You're Never Really Alone (as a single or solo traveller)

Ok let's be blunt: India is a full-on place.
After a long-haul flight, you're half-a-world away from home, exhuasted and feeling a little vulnerable. All you want to do is rest, but instead you face a gauntlet of hawkers and taxi-drivers, traders and traffic. One billion people on the move; a heaving mass of humanity bombards the senses and threatens to overwhelm you upon arrival Bring it on!

When I decided to go to India there was never any question as to whether I'd do it alone or with a companion. This was something for me to do. A personal adventure. I wanted the full-power ' experience; un-buffered and without the cushioning re-assurance of a familiar face.

When travelling, things don't always go smoothly; often situations get a bit difficult, draining or intimidating. But this is when you learn what you're made of! This is when you grow. And anyway: once you've got through that hectic moment you'll be laughing about it and telling it as a great anecdote a few days later this forward projection has seen me through many potentially depressing moments! The more you achieve and overcome, the stronger and more empowered you feel a feeling which is magnified if you've done it all by yourself.

So the question is: why are you travelling? What do you want to get from the experience? Are you a traveller or a tourist ? To many people, back-packing is not just about visiting places' and seeing stuff'. It's not just a holiday', but a personal journey.

Everybody knows the cliché travel broadens the mind. And it does. At least it should . You're seeing new worlds, new places, new people. You get to see that there's far more to life than what you know different people living very different realities. You're stimulated with endless novel situations, and you have the time and psychological space to reflect upon them without being swamped by normal day-to-day distractions work, tv, stress, mates. You've broken your routine and have time to assimilate these new experiences into your world-view.

You're also free from all the usual obligations and expectations which keep you in your psychological pigeon-hole'. At home you have a well-defined role. People know you, and you have an established pattern of interaction with your friends, family and colleagues. Ever noticed how when you speak to a good friend you've not seen for a while you can instantly adopt specific speech and behaviour styles you've always used with that person? Likewise ever been frustrated when you visit your parents, and after a few hours find yourself dragged into the same petty bickering and issues that you thought were left way behind? Familiar people promote familiar behaviour patterns and sub-consciously we slip straight into our long-established roles. So travelling with a friend or partner can stifle the mind-broadening' effects of travel they expect you behave a certain way, and you do. One of the joys of solo travel is that nobody has any expectations about you.

Some people worry that they'll be lonely travelling alone. But the fact is, you only need to be alone if you want to be. I spent time off the beaten track in central India, going from one week to the next without seeing another back-packer. I mixed with the locals a lot more, who were always warm and friendly, and also spent loads of time on my own, playing guitar and writing. If you enjoy your own company this is great! If you don't, then you can very easily stick to the more popular routes, meeting endless streams of back-packers who are always interested in new company.

My guitar, though awkward to carry at times, was the one item I never resented lugging about. Trust me: you're never lonely when you've got a guitar! Not only did it keep me company, but a guitar is a social magnet. Music is the universal language, and in guest-houses and on beaches all over the country, people naturally gather around a guitar and feel a sense of friendship. Songs are sung, bonds are formed, sunsets are shared. On the back-packer trail in India you're never far from a sing-a-long.

Other people worry you'll be attacked and mugged and buried in the desert or sold into slavery. But like at home, the fear of crime is invariably greater than the reality. During my six months in India I felt safer than I do walking down many streets back home. Yes, there are risks and every now and then you hear a horror story. But the same is true back home and you still go out. The threat in India is largely illusory. The overwhelming intensity of the place shocks the senses and can be intimidating, but I never once felt physically threatened, and I never even felt like my possessions were in much danger less so than in London anyway!

Travelling alone is about freedom. Often you meet people who tell you about some fantastic place and you decide you want to drop everything and go there. What if your travel companion doesn't? I wanted the freedom to grasp every opportunity that came my way. If I wanted to sit on a beach for three weeks, or if I wanted to travel the entire length of the country in a single 50-hour train journey, I could do it all on a whim. No debates. No compromising.

Finally, remember: when you travel to place that interests you, the fellow back-packers you're going to meet are a specific section of society they're people from all over the world who were also interested in coming to this place. All the boring stay-at-home folk have stayed-at-home. The people who get out and explore, the people who you'll meet every step of the way are your sort of people, interested in doing the very things you're doing. People who want to learn about the world, its cultures and differences. People who like to meet people! So everywhere you'll find open-minded and welcoming friends to talk with, share experiences and hang out.

You're never really alone.

By Dean Melmothe

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