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March of the women

BACKPACKING has become the new mantra for the city’s young women. According to The Backpackers Co, which specialises in organising international backpacking trips, women make for 80 per cent of its client ratio.
Yogi Shah, founder of The Backpacker Co, says he has been observing the trend of an increasing number of women opting for backpacking tours since the inception of his company in 2006. “We haven’t been able to put a finger on it yet, but feel it’s because women are by far more adventurous and less ‘clannish’. They want to get out there and explore the world on their time and not sit around and wait for their friends to join in,” he says, adding, “Also, the fact that we structure the backpacking trips in such a way, makes them feel they can do their own stuff and at the same time feel secure.” Shah stresses that the company’s travel itineraries cater to the needs of single woman travellers. Sunday MiD DAY meets a few such travellers.

All by myself

Suchna Shah (33) 

Shah got hooked on to backpacking in 1998. “My first travel trip was a bit luxurious. But after that, I started going on my own. I was kicked by the idea of independent travel. Also, there is no fixed agenda in such trips. So, whenever I got time, I would take off,” says Shah, a mother of two. Shah says that she has done trips with co-workers and even takes the credit of initiating them to travelling.

There’s added allure – backpacking allows you to experience the local flavour. Remembering her last trip to Prague in February this year, Shah recalls, “A lot of locals during that time of the year give walking tours to tourists. So I met this student who was studying to be a guide. We walked for nearly three hours and he gave me information about the city. In fact, he took me to this place to eat out, which looks like an officer’s mess. I wouldn’t have even looked it up and the food was amazing. It was one of the most memorable experiences!” As for safety, Shah says, “Having live in Mumbai, you become a lot smarter and watch your back. But two things that are absolutely important are: reading up on the place and taking care of your documents.”

Sreelekha Maitra (30)

Maitra makes it a point to take a backpacking trip at least once every year. Maitra recently paid a visit to Italy. “I specifically wanted to go there because I have friends all across the world except Italy,” reasons Maitra, who is averse to conducted tours. “I like to visit art galleries and museums rather than do too much sightseeing. With the kind of taste I have, I’ll be in a pickle if I went on a conducted tour. So, I always travel alone,” says Maitra, who has been backpacking for the last four years.

However, she says that her trips are also punctuated with meeting friends and sightseeing. She recommends doing thorough research before starting out. “Thanks to my research, I was able to visit Musee d’Orsay in Paris free of cost,” says Maitra.

Pubali Bardhan (32)

Bardhan is addicted to travelling, especially of the backpacking kind. Armed with a Lonely Planet, Bardhan has explored Europe, Sri Lanka and Cambodia (her latest) to name just a few. Bardhan vows she has made some of her closest friends through travelling. “You come across many interesting and amazing people,” she says.
So what’s her motivation to travel alone? “I mostly backpack because of budget constraints and also you can experience the countryside and see places that you wouldn’t be able to see in an organised tour,” says Bardhan matter-of-factly. In fact, she has noticed a rising number of women becoming open to the idea now. “The attitude towards travelling is changing and it’s becoming a necessity and not a luxury,” she says. However, she advises that going alone to a lonely place is a strict no-no and to rely on public transport as far as possible.

Shweta Sethia (34)

Mother of a 10-year-old, Sethia went with a group to Europe for 25 days last year. “As I had never gone to Europe, I was eager to travel the continent. Actually, my husband was supposed to accompany me, but at the last minute he had some work and couldn’t make it,” says Sethia, who travelled with a group of other independent travellers.

Though initially apprehensive, Sethia found the trip great. So much so that she would like to go backpacking again without the family. “We stayed in mixed dormitories and the hostels were neat and clean. We used to be out for about 10 hours and come back tired,” recalls Sethia. She travelled through Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, going with the Backpackers Co. According to her, the trip was not only well planned, but also flexible. As a result, she was able to see the red carpet ceremony for the Cannes ad award while visiting the French city. “We saw some Indian ad-makers. It wasn’t as glamorous as the film one, but it was fun,” she says.
Her advice to other women backpackers? “If you get the opportunity, don’t miss it. You get to see so many places at one shot. However, read up about the place before starting on the journey. And always take a printout of your booking arrangements and other documents.”

Reema Grewal (34)

Grewal’s first tryst with backpacking was in 2003-04, when she went to Australia and New Zealand. So kicked was she with backpacking that in 2006, she again planned a trip – this time to UK and Ireland. Grewal says, “I prefer backpacking because you’re independent and can do whatever you feel like doing. You don’t have to consult or depend on the group, which can, at times, lead to conflicts.”

In fact, during her trip to Australia, Grewal tried her hand in adventure sports like scuba diving, skydiving, hot air balloon etc. “But all my trips have been good. You get to see much more than what you would in a package tour,” says Grewal, who now makes it a point to travel at least once a year.

Vaishali Shah (36)

The travel bug bit Shah a decade back. However, only recently did she go for her maiden trip abroad. “I went for a Europe tour and visited Italy, Florence, Vienna, French Rivera, Switzerland, Germany and Venice. In addition to this, I also added a three-day trip to South of Italy. It was great fun,” she says. Shah feels that while backpacking, you get to be your own boss and there are no restrictions in checking out places. “It also teaches you to be more confident and makes you adventurous,” she says.

Vineeta Nair, (33)

Nair’s encounter with backpacking was when she travelled to Rajasthan five years ago. Recently, she went to Himachal Pradesh for 10 days and came back with memories that had its share of misadventures, such as a Jab We Met moment when she missed her train. But she isn’t complaining. “It was great fun. The place was beautiful and breathtaking.” Recalling another trip, Nair says that she had gone to Mcleodganj. “It didn’t even feel like India as there were more foreigners and Nepali people than Indians. We would walk for six to seven hours every day and come back to the rooms tired and hungry,” says Nair.

Making a strong case for backpacking, she says, “Backpacking trips are so much more fun. Most meals are a mystery because you don’t know the place. My biggest concern usually is when I will get my next meal. The sense of adventure is exhilarating. Also, when you stay with the locals, you get to see people and the culture in a different light.”

(Published in Sunday Mid Day 10th August, 2008)

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3 comments on “March of the women

  1. hey, Elena and Hilary! Thanks a lot for liking my post. It indicates that my blog has not been sucked by the black hole yet. 🙂

  2. Excellent points made. Thanks for this article.

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