Wednesday, 22 April 2015

My Top 5 Recommendations For Your ‘Summer’ Escape

Summer is just around the corner and all we crave for is an escape to a cool and breezy place. Mountains, lakes, forests and meadows are calling and we must go! I’m already planning a trip to one of my dream places (in India) – I have talked about it in one of my earlier posts – Where Am I Going Next? But, I’m also interested in knowing your travel plans for this summer. So where are YOU travelling in the next couple of months? Have you already booked your tickets to one of those beautiful hilly destinations or are you still perplexed about where to go?

Well, if you are unable to make up your mind about where to go and need some inspiration, here are my top 5 ‘summer escape’ recommendations for you –

Chail

I know you want to avoid Shimla like the plague (it’s too hackneyed). How about Chail? If you haven’t been there, you should go there. Chail is extremely picturesque and refreshing. And, there’s no better time than summer to experience it.

Chail is 44 km from Shimla.

Find where to stay in Chail.

Sattal

Not many people know about this little piece of heaven in the Lower Himalayan Range of Nainital district, known as Sattal – a cluster of seven lakes. I had my loveliest family holiday in Sattal – it’s quiet, serene and incredibly beautiful. It’s a total break from your everyday buzz – internet, phone calls, TV and other things.

Sattal is around 27 km from Kathgodam train station.

Find where to stay in Sattal 

Solang Valley

Skip the touristic Manali and head to Solang Valley, which is closer to the countryside and is much more peaceful. Solang Valley is ideal for both outdoor activities and relaxation. Besides, it’s located on the way to Rohtang Pass (a high mountain pass on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas).   

Solang Valley is 14 km from Manali.

Find where to stay in Solang Valley.

Gangtok

Well, Gangtok may be one of the busy hill stations during summer, but it’s an excellent base to explore the rest of Sikkim. The best part about holidaying in Gangtok is that you can experience being in the midst of mountains along with your “city-life” pleasures – cafes, bars and shopping.

Gangtok is around 117 km from Siliguri.

Find where to stay in Gangtok 

Kurseong

While most tourists head to Darjeeling to beat the heat, you can head to Kurseong, which is a lesser-known town in the same region. Kurseong has the same vintage charms and natural beauty of Darjeeling, but with better hospitality and more genuineness.  

Kurseong is around 40 km from Siliguri.

Find where to stay in Kurseong  

Don’t forget to add your recommendations in the comments!

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Friday, 17 April 2015

Solo Travel Can Be Dangerous

'Solo travel for women' can be dangerous...What should you do?

I have been mulling over the idea of writing about the dangers of solo travel, but I wasn’t sure if I had something valuable to share. I mean I have barely felt unsafe on my solo travels – I have had exceptionally good experiences as a solo traveller. Thus, it’s kind of hard for me to comprehend the horrifying news pieces that float around.

Take a look –

“Ms. Sierra, 33, had been touring alone in Turkey in January when she disappeared.” - David Martinez, via Associated Press (NYTimes)

“A businesswoman has claimed that she was sexually assaulted by a security guard who was escorting her to her room in a luxury hotel in Egypt.” – The Guardian UK news

“The 39-year-old woman was raped as she and her husband were camping in India's central state of Madhya Pradesh.” – NPR news

“A British woman was attacked in her hotel room in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, by the hotel manager.” – Telegraph UK news

Whatever may be the case, this alarming article on New York Times really shook me! The only conclusion that I could draw after reading it was that bad things can happen to anybody anywhere. Such incidents have got nothing to do with travel or ‘solo travel’ per se. In fact, some incidents of sexual assault have occurred to women while they were with their male companions. So, you are not really “safe” even if you are accompanied by somebody.

But, I’d still like to warn women (including myself) about the dangers of solo travel. Yes, the world is a dangerous place. So, should you avoid travelling alone? Should you avoid travelling altogether? Nah, that’s no solution.    

You're free to go anywhere...but, take care of yourself.

So what should you be doing to stay safe while travelling alone?     

Be cautious.

There’s a fine line between ‘fear’ and ‘caution’. Some women totally avoid travelling alone out of fear, which I think is not right. If you are fearful about something, try to deal with it instead of avoiding it. On the contrary, there are women who are too reckless. They travel to far-flung places without much research and planning, trust strangers easily and get into trouble.

