05 Mar 2024  |   04:25am IST

Travelling solo comes with risks

When you travel alone, you travel on your terms. However, when it comes to women taking on solo travels, one has to be extra cautious and aware of their surroundings. The Jharkhand gang rape case has been a yet another wake-up call on the safety of women in India, especially solo travelers. Goan women who have experienced solo travelling tell their tale
Travelling solo comes with risks

Dolcy D’Cruz

Just when tourism was picking up for the season in the country, a horrific incident has marred the image of India on an international level. A 35-year-old Spanish tourist was allegedly gang-raped, and her husband brutally assaulted by seven youths in Dumka district in Jharkhand. Their video message retelling the ordeal on Instagram went viral and many other travelers shared their experience too. The couple was on two bikes on a world trip and were going from West Bengal to Nepal via Dumka, where they had put up their tents for a night stay.

Flexcia D’Souza from North Goa has been an avid traveler and her travels have been well documented on social media. She has been solo travelling for over a decade and more recently, she has been riding to different destinations in India with her bike. Besides showcasing the beauty of the places, she is visiting, Flexcia also brings out the local culture and cuisine through her reels and videos. Connecting with a group of riders, she is also influencing other young riders to explore the state and country.

“I have been travelling for over ten years and I was using public transport then. Now, since I have been riding, I feel the motorbike gives more freedom to plan my travels, when I want to leave from a destination, how long I’ll have to travel and the time when I will arrive at my next destination. With remote or urban, I can visit any place without relying on any mode of transport especially private cabs which can be costly. I can travel anywhere with the motorcycle as long as there is an accessible road,” says Flexcia, who travels on Royal Enfield bike and feels empowered with the gear that conceals the identity of the rider.

Precaution is better than cure and so Flexcia plans her travels carefully. “I usually have a rough to-do list and I mark the safe places, like the different stops and places where I will be staying the night. I am usually in for the night by 8pm or 9 pm when I am travelling. I use two phones with two different SIM networks and my phones are never switched off when I am travelling. I share my Google coordinates with my close friends who track my movements. Since I started riding, I have realized that the biking community in Goa and India is very strong and well connected,” she explains.

Aware of the recent incident with the Spanish tourist, Flexcia says that this comes as a huge shock to the travellers and motorcycle riding community especially in India as India has been portrayed as being a safe country for women travellers internationally. “This really shocked us. However, this can happen not only to women but men also. Solo riders especially on the highways can be stalked and robbed. I avoid travelling on the highway if I encounter a group of rowdy men or truck drivers. I would rather stop at a decent washroom or a coffee shop and then start the journey. So far, I had a positive experience, especially in the South of India as I have travelled extensively to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The locals have been very helpful. I trust my instincts and I speak nicely but don’t be too overfriendly with new people. One has to be very mindful and conscious while travelling solo,” advises Flexcia, who recently returned from a three-day solo ride from Goa to Mangalore for a Tedx talk.

Sawani Shetye, an archaeologist, she conducted archaeologist led trail to ancient sites in Goa for a Bangalore and Chennai based company. She has been a solo traveller and has also come across solo travellers who have visited Goa from around the world. “Whenever I travel on my own, I prefer to use the public transport as it is safer and less costly. I book a hotel in a populated locality when I am outside Goa and I try to finish my work and return to my room to avoid late hours. When I visited Delhi for eight days, I stayed in Goa Sadan. However, I used to attend the workshop followed by dinner and I had to travel a secluded road back to the room post 10 pm. I used to call my family members so that I could feel safe as it was just after the Nirbhaya Case in Delhi itself,” says Sawani.

She advices to research well about the place that one is travelling to, to avoid a bad situation. “When travelling one should not show that they are a stranger to the city. They should not know that you not a local. So far, I had no bad experiences which is either because of good luck or precautions taken. You have to trust your instincts when you are around new people and learn about the local knowledge. I had a few instances where I felt that I was stalked so I would pretend that I am sharing my whereabouts on the phone with a family member,” says Sawani.

Shefali Coulekar from Panjim found a new way to look at life after she took up cycling. However, she would not recommend cycling for a solo woman unless they are in the company of close male relatives like a brother or husband. As one of the leading women cyclists, she completed a 300 kilometres ride from Goa to Ankola, a 400 kilometres ride from Goa to Murdeshwar and a 600 kilometres Super Randonneur with a cycling trip from Hubali to Bagalkot to Devangiri in Karnataka. Her rides are well tracked and her family members are informed about her route as well.

A former lecturer at Dempo College of Commerce and Economics, Cujira, Shefali has been riding for over 14 years and says that Goa is a 100 percent safe. However, the atmosphere for a woman cyclist just as they cross the border. “I can personally say that it is not worth riding solo on a cycle for a woman. I have encountered many risks on my travels and I just feel lucky to be safe. Even in the company of men riders, you cannot expect them to lag behind because of you and these rides are time bound and have to be completed within a certain time frame. You have to ride very early in the morning and even late in the night. I have participated in a 27 hour ride which began at 6 am in the morning and concluded at 9 am the next day. In one instance, as soon as I crossed the Canacona checkpost, I was chased by some men on bikes who were asking embarrassing questions. Some are curious to know why a woman is riding at 4 am or how expensive the bike is and some other random questions. It is a risk as you don’t know how they can react at that point of time. Many times, I had to just pretend to call the police and give the bike number for that person to stop stalking me,” Shefali shares her experience.

Maria Victor, founder of Make it Happen in Goa has been conducting trails across Goa. She has been a solo traveller and now she even interacts with solo travellers from across the world who attend the trails in Goa. “It is unfortunate that such incidents are happening in India which can discourage riders and solo travellers coming to India. I have been solo traveling for a while and I have realised that one has to be aware of their surroundings. You have to blend in as a local and respect the culture in different parts of India. The culture changes drastically in every 200 kilometres in India. The values in Goa will be very different from those in a remote village in Kutch. I have seen this difference when I was travelling from Nagaland to Assam especially among the women,” says Maria, who has a decade-long experience of backpacking.

“There are numerous risks of travelling but one must know how to navigate through the difficulties. I rely on public transport and avoid secluded places in the night,” adds Maria.


Iddhar Udhar