Solo traveler snapshot
- Last name: Ucha S.
- Age: 72
- Location: Mysore, India
- Marital status: Married
- Favorite solo trip: Vietnam
Usha had a long career as a doctor in India, which allowed her to travel alone. Once retired, it was only natural for her to continue to travel. Her adventures have taught her a lot about the world and what she is capable of doing on her own.
Solo traveler inspiration
The journey awaits you: What prompted you to travel alone?
Usha: I took early retirement because my full-time job as a doctor didn’t leave me much time for travel and other interests. As I had taken several solo trips earlier when I was working, both in India and abroad, it seemed natural to continue planning solo trips also for fun.
First solo trip
The journey awaits you: What was your first solo trip?
Usha: I had gone to college and spent my entire professional life in my home state of Karnataka in India. In 2000, I had the opportunity to work in Oslo, Norway, for a few months. It was my first solo trip anywhere and it straddled two totally different worlds – India and Scandinavia! It was still the early days of the internet in India, so I asked a travel agent to make arrangements. I remember it was so confusing as I had to get used to everything from buying a new wardrobe for a cold country to changing planes twice en route and mastering terms unknown kitchens. But I survived; mainly thanks to my command of English. And with each trip, my confidence grew until it became routine.
Favorite aspect of solo travel
The journey awaits you: What’s your favorite part of solo travel?
Usha: I’m a fan of solo travel. I advise everyone to try traveling alone if they really want to get a feel for a place. I love the feeling of freedom and the undisturbed attention I can give to everything around me, soaking up sights and sounds. I can plan my day according to my interests. I can change plans midway. I can stop whenever I want. I can eat where I want. I often book Airbnb accommodation with families when traveling outside my country. It gave me a unique cultural insight into each country I went to. And I have all these wonderful hosts to chat with in the evening and point me to non-touristy spots during the day. Several of them shared homemade meals. In Dublin, my host took me to see a play with his friends. I don’t think I could have had these varied and wonderful cultural experiences if I had stayed with my own group in a hotel.
Favorite solo trip
The journey awaits you: What’s 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 arrived at the border, I do not return without visiting Vietnam. It met all my expectations and more.
It seemed that Southeast Asian cultures respect and care for their elderly. It is part of their cultural makeup. As an older solo traveler, I could feel the warmth and care from everyone I encountered. In my hotel in Hanoi, the young woman at the reception volunteered to take me for a tour of the night market after her work was done. In Hué, the young people who worked at the hotel invited me to join them for a dinner they had prepared themselves. The elderly during their morning dance routine by the lake in central Hanoi drew me into their circle. A young woman sent by a non-profit organization that trains students to become local guides took me to her family temple and left me a gift of coffee at the hotel. I was her first tourist and I put her at ease.
Vietnam ticked all my boxes: nicest people, history, cuisine, coffee, culture (dance, music, water puppet shows), diversity of natural beauty, handicrafts unique, silk and a sense of comfort and security. The list goes on, with a bit of adventure too. I went kayaking and enjoyed the boat rides. There’s plenty more like caving, mountaineering, cycling tours and other activities for the more adventurous.
Solo travel’s biggest problem
The journey awaits you: What was your biggest concern before your first solo trip and how did you overcome it?
Usha: I think that was how to get to my accommodation once I landed. Signage was all in Norwegian but people spoke English so I could just ask. Remember, this 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 at the hotel, I plan to arrive during the day. My favorite line is that if you speak English you can survive most situations in most places in the world – at least the places I’ve been.
Group or independent travel
The journey awaits you: Are you traveling in a group or independently and why?
Usha: I prefer independent travel for all the reasons I mentioned above, but as I get older I travel in groups to certain 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 need to do things in a structured way to meet the interests of the majority. I’ve come across very funny bands a few times; once when I traveled to Tanzania and another time to Sikkim.
I’ve only been on a cruise ship once – to Alaska. It worked pretty well too, as we unpacked the first day, repacked the last day, and found each day in a new place where each of us could choose what we wanted to do that day.
Favorite Travel Product
The journey awaits you: What is the product that you cannot do without during your travels?
Usha: Mobile phone and internet connectivity. With these around, I don’t need much other help.
Top tips for solo travelers
The journey awaits you: What advice would you give to someone considering traveling alone?
Usha: Read a lot about where you are going. Pay special attention to safety, including travel and travel safety, food safety, insect-borne diseases, etc. Read the recommendations given by your government and local governments regarding these things. US government travel advisories are helpful.
If you want to deepen your understanding of the place, read well-known novels and stories set in this geography before you travel. Leave your valuables in the hotel safe. Just carry a minimum amount of currency and a credit card in a shoulder bag. Be friendly, confident, observant and respectful of other cultures in a new country. Be aware that unexpected cancellations may occur and have alternatives in mind. Personally, I get home at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. at the latest. I also send messages about my plans for the day to my family just in case. Relax and have fun. It sounds unbelievable but it’s true that I’ve never had a single unpleasant incident so far in my solo travels because I’m just a bit more cautious.
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