I still remember my first flight alone. The thrill of being in the airport, carrying my backpack filled with books, comics, my wallet and other odds, and receiving a little bit of extra attention on board. I was 11. While I was technically only ‘alone’ while on the flight, it was a certain thrill nothing else could replace.
My next (truly) solo trip came nearly a decade later – albeit a short one to Washington DC, from sleepy laid back Chestertown, where I was in college a couple of hours away. The excitement of having the whole city at my feet, to go to any museum or park that I choose, to eat as I pleased, was a rush I couldn’t get enough of. It was also here that I found European art, and I loved the National Mall for introducing us.
The duration was secondary. It was the rush I looked forward to, the charm it held
That feeling of excitement hasn’t dulled, and I look forward to my solo trips with much of the same enthusiasm as I did when I started all those years ago. Since then, I’ve been on several journeys by myself – sometimes on holiday, many more as extensions of work trips – and each of them has taught me something new. From chilling in villages on the Mediterranean coast to seeking out music in Dakar or getting over heartbreak in a fancy Neemrana… The duration was secondary. It was the rush I looked forward to, the charm it held, and above all else, the feeling of absolute independence. Of doing as I pleased, on my own schedule. The happiness that comes from solitude, I craved it.
This sort of travel is extremely self-indulgent, but one that can become extremely addictive.
From that early brush with Renaissance and Baroque masters, my infatuation had progressed into a full blown love affair. I looked for art on trips to New York, Rome, Amsterdam, and actively sought it out in the Middle East and Africa. The time I spent in galleries, both famous and local neighbourhood ones, expanded my horizons, and served as my windows to history and culture, and lifestyle.
As the years went by, I found that I’d developed a certain travel style – I loved exploring markets and crowded bazaars, fell head over heels for old architecture and crumbling buildings and like every good Indian, I relished people watching. This is the thread that ties my journeys together – be it the art, books, or bazaars, they all reveal a little more about a society and a people. I don’t care if I don’t ‘see’ everything a city or country has to offer; cramming in all the tourist spots in a day is not my style. I’d rather spend time walking the streets, visiting old neighbourhoods and chatting with locals. This sort of travel is extremely self-indulgent (in a good way), but one that can become extremely addictive.
It wasn’t till I travelled with Hoshner, permanent travel partner-and-planner-in-crime, that I realised (to my surprise) I’d found the perfect +1 for my kind of ‘solo’ travel.
Our first trip (for reDiscovery Project, an effort to explore all of India’s nooks and crannies) which ended up being 76 days (!!) across Southern India, we toasted each other for surviving – we’d been married a year and a half and together for almost 7. After some early days politeness to avoid confrontation, we discovered that we had fairly identical travel styles and complementary interests! We were both quite happy to wander off and explore a market or monument alone and find each other again a few hours later. The more we travelled the more everything synced, so it was rather like being with a version of myself. And I loved it.
Except perhaps the 5 am wake up calls to catch the sun rise over the Himalayas, or the endless wait for crowds to clear so that a thousand-year-old temple can be captured in all its glory, all part and parcel of travelling with a photographer. Or food fights. Nothing is in sync when it comes to food, and we couldn’t be further apart in our tastes. We’ve now found some middle ground and he eats more daal and I eat more tandoori chicken.
Solo travel is difficult for some, loneliness can be terrifying. But it’s an adventure I’d strongly advocate to everyone, even if it’s only for a day. And while I’ve grown to appreciate and adore the benefits of travelling with a partner who makes it easy, I still take those breaks, we both do, because sometimes I need to answer to no one but my own stomach!
Ambika Vishwanath loves stories and believes that there is one to be found around every corner in India. She is the co-founder of The rediscovery Project and is always happy to swap experiences over coffee or whiskey.