Solo Traveler Snapshot
- Name: Usha S.
- Age: 72
- Location: Mysore, India
- Marital Status: Married
- Favorite Solo Trip: Vietnam
Usha enjoyed a long career as a physician in India which afforded her the opportunity to travel solo. Once she retired, it was only natural for her to keep traveling. Her adventures have taught her a lot about the world and what she is capable of doing on her own.
Solo Traveler Inspiration
TravelAwaits: What inspired you to travel solo?
Usha: I took early retirement because my full-time job as a physician did not give me much time for travel and my other interests. Since I had made several solo trips earlier on when I worked, both in India and abroad, it just seemed natural to continue to plan solo travel for pleasure too.
First Solo Trip
TravelAwaits: What was your first solo trip?
Usha: I had been to college and spent all my working life in my home state of Karnataka in India. In 2000, I got an opportunity to work in Oslo, Norway, for a few months. This was my first solo trip anywhere and it straddled two entirely different worlds — India and Scandinavia! It was the early days of the internet yet in India, so I had a travel agent make the arrangements. I remember it was so discombobulating since I had to get used to everything, from buying a new wardrobe for a cold country to changing planes twice on the way and mastering unknown cuisine terms. But I survived; mostly thanks to being a comfortable English speaker. And with each trip, my confidence grew until it just became a routine.
Favorite Aspect Of Solo Travel
TravelAwaits: What is your favorite part of traveling solo?
Usha: I am a solo travel fan. I advise everyone to try traveling alone if they really want to get a feel for a place. I love the sense of freedom and the undisturbed attention I can give to everything around me, soaking in the sights and sounds. I can plan my day to suit my interests. I can change plans midway. I can stop when I want. I can eat where I feel like. I often book Airbnb accommodation with families when I travel outside my country. It has given me unique cultural insights into each country that I have been in. And I have all these wonderful hosts to converse with in the evenings and point me to non-touristy places during the day. Several of them have shared home-cooked meals. In Dublin, my host took me to a play with her friends. I do not think I could have had these varied and wonderful cultural experiences if I was staying with my own group in a hotel.
Favorite Solo Trip
TravelAwaits: What is your favorite solo trip so far and why?
Usha: Hands down — Vietnam. I was with a small group of family and friends in Cambodia for a few days. Everyone had to go back to work. I thought, having come to the border, I am not going back without visiting Vietnam. It met all my expectations and more.
It seemed that southeast Asian cultures respect and care for their older people. It is part of their cultural makeup. As a solo older woman traveler, I could sense warmth and care from everyone I met. In my hotel in Hanoi, the young woman at the reception volunteered to take me around the night market after her work was done. At Hue, the young people working in the hotel invited me to join them at a dinner they had made themselves. Older people on their morning exercise dance routine at the lakeside in central Hanoi pulled me into their circle. A young woman sent by a nonprofit that trains college students to be local guides took me to her family temple and left a gift of coffee for me at the hotel. I was her first tourist and I made her feel comfortable.
Vietnam ticked all my boxes: the nicest people, history, cuisine, coffee, culture (dance, music, water puppet shows), diverse natural beauty, unique crafts, silk, and a sense of comfort and safety. The list is long, with a little bit of adventure too. I went kayaking and enjoyed boat rides. There is much more like caving, mountaineering, cycling tours, and other activities for the more adventurous.
Biggest Solo Travel Concern
TravelAwaits: What was your biggest concern before your first solo trip and how did you overcome it?
Usha: I think it was how to get to my accommodation once I landed. The signage was all in Norwegian but people spoke English so I could just ask. Remember, it was before the days of the ubiquitous internet. Now, I usually ask the hotel to send a car if I arrive in the middle of the night. If I am not staying in a hotel, I plan to arrive during the day. My favorite line is if you speak English, you can survive most situations in most places in the world — at least in the places I have been to.
Group Or Independent Travel
TravelAwaits: Do you travel with a group or independently and why?
Usha: I prefer independent travel for all the reasons I stated above, but as I grow older, I do travel in groups to some places. I have only been on an organized group tour once. I find that the interests of people in a group tour vary, and we have to do things in a structured way to suit the interests of the majority. I did serendipitously find great fun groups a couple of times; once when I traveled to Tanzania and another time to Sikkim.
I have only been on a cruise ship once — to Alaska. That worked quite well, too, since we unpacked on day 1, repacked on the last day, and found ourselves in a new place every day where each of us could choose what we wanted to do that day.
Favorite Travel Product
TravelAwaits: What is one product you cannot live without on your trips?
Usha: Mobile phone and internet connectivity. With these around, I don’t need much other help.
Best Advice For Solo Travelers
TravelAwaits: What advice would you give someone who is considering solo travel?
Usha: Read a lot about the place you are going to. Pay particular attention to safety including travel and commute safety, food safety, insect-born diseases, etc. Read recommendations given by your government and the local governments regarding these things. The U.S. government travel advisories are useful.
If you like a deeper understanding of the place, read well-known novels and stories set in that geography before you travel. Leave valuables in the hotel safe. Carry just a minimum amount of currency and a credit card in a cross-body bag. Be friendly, confident, observant, and respectful of other cultures in a new country. Be aware that unexpected cancellations might happen and have alternatives in mind. Personally, I get home by 7 p.m. or latest 8 p.m. I also message my day’s plans to my family just in case. Relax and have fun. It sounds incredible but it is true that I have never had a single unpleasant incident so far in my solo travels as I am just a little extra careful.
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