Being the Only Tourist in India
I’m entering my third week of exploring the gorgeous states of Rajasthan and Gujarat in north western India, and I could not be happier with where my journey has taken me thus far both geographically and mentally. It’s hard to process everything I’ve seen and experienced in the past two weeks – from stepping back in time to experiencing gorgeous forts and palaces, to witnessing the most beautiful array of people and colors my eyes ever did see, I’m totally enchanted by this colorful region. My trip has gone seamlessly to date, in huge part thanks to Raju and Incredible Real India, who I booked my tour through. My two drivers over the course of the trip – Bhawan and Himat, have served as my guide, driver, body guard, and photographer in many cases. The other part, I attribute to my growing faith in the Universe.
I’m pretty sure I’m one of a handful of Western tourists….in all of India, and it has been the best thing ever. The Universe must have heard my call for peace and quiet this month, and it delivered! Selfishly, I am loving it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entered a museum, a palace, hotel or a shop and been the only person there. It’s unreal and totally unexpected. Yes, at times I have had a hotel staff of 30-40 people waiting on me alone. Now, let me tell you, when you’re the only one sitting at a restaurant and all wait staff is looking at you – you feel a bit awkward – especially when you’re by yourself. Where do you look? What do you do? Perhaps it’s because