On 19th February 2021, I took to escape the ongoing pandemic and online classes with my gang of 4 girls. As Covid cases were low and the lockdown was lifted, my first trip with friends to Jaipur took place. It was a pretty mixed experience. As much as my excitement multiplied and enjoyment grew, I realized that planning the trip was exhausting and empowering at the same time. But as a law student and a girl, I could witness inherent issues in our surroundings. We were not only tourists but also young women. First, we had to fight with our parents to travel independently with friends, then take care of our safety as well. So here are my tips for the like first-timers:
While visiting a place, rather than displaying or making it obvious that we are tourists, we must act like the locals, especially in terms of how we carry ourselves to get the real sense of traveling. This helps us to mingle with the crowd, understand the people and their culture, and most importantly to not be tricked by shopkeepers or auto wallas, in our case, it’s both.
For a fulfilling experience, preparation can give you an edge! We talked to our relatives, friends, anyone, and everyone around us who had visited there before. Whether shopping in the itinerary should be on the first day or the last? Visit forts in the early morning or evening? Shoes or sandals? Electric Rickshaw or Local Bus? It gives you an idea to prioritize the places you wanna explore in a limited period and ensure maximum satisfaction from the same.
A pertinent point to mention here is, as kids, we are often taught not to engage with strangers but when you are an adult, rely on your gut feelings! Interacting with people can be a refreshing experience, it always gives you an idea about your surroundings and life lessons to deal with strangers.
When we were struggling with our commuting costs, a trans woman saved us from drivers crowding in front of us. She very empathetically guided us and gave us ideas to travel cheaply in the locality. I learned how being open could pay you back and a bonus learning – with a restricted budget, it is always wise to go with local buses at affordable prices.
I cannot stress more on this. With water and some packed food, you are sorted! You won’t be dependent on searching for any food stall. Yes, local food is always a must to try but while exploring places such as forts or temples, one has to walk a lot, and having packed food and water handy can save you! Consuming fast food for every meal is not a healthy option to sustain your days, it’s better to have extra space for fruits and other healthy snacks in your bag.
Bargaining is the art of negotiation! It is to recognize when we are being charged exorbitant prices. I do not mean bargaining with every other seller but one must be able to discern when and where we think the cost is unfair. Paying a higher price to street vendors, which is their only source of income, is different from getting exploited by wealthy shopkeepers.
A major chunk of money is spent on moving from one place to another. It can include buses and autos. As a first-timer, I could observe that oftentimes as a group of young women, there could be a case of harassment by auto drivers. Firstly, they think that as we are alone, innocent, and lack practical knowledge (which we don’t), we would get ready at any price they ask for. Secondly, if we bargain and try to ask other auto drivers, there would be a commotion to discourage us. It gets tiresome and scary.
Be it early morning or when the sun sets, these things are to be kept in mind. Often than not, the thought of women or the so-called image of ‘weaker sex’, being away from home encourages them to put across slurry remarks, smirks, and glances. That is the point where being confident and assertive can get you through your way.
But this made me realize that wherever we go, the hidden fear surfaces. Safety is a question mark on the part of the authorities in India. As tourism is a potential sector in the post-covid times, the governments are looking to ease travel restrictions. To encourage youth to travel, ensuring safety is crucial so that parents and guardians do not discourage young people, especially girls from exploring places in the name of safety.
Walking makes you see things from a different perspective. You cannot admire, or even notice, the minute details of a place if you don’t just walk around. Manage your time in a way that you’re able to hop off the transport 500-1000 meters before the destination to have a better experience.
For us, travel was a way to escape the everyday humdrum of life and take a break for ourselves. And it was also our chance to prove to our parents that we could manage things independently. The journey itself became a teacher, it taught us to manage our expenses, book our stay and plan the outing. More than that, it gave us a taste of how being on our own could be reassuring, empowering, and free.
For women, from planning the trip to boarding the train takes extra effort as the burden of convincing parents, worrying for personal safety, and proving that we are capable comes into play. When travel restrictions will be removed and we move back to our normal spaces, I hope to see more women on the roads with a backpack, ready to break free from the intangible notions of protection and dependence. Traveling is a therapy that everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience.
Gratitude Corner: I thank Bhoomika Sharma for her valuable inputs.
Feature image is for representational purposes only.