Ruby Bansal in conversation with Julia Kaltschmidt and Shubhra Pant
Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, and Love, traveling solo may not always bring epiphanies and life-changing experiences. But it does teach you a lot about yourself and the world. Once you have traveled solo, you know you can do almost anything and go almost anywhere on your own, and that gives you an unparalleled sense of freedom. You identify and overcome your personal barriers, like communicating with strangers who don’t speak the same language. It throws you into situations you never thought you could handle, and navigating them gives you courage and confidence. As you accumulate solo travel stories over the years, you evolve into a better version of yourself.
In this edition of NagarriansAtPlay, we talk to two serial solo travelers, Julia Kaltschmidt from Germany and Shubhra Pant from India. Julia joined Nagarro a few months ago as an Account Manager. She is an avid lover of water sports. She surfs, snorkels, is a semi-professional swimmer, and is a licensed diver. Shubhra started her career as a journalist and is now a content marketer with Nagarro. Besides traveling, she likes to cook and paint occasionally. She prefers the fictional world of books and movies over the real one.
When did you take your first solo trip?
Julia: I was in college and wanted to go to Ireland. I found affordable tickets and asked my boyfriend if we could come along. He had some exams to write and couldn’t come with me. So, I decided to go solo. It was just the first of many solo trips I have done so far.
Julia enjoying a sundae at La Fontana Di Trevi
Shubhra: In 2012, I lived in Chennai with a few friends. We had been planning a trip for months, but nothing worked out. One Friday, I remember cribbing about our failed plans to a colleague who introduced me to solo travel, and it was just the nudge I needed. Four hours later, I was on a bus headed to the mountains. The trip marked the beginning of a life-long affair with solo travel.
Shubhra enjoying a boat ride in the backwaters of Karnataka
What was your most challenging experience?
Julia: I went to explore the Etna volcano in Sicilia, Italy. Since I don’t plan my trips in detail, I hadn’t given much thought to climbing the volcano. But once I reached the base camp. I immediately knew I had to see the view from the top. Nothing less would do. I decided to do the hike on my own. As the altitude increased, the temperature dropped, and I realized I had come unprepared. I was in my summer t-shirt and could feel the hair on my arm stand up from the cold. I saw ice frosting on the ground and professional hikers in their hiking gear. I panicked and wondered if I should continue the climb or turn around and go back. But this voice inside me kept nagging me to march on, and so I did. I completed the climb, and the view from the top made it worthwhile. I was extremely proud, and even though I struggled, I would do it all over again. The entire experience made me realize that I am braver than I think, both mentally and physically.
Julia, with another solo traveler and a local she met in Jordan
Shubhra: I had planned a trip to Kerala in August 2019. The night before my flight, a friend called to inform me about a transportation strike on the day of my arrival. I didn’t make much of the strike and went on as planned. After landing in Kochi, I immediately realized that strikes meant different things in the Northern and Southern parts of India. The roads were deserted, barring the protestors. No transport options were available, and I had to reach a place four hours from the airport. I somehow reached the nearest bus station hoping to find a ride to my resort. Hours went by, and I couldn’t find a ride. I eventually found a cab driver who agreed to take me to my destination.
It was raining all along the way, and trees looked greener as they peeked from the encompassing mist. As we drove, the landscape changed, and soon trees were replaced by tree plantations. All one could see were the bushes. There wasn’t another person in sight when the driver stopped the car and refused to go further. As it turned out, he didn’t fully understand what I said at the start of the trip since he didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Malayalam. So now I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with no cellular network and a driver who spoke a different language. After a brief freakout, I calmed myself down and convinced the driver to drive further ahead until there was a network. I then called a local friend and had him convince the driver to take me to the resort in exchange for extra cash.
You would think my adventure ended with me reaching the hotel. It didn’t. I retired to my room which also didn’t have the network, and woke up to 20 missed calls the next day. As I found out, Kerala was witnessing its worst floods ever. Miraculously, the rest of the trip went quite smoothly. Even the airport opened just a day before my return flight.
Shubhra with two Mohininattyam dancers in Kerala
What is your most treasured memory/memorable experience?
Julia: Every trip has special moments; I have collected quite a few of them over the years. But this memory is special and always comes back to me when thinking of my escapades. I was traveling to Jordan when I met an older man on my flight. He lived in Germany and was building a house in Jordan. We talked, and he shared his number, asking me to call if I needed help during my stay in Jordan.
