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7 Popular Destinations for Solo Travel – 2017

You might remember an earlier post where I talked about why I travel solo. Solo travel is becoming increasingly common across the world. As a closing post for 2017, I have created a short list of some of the most popular destinations for solo travel this year. Read on to learn about the top 5 global and 2 Indian destinations that were popular among solo travellers in 2017.

 

Siem Reap

One of my personal favourites, this one. This small town in Cambodia offers a variety of things to see and do, the most famous being the fascinating temples of the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom complexes. The people are gentle, friendly and very hospitable; you’ll never feel unsafe or lonely. With plenty of nightlife, good food and a variety of accommodation available for every budget, it isn’t surprising that Siem Reap consistently figures amongst popular destinations for solo travel.

Getting there: Siem Reap is connected by air with Phnom Penh as well as neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. You can also travel here by bus from Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

The picture below is from a solo trip there in 2014.

Angkor Thom temples

 

Tokyo

The Japanese capital makes a great base for a solo trip. Not only is it very safe and well-connected by local transport, but the Japanese culture itself is based on tremendous respect and politeness, therefore making Tokyo ideal and safe for solo travellers. From Tokyo you can make easy day trips to Kamakura, Odawara, Mt. Takao etc. The city and its surrounds are also highly instagrammable – cherry blossoms anyone?

Getting there: All major airlines fly to Tokyo, usually into Narita airport. Tokyo is further connected with other towns by road and rail.

 

London

The British capital has always been a favourite for all kinds of travellers. While definitely not cheap on the pocket, the city is extremely easy to navigate (via Tube or on foot) and full of things to see and do. Apart from offering a rich collection of historic sights and major museums, London also acts as a base for trips to nearby places like Oxford, Windsor, Bath, Brighton, Stonehenge etc. The city also has a vibrant nightlife, with everything from clubs to theatre and everything in between. Travellers also like to try out some of the local foodie favourites and indulge in shopping while in London.

Getting there: London has two major airports with multiple flights from across the world.  You can also fly direct from India on airlines like British Airways, Jet Airways, Air India and Virgin Atlantic.

London
A cloudy morning in London

New York

I have yet to see a city with more energy than New York. It’s intense, it’s electric, it’s always busy and it’s one of the most popular destinations for solo travel across all age-groups and genders. From strolling in Central Park to walking the Brooklyn Bridge, from shopping at Macy’s to visiting the farmers’ market at Union Square, from museums to restaurants to Lady Liberty, there is so much to see and do that one visit doesn’t feel enough! Public transport is convenient, but I’ve found walking more convenient. While hotels in New York City are not exactly cheap, you can always try Couchsurfing or staying a little outside Manhattan if you want to stick to a lower budget.

Getting there: New York has multiple flight connections with the entire world through two major airports.  You can fly direct from India on airlines like Air India and United Airlines.

 

Barcelona

This Mediterranean city is known to be one of the friendliest places on earth, and ideal for solo travel. One of the biggest draws here is the fascinating architecture – 7 of the World Heritage Sites in the city are associated with Gaudi. The Catalan capital is also a haven for foodies, offering world-famous cuisine and friendly tapas bars to hang out in. You can also head out from the city to relax on Barceloneta beach, hike in Montserrat, visit Sitges, explore Gerona (GoT fans would know of this location!) and so on. Due to its laid-back feel, Barcelona is also a very popular destination for solo travel among students.

Getting there: Barcelona has an international airport with links to major airports across the world. There are also fast train connections with major European cities like Paris and Milan.

 

Puducherry

The small seaside town of Puducherry offers visitors a little bit of France in India. This former French colony, known internationally due to the Auroville community, offers a variety of things to do for every kind of traveller. Wandering through the French part of town (also called White Town) you will pass ancient churches and gaily painted homes constructed in a typical European style. There is a lot of French-influenced cuisine on offer, as well as the serenity of the Aurobindo Ashram. A lot of travellers visit Puducherry to visit Auroville and the Ashram and take a meditation course. The town is lately also becoming popular for adventure activities like scuba diving, surfing and canoeing.

Getting there: The best way to get here is to fly into Chennai and take a cab or bus to Puducherry. The drive along the coastal highway is extremely scenic.

