She’s a solo explorer, a travel writer, a yoga teacher, and her first solo trip was to Africa, to summit Mt.Kilimanjaro! We love talking to travellers just like Navdha, and are thrilled that she agreed to do this interview.
The Great Next: Tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of work do you do? Your Twitter bio says fitness and yoga, and we’re all about that. What kind of yoga do you do?
Navdha Dhingra: I am Navdha. I currently live in Mumbai but grew up in Bangalore for most part of my life. I am a digital and a social media strategist by profession. As a kid, my family frequented the mountains. I was only 8 and my brother 4 when our parents did a roadtrip with us to Nepal – we all love travelling in this household. Most of my early 20s were spent in doing small bits of travel in India.
Its only in the last few years that I have been able to take longer trips both around India and abroad and travel the way I want to. During some of my early backpacking trips abroad I figured that a lot of solo travelers were in the age bracket of 21-23, I was usually the older one in the hostel/tour. Most western travelers would save a ton of money, do odd jobs during college, lead simple lives and would be able to take a month or even 6 off to backpack! We are so protected that most young Indians are unable to travel alone, its culturally not easy at least for women to travel alone.
A few years back I also realized that if I want to make impromptu trekking trips then I must be healthy at all times, and that’s how I got into yoga. Yoga since then has become the centre of my life, I went on to learn more and did my teacher training certification along with a full time job. Someday I want to travel and teach yoga full time.
TGN: You’re a solo female traveller, and have taken multiple trips in India and abroad. What advice do you have for women thinking about travelling on their own?
ND: Most of this advice is available online so I am not going to say the obvious things about safety, packing, planning etc. Traveling solo comes with a great amount of responsibility but also a great amount of freedom. The first time I ever went to UK or Netherlands, I really truly understood what it meant to be free. It was very liberating to be able to wear whatever I want to, do whatever I want to or even just sunbathe in a public park on a summer day without the constant fear that something bad would happen to me. That was pure joy. Let go and experience new cultures.
Most people (not just women) who may plan a solo trip, may get into detailed itineraries and planning. I still do it. But I have realised things rarely turn out as per the plan and that’s the fun of it. So maybe we all have to learn to let go a little bit and let the entire journey unveil itself an hour or a day at a time. Last year, I went to Iceland and my entire trip got washed out due to bad weather and hurricanes. So after landing I had to re-plan everything and make the best of my time there even though I was stuck inside the hostel for 2 days. I think I did a pretty good job of not getting disheartened and instead used my time to find what new things I could do and see.
On the practical front, if you are a first time traveler or a little apprehensive, start with the big known cities. Skip solo tours, roadtrips, treks and country side journeys if you feel you are unable to feel entirely comfortable with it. Its completely okay to see the big cities. I felt English speaking countries were easy to start with too. Most of UK and Europe is an absolute delight for first timers.
In India, I felt most of the Himalayas are super safe. Hop on to a group tour, that’s a great start to get comfortable with solo travel here because it’s affordable and you’ll meet new lifelong friends! Lastly, travel slow. Spend more time in one place rather than covering 5 places in a week. Slow down in life and keep the running from one place to another for your city life.
TGN: How do you decide on your next destination? And how do you usually research and book your trip?
ND: History, culture and nature. I tend to go to places whose history, art and literature I have been inspired by. My first go-to itinerary is museums and art galleries. My life changed seeing the work I did at Tate Modern and the Natural History Museum, the Van Gogh Museum. I grew up reading Asterix and Tintin, so going to the comic book museum in Brussels was such a cool and important thing for me. Treks and music festivals are my go-to thing so I always try planning my trips around these.
I have also been very enticed by the African continent. My first ever trip in life was to Tanzania to summit Mt Kilimanjaro, one of the 7 highest mountains in the world, which I successfully did! My 10 day trip was just about this. I met so many interesting travelers, guides, locals and learnt more about the country and its people living on the mountain than I could have living in a resort. And above all, I lived through this grueling, humbling climb that shaped the way I grew up.
I also managed to once book a ticket to Glastonbury festival in UK and see my favourite artists! The festival is so huge, so so massive and I camped there for 5 days.
I also only tend to go to places I can explore on foot. So a lot of my travel recently has been between Europe or Himachal, two places I am obsessed with.
So it comes down to your style of traveling. I read a lot about the countries or places I am about to visit and narrow down on a handful of things I must do and build a rough itinerary around those things. And like I said, things never go as per plan!
TGN: Do you have a favourite type of book/music/podcast that you save for when you’re travelling?
ND: I prefer spending times outdoors and conversing with new people mostly. Music wise – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is always my go to travel album!
TGN: You’re a travel writer, and that means you get to do a lot of people watching. What do you think makes a good traveller? And who is the worst kind of traveller?
ND: I often see people being judgmental on social media about what it means to be a traveler vs a tourist. I also hear people complaining about places becoming crowded or commercial! Look, everyone has their own style of traveling so a good thing would be to steer away from judgments on how other people travel. Let them be. Traveling is supposed to make you open minded about things and people. Don’t complain about places being crowded, you are a part of the crowd too. Yes it does get noisy but I personally feel happy that more and more people now have access and means to see the world – this is the only way we can all become more tolerant of cultures.
The worst kind of traveler is the one who doesn’t respect your personal space. I see a ton of people on treks in Himachal playing loud music and spoiling it for everyone around them OR loud people in dorms who won’t sleep till 3 am. Being a little mindful of the fact that you are sharing public space will be a good start. Secondly, just don’t disrespect nature, people, animals in any way. Don’t spoil the natural wonders, stand on them or touch them for a photo opportunity. Keep your trash with you. Sensitivity will go a long way in earning you and your country a good name.
TGN: We help adventure-seekers find their GREAT NEXT adventure so we’re always asking this: Where or what are you planning to explore next?
ND: This year I decided to not plan and just do. So I have already been to Himachal thrice in 6 months. I am planning to see more of the mountains this year. My next Europe trip would be either to Norway or to the Baltic countries.
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