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Beyond Words - Issue #10 Every woman needs to travel solo- at least once

Beyond Words - Issue #10 Every woman needs to travel solo- at least once
By Nandini Chakraborty • Issue #10 • View online
Travelling solo is not travelling lonely. It is connecting with yourself most deeply, talking to strangers, getting to know people and cultures. Women travel solo a lot more than they did fifty years ago and the numbers keep increasing. It is an experience in itself, beyond geographical boundaries.

Portugal- Douro Valley- 2020
Portugal- Douro Valley- 2020
Israel 2018
‘This……. is a Church,’ the woman replied a tad hesitantly when I asked for directions to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She looked young, very young- a girl really, possibly in her late teens, as did her male colleague. They looked lost when I asked about Jerusalem’s most famous Church. The pair was sitting outside a smallish Church which was definitely not the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and they looked completely unaware of its location. Smiling with unperturbed ignorance and shrugging their shoulders, they left me with no choice but to say, ‘Never mind,’ and continue on my own, looking for signs which would give me some direction. Their combat fatigues faded into the dark behind me, as I advanced through cobbled lanes, my shoes and stroller clicking on the yellow stones polished by thousands of years of footfall. Their rifles rested on the walls of the church, as they sat back on its porch, arms hugging folded knees tucked under chins, chatting like students on a college campus; Israeli soldiers on their night shift at an army station within the walls of the Old City, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, the destination of my first solo trip came with all the ticks- logistically easy, reasonably cheap if I was willing to lodge in hostels rather than hotels, actually pretty safe but dangerous enough on media to raise eyebrows and give me bragging rights; thousands of years of history that made my spine tingle. It also annoyed my mother no end, giving rise to a tirade against my ‘irresponsible decisions’, which I found unwaveringly amusing.
So that was how I found myself at 4:30 am, outside the towering arch of Damascus gate, dropped off by a shared taxi near the Old City. ‘Your hostel‘s inside, to the left,’ the driver waved vaguely. The streets were deserted and the wheels on my stroller rumbled loudly in the darkness, as I entered the narrow pebbled labyrinths through Damascus gate.
The souks, which would be packed with crowds in the morning, large tour groups following bright flags waved by their guides, were empty. Happily, some shops were still open and I began asking for directions to ‘Hostel Hebron’. One shopkeeper would give me zig-zag directions until I found another to go a little further. There was a juice counter manned by a woman in her twenties who said, ‘Go further down, you’ll find the soldiers, they’ll tell you.’ Soldiers actually sounded good at this point; people guarding the Old City who would know it inside out. It also meant that security was tight.
But then I left the soldiers behind to find the signs myself. The hostel was somewhere near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I knew that. Suddenly a signboard loomed in the labyrinth, as if by magic, to say ‘Hostel Hebron’.
I flopped on my bunkbed, without bothering to change. Around me the Old City slept, its mazes guarded by two teenage soldiers with incongruously long rifles.
Israel- 2018. At Temple Mount in front of the Dome of the Rock
Israel- 2018. At Temple Mount in front of the Dome of the Rock
There were many special moments in Israel. A hostel mate asked me at my first dinner on the roof of Hostel Hebron, a bit hesitantly ‘Are you married?’ ‘Yes’, I replied. ‘And your husband does not mind?’ It took some convincing. Yes, I was a forty something Indian woman with a husband and daughter at home who was travelling alone for leisure and staying at a hostel. ‘Well he must be very forward thinking!’ exclaimed my hostel mate. Travelling teaches you about other cultures, it also teaches you how yours is perceived by others.
My last memory of Israel is watching Sabbath at the Western Wall with two of my hostel mates. The rhythmic music and dancing built to a crescendo before the evening call for prayers floated down from Temple Mount to mingle with it. All is not right in the world, but there is hope.
Albania 2019
This was a hike through Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo with a Outdoor Albania. We were a group of four women- from different countries with a wonderful guide. Not with family and friends and part of an organised tour but solo is not necessarily alone at all times. You make new friends.
By the end of this trip, I had a ‘roomie’. The scenery on Via Dinarica is ethereal, untouched and far from the beaten track. The people are amazingly kind and the rural food is solidly healthy and simple.
Between two countries. On the border of Albania and Kosovo
Between two countries. On the border of Albania and Kosovo
Portugal 2020
A short 3 day trip taken in the brief window when UK opened up its travel corridors. Porto makes an excellent base. The city is easily walkable with a number of churches and sites to explore and options for easily doable day trips on public transport. Women in my room had travelled from Lisbon and France. I met a young man at breakfast who got talking about his work and taking a sabbatical to find himself again. I discovered he was a mental health nurse from Belgium unhappy with service changes which meant he was doing more paperwork than holistic treatment with his patients! Sounds familiar?
Sunset on Porto Ribeira
Sunset on Porto Ribeira
Slovakia 2020 (Bratislava)
A last trip before the travel corridors shut down for good. I will remember one cafe in Bratislava which had put out a board which said ‘Eat with us so that we do not starve’. I started out with a city where the cafes were still open and popular restaurants still serving. My favourite was the Cat Cafe where actual cats roam around and huddle near your chair. The waitress serves your cake covered with a lid to prevent unwanted bites!
I could not get enough of coffee and cakes in Bratislava. I enjoyed a meal on the revolving restaurant on the Kamzik TV tower and potato dumplings in sheep’s cheese in Slovak Pub.
A scene of Bratislava from the steps of Slavin war memorial
A scene of Bratislava from the steps of Slavin war memorial
It was interesting to read the comments on my related Twitter post- mostly supportive and positive. Solo travel might not be everyone’s cup of tea but you never know until you have tried, just what it can offer. The moments of contemplation, reflection, walking the streets on your own taking in every moment.
After all- you can see the world in different colours.
From Bratislava Town Hall
From Bratislava Town Hall
Did you enjoy this issue?
Nandini Chakraborty

Stories from travel and psychiatry. There is nothing that teaches us more than human interaction. One story per newsletter.

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