Surfing
Photo by LECHAT Valentin on Unsplash

Kasol

This tiny hamlet by the Parvati river is often referred to as the Goa of the Hills. With its “hippie” vibe and chilled out ambience, Kasol is one of the most popular destinations for solo travel for young people. Visitors can stay in homestays or budget hotels, and indulge in activities like trekking, hiking, visiting neighbouring villages etc. There are a number of cafes and bakeries offering international cuisine (especially Israeli) apart from Indian food. Kasol is perfect for when you want to escape from the din of life in a typical Indian city.

Getting there: Kasol’s nearest airport Bhuntar (Kullu) is connected by air to Delhi. You can also take an overnight bus from Delhi to Bhuntar, and take a taxi to Kasol.

Are you planning any solo trips in 2018? If yes, I’d love to know where!

 

Some of the most popular solo travel destinations in the world

 

Things women travelling solo will hear

I wrote an earlier post about why I choose to often travel solo. Solo travel by women is getting increasingly common across the world. In India, while the number of women travelling solo are gradually growing, we still stand out sometimes as a bit of an oddity in the eyes of the more traditional thinkers. Hence, we also get to field a lot of curious queries. Here are some things that women travelling solo would often hear:

1. Aren’t you afraid of getting robbed or mugged or killed or something? Well, not exactly afraid, but one does exercise normal caution. Same as anyone else travelling with other people would. Depending on where I am, I might end my evening earlier than if I’d been with a group of people. But that’s just being practical, not afraid. Basic safety precautions are necessary not just for women travelling solo but for any traveller.

2. Don’t you have a husband? This usually happens when I am travelling within India, although I did face similar questions in Cambodia too. I guess they meant well. No, I don’t have a husband, and I am not going to let the absence of one imply that I cannot travel. Even if I were married, some of my travel might still be of the solo kind.

3. How does your family allow you to do this? Again, mostly heard this in India. My family, you will be happy to know, are very supportive and just glad that their daughter is independent and does things that make her happy. My mother follows my travel blog. Some amount of apprehension is normal I guess, and I ensure that I always stay in touch with them and leave my itinerary and other details with my sister.

 

 

Cambodia solo travel
A happy memory from a solo trip to Cambodia

 

4. Don’t you get lonely? Well, if it’s a long trip, sometimes you wish you had someone to talk to. But in this day of 24X7 connectivity, there is always a way to do that over Skype, Whatsapp or plain old phone calls. Most of the time though, I am really happy being by myself. Sometimes I meet up with other groups or even women travelling solo, and hang out for a bit. It can be interesting, and I would probably not have this opportunity if I was with family or a group of friends.

5. Would you like to go out tonight? Yep, happens a lot. A single woman travelling by herself will often attract invites of the sort. Entirely up to you to decide how to handle them. Most men will back off nicely once they know you’re not interested in a holiday fling. Unless you are?

6. How do you manage to finance your trips? Erm, the same way anybody else would. By working hard and saving money and forgoing some things in order to afford to travel. Why would it be any different for a woman?

7. Wow, that’s really a brave thing to do! Hmm, maybe the first time I travelled solo it was a brave decision, because I really was clueless. Now, not so much. Travel gives me joy, and how can you not do something that does that for you?

If you are reading this and have had similar experiences, do leave a comment! If you haven’t, leave a comment anyway!!

You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook. For travel inspiration check out my Instagram feed

A list of some of things said to women travelling solo

Foodie Friday – Breakfastgrams!

Okay, I just invented that word. You’ve probably guessed that it refers to instagrammed images of the breakfast kinds. That’s what this new Foodie Friday breakfast post is all about.

When I travel, it’s as much about exploring the place as about trying out the food. Even though being vegetarian limits my ability to try out the entire universe of cuisines, I still manage to experiment as much as possible. Over the years, I have realised that I often skip lunch or dinner when I am out around town doing my thing. But I never start my day without a good breakfast. It’s a practice that has worked well for me.

This post is simply a recollection of some of the more interesting and memorable breakfasts I have had while travelling.

Banana Nutella pancakes from a street food stall in Phuket – Sweet and chocolaty!

The finished product!

