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Traveling solo, tips and some safe destinations : Aswathy Honeylal

I am always in awe and inspired by a few friends of mine, who are bitten by the wanderlust bug, those who have full time jobs and yet, manage to travel, quite a bit. We got talking to Aswathy, an ex-colleague and a friend, who, yes very much, hopes to see as many countries and experience as many moments all over the globe as she can. She has been traveling solo for a couple of years now, and has traveled to 24 countries, and while I write this, I am sure she's planning her next trip.

1. Why did you first decide to travel solo?
I first decided to travel solo mainly because it was difficult for my friends and I to manage our leaves at the same time. At one point the desire to take a break and travel was so overwhelming, that it made me take the leap of faith, and do a solo trip (the best decision of my life :)). The mantra running in my head was, if not now, then when?

2. Has traveling solo impacted your career?
When I started travelling solo, I realized that exploring new places and making new friends who share your interests actually expands your thought process and makes you think out of the box. Planning an entire trip end to end, being financially independent and having back-up solutions in times of crisis; all these skills have made me a better manager at work as well. I would say travelling by yourself makes you realize your own strengths and weaknesses and be better at decision making which spills over to your professional life as well (like it has for me).

3. How do you manage your leaves? Especially in India, where I think it’s difficult to get your leaves through even if you’re eligible for them.
I do agree that it is a difficult task getting your entitled leaves in India, but I suppose after sometime you figure out the loopholes, and more importantly, gain your manager’s confidence that work will not suffer during your holiday time. I usually take a long holiday (2-3 weeks) towards the end of the financial year and another shorter holiday (1 week) around November – December. For other trips, I combine national holidays, weekends, etc with a couple of days leave so that I am not taking too many holidays.

Some tips to manage your leaves:
1. Combine leaves with holidays or long weekends, and as much as possible, plan in advance
2. Take your manager into confidence and assure him/her that your work will get affected
3. Have a person on your team be your backup when you are travelling
4. Ideally take your longer holiday when there is relatively less work/ during the off season - it helps in getting cheaper flight tickets as well ;)

4. What destination would you recommend to someone who is looking to travel solo? Especially women, as safety and local interaction is quite a sensitive topic for us.
For someone looking to travel solo, and if budget is not a constraint, I would recommend Netherlands. It is one of the most traveler friendly countries and you can always rent a bicycle and pedal around Amsterdam city. It has pretty much everything for all kinds of travelers: art, history, entertainment, natural beauty.

For the budget traveler, I would recommend Vietnam or Cambodia. Personally I have been to Cambodia, and it is one of the few countries which has impacted me because of their rife filled history of the Pol Pot regime. The way each country builds itself up after so much unrest, is something which gives you hope for a better future come what may. It builds resilience. As a solo female traveler, I have been much more comfortable travelling abroad than within India, because of the obvious reason of personal safety. Just like in India, there are areas in almost all countries which may be known for anti-social elements. It all depends on how well you do your research.

5. Sometimes, even parents tend to question solo travel, even though this is often well meaning. How did you handle this?
Initially my parents were not too keen on me travelling alone to foreign countries. The first couple of trips when I started off on my own, I flew from India to the country and joined a travel group who did the land travel. They used to take care of internal land travel as well as accommodation. This put my parents at ease as they had the complete travel itinerary along with contact numbers of the travel group and places where I was staying. This actually gave confidence to my parents that our daughter can handle things on her own.

When I travelled to South Africa, I planned the entire trip end to end, with hostels, internal travel details, and contacted a few friends who connected me to people in Johannesburg and Cape Town. In fact when you email Airbnb hosts or hostels regarding any kind of help, they usually do assist you in whatever requirement you have.

Now my parents have in fact started travelling with their batch mates. They recently went to Sri Lanka and Andamans with their alumni group. It took me about 3 years to ensure that my parents understand me enough to reach this level of confidence in me and my journeys across the world. From being worried when I travel alone, my folks are currently aware that as an individual I need to travel to re-connect with myself.

