The Beginning -
When it became obvious that D would not get vacation time and mine was going to expire, we sat down to consider our options –
Option #1 – I spend my holidays chilling out at home, while cribbing every evening to D about how there were too many places to see and so little time and I was rotting at home (Yeah, the supportive wife-speak)
Option #2 - I travel to places D has seen before
Clearly, for the sake of both our sanities, Option #2 made sense.
So I picked Turkey and began to do the arrangements. The logistics was simple enough. I wanted to be with a group and I needed something organized at short notice. I had planned enough travel trips in the past and had a couple of days here and there of travelling alone, so I knew I could manage quite well by myself.
But boy, the guilt of leaving behind a spouse while travelling alone can be quite overwhelming. I was almost hoping that somehow the actual travel dates would not come and just my looking-forward-to-the-holidays time would continue. However, the day did come and I was off.
A couple of days in Turkey and I had suddenly rediscovered why travel is my passion (next to reading of course). All guilt disappeared while I took in the sights and sounds like someone who had just finished serving a life sentence and had not seen the skies and grass in years.
The highlight –
D loves to travel too and luckily our interests coincide. We both like visiting historical sites and dig good architecture and good food. So being on my own did not mean doing stuff I would have never done otherwise. Except for the one evening when I wandered in and out of bookstores on Istikal Street, avidly browsing the collections and chatting with the locals to find out what they read.
However, travelling solo makes you talk to people around you. I had never travelled for such a long period by myself and it was clear that I had to talk to strangers if I wanted any kind of social interaction.
The first day, I tentatively chatted with an elderly and dignified looking Pakistani couple. Someone from Pakistan’s bureaucratic circles on the way back home after a conference at the UN. True to South Asian form, the sweet lady ‘adopted’ me within 15 minutes of meeting and showed it through little touches like discreetly checking if I was back on the bus after a stop.
The next day, I found out that the only other person by himself on that day’s tour was a Chilean MBA student who was on his way home after an exchange programme at my B-School. I was amazed by how small a world it was!
Gradually I began to chat with everyone.
A couple of Singaporean women my age, turned out to be great fun, sharing my sense of humour. I have since continued a FB friendship with them. I had interesting conversations with an alert 80 year old American lady of Ukranian origin, who was travelling with her talkative daughter. Also with another 80 year old Canadian man, travelling with his extremely talktative 60+ wife. I envied them all their energy and health (touch wood).
I spoke to a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis, just starting their first jobs and was impressed to see what a clear view they had of life. I spoke to Belgian women who politely asked how I managed to travel alone and who turned out to be extremely well travelled themselves. A South African couple who held hands and laughed together after nearly 15 years of marriage. A yuppy-looking Californian who had quit his job to travel. A Canadian of Indian origin contemplating whether to sell off his ancestral property in Goa and showing me how far from home you get when you are a third generation immigrant. And of course, all sorts of Turkish people.
The more I spoke, the more I discovered how similar we were, and then how different we were. One thing did strike me though. My conversations revolved around work, travel, areas of interest, politics and so on. No one asked me if I was married or how many kids I had. Which would have been the main topic in conversations with your average stranger in India (the other option of discussing cricket is out since I don’t follow the game)
The end of each day found me tired and I was in no mood to hear strangers tell me new stuff. I needed to unwind, chat with D, digest the information I had received and drop a mail describing my day and read up on what was on offer the next day. In other words, I finally found out why Steve Jobs is such a God for having got the IPad into our lives. (As these things turned out, Jobs passed away just when I was discovering my IPad)
D and I had long chats everyday without spending any money. That probably made travelling alone easier. As much fun as it is to chat with strangers the whole day, it was even more fun to describe my day to D.
I also researched on the net, mailed my parents, sincerely read the pdf copy of Lonely Planet which I had downloaded, watched a chick flick on a homesick day and began to read a book.
Would I do it alone again?
Probably yes. The trip was reminder that I need to travel to just energize myself. So while travelling with company is my first choice, travelling alone ranks over staying at home and watching TV.
I would pick a place where no one looks askance at a woman travelling alone and where strangers can provide decent conversation.
I am not sure if I can travel totally alone, without even the fig leaf of a group tour. But it would be an interesting experiment to try some day.