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Peanut butter French toast in Atlanta – Could not finish it off! That’s sweet potato pancakes on the left and eggs and toast on the right. Yes, everything was delicious. No, I didn’t order all of it for myself.

Breakfast #Atlanta #yummyfood

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Pooris with tangy potato curry in Kolkata – Worth the early morning start

#Kolkata #foodiemoment

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Masala dosa with sambhar and two types of chutney in Chennai – Probably one of the best dosas I have ever had

#Chennai breakfast treat #foodiemoment

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Beignets and coffee in New Orleans – When in Rome…

The obligatory Cafe au Lait with beignets at Cafe Dumonde #neworleans #latergram

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Naga Chilli Cheese Toast in Shillong – Spicy as anything!

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This is by no means the entire list, and I sure I will be writing more on the subject sooner or later 🙂

If you are reading this, do share some of your favourite foodie memories!

Foodie Friday – Amritsar

This is the first post in the Foodie Friday series. I hope to make it a regular one. This post is about a foodie-delight city called Amritsar. Amritsar, apart from being the home of the revered Golden Temple, is also an absolute heaven when it comes to Punjabi cuisine. I recently had the good fortune of spending a day and a half here with my parents. While the primary aim of the trip was a visit to the Temple, the side attractions of various food outlets that we tried out were equally enticing!

So here’s a quick run-down of the places I tried out (too many on the list were left out due to paucity of time and inability of the system to handle so much food):

Gian Chand Lassi – Delicious lassi served in metal tumblers, topped off with butter and cream. People struggle to finish one serving, and once done, you are sorted hunger-wise for hours together. They also have something called “pede waali lassi” where they add bits of sweet pedas to the lassi! Located near the Temple in the narrow market lanes.

Bharawan da Dhaba – The place to have a vegetarian meal in Amritsar. While my parents raved over the dal and bharta and the crisp tandoori rotis, I went straight for the one thing I wanted here – the onion kulcha thali! The kulchas were hot, crisp, nicely stuffed and accompanied by some very delicious chholey. While most people head to the outlet near the Golden Temple, we went to the newer branch at Ranjit Avenue. Comfortable seating, good ambience, decent service. My dad still remembers this meal fondly!

Kanha Sweets – The Sunday brunch here is legendary – a fixed menu of pooris, potato curry and chholey. The potato curry is like nothing you would ever have tasted before – tangy and sweet-spicy. It’s a challenge to stop at two pooris, and you will definitely ask for refills of potato curry as well as chholey. Don’t go here for ambience, there’s none – just focus on the amazing food! The sweet shop outside also sells a variety of traditional mithai (sweets), of which the most famous seemed to be the pinnis. After having eaten one, I could see why.

Prasaad at the Temple – While the Gurudwara visit was not food-centric at all, I cannot help but mention the kara prasaad here. It’s one of the best suji halwas you will ever have, and even though we were not able to join the Langar, I am glad I could have this famous prasaad and be blessed.

Lubhaya Ram – Different from the Ram Lubhaya shop, this is a small kiosk under a tree near the Girls’ College on Lawrence Road. We tried out a range of delicious aam papad, choorans and interesting mouth fresheners before settling on a few to buy. Worth a visit if you’re there. Chef Vikas Khanna’s list of food recos for Amritsar includes this little cart.

I realise the list is way too short given the scores (hundreds?) of amazing food joints in Amritsar. Unfortunately we barely had 24 hours, and of course being vegetarian means that I did not try any of the fish and meat dishes that I’ve heard people rave about. A second visit (soon, I hope) would be needed in order to scratch the surface further.

What are your favourite places to eat in Amritsar?

Getting there: Most airlines now fly to Amritsar; there are also multiple convenient Shatabdi trains at different times of the day.

Stay:We stayed on Ranjit Avenue – good restaurants around, calm and quiet, and only a short Ola ride away from the bustle of the old town.

If you are planning a visit and looking for tips on places to visit in Amritsar, then Shivani at The Wandering Core has some helpful tips here, take a look.