Be aware of your surroundings.

I believe a woman should always be aware of her surroundings – be it her home town or a foreign country. No matter where you are, just make sure that you look around and observe what kind of people are around you. Is someone looking at you, following you or doing anything that’s questionable? Get out of such dangerous situations!

Choose to stay at good places and take help from your hosts.

Don’t act too smart independent in a new place.   

You can travel solo wherever you want to, but take help from a reputed source. To begin with, let the official tourism board know that you are travelling in their city, state or country. Take their advice as to where to stay, how to commute, etc.

Don’t just stay in any random hotel. Read a lot of hotel reviews on tripadvisor and various travel blogs before you choose a place to stay. I’d personally recommend homestays over hotels for women solo travellers. The added benefit of staying in a homestay is that you can take your host’s help in exploring the place, which makes you feel really safe.

Learn to judge people. 

Well, the thumb rule is not to trust anybody. But, there is an exception to every rule. You can trust some people in some situations, but make sure you ‘trust with caution’. It’s all about your instinct, and women are believed to have a stronger sense of intuition than men. If you have even the faintest of doubt or discomfort about something, don’t get into it!

Leave the isolated places alone.

Avoid places like deserted forts, nightclubs, bars, etc.

The idea is not to invite trouble of any kind when you are alone. Sure, you can visit places like bars and clubs, a deserted fort or any place like that, but make sure you have people around you – now the question is what kind of people? Make sure you have ‘good’ people around you – people who appear normal and sensible (just like you).

Don’t get into any fights or arguments with anyone.

Be nice and polite with everybody that you have to deal with. Don’t lose your cool easily. Try to work out a problem with patience and wisdom. Well, I don’t intend to say that you should appear submissive or a ‘yes’ person. All I want to advice is that it’s better to be calm, reserved and temperate.

Ask for help, but don’t appear helpless.  

There’s a difference between ‘seeking help’ and ‘showing helplessness’. Don’t show your vulnerability to anybody. Be well-researched about your destination, plan things ahead, and inquire about things from multiple people. Ask questions in a manner that shows you are confident and you know what you are doing.

Be confident, assertive and composed.

Look into the eyes.  

Eye-contact can be an effective way of keeping nuisance at bay. If you sense someone is stalking you, tell that person (indicate with your assertive body language) that you are aware of what is happening and ready to deal with it. Most of the time, the alleged culprit would just chicken out and not bother you anymore.

Be safe.

When you are all alone in a hotel room, keep the door locked properly. Don’t entertain any untimely request or offer.

Lastly, always pass on the responsibility of your safety on people who you associate with – your cabby, hotel manager, staff or whoever you come in contact with. Talk to everybody and steer your conversations towards women’s safety issues.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY? Have you travelled alone? What are your top safety tips for women solo travellers?

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Sunday, 12 April 2015

So How Do I Manage To Travel?

I often get asked questions like how do I manage to travel so much, who funds my travels and how do I get so many leaves. Well, for the last question, you can read my story – How did I quit the cubicle for the road. And, before I spill the beans on how do I manage to travel so much, let me tell you that I don’t get to travel as much as I’d really like to. I travel four to five times a year, which I believe is quite scarce for a full time travel blogger like me. Isn’t it? I should be travelling a lot more to be able to feed my blog with good travel stories. So, things are not as rosy as they appear on those Facebook updates. But, they aren’t too bad either. I do manage to travel, which is why I have this blog in the first place!


Who funds my travels?

Believe me, I have been asked this question so many times. It’s hard for most people to grasp the fact that someone can really travel freely and live her dream life. I can perfectly understand that. I know it can be totally unbelievable for most people. But, let me tell you it’s not so far-fetched. The life that I am living is definitely not easy, but it’s adventurous, thrilling and enriching. Since I am a freelance writer, I don’t have a regular income. I make money in bits and pieces that I keep gathering in my bank account. So, yes, I fund all my travels. Being a blogger, I do get sponsored stays once in a while. But, I don’t depend on such perks, because I have to travel irrespective of whether somebody agrees to host me or not.


   
So how do I really manage to travel?  
   
