It was 108°F, and I’d been wandering around all day.
I was starving and alone. I had no idea where to go. My passport, my phone, my cash, and my credit cards had all been stolen. I had just been robbed in Kumbh Mela, which is ironically an event where pilgrims bathe their sins away in the holy river near the Himalayan foothills.
The Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years and has been called “the largest human gathering in the world.” Pilgrims from around the globe come to meet their Guru, smoke charras rituals, chant holy mantras, and consume blessed food. The sheer number of people–millions–who participate is astounding, and the more time I spent there, the more claustrophobic I became.
I wanted to capture as much as I could of the final bathing day, the most important festival day. The bridge was crowded with thousands of people who were all trying to reach the main bathing area along the banks of the Ganges. The mood became violent, and the noise deafening.
In the chaos, I held my camera above my head to prevent it from being damaged. When I looked down, my purse was half unzipped. As I reached into my bag, I found my phone and wallet missing.
Even though I knew about all the safety concerns, I was still shocked to find myself in this situation as a world traveler. The majority of the people didn’t speak English, and there were no tourists. The police were useless. I was all alone. I’ve never felt more aware of my sexuality.
It is a challenge to travel alone as a woman, but it’s worth the effort. Why? Why?
My travels, especially those I have undertaken alone, have helped me discover who I am as a woman, a traveler, and a photographer. There are many lessons I have learned. I hope you can learn from my mistakes and benefit from my experiences.
Ease into it.
Volunteering is a good place to begin if you are new to solo traveling. You can get your bearings and meet new people. It can also give you a sense of community and allow you to share your experience with others.
Another good starting point is group travel. The tour company will handle all the details so it is relatively easy. Experts will guide you through the experience.
I have had so many great group travel experiences I decided to become a professional in it.
Accept being alone but also find ways to fight loneliness.
It can be difficult to travel alone for long periods. People can get depressed and lose their interest in traveling. It is normal and will pass.
Keep your routines. Maintain your routines.
Try to find a place with a full kitchen if cooking is your passion. Listen to your iPod or write in your journal. Treat yourself when you deserve it: get a massage, go to a sporting event, or have a nice meal. You can communicate with your loved ones via Skype, Facebook or Twitter. Or, you can start a travel blog.
Take calculated risks
When traveling alone, safety should be your number one priority. Women often need to take extra care to protect themselves. Travel can be a transformative experience and a powerful one. Don’t deprive yourself of this sense of adventure.
Make sure you research your destination and note cultural do’s and don’ts before leaving. It’s important to blend in, not to stand out from the crowd.
Bring a whistle with you, purchase a pocketknife, or wear your wedding ring. Do whatever makes you feel safer, no matter where you are.
Take into account the camera factor.
As a female travel photographer, I am more at risk when I am alone. When you wear a large, heavy camera and other gear around your back, it can attract unwanted attention. For me, the benefits far outweigh any risks.
It’s amazing how strangers react when they see that I have a digital camera. It’s like a passport for forming friendships all over the world. I have been given the opportunity to photograph unique and amazing situations. I have also been invited to people’s houses. A simple smile is often enough to get me through the door, even if there’s a language barrier. People are more likely to let you photograph if they feel comfortable with you. Find out where you fit in and wait for that magical moment to shoot.