Our guide to traversing the Indian sub-continent solo, with insights from community members who’ve made the trip themselves.
By Shradha Aswani
While the idea of travelling is intriguing, finding a group that wants to visit the same places as you, agreeing upon dates that work for all your calendars, and getting company that alternates between noise and quiet in the same frequency as you, can be exhausting.
This has gotten me toying with the idea of taking a solo trip, starting with India. For those who’ve thought of the same, we’ve put together a guide to the travel options the Indian sub-continent offers to lone travellers, hostel chains that allow you to experience pocket-friendly community living, and travel advice that will help you go on a trip by yourself, without feeling alone.
PLACES TO VISIT
It is impossible to cover the entire country as a part of your itinerary in a single trip, so we’ve grouped our findings into regional clusters you can travel around, one at a time.
The crown and its enclave: Amid rich monuments that tell you about pre-British India and mouth-watering street food, the capital city of Delhi can form the starting point of your trip to many parts of northern India. You can go up north to Himachal and Uttrakhand if chilly hills are your vibe. You can experience a completely different landscape towards the west by visiting fort cities like Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer, which also have fantastic dessert activities for you to experience. Towards the east, you can stop by Agra for a quick visit to the Taj Mahal or make a detour to the ghats of Varanasi.
As west as it gets: The western shore of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, has much more than Bollywood to its credit. The city’s beautiful skyline, immersive restaurants, and shopping experiences can be an excellent start for your solo trip, especially if you are a person of moderate weather like me. You could try out to the beach city of Goa to experience its Portuguese infrastructure, peaceful churches, beautiful resorts, or its infamous nightlife.
The eastern tip: The pensive picturesque landscape of India’s northeastern hills is the perfect trip to make if you are looking for a relaxing and brooding vacation. You can land in the cultural capital of Kolkata and find your way inwards, literally and figuratively. The seven sisters have many destinations you can explore, including tea gardens, national parks, mountain trails, and more.
The southern hive: Landing in the southern cities of Bangalore or Chennai can open you up to many unexplored parts of the sub-continent. Be it the backwaters of Kerala, the ‘hippy’ Pondicherry, the sandy coasts of Andaman and Nicobar, or the temples that line the region’s history, the South of India offers a lot to explore.
GUIDES AND TOUR GROUPS
Many international and Indian platforms allow you to plan a trip in India without taking on the burden of creating an itinerary for yourself.
Solo Travel India: Their solo-travel packages will sort out any issues you may have with accommodation, transportation, routing, and to an extent, day-to-day scheduling to ensure that you can focus on enjoying the places you visit and forging connections with co-travellers. www.solotravelindia.com
Intrepid: An international platform, you will likely meet people from various nationalities if you plan your tour with them. This allows you to have the best of both worlds, letting you meet people from across the globe while exploring all things desi. www.intrepidtravel.com
Contiki: A carbon-neutral platform restricted to travellers aged 18-35, Contiki can be ideal if you are booking your first ever trip to India. Its signature route has a bit of everything, from the beaches of Mumbai and Goa, to the jungles of Ranthambore. Their website provides a detailed account of what to expect in each destination, giving you a hint of the free time you can have to yourself, even while on tour, so you can
customise those hours per your liking. www.contiki.com
HOSTELS AND ACCOMMODATIONS
goSTOPS: With 25 branches spread across the country, the hostel chain provides neat and clean living solutions that are cost effective, and is known for its breakfast menu among backpackers. The premises
are safe and workation-friendly. Their highlight, GoExperiences, will allow you to have curated experiences with other travellers in a group, which is ideal if you are afraid travelling alone for too long will get to you.
Zostel: One of the oldest and largest hostel chains in India, it is easy to find a Zostel in almost every travel-worthy destination in India. The service quality meets international-budget living standards, and if you shell out just a little more, you can also go for their premium properties. www.zostel.com
Madpackers: In their own words, Madpackers is a place for friendship and stories. Stationed at a select ten destinations across India, the hostel chain boasts comfortable beds, spotless bathrooms and kitchens open to all. Their Delhi-Belly experience has been known to delight many travellers. www.madpackers.com
Choose the vibe carefully
When travelling alone, you are more dependent on your surroundings than when travelling in a group. Not all hostels and tour experiences provide the same experience. While you may be looking for a quiet retreat in the heart of nature, the hostel you’ve booked might have people hosting parties all night, every night. The mismatch can be off-putting. It’s essential to go through the reviews on top of your usual checklist.
Safety is instinct-led
While we have an array of apps that allow you to update your loved ones about where you are, trust India to have limited internet range, broken connectivity, and places with no online access. In such a situation, your gut is your best protector. If something or someone seems shady, avoid them.
Travelling solo doesn’t have to mean travelling alone
Sometimes people mistake solo travelling for travelling entirely alone, which is hardly ever the case. Everyone who has travelled solo has stories of strangers they journeyed with or met on their trips and often formed lasting connections with. Finding yourself in a group of people who don’t know you can be a liberating experience that most solo travellers thrive on. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be much more enriching than you can imagine.
We’ve also interviewed community members who’ve taken the plunge (or the right) and travelled solo through India.
Why did you choose India as a travel destination to go solo?
I love travelling a lot, and I was fascinated by the culture and architecture of the country. I think India is rich in nature and culture; it is a destination that people either hate or love. So, failing to find someone to accompany me, I decided to visit by myself over ten years ago, but I have been there several times. Once you are there, it’s not hard to fall in love with everything about it – including the art, the music, and the amicable people.
What are the places you covered, and which ones did you enjoy in particular?
I covered Kashmir, Ladakh, Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Kolkata. Because it was a country that was alien to me, I ensured that I planned everything. My favourite memories are taking the train. In my opinion, if you want to see honest India, you have to experience taking the train. I experienced living in many kinds of places – an upscale hotel, an Airbnb with local residents, and friends’ houses. My visit to the Dalai Lama Temple in Dharamshala was something that has stayed with me.
What is the one piece of travel advice you would give our readers?
As a female traveller and as a foreigner in a country, it is important to stay cautious. While you enjoy travel, you must ensure your friendliness is not misunderstood. I suggest keeping your family in the loop about your travel itinerary and information.
What inspired your solo trip to India?
I was going to Hyderabad in India for a friend’s wedding and wanted to seize the opportunity of being high on life without any commitments. I got excited about the thought of solo travelling in India since I had not heard of anyone in my network doing it back then. The idea had a negative connotation attached to it, so a part of me wanted to take this as a challenge for myself and set an example for other young women that they could make this happen.
Which cities did you visit? Where did you stay in each destination you travelled to?
I chose to visit Kerala as the first state and started by taking a train to Kochi. The beautiful backwaters top my list of favourite memories from the trip. I also flew to Bangalore later in the journey, and I stayed in hotels all the way.
What are the aspects you did not enjoy?
It can be tiring to always be wary of your surroundings – it’s hard enough travelling alone, but being female doubles the number of precautions to be taken. Moreover, on some of my solo travelling experiences, I miss out on the nightlife. I don’t usually stay out after 9pm if I do not have a reliable way to get back.
What is the best piece of travel advice you received before you left?
‘Trust your instinct,’ maybe? A constant reminder that I like to give myself is that, it is not about visiting
a lot of countries, but experiencing as much as possible. Also, preparation and research are key. It is essential to have a plan B or C in case plan A fails.