When was the last time you considered dropping everything and hitting the road for a well-deserved break? If you have been toying with the idea of taking that solo trip, you are not alone. Indians are travelling solo more than ever before. According to data from hospitality chain Oyo, India witnessed an increase of nearly 133% in bookings made by solo travellers in December 2018, compared to the same month in 2017. The reasons Indians seem to have embraced solo travel with such fervour range from cost considerations to convenience.
However, there are things you must take into consideration before jet-setting off on your own. We tell you what you can do to make your trip safe and affordable.
What’s the appeal
So why are Indians increasingly embracing the idea of travelling on their own? According to Pawan Singh Choudhary, who runs Solotravelindia.com, a travel platform dedicated to helping solo travellers plan their trips, one major factor is finding common travel dates with friends. “Often people have to shelve their travel plans because their friends are not free at the same time as they are. This can become frustrating and prompt people to take off on their own,” he said. Choudhary, who used to assist foreign travellers to India earlier, decided to launch the platform when he saw the phenomenon was taking off among Indians as well.
With millennials celebrating their independence and individuality, travel has also become a way of “finding yourself”. “Solo travel is gradually growing with travel preferences becoming highly individualistic in terms of the choice of destination, activities, hotels and food, unlike a few years ago when the focus used to be more on family,” said Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd, a tours and travel company.
Being able to decide the dates, destination, transport and all the other details of your trip can be cost-effective, but not always. “There is the obvious advantage of planning and budgeting for one person instead of more than one, which means lesser outgo, but at times it may not be very cost-effective in comparison to booking for two or more. It might work out to be less expensive to book a double-occupancy room, or to book a taxi for local travel,” said Shilpi Johri, founder of Arthashastra Consulting, a financial advisory firm.
Keep it flexible
Devesh Joshi, 29, travels solo often, and is able to cut down his expenses by befriending the locals and timing his trips just right. “Transportation eats up a large chunk of the budget, so I try to hitchhike and take local buses whenever possible,” he said. The Faridabad-based travel blogger chronicles his adventures and shares travel tips on Footloosedev.com, and has recently made his vlogging debut. Joshi travels seasonally. He sticks to travelling to the mountains in most seasons, and travels in the plains only in the winter, when he can walk to most places and choose non air-conditioned transport and accommodation, which are significantly less expensive. “If nothing else, you would end up blowing ₹100 a day on bottles of cold water and other beverages in the summer,” said Joshi.
Another way to save a good deal on your solo trip is to be flexible about where you stay. “Airbnbs and Oyo Rooms are coming up everywhere, and they offer guaranteed safety. They are much better than guest houses, which were the only cheap option earlier, but can be uncomfortable and unsafe. Hostels are also a great option. I was able to get a private room in a hostel in Mumbai for ₹1,200 per night. It can come down to₹600-800 if you take a bed in a dormitory,” said Madhubanti Rakshit, 32, a freelance content writer based in Delhi, who travels solo often.
You can also team up with a bigger group for short spells to make long-distance travel and activities like river rafting more cost-effective and convenient. “Solo travel by definition does not imply that one has to travel on their own at all times. At times, solo travellers join group tours, which allows them to maintain their individuality while saving money,” said Anand.
One obvious concern when travelling alone is that of security. “The first question most solo travellers ask is where they can go for a solo trip. Unfortunately, not every destination is suitable because safety is often a concern. The easy answer is, if you are just starting off, go to the Himalayas. The hills in the north and north east regions of India are perfect for first-time solo travellers because safety is not a concern there,” said Choudhary .
As a female solo traveller, Rakshit’s choice of region is slightly different. “In my experience, the southern part of India is safer and more conducive to women travelling alone. In places like Varanasi and Agra, solo women travellers might feel a little uneasy because some locals and touts can get very pushy, especially if you don’t have a guide with you. I wouldn’t say these places are unsafe, but it’s important to be on your guard and blend in if you want to avoid such situations,” she said.
But more and more women are starting to pick up on the solo travel trend. “Around 30-40% of our overall clientele is made up of women, and this year we had a 50-60% increase in the number of women travellers. We are receiving queries from women in their 50s as well. The only additional advice we give them is to avoid overnight journeys on public transport and last-minute bookings for accommodation,” said Choudhary.
Budgeting for one
Aside from choosing affordable modes of transport and accommodation, carrying a few essentials like a flashlight and an umbrella can ensure that you don’t have to buy things last minute at higher prices. Rakshit also recommends taking along a few packaged snacks and supplies to make tea and coffee.
Planning well ahead of your trip also gives you the advantage of budgeting sensibly and saving up in advance. According to Johri, saving a regular amount as early as possible is a good idea. Regular travellers can do this using a recurring deposit account. “Planning to use your bonus or one-time payments for travel can be tricky since it may be time-bound or variable in nature, but your trip may not be. For a planned travel, use debt funds or fixed deposits,” she said.
Even when it comes to bookings, starting early can mean big savings. “Choose the destination at least three to six months before travel, because flights and hotels can be up to 30% cheaper if you book early. You can also use public transport and dine at local outlets to save money as well as contribute to the local economy,” said Anand.
While solo travel can be fulfilling and easy on the pocket when done right, it is important to be careful about your safety. Plan well and do your research about your destination to make the most of it.