The Unbearable Solitude of Solo Travel


The Unbearable Solitude of Solo Travel

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar/Arré

The solo traveller, they say, is the epitome of freedom and the staple of Instagram feeds. That’s a real man, you think as you sit in your cubbyhole drinking tea that tastes like horse piss, free as man was born to be. A man with deep thoughts, a deep personality, and a deeper need for rejuvenation.

So one fine day, I decided to jump on the lone-ranger bandwagon. I threw my laptop aside, packed my bag, booked tickets, and left for Gokarna to claim my place in the solo traveller’s sun.

I reached Gokarna at 4 am. After a 14-hour journey from Mumbai, I mentally prepared myself for an adventure of a lifetime. Gokarna, for the uninitiated, is a tiny town on the Karnataka border, famous for its calm beaches. It is 147 kilometres from Goa, in fact you can call it mini Goa or Goa without cheap booze, or Goa without cigarettes, or Goa… okay just don’t call it Goa, call it Gokarna.

After checking into the hotel at 5 am, I crashed, and woke up at 11 am. Since I had no one to talk to, I decided to do the unthinkable. I took a bath right after waking up. As adventurous as that might seem, it was nothing in comparison to what followed next. Breakfast. I ate breakfast alone and started feeling like one of those hippies who do things alone – the only difference being I wasn’t high, I wasn’t a hippie, and I was having aloo paratha instead of sipping on some green tea.

After stuffing my face, I decided to get serious about “me time”. You know… sort my thoughts out, do some serious thinking, introspect. My conversation with myself went something like this: I have to start saving, hmm, let’s do that from next month. I should join a gym, yeah, let me join a gym as soon as I’m back in Mumbai. I should have some life goals. Fuck yes, gotta get those. I should shower… oh I already did that. This whole introspection and sort-your-shit-out process had taken me exactly 10 minutes. Turned out, I didn’t have as many thoughts as I thought I had.

Now that I was done with all the introspection, the next three days loomed ahead of me. The thought that I may have thrown away my laptop a tad bit too soon sneaked up on me. But I wasn’t going to be a slave to technology. No sir. I was going to set off on a journey of discovery!

I hate taking selfies, so for me the whole experience of travelling alone was all the more traumatising.

So I went to see some beaches. They were nice. Then I went to see some more beaches. They were nice too. I sat at shacks. Drank. Ate. Saw people enjoying in groups. Playing. I saw hot girls in bikinis going into the sea; my heart sank at the mere thought of one of them drowning. Saw people playing football and pissing off everyone by sending sand into their beer glasses. Saw couples playing Frisbee and almost killing people by throwing that damn disc straight at their necks. And there I sat, rejuvenating.

The thing about travelling alone is that even if you find yourself staring at a mesmerising view, you can do nothing about it. You have to sit there and continue to stare into the emptiness like a dog. I hate taking selfies, so for me the whole experience was all the more traumatising.

Three days, three whole days, I passed my time looking for strangers who seemed approachable and would not mind clicking a picture of me without passing judgement. I found exactly zero people. So I just clicked pictures of beaches. And then clicked some more pictures of some more beaches. Read some novels. Clicked pictures of me putting my finger on a page while reading a novel. At the end of it all, I felt like loneliness had constructed a two BHK inside my heart.

I bitterly remembered every article I had read about solo trips and contemplated hunting down the writers and throttling them for not telling me the truth. Surely, they didn’t really sit and observe nature for three freaking days? I am sure even nature doesn’t observe itself for three days.

By the end of three days, I learnt an important life lesson: The solo traveller is not the epitome of freedom. He’s that annoying asshole who can even make best friends with the guy from whom he borrowed a light. For the rest of the world, which quivers at the thought of conversation, happiness resides in big group trips. But if you still insist on taking a trip by yourself, here’s a sound piece of advice: Take every fucking gadget that you own… your phone, laptop, iPad, iPod, headphones, juicer, mixer, grinder… everything!

Let’s stop kidding ourselves that we’re capable of disconnection or introspection. Get on top of that gorgeous hill and enjoy the view, and after about four minutes, sign in to Netflix.