I am definitely not rich. I guess the only thing that works in my favour is that I have a supportive family, who backs me emotionally and infuses in me the courage to pursue my dreams. Another thing that works for me is my own determination to do what I want to do. I don’t believe in being envious of what others are doing. I’d rather like to make my own life enviable. It’s difficult, but it’s possible.   


What’s my SECRET to materialising a travel plan?

The easiest way to make your travel plan successful is by taking ‘one step at a time’. I don’t bombard my mind with everything that I need to do in order to take a trip – flight/train tickets, accommodation booking, itinerary planning, budgeting and so on. I believe budgeting out your trip in the beginning is not a bright idea. The first thing that you should do (and perhaps the smartest, too) is booking your plane/train tickets. I book my tickets even if I’m short on funds – even if I have no idea about my next month’s financial position. I take one step at a time and it works! And, I always book refundable flight tickets, so that if I choose to cancel or change my travel plans later, I don’t lose money.



I try to keep a ‘travel fund’.

The practice of putting some money aside just for travel, which I started a year ago helped me take my Gujarat trip despite the financial difficulties. If I didn’t have a separate bank account for my travel fund, it would have been impossible for me to materialise my travel to Gujarat. I don’t think a traveller should even breathe without a piggy bank.   
  

I’m able to travel because I put travel in the forefront.

Finally, I’d like to tell you to stop making excuses and start travelling! Money is only one of the factors that you need to consider to be able to travel. As long as you have the sincere willingness to travel, nothing can stop you.

Do you have any more questions? Ask away!

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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Safest Destination For Solo Women Travellers

I can say that without an iota of qualm that Gujarat is the safest destination in India for women solo travellers. Although I don’t usually categorise any destination as safe or unsafe – I like to be cautious in any given place, I found Gujarat to be a really safe destination for solo female travellers. I’m happy to add it to my list of ‘top solo travel destinations in India’.


As soon as I boarded the train from Secunderabad, the vivid images of Gujarati women, garbed in colourful saris and kurtas hinted at what Gujarat would turn out to be – a happy and genial haven of lovely people. Besides, I met a very nice family on the train, who very graciously helped me with my luggage when I reached Ahmedabad.


Since I had researched about Ahmedabad that it’s one of the safest cities in India, I already had positive feelings about it. I was happy to find Ahmedabad as safe as it’s reputed to be. I didn’t find anything odd or unfamiliar about it. Since my main destination was Bhuj (Kutch) and I had a few hours to kill in Ahmedabad, I roamed around with my luggage everywhere. I went to Sabarmati Ashram and Kankaria Lake. I liked the fact that the auto guys were helpful, too. I’d say it’s pretty easy to get around in Ahmedabad. 


If I had to list my reasons for travelling alone in Gujarat, I’d say the below mentioned experiences should really nudge you to plan a solo trip to Gujarat –

Gujaratis are amiable folks.

The people of Gujarat are not just friendly, but full of life, too. It doesn’t take very long to build conversations with them. It’s an easy-going feeling to be in Gujarat. You can talk to anyone on impulse. There’s no need to be too reserved or guarded.

After so much of noise over crime against women in India, walking alone on the streets of Ahmedabad, in the late evening, was kind of a welcome break – I dragged my luggage everywhere looking for a cyber café where I could take an important photo copy. That’s when a shop-owner came to usher me to a café. Much to my dismay, as I began to walk with him, I realised that the place looked dreary – it barely looked like there could be any shop, let alone a cyber café. At first, I refused to go forward, but comprehending my caution and concern, my usher assured me that there was nothing to be scared of. And, as I walked a few steps ahead, I saw a little cyber café tucked away in a corner.    


Kutch is even better.

Although Kutch is part of Gujarat, it seems more like a world of its own. The people of Kutch are simple, traditional and hospitable to the core. I travelled to Bhuj on an overnight bus from Ahmedabad. To be honest, I was a bit wary of doing so until I hopped on the bus and settled in my seat. The journey was smooth and I woke up to a beautiful morning in Bhuj. The bus conductor dropped me at a point where I could find transport to reach where I needed to go.


The village folks extend genuine hospitality.

‘Hospitality’ is said to be the backbone of travel industry. But, it’s mostly sold than offered freely. There is a difference between a sugar-coated hospitality and genuine graciousness. I found the village folks in Kutch to be genuinely hospitable. They smiled, greeted, waved goodbyes and showed concern out of sheer cordiality. What I valued more was when a local helped me find an appropriate conveyance for my day jaunts, when a young damsel escorted me to my homestay in the late evening, and when I didn’t have to worry about my safety, because people around me (who were strangers) were happy to have me in their midst.


Culture is the soul of Gujarat.

I believe any corner of the world is safe for both men and women if it’s culturally rooted. The people of Gujarat and Kutch are still clenched to their traditions, and that reflects in their attitudes. They dress, eat and live traditionally. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to neutralize cultures, but being ingrained to your roots has its own rewards.

Being a solo woman traveller in Gujarat was easy – not just because I could take care of myself, but because the people of Gujarat made it an easy experience for me.

Do you have a special solo travel memory that you’d like to talk about today? Please share it in the comments!


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Monday, 30 March 2015

7 Things I Miss ‘When I Am Not Travelling’

Do you crave the road when you are not travelling? I believe it’s a common syndrome of our ‘wanderlusty’ souls that our feet begin to itch badly if we have not been on the road for a while. It’s normal and it’s absolutely fine! The only cure for this craving is running your finger on a map and deciding on a destination. Booking a plane ticket also helps!


But, I would like to talk about what exactly do I miss when I am not travelling – what are the things that make me fall in love with travel again and again? Well, there are innumerable things to love about travel. It’s hard to even squeeze it in one post, because each experience on the road is full of new lessons and memories that just boosts a traveller’s curiosity for places.


Today, I just want to share the sweet nuggets of travel that keep whispering in my ears that I need to pack my bags soon –

1/The feeling of a new place, new atmosphere –

There is a certain feeling of arriving in a new place. How do I describe it? It’s an amazing kind of joy – not an obvious ecstasy, but a joy that catches up slowly. I feel it every time I set foot in a new city or even a place where I have been before. I like checking out my (hotel) room, the bathroom and the view from the foyer. I absolutely love being pampered by my hosts at wherever I stay. I also enjoy little things like being asked for tea or coffee.


2/The spontaneity of being on my own –

Since I mostly travel solo, I enjoy being on my own while travelling. I like the freedom and the ‘no agenda’ part of being on my own. I enjoy it when I set out to explore a place – I truly live that moment, I tell myself that I am doing what I love the most.


3/My pleasantries with cabbies and other helpers –

Perhaps I can write a book on my chitchats with taxi guys, auto wallahs, hotel attendants and waiters. It’s wonderful to talk to these folks. Be it my sojourns in Mumbai, Gujarat, Sikkim or Rajasthan, I have befriended such people with ease. Not to mention, these folks turn out to be good advisors, too.


4/The joy of discovering and snapping photos –

I guess it’s pretty obvious for travel enthusiasts to miss discovering new sights while they are not travelling. But, I still want to stress on this part – I just love the feeling of discovering a new place. As far as taking photos is concerned, I’d like to admit unabashedly that photography is my topmost purpose behind visiting a place. I feel a deep level of satisfaction within me after I have taken some good photographs of a place.


5/Absence of emotional strings and judgments –

One of the best aspects of travel is that you are not emotionally attached to anybody and you are not judged for being who you are! It’s like a world of total freedom – no emotional strings, no judgments, no arguments, no rules and absolutely no pressures.


6/Possibilities of surprises every day –

When I am not travelling, I follow a certain routine. Everything is predictable. Although my life at home is comfortable, it’s mundane. That’s why I miss the thrills and surprises of the road. The surprise could unfold in any manner – it could be in the form of eating dinner with amiable people, getting a free bike ride with a local or receiving an invitation for a cup of tea from someone.


7/The constant sense of wonder –

What do we travel for? We travel to be amazed, isn’t it? Travel is the real way of experiencing life. I believe those who don’t travel only exist. If you are doing only what you are supposed to do and die one day, what’s the point of living? Every single person who is born into the world is born with the privilege to discover, explore, learn and grow.

WHAT DO YOU MISS WHEN YOU ARE NOT TRAVELING?
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