 

Edinburgh

Top ten things to do in Edinburgh

There is so much beauty and history in Edinburgh that you can spend days getting to know your favourite parts of it. Here’s my list of the Top 10 interesting things to do in Edinburgh if you are visiting Scotland for the first time:

1. Free Walking Tour: The tour starts from the Starbucks on the Mile and lasts about 3 hours. The guides pepper the facts with humour, making it overall a fun tour. They work for tips only. The tour will give you the general layout of the town, and also acquaint you with the legends and celebrities connected with the city. You would probably see the St Giles Church, the Elephant Café (where JK Rowling used to write before becoming JKR), the Heriot School (inspiration behind Hogwarts), the Writers Museum, Princess Street Gardens etc.

2. Ghost Tour: This one is usually a paid tour and full of drama and gory stories, as expected. You will also be taken to the cemetery and on to Calton Hill, from where you can get a lovely view of the city below as well as a Parthenon-style incomplete Monument.

3. Visit Edinburgh Castle: Located on top of Castle Hill, the 12th century castle is the result of years of building, rebuilding and renovation. I am glad I paid extra for the audio guide, it’s of a high quality and allowed me to explore at my own pace. You can easily spend an entire morning wandering around here. This is probably one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh.

4. Climb Arthur’s Seat: If you have a reasonable level of fitness, climbing up to Arthur’s Seat can be a fun activity. It is an extinct volcano and Edinburgh’s highest hill, offering fantastic views. Early morning or evening would probably be the best time to go.

5. Walk the Royal Mile: The lower part of the Mile especially Canongate is a nicer area than the upper half, less crowded and touristy. You just have to veer off into any of the narrow lanes leading off the main road and you find yourself in beautiful little residential areas with gardens and flower-boxes in the windows and that kind of thing.

royal mile
The Royal Mile

6. Party at the Grassmarket: If you ask at your hostel or hotel about popular things to do in Edinburgh, this would probably be high up on the list. Grassmarket in the Old Town is a vibrant and lively area full of pubs and restaurants. You can choose to pub crawl, or have a casual dinner with friends, or sit in the central square and people-watch.

7. Try the local food: Popular Scottish dishes include Haggis (minced liver, heart and lungs of a sheep mixed with oatmeal, onion and spices) usually eaten along with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). I was lucky enough to find a vegetarian version of the dish at The Last Drop pub. You can also try Black pudding, Leek and Tattie soup, Scotch pies, shortbread, sticky toffee pudding and the fabled deep fried Mars bars!

veggie haggis
Vegetarian haggis (!!) with neeps and tatties

8. Take a tour to the Highlands: I took a three-day backpacker’s coach tour to the Highlands and Skye from Edinburgh, and it was just amazing. If you prefer you can hire a car and drive yourself. The highlands are beyond scenic, and you will find some great photo ops everywhere you go. More detailed post on this part, to follow someday soon!

9. Visit a distillery: Lovers of Scotch whisky cannot miss this. A number of companies run tours from Edinburgh to various local distilleries, covering the history and process of whisky production with tastings thrown in.

10. Cultural immersion in New Town: New Town on the other side of the bridge can be termed the cultural hub of the city. It has some highly rated museums such as the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, etc. New Town also has The Edinburgh Playhouse, the largest working theatre in the UK, which routinely stages musical productions.

I hope this list will someday help someone out there who is planning a trip to beautiful Edinburgh. To me, it was a walk down memory lane just putting this together. More posts to follow soon, on my tour to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye!

Two Traveling Texans

So, what’s to see in Phuket?

I’ve been meaning to write this post since my visit to Phuket over a year ago. When I visited I was with a group of friends and had no idea what to do or where to go – so I just went along with all the others! I now know a little bit more, and can share that little bit with those in a similar situation 🙂

Contrary to what the first-time visitor might imagine, there is a lot more to Phuket than the famous Patong beach and Phuket/Patong nightlife. Granted that the nightlife is a major draw for most visitors, but here are some other suggestions on things a visitor can also enjoy in Phuket:

  1. Boat trips – Tons of options are available for day trips on speedboats or larger cruise boats to neighbouring islands and beaches. If you are not planning to stay at Phi Phi, a boat trip to see Maya bay might interest you. If you only have time for one excursion, I would recommend the excursion to Pha Nga bay instead. The boat will take you to this impossibly scenic bay and the famous James Bond island, and later give you an opportunity for canoeing and swimming off a secluded beach. A good lunch is usually included.
Phuket
On a boat trip to James Bond island

2. Spas – Thailand is known for spas, and there are some really great ones in Phuket offering massages, scrubs, foot rubs etc. at really decent prices. After a hectic day out, a good foot and back massage can be just what you need, before a night of partying!

3. Beaches – Naturally, you cannot be in Phuket and not spend time at the beach. The most commonly known beach is Patong of course, but for the same reasons it can also be crowded. If you prefer a quieter, calmer beach experience then head to Kata or Karon beaches. I loved the sunset at Karon. Kamala and Nai Yang beaches are also recommended.

4. Street food – Try some of the local food being sold by roadside vendors. You will find delicious fruits, pancakes with a variety of fillings, soups, noodles, seafood and a host of other interesting dishes being sold very cheap. Be as adventurous as you like!

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5. Heritage tours – If you are the kind (like me) who likes to learn something about the history and culture of the place you are visiting, this one is for you. The Old Town of Phuket still has beautiful examples of Sino-Colonial architecture – buildings dating mostly from before the second World War. These include old merchant mansions, shops, gardens, hotels etc, and are best seen on a walking or bicycle tour of the Old Town.

6. Adventure – For those seeking an active holiday, there is no dearth of interesting options in Phuket. You could go white water rafting, scuba diving, take a bicycle or ATV ride into the countryside, try ziplining or even river canoeing.

Getting There: Phuket can be reached from Bangkok via flight (most convenient) or by bus (cheapest, but a 12-ish hour ride).

 

Top 7 Monsoon Getaways in India

Travel during the rainy season in India has its pros and cons. On a trip during this season one needs to be prepared for a more leisurely vacation, since sightseeing would become weather dependent. However there is a lot to be said in favour of quiet getaways where one can just kick back and relax, without the pressure of ticking off “must do’s”. Enjoy the weather and simple pleasures like walks in the rain, endless cups of tea and conversations with your loved ones. Here are some ideal places that can be picked for a quick monsoon getaway:

1. Kumarakom – The backwaters of Kerala are pretty all the year round, but the rain lends an added touch of solitude and romance. Take advantage of off-season rates at hotels, and book yourself into a lakeside resort for a couple of days of relaxation involving Ayurveda treatments, amazing local cuisine and gorgeous sunsets.

Closest airport: Cochin; closest railway station: Kottayam

2. Udaipur – The “City of Lakes” becomes greener and prettier during the rains, with the lakes looking their best ever. Enjoy breathtaking views from vantage points like the Monsoon Palace and City Palace, and take a relaxing boat ride on Lake Pichola.

Closest airport: Udaipur; closest railway station: Udaipur

3. Goa – Goa in the rains offers a distinctly different experience. Take long walks along rain-swept beaches, enjoy a drink at one of the many watering holes, and party the night away at a club. While many of the temporary shacks along the beaches close down during the monsoon, this also means fewer people around!

Closest airport: Goa; closest railway station: Madgaon

4. Kodaikanal – Kodaikanal in the rains looks really green and washed clean. The misty hills and gushing waterfalls offer a very scenic view during this season, if you are up to getting soaked now and then. Perfect weather for invigorating walks and steaming cups of tea!

Closest airport: Madurai; closest railway station: Kodai Road

5. Mahabaleshwar – If you want a quick break from chaotic urban life and are not too keen on running around sightseeing, a monsoon break in Mahabaleshwar might be just the right thing for you. The rain in these hills can be torrential, keeping the tourist hordes away, but offering beautiful landscapes and a peaceful stay.

Closest airport: Pune; closest railway station: Satara

6. Orchha – This sleepy little town on the banks of the Betwa river is full of old palaces and temples that you can explore at leisure. The monsoon brings cool temperatures and fewer crowds, always a plus. Do attend morning Aarti at the Ram Raja temple.

Closest airport: Gwalior; closest railway station: Jhansi

7. Ladakh – This is for those who wish to escape the monsoon downpour, since Ladakh typically sees dry weather during these months. You will enjoy the warm sunny days and cool evenings, and have the added advantage of being cut off from mobile networks once you get out of Leh town! Keep aside at least 5-6 days for the trip, since you would need some time to acclimatise to the altitude.

Closest airport: Leh

The monsoon is here. Time to get packing!