Traveling alone is very much like performing solo on stage. I have been a dancer for a lot of my life. The experience and emotions I feel when I perform are not too different from what it feels like to travel alone. First of all, you have to get used to feeling like you are on display. While traveling in India, even being Indian didn’t help me blend in with the crowds. For starters, not many young Indian women travel alone. If you are uncomfortable with the attention, well, traveling alone might not be for you (and neither is performing solo). It’s also hard to fit in with a large Northface hiking pack as an added appendage. You just have to become adept at tuning out the audience, tuning them in only to get cues and feedback on how you are doing. And just like you derive energy from the audience when you are performing, you feed off of a similar energy when you are traveling among the locals of a country.
The scariest and most exhilarating part of traveling alone is it’s just you up there on stage. This is not a very comfortable feeling at first, but it’s quite addicting when you realize it’s an adrenaline rush. You learn to rely on your intuition, listen to the rhythms around you to ensure you are in sync, and keep an eye out for the slippery spots. With good judgments and some trip-ups, you only grow stronger and improve your abilities (to travel alone and perform).
When I first announced that I was going to travel alone in India, Indians were the first ones to tell me how dangerous it could be. Stories of mugging, rape, and torture ran amok. While I believe every place on earth has its dangers, common sense is your strongest ammunition against these potential perils. I am not naïve enough to dismiss all the warnings; I know there is a level of truth behind the horror stories. So a certain amount of luck is an undeniable part of the experience. You can practice all you want, but if luck is not on your side, you just might trip and fall flat on your face. Having said that, don’t tantalize Lady Luck; make sure you take the right precautions to take control of your own safety.
Here are 5 quick tips for solo travel to ensure your safety:
- Dress appropriately; leave the cleavage-bearing shirts and short shorts at home. Do some research about local attire but I generally skew toward more clothing than less.
- Don’t carry too much cash on you and store it in different places. I pay by credit card where I can (credit card without international fees is crucial – if you don’t have it, do it immediately!).
- Don’t parade around your expensive laptop or camera; take them out of your bag when you are in a safe place. Leave your expensive jewelry and watches back at home. In fact, I usually don’t even wear my wedding ring when I travel solo.
- Don’t travel alone at night. If you have to, I would recommend spending a little extra to ensure safe nighttime travel. For example, I will pay extra for the hotel to arrange pick-up for me if I know my international flight gets in super late at night.
- Don’t share too much with strangers; this can be tricky because when you travel alone you will and should meet people along with the way. While you want to be open to building new friendships (after all, the people you are likely to meet share similar interests with you), don’t reveal your SS# and the code to your baggage lock. Just kidding, more realistically, don’t reveal right away that you are traveling alone or where you are staying.
There is definitely a tightrope walk between being a risk taker and exposing yourself to danger, and there are a lot of gray areas. You can attempt that handstand as long as you have a spotter; try that risky costume change in the middle of the performance if you know you won’t be caught topless behind the screen if it falls. No one can make these decisions for you; you need to believe in and trust yourself.
While it’s just you up there on the stage, remember that a solo performance is never truly solo; there are others who are part of the experience and whose efforts make it a success. Whether it’s a family member who wouldn’t mind a 2am wake-up call if necessary or gives you some extra spending cash so you can splurge on a nice hotel room. Or maybe it’s the stranger who assists you when there are no road signs in sight, the roadside vendor who gives you a phenomenal meal you didn’t know you were craving or the smiling and helpful receptionist at the hostel who greets you after a grueling journey. Traveling alone is indeed a group effort; the stage aides, your dance teacher, lighting technician all deserve an honorable mention for a flawless execution.
Finally, as simple a sentiment as this is, it bears repeating: remember to enjoy the journey. If you race through the routine without feeling the beats of the music resonate through your body, or worse still, imagine the audience in their underwear (really not a useful trick), you miss out on the reality of the experience. Interact with the audience, derive strength from stage fright, let the adrenaline rush through your veins, and know that you are about to have the time of your life.