A fellow female traveler and I decided to visit Wadi Rum some days into the trip. I called the older man for guidance and found out he was taking the same bus to Wadi Rum. It was packed when we reached the bus station, and we couldn’t get on. Our older friend negotiated with the bus driver and got us two seats. We wouldn’t have gotten on that bus if it hadn’t been for him.
Later, he welcomed us into his home and showed us around. One of his friend’s sons was a tour guide at the national park who took us to the desert for camping. I saw special stones and witnessed ‘pain de sable’ baking bread in the Saharan desert. I met amazing people and caught glimpses into a new culture. The trip taught me humility and made me realize that it’s not the things you buy but the memories you make that matter.
Julia in the Sub-Saharan desert
Shubhra: Like Julia, my favorite story also involves a desert safari. I was in Jaisalmer a few years ago, and I signed up to spend the night with a bunch of strangers in the middle of a desert. Around 15 of us from different continents hopped onto our camels with local boys acting as our guides. The one and half hour ride on camelback took us to the middle of the desert. After brief introductions, we enjoyed some amazing storytelling by an Indian trio who had recently launched their own storytelling venture.
Their stories were just the starter course for the rest of the evening. We had a few beers, someone played the guitar, someone sang, and the rest of us listened as the sun set over the dunes, painting the sky in shades of orange.
As the color of the sky turned blue, the stars popped out, and the sand went from warm to cold. We all gathered around a bonfire and exchanged stories of countries, cultures, food, and travel. Our hosts set up a wooden oven and cooked us a meal. At around 1:00 am, we all decided to ditch our tents and sleep under the stars. The next morning, we rose just in time to witness the sunrise. That evening is etched in my mind and still brings me joy on dull evenings filled with a yearning for travel.
Shubhra on her way to the desert safari on a camel in Rajasthan
How has travel shaped your perspective of the world?
Shubhra: More than anything else, I learned how to be on my own. To begin with, I was uncomfortable with the solitude, but eventually, I started enjoying it. I look forward to quiet moments like sitting on a cliff or the beach alone and doing nothing. And I take that back to my daily life. It makes me feel self-sufficient, independent, and less vulnerable.
When traveling alone, I have to interact with new people, which helps me overcome my inhibitions. These interactions come loaded with life lessons. When I meet and talk to the women living in the country’s interior regions, I acknowledge my privileges and learn gratefulness. Meeting people in small towns and villages also reminds me of how things are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. And above all, when you explore natural wonders, you truly realize your significance in the larger scheme of things.
Shubhra sitting beside the Deepal Taal in Lahual and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
Julia: Every person plays an important role in shaping the story of the world. I am not a religious person, and for me, travelling is my religion. All my experiences so far have taught me two things: one would be not to take myself too seriously, and second to always be humble.
I remember this one time in Mexico; I was famished and couldn’t find an eatery. I saw a woman making tortillas for her family on a fireplace outside her home. The aroma of fresh tortillas drove me to her. I told her I was hungry and asked if she could sell me a few tortillas. She agreed and cooked me a delicious breakfast. I can still remember the taste of that meal. But my gracious host hadn’t ever sold a meal and didn’t know how to charge me for it. I offered to pay her as much as I would for the same breakfast at a restaurant, but she only took half of it.
Julia reaching for the sky in Portugal
If another Nagarrian wants to go on a solo adventure, do you have tips for them?
Shubhra: I know it can be daunting initially, but once you pass the initial barriers, solo traveling has much to offer. Everyone should travel solo at least once. Spontaneous trips are romantic, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. I often plan my trips in advance, keep a friend/ family member informed, and always trust my gut. And one last thing, invest in a good selfie stick if you want good pictures. I regret not thinking of it earlier, and now I barely have any pictures of myself from these trips.
Shubhra with some members of her Nagarro gang in Gurgaon
Julia: Unlike Shubhra, I am more of a spontaneous person. It stresses me if I cannot cover everything I plan during a trip. So, I book my flight tickets and let travel take me on adventures. However, spontaneity is subject to the type of person you are and your destination. For precaution, I always carry a bag with essentials like medicines, a torch, a lock, mosquito repellent, etc. I always ask locals for tips to explore without getting into trouble before I begin my adventure. Always keep a hard copy of your documents and back them up on the cloud. Most importantly, don’t let the fear stop you from going on adventures, overcome those fears and explore the world.
Julia enjoying the vastness of the ocean