I’ve taken a few trains over the course of my travels in India over the last couple of years, and whilst there are few things you can do to prepare, the journeys will never fail to surprise you. Be it delays, unexpected fights over your assigned seat (or lack thereof), or frantically grabbing your belongings to leap off the train at an unmarked station, there’s a lot to take in, and some things you just have to take in your stride…
Without further ado, here is my introduction to train travel in India, and what you can do to make the most of your journeys!
When you’re travelling in South East Asia, the majority of backpackers you meet are fairly young. But the majority of those travelling alone are in their mid-twenties. It’s reasonably rare to see gap-year students alone, especially once you step off the main tourist circuit. This is particularly true of young women travelling alone. And that’s just what I saw on my travels in Thailand and Cambodia. In India, to see a teenage girl travelling alone is almost unheard of. To be honest, travelling solo in India really deserves a post of its own. Another time. But here are a few things you’re likely to experience, both good and bad, as a young solo female traveler.
I wouldn’t have taken back a second of my travels last summer. Although I definitely had some lows to match the highs, travelling solo did amazing things for my confidence and sense of direction after leaving my first university course. Although I only I turned 19 towards the end of my stay in India, I wouldn’t say that being so young had any detrimental effect on my travels as a whole.
I’ve been living in India for more than six weeks now. It doesn’t feel like anywhere near that long! Although the vast majority of people have been lovely and welcoming, there have been a few times, particularly out in the city, where I’ve been really ticked off by people’s attitudes to me. Especially as a young woman travelling alone, it’s important to be aware of possible scams and avoid being taken in by people waiting to exploit your ignorance of local behaviours.
It’s my first experience of being an ethnic minority; I’m starting to appreciate the discomfort which many immigrants to the UK must feel; especially in the not-particularly-diverse South West of England, where I live. Although the nearby tourist spots of Rishikesh, Haridwar and Mussoorie are full of foreigners, I’ve yet to see another white person in the local area. I stand out everywhere.
Clearly, I have it remarkably easy. I’m living in a safe place, and the exchange rate from GBP to Indian Rupees is extremely favourable. I’m by no means rich, but the assumption is that all foreigners are. And we are, comparatively. Coming to India from the West puts you in a very good position in terms of expenditure, but that doesn’t mean you should let the scams slide! Some things are just downright annoying.
Being a broke kind-of-student leaving midway through the year, I don’t exactly have a ton of money to spend nearly half a year travelling the world however I like. This is why I’m a huge fan of websites like Couchsurfing (see my beginner’s guide HERE!) and Workaway.
But Bea, what is Workaway?
So many volunteering projects charge participants extortionate amounts, knowing that naïve gap-year students will willingly pay a lot of money to go to a developing country and make some kind of contribution. But a lot of this money is never seen by the people it’s supposedly helping, so it’s my opinion that you’re much better off skipping the middle man and contacting NGOs and projects directly.
This is where Workaway comes in. It’s a work-exchange website where NGOs and individuals can post requests for volunteers to come and help them at short notice, throughout the year. The sheer range of placements is amazing, and with hosts in pretty much every country in the world, wanting help with all kinds of projects and jobs, there’s something for everyone.
You set up a profile with a picture, a few paragraphs about yourself, and an idea of how long you’re travelling for, where you’re wanting to go, and what you’re willing to help with when staying with a host, and hey presto, you’re ready to find a host!
I’m just going to start this by saying that I am a notorious over-packer, and I’m not ashamed to admit that my mother’s help was instrumental in me managing to get my life for four months into a 45L backpack… I’m spending 4 months in Asia; 2 months in India and 2 months split between Thailand and Cambodia in SE Asia.
I’m currently only a month into the trip, and still stationary in India, so I don’t know if all the stuff I’ve brought will be useful when I’m on the move, but I’d hazard a guess not for some of it, so I imagine I will end up dumping some things. I will reserve judgment on the usefulness or lack thereof of some of the stuff I brought with me until the end of my trip!
I’ll start with the bag itself. My main piece of luggage, and the one which is cabin baggage on planes, is the pink rucksack pictured below. I do have another rucksack at home which I bought for my trip to and across America last summer, but it’s about 80L, and I didn’t want to have to lug it around like I did last time. *war flashbacks to my bulging backpack knocking out old ladies on the New York subway*
I’m not claiming to be an expert on Couchsurfing. It would be enormously presumptuous of me to think that I can speak with authority on something I’ve done only a couple of times. But although my first couple of Couchsurfing experiences were very positive ones (as I hope all my further ones will be), I know that not everyone is so lucky, and so based on my stories and those of others, I’ve compiled this little list to make your first Couchsurfing experience as great as mine was!
I first used the Couchsurfing website when I was in Germany, and stayed in Munich for a couple of nights before flying home after my first Workaway placement (post on this to come later). I found my host about a week before I was due to arrive in Munich at the end of March, and everything went very smoothly! I then used the site again to find a host in New Delhi towards the end of my travels in India.
In Munich, I stayed with a young couple, and my host was lovely and very accommodating; she came and met me at the bus stop after my late-night train to Munich, which saved me a lot of faffing around and probably getting lost! Not only was she a great host, but she also came with me on my trip to Neuschwanstein Castle with some other international friends living in Munich!
Without further ado, here are some tips to make sure your first Couchsurfing stay is the best it can be!
I haven’t written anything personal for a while; I feel like most of my blog entries do skate on the surface somewhat and you’ll have to forgive that if you can; I’m still new to this and am probably still developing my style of writing. So it’s time for a more introspective, and maybe advisory article?
Missing the people back home has never really been that much of an issue for me whilst travelling. Whilst my travel experience is probably considerably less than many other people, my time at camp in Maine last year and the subsequent road-trip across the USA, and my month so far in Asia being the first long-term travel experiences I’ve taken alone, I’d say I’ve probably done quite a bit more than many other young people my age.
I’m often taken to be older, the usual guess is mid-twenties. On the one hand, YESSSSS. On the other hand, why? Apparently I look a bit older, but I’ve always felt a little bit more mature than many others my age and I’m sure it comes across in my interests and conversation. Eighteen going on nineteen is a normal age for gap-year tourists, but not so much for longer term backpackers or longer term volunteers. So, people are often a little surprised at my age. However, I never feel like being so young disadvantages me.