My Sojourn into Self-Discovery – A solo India trip

by: Carrie Mann

My two-month solo trip through India began in the Mumbai airport, at 4:30 in the morning. I was six months into a year-long, solo trip around the world, and I was going through serious travel burnout. But what I didn’t realize was that I was about to embark on a journey through India; a country that is fascinating, exhausting, heartwarming, and devastating — all at the same time. It was this country of contradictions that would end up changing me more than I ever thought possible. But how did India make this transformation possible?

1. It makes you appreciate what you have

What life looks like for some of the beggars of India.

I try to venture off the beaten path when I travel, but I often end up in a bubble of comfortability. As an American, I’m far removed from the harsh realities faced by those living a life of poverty. Maybe I see a beggar here or a shantytown there, but that’s about it.

Not so in India.

When you’re waiting for a train, you’ll talk with locals who sleep in the train station each night. You’ll buy chai from a woman who lives under a tarp and feeds her kids with nothing but a camping stove. And when you get sick of living out of your backpack, you’ll meet folks who can’t imagine having a change of clothes.

It all makes life as a backpacker look pretty good.

2. You’ll learn how to go with the flow

I’m a pretty type-A person. So I didn’t always react well when India wreaked havoc on my well-laid plans.

At time, I found it impossible to get the train tickets I wanted. Hotels lost my reservations. I even got caught in a freak, out-of-season typhoon at the beach!

The city of Varanasi in Northern India.

But just when I felt like I was at my wit’s end, something amazing would happen. Like when a random man with a motorbike offered me a ride, to catch up with — and stop — the bus I just missed.

So yes, India will throw you for a loop. But it will also work miracles. And when it does, you don’t have time to hesitate. All you can do is hop on the back of a stranger’s motorbike and speed down the mountain to catch that bus.

3. It teaches you what you can live without

I backpacked around India on a budget of $5 a day. Often the only hotel room in my budget was a dirty, windowless, fan-cooled cell, that had only a squat toilet, with a bucket shower, and no sink.

And you know what? I survived. And then I went to the next place. And I survived again.

By the end of my time in India, if I had a place to sleep, one good meal, and a bushel of bananas to get me through the day, I felt lucky. Anything more was just downright luxurious.

4. You’ll build self-confidence

A woman collecting tea in the countryside.

When I first arrived in India, I was nervous about traveling alone as a woman. I’d heard all the usual horror stories. I intended to be cautious — I wouldn’t trust strange men or walk around at night alone.

But as I said before, India messes with your best-laid plans. Forty-eight hours after arriving, I got lost in the middle of the night trying to find a bus stop on an unlit road.

I knew I needed to proactively find someone to help, someone that I could trust. But who? That’s when I approached an old man sitting outside a gas station and asked if he could show me the way.

Laughing hysterically, he pointed at a couple benches just ten steps away. When he saw how relieved I was, he told me to cheer up. He welcomed me to India and told me, “You’ll be fine.”

It made me realize that I wasn’t scared because I was in any real danger. I was taking the right steps to protect myself by dressing conservatively and not making eye contact with men. And to be honest, while I was lost, I never actually felt unsafe. I was only nervous because I had built India up in my head as this extremely dangerous place.

The view while canoeing through Kerala.

Two months and countless mishaps later, I kept going back to “you’ll be fine.” I stopped panicking. I started laughing at myself and jumping straight to “how do I solve this problem.” And the more travel mishaps I conquered, the more confident and safe I felt.

5. It shows you that different can be beautiful

India is about as different from the U.S. as it gets. So even though I’d done a ton of research about traveling in India, I quickly
realized that I couldn’t relate to the people culturally. I found myself confused by people’s body language and unaware of local rules for living, like proper etiquette when visiting a temple or when interacting with a cow that was blocking the sidewalk.

At first, I was fascinated by the cultural differences. But after two weeks in India, I just felt lost.

Then, I did a trip through the backwaters of Kerala in a dugout canoe. We drifted through tiny villages. A Hindu temple broadcast hymns through the jungle. We encountered ladies gossiping about local life. I couldn’t tell you why, but suddenly, I felt like I was in the most beautiful place on Earth.

In that moment, I realized that it was okay that nothing about India made sense to me. I let go of my need to understand it and started enjoying it for what it was — the single most unique and eye-opening destination in the world.

Meet the Author : Carrie Mann

Five years ago, Carrie bought a one-way plane ticket to Germany with $6000 and a dream of reaching Thailand. She backpacked through 22 countries and flew home from Bangkok a year later. Since then, she’s been budget-traveling across the Americas and Africa. When she’s not on the road, she explores the food and music scenes in her home base of Washington, DC. Carrie blogs about her adventures  here. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram at  trainsplanesandtuktuks and on Pinterest at trainsplanesandtuktuks.