• Rathin Shah

Travel solo, at least once in your life!

The cafe in which I had the realisation. Read on...

October 17, 2018

Mumbai, India

I think it was in the 10th grade when I first got obsessed with this idea of traveling solo. I wanted to experience that thrill. I wanted to experience that high. The endorphin release that comes along with new places, new faces and a world full of new possibilities. Every day is a new opportunity. And the best part? Every day is an unraveling of the unknown. I really don’t know what new things lay ahead in the day for me when I wake up. You know, the butterflies associated with first love? It’s the same.

Where to, next?

But even though I wished to travel solo, when the opportunity arose, I was very close to chickening out at the last moment. Months before my first solo Eurotrip, I tried convincing a lot of my friends – but to no avail. Other commitments, contrarian destination choices (I had fixated on Europe), budget constraints and other such reasons – the usual suspects. Which basically meant that if I were to go on this trip, it would have to be solo. I’m so glad I did. And while I understand that every person is different, I’d really urge you to go on a solo trip at least once in your life!

My backpack, hours before I took that first flight!

When I took that first flight out of the country, I was feeling a myriad range of emotions. Excitement, fear, and an intense craving to go see things, meet new people, try new food. But most of all, I was proud. Proud of the fact that I really had the courage to take this step. Confident that I had it in me to follow my dreams.

Don’t get me wrong though, it wasn’t all pink and rosy. I’ll be honest – the first 2 days of my trip were nothing like I’d imagined they would be. I experienced this constant nagging feeling of being ‘alone.’ I considered myself fairly outspoken and an extrovert, and yet, found it very difficult to strike up conversations that would last beyond the initial introduction and pleasantries with strangers and co-travelers. It’s then that I realized when you’re around age-old friends with similar backgrounds, you’re in a comfort zone. You have a common ground to speak about and develop a camaraderie from there on. What if you were to be thrown out of that comfort zone and had to interact with people who are radically different than you in every sense? How would you react?

The two new friends with whom I traveled

Anyway so, I observed that at any new destination, as the novelty factor wore off and the dust had settled, I was looking around for someone to talk to, someone to share my experiences with etc. Adding insult to injury was the fact that I got mugged on my first day (thankfully though, found my wallet with the help of the police – this is a whole different story, for another day). And my first accommodation really sucked. Not ideal.

The lane where I got mugged

But it took just one moment to turn all this around. I found some other solo travelers in the common room of my hostel, planning their day and I just decided to give them a couple of recommendations of places I’d explored the earlier day. One thing led to another and we had a really nice conversation going. Eventually the three of us decided to head out for the day together. At one point, we entered this nice Japanese restaurant. It was raining heavily outside. The music was brilliant inside. We were enjoying our food. And it was in this moment that I realized the magnanimity of the situation. How beautiful this moment was.

Here I was, thousands of miles away from home, in a cozy little café in a foreign land, sitting with 2 completely new friends enjoying good music and good food. It felt surreal. Post this realization, I really began to ‘live’ my trip – being spontaneous and loving every moment of it.

Of course, not everything is going to happen as planned. In fact, quite the opposite – more often than not, you’ll mess up.

You’ll miss a bus.

You’ll get conned.

You’ll get the timings wrong.

You’ll forget the tickets.

You’ll run out of cash.

But you’ll also realize that when your back is against the wall, you’ll find a way.

The Regio Jet bus that I missed from Prague to Vienna

Hey, this is not a movie. Not everything’s going to be perfect, and you have to live with it. But these situations really help you mature & grow as a person. There will be setbacks, but when you realize that you are your only saviour, it helps conjure up strength from within, hitherto unthinkable.

I’ve realized that the key is to be spontaneous. To really go with the flow. To have fun wherever you find yourself, with whatever company you have. While going from Prague to Vienna once, I missed my bus. I found another elderly gentleman who seemed to have missed his bus too. So, I decided to just talk to him. Found out, he wanted to go to Vienna too. The gentleman was a 60-year old retired Australian Professor who had set out on his childhood dream – to travel outside of his home country at least once, before he died. At 60, he was traveling, for the first time in his life! And that too solo.

The 60-year old retired Australian Professor

The plan was simple. We decided the take a cardboard piece, write the word ‘VIENNA’ on it and ask for a lift waiting on the Prague-Vienna highway. After a few rejections, one car was kind enough to offer us both a lift. What pursued over the next couple of hours really blew my mind. The Aussie Prof. told me stories of his life and I was moved, to say the least. One of those experiences which I’ll remember even on my deathbed.

The question essentially comes down to this: Who are you when no one’s watching?

You’ll realize that our behaviour is always as a response to the kind of impression we intend to create with the people we interact. But when it’s only you and your inner voice – what would you do? You learn so much about yourself, it almost like reflecting on what matters to you most in this one life you have. When you’re traveling solo, you are out of comfort zone. And so, understandably, all your senses are always on overdrive. It’s an intense feeling – and one that is incredibly exciting, if you embrace it.

The ride we hitched from Prague to Vienna! Just kidding, it was an old pickup truck

The reality is, as we grow older, our friends get busier. There are commitments to take care of and situations to handle. They have their own set of dreams to accomplish and goals to achieve. Not everyone can or would like to join you in your quests and adventures.

In the end, I’ve realized one thing: The world is large, and life is short. There are places to go, people to meet, experiences to have and food to taste – and only so much time to accomplish it all. Go take your shot, while you have the chance. And if that means traveling solo, so be it.

So, happy solo traveling! In case you need any assistance or you need someone to guide you through the planning / queries etc., feel free to reach out to me at and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.

Happy travels,


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