Off The Road: Six Solo Travel Tips from Koval Bhatia

Filmmaker & Founder of A Little Anarky Films, Koval is also the producer of feature documentary “Against The Tide” premiering at Sundance Film Festival 2023. You can learn more about her work here.

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Traveling solo as an Indian woman who’s lived most of her life in Delhi can be a pretty dissonant experience: on one hand, it’s a little like taking off an armor you’re only dimly aware of. On the other hand, you can’t switch off hyper vigilance sewn into you like a second skin brought on by years of self preservation.

I started traveling alone around a decade ago, once I was sure my bank balance could bear the burden and my ingrained terror of the unknown was eclipsed by sheer curiosity to explore the world. My first solo trip started off disastrously: I arrived at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam a full two days before my Schengen visa permitted. This led to brief cosplay as Tom Hanks from The Terminal and a very poorly made photo series titled Humans of Schiphol Airport (a very brief edition). 

Anyway, once I overcame the bureaucratic hurdles and waited out my terminal illness (haha), I proceeded to embark on the most exciting of all adventures: Young Woman Backpacks Across Europe. Ten years later, many solo trips in, I can safely state that I am better equipped, always double-check the date on my visa and have graduated from haphazard 2-3 day stumbles around tourist traps to leisurely drives across many a countryside and a general comfort in my role as Woman Of The World (without a hint of wanderlust, thanks). 

Here’s a handy list of (unsolicited) tips for solo travelers:

#1 Talk to people

Even if you’re normally an introvert, or socially awkward: feel free to play-act whatever version of eloquence you can tap into. Talk to cab drivers, bartenders, or strike conversation while standing in queues, but engage with people: you’ll at the very least get to know more about the place and hopefully get the lowdown on local hotspots that no travel blog could ever!

#2 Hang out in queer friendly neighbourhoods

No matter where in the world you go, queer spaces are generally more accepting, and it feels less alienating, especially as a solo female traveler. And it’s (usually) safer. 

#3 Go on Google and find local events

A small music gig, an art event, something that’s meant for the residents of the city and not just for tourists. I don’t mean go watch the local improv group (although no judgment if that’s your vibe) but most of the stuff that shows up in travel guides and tourist hubs is not the best representation of the culture of a place, and I assume part of your reason for travel is to discover what people across the world think, consume, create.

#4 Take public transport or walk, depending on the weather

Inside a subway lane or a bus is the best way to navigate any city. Find places that appear comfortable to you. Also, step outside city centers, recommendation lists and look for interesting day trips (a lot of these are accessible via bus, metro, train).

#5 Do park picnics

If the city or town you’re visiting has parks, pick the one that is most convenient, get a lunch + drink to go, and make a picnic out of it: watch people, read a book, walk around and let the city’s regular life unfold around you. Bonus: there’s always dogs around, at their happiest and doggiest. 

#6 Do things your parents won’t ever do while travelling

Eat something you might not source easily at home. Go to a university bar and talk to someone. Find local markets instead of high street stores and stumble upon art or artifacts that you could take home as a reminder. Go to the local grocery chain and get snacks, cheap alcohol and whatever random stuff that catches your fancy. Don’t let fear stop you from exploring any new place and don’t be confined to the usual suggestions one is bombarded by!


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