It was at a social dinner that I first met her. She was introduced to us as a sailor, a shiatsu masseuse, a chef…. And a traveler. A solo female traveler. And that grabbed my complete attention. There was so much I wanted to ask her, however naive I sounded and hear from her, all the fascinating stories of her travels, how it started, how she makes it work, the places she’s seen, the people she’s met, the cuisines she’s tried, her profession, her story, her philosophy, her outlook, her dreams, her struggles, her accomplishments, her present, her plans… STOP! Breathe, I remind myself. I am like a 10 year old superhero fan, who has bumped into batman! That’s my dream, standing there, in blood and flesh.
Anu is a petite figure, more delicate than me and closer to my mom’s age than mine. She’s strengthened by her experiences, and there’s a glow on her face and depth in eyes and passion when she speaks. Within no time she’s made herself a part of us. Hard to believe, she had landed in Mumbai that very day, taken a private bus that wasted hours rounding about the same place, so she spent 5-6 hours on what was supposed to be a 3 hour journey; in temperatures, a striking contrast to her homeland, Netherlands, among people who didn’t speak her language and still managed to join us, in high spirits.
We catch up over dinner. Though, I guess I didn’t let her enjoy a morsel. She was being fired with a whole new set of questions the moment she finished patiently answering my previous one. But I couldn’t get enough! Well, here are excerpts from our conversation…
She sympathizes with me and says she knows it’s hard (especially in India) to convince your parents to let go of a more concrete career for your wanderlust. Her start was a radically different and daring one- that left just one option before her- Go ahead, follow your dream. She said she was my age then.
How does she finance her trips?
One of the main concerns. She tells me she practices shiatsu massage and is a certified chef. On her previous visit to India she had spent quite a while with the rural women in the vicinity of Bangalore, learning the cuisine. She says, take up a profession which you can practice in any part of the world; better still, one that takes you to different parts of the world. She’s got a point; get my roots strong, get qualified to do something worthwhile.
She warns me that though she indulges herself in luxuries once in a while, most often, her experiences come from the simplest of accommodations and availabilities, and sometimes not even that. There would be times when your bank balance would barely be enough to scrape off another trip and still have something worth relying on.
However, the bank balance is hardly a match to the joys and adventure and unexpected opportunities, travels bring.
A throw of the dice?
US, Europe, the Caribbean, India, Nepal, Turkey, New Zealand… and the list goes on. Such varied destinations? What is it, a well planned and well thought trip or a throw of the dice? She laughs at that (my astonished expression more than the question, I guess). No, she says, sometimes she does, sometimes she learns of a new place on her trip itself; sometimes it’s for a specific reason. Like the yoga course which brought her to India this time round. Sometimes it is related to her profession. And very rarely, she gets there almost accidentally, completely unplanned and falls in love with the place.. And visits it again… And again.
I ask her of all the people she’s met on her trips, of their cuisines (as she’s biting into a traditional Maharashtrian meal). She introduces me to the Slow Food Movement, a concept about keeping alive and promoting traditional cuisines. She tells me of the friends she’s made on her different trips, unexpected and from diverse backgrounds. And there’s a lot of give and take of ideas and cultures. It’s a beautiful exchange, I gather. And then there are friends of friends, and their friends…and their friends, settled in different parts of the world, who become your family in a foreign land.
Trust your instinct.
Always keep that in mind, she says. You can’t always reason with it, just trust your gut.
The Grass is Greener on the other side.
I guess she knows I’ve never seen beyond the thrill and advantages of travelling. ‘The Grass is always greener on the other side’, she says. There would be times when you would have different expectations from life, not be so sure of what are you doing here, why are you doing it. So as yourself this- why do I want to travel? Why do I really want to do this?
For a cause
Though I met her just once more, I came to know that in her month long stay, she involved herself with the activities of an NGO that she was introduced to. She has since been doing all that’s possible and trying to gather support for these kids from her well-spread network. It was heartening to see someone associate herself with something so closely in such a short while.
She left recently, revisiting various meadows, forests, cities and villages she had made her home and people, her family. Reliving the joys and understanding they had brought; but again, there are still more places to be explored and visited.
Reading about her experiences even now, gives me a weird sense of contentment and excitement at once, to delve into the reality of being a solo female traveller. The evening humbled me, in the sense that I knew that before I take the plunge, my feet ought to be well-rooted, grounded and strong enough for me to take the plunge and land on the other side.
Another thing that strikes me is her outlook on things, to understand people, situations and cultures, and respect them for being different than yours. Only then can you blend into it. She considers herself a citizen of the world… That’s what helps her attach herself to people and places entirely, I guess.
So, she’s off again… A new destination, a simple trip, a moving experience… Someday, in some part of the world, I’d love to meet her again… She was the first of her kind I had come across, and not on a virtual medium, so she will stay in my mind, always. And with that, a question she left me with- Why do I really want to do this?