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SINBAD, THE SOLO SAILOR

By Roopank Chaudhary

I like being alone. Well, almost. I’m used to it.

I love travelling. It’s something I live for and earn for. But I hate travelling alone. Yes, as complicated as that sounds, that’s the case.

I often hear my (mostly committed or married) friends yearn for solo travel. They claim that it’s the best form of rediscovering yourself, connecting with the soul, and a must-have cathartic experience. Not to mention all that self-healing sh**. Mid-life crisis? Maybe. But then, these days, everyone wants to do it, and believes it’s the best antidote to the trappings of urban life and the rat race that we are now unconditionally part of. As for me, I am done with it. Thank you very much. And here’s why.

How appealing does solo travel sound when most of the things in my life are done in my own company? Waking up solo (umm), solo breakfast, solo (work) stress management, solo dinner, solo sleeping (well…), solo grocery shopping, solo home decor browsing, solo weekends, etc. The list can go on. When you add solo travel to this list, it’s not really that tempting. While I have taken many of my trips largely solo, the thought of another vacation by myself does not connect me with my soul. Rather, it stresses out my soul. Solo soul? Perhaps.

I think it’s a lot more fun to plan travel with someone. If I’m on my own, firstly, I can’t decide when to take that break. My dates keep changing and shifting like Trump’s opinion on most global issues. I often let work and project deadlines define my dates because there is only one person to convince that work is more important. Then comes the struggle of choosing a destination (the first choice is to look at the finite number of the generous countries that let us Indians embark on their shores with visas on arrival). Applying solo for visas – especially to countries in Europe – feels as tedious as a college application. Flights, hotels and the damn tours on your bucket list are always a pain when planned alone, there is so much to decide and close out!

The single people who love travelling alone? They’re either the Dalai Lama kind or the James Bond variant. The former are forever at peace with their souls and LOVE themselves. They are the sorted, sagely species who can hang out alone anytime, anywhere. Then there’s the suave players – who always end up staying in hipster places, and are able to chat up and befriend women wherever they go. Their lives are what most men yearn (and earn) for, where it’s awesome to be single, and the probability of finding an exotic companion lurks high in every corner of their picturesque vacation.

I fall in neither category. I can be at peace with myself perhaps for a day after having spent time arguing and swearing in a work conference. Beyond that, I need company. And unlike Mr. Bond, I possess neither the charm nor the providence to befriend native nymphets or chat up interesting damsels (the only exception in my long history of solo sailing was my latest trip to China, where given the extreme paucity of English speaking tourists, I was surprisingly lapped up (no pun intended) by like-minded travellers).

Age (as always) plays a factor too, doesn’t it? Now I am too old to qualify for single tour groups like Contiki where you can meet hip young single people to travel the world (mostly get drunk) with. And I’m still ‘too young’ for the 40+ travel groups where the average age is 50+. In a solo trip, I’m usually left with small mini tourist bus tours that usually ferry sweet, older American couples, cackling Chinese tourists and of course, great Indian families, and their tow of crying children.

And then there are friends and acquaintances that I plead to join me. I am willing to accommodate their dates and their choice of locations and sometimes I am lucky that they relent. My male friends need permission from their wives and are usually unwilling to incur the wrath that accompanies a suggestion of a boys’ trip. And when they do get a hall-pass, they would rather spend it on a typical trip (Thailand, anyone?). My younger, single friends already have their cliques, who plan their annual vacations with, way in advance and I am never able to fit in.

Does that mean I am keen to settle down or be with the one? I don’t know. But I love travel. Any form of it. And now it’s no fun doing it alone. If travelling is what makes me seek a partner, so be it. After all, even Pi had beloved Richard Parker for company. Raj, of course, found Simran. Unless I end up playing a George Clooney role in life, living up in the air.

A management consultant by day, writer by night, Roopank is based in Mumbai. He describes himself as a travel junkie and poet at heart. A bookshop browser and Kindle-hater, Roopank is a sucker for all things Bollywood. 

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