips at the back of the head are some things that should never be ignored.