1. Map out your itinerary & connect with your family at least once a day when you are travelling (preferably at an agreed upon time)
2. Travel safe, do your groundwork and figure out danger zones which you may have to travel to

6. Any websites, groups, resources you’d like to share with the readers of this blog?
For cccommodation, most of the sites offer referral points/ offers: subscribing to these offers will definitely help. Some sites I use often are:
•  Airbnb
•  Hostelworld 
•  Expedia
•  Booking

For flight bookings for the best deals, I would recommend that as a traveler, be flexible with either your dates of travel or location of travel. I usually use these sites:

Usually some of the credit cards also offer good deals, like Citi Premier Miles card which gives you free lounge access and the miles can be converted to buy flight tickets.

I also often take free walking tours (most of them work on a tip basis) but the most important thing is that the walking tour would be conducted by a local so, you can get your bearings of the place as well as clear all doubts in one go. In Europe, Sandeman’s is one of the best walking tours.

PS: There are thousands of groups in Facebook for solo travelers, women travelers, nomadic travelers, etc. Any one of them will help you in case you have any doubts of any sort regarding food, even in case of emergency, some of them are known to open their homes also for a fellow traveler.

7. Why do you think it is important to travel?
Travelling is something that pushes you out of your comfort zone. New experiences, getting over your own fears, helping your fellow travelers get over their fears; exploring places which you would never have thought of going gives you a new perspective on life and teaches you lessons that last for a lifetime. In Berlin, I learned more about the Berlin Wall and how life was for a common person when I struck up a conversation with a lady I met at a café. It taught me as a people, how Berliners recovered from the horrors done to it post the Cold War. It teaches resilience.

In South Africa, I decided to overcome my fear of heights, by bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge. The kind of encouragement and support the fellow bungee jumpers gives you, be it someone you know, or a total stranger, makes you thankful for the kindness of strangers and restores faith in people. A family I met while travelling in Turkey, took me in and considered me a member of their own family, when I was in Johannesburg.

Travelling teaches you to be responsible in a lot of ways; be it solo travel or with friends. It gives you friends across the world, and a virtual family who you know will be there for you should you need anything. Above all, you become the sum total of all your experiences in life. I can honestly say that after being to 24 countries, I am more aware of being responsible about the products I use (in terms of doing my part to reduce the carbon footprint on the world), about research and planning my trips, as well as being financially independent.

8. Finally, what destination are you off to next?

She can be reached here and here, or by mailing her at aswathyhoneylal at gmail dot com

Thank you, Aswathy!

Read more about traveling solo here 

#Stylefile Styling the Kalamkari skirt

I love Indian prints. Period. Whether it is Ikat or Kalamkari, these prints, if worn well, are statement pieces. Last time I went home, my mum gifted me this Kalamkari skirt. It was a full length one, which she'd got from Gujarat (she got it directly from the artisan). I loved the skirt, but was unsure how to style it. One immediate option was to pair it with a silk camisole, tucked in of course. I would have picked maroon or dark red - it would have been a good contrast to the earthen colours of the skirt. But I wanted to wear something, umm, more sturdy, so to speak. Also, I did not want to buy something new.

So I paired it with a cotton shirt. It was unconventional, but I think a plain cotton shirt with a full length printed skirt looks quite nice. It is not too formal but still quite sophisticated. I wanted it for an everyday wear, not a function.

While driving around Dubai, one location which I really have been meaning to check out was Al Serkal Avenue. The Avenue is filled with cafes, art exhibitions, creative spaces and it was perfect for spending time just getting things done, or reading (if it is me). Quiet dreamy spaces are so rare. We shot a few photos here and then hanged a bit (there were hammock chairs!!!!). This space is called Nadi Al Qouz, but I am pretty sure that every space inside Al Serkal is this pretty.

Would you travel solo? Some notes.

A younger version of myself would have dismissed solo travel, putting it under the 'too daring, unsafe and 'not me' bracket'.

But last year, I had traveled to Andaman Islands alone. I was quite nervous for so many reasons. I had never traveled solo before. Of course, I have taken long flights alone but traveling alone by choice, that was a first.

With every important experience comes lessons and confidence, and of course, observations aplenty. Here are some notes from my solo travel experience.

10 all time favorite feel good movies

Yesterday, I saw myself flipping through three hard dives searching for that perfect movie. This has happened to me before. All I wanted to do was watch a feel-good movie, otherwise, in my terms, defined as a chic flick. There are some movies, which even if you watch for the hundredth time, still leave you dreamy. And then there are some, which you've heard about so often, that you want to push yourself to watch them, but just can't go ahead.

We all need happily ever afters amidst our daily chores and a good laugh after long meetings. Here, I'm listing my happy movies, the ones I can rely on to cheer me up after a bad week or a blah day at work.

Exploring Kuwait - Mirror House and Souk Mubarakiya

Like a scene from a movie.
Did you ever think you would have to move to a country that every one warned you about? Sometimes it happens - school, college, work, marriage - being some of the reasons on the top of my mind. But isn't it almost unlikely that you will actually start to love the place?
Hard to explain, but I am going to miss Kuwait so much. Like so much. But this post isn't a rant about my love for this desert country. I'm going to write about a few of my places I love about here.

The Mirror House

Lidia Al-Qattan came to Kuwait in the 1960's from Northern Italy and ever since, has had a beautiful relationship with the country. She married the late Kuwaiti artist Khalifa Al-Qattan - who is a pioneer of art in Kuwait. Lidia has created much of the work herself. She herself gives tours of the house which is a testimony of the work both the artists have created. When we arrived, we could see mirror work on the outside of the compound wall. We saw butterflies, stars and flowers - all in mirror. Now, the truth is that this place looks a million times better in real that in photos. We could not stop being in awe.

Colombo Layover - What to do in 7 hours?

I am a huge fan of slow travel, of experiencing everything a local would. The recent Airbnb campaign of 'Don't go to Paris, Live in Paris' really touched a chord with me. However, on a recent trip home, I had a long layover in Colombo. One I couldn't possibly waste. I have flown Srilankan Airlines quite a few times, I have always seen aerial views of the city, but this time, I actually had a chance to explore the city - even if it was for only a few hours.

Avacado with turmeric.

Loving Kama Ayurveda - A Daily Routine

What's the best way to while away time when you are already checked in but your flight is delayed? (Thankfully not over booked, just delayed!!) A couple of weeks ago, I was wandering around the Mumbai international airport searching for a phone cover. I went from gate to gate, for I really had all the time in the world. I did not find what I was looking for, but I came across a store I coudn't walk away from. And it wasn't the store decor or the lovely sales person, it was the product. The actual products.

Kama Ayurveda - A daily routine

I picked up the lip balm and the soap. They had cleverly displayed these for everyone to see, right outside. I actually wanted to buy only 1 LIP BALM. I started reading about each of the products.

Indo-Boho lookbook with Sunitha Scharma

I have always found it tricky to add colours to an outfit. Be it an accessory or a pair of funky shoes. A few years ago, I wouldn't even dare to add a pop of colour to my outfit. But I think over time, our styles evolve, like mine did. I experiment a lot more, consciously pick up chunky chains and shoes that are not black or brown. When I am helped with an amazing fashion blogger to style my outfits, even better. Sunitha is a fashion blogger from Our Lookbook, and she and I share a love for exploring new places. We've been planning a collaboration together for ages, but something kept coming up. Travel plans, weddings, more travel plans and often late working hours. Finally, we got together last week and came up with 4 indo-boho outfits and fun ways to style them. Boho comes from the word 'Bohemian' which means socially unconventional. With blues and greys ruling most wardrobes, we thought it made sense to name our outfits boho, with the mela of colours happening in each outfit.

Our first collaboration !

Look 1.

Wearing layers is tricky; especially bright colourful layers. Sunitha paired it with a pair of denims (my all-time favourite) and a simple tee. She added an Indian element by clubbing it with a silver choker. We kept the ears a little light as we did not want too much happening on the top. Though, depending on how heavy your jacket is, you can experiment with some jhoomkas too. We finished the look with a pair of bright yellow peep toes! Why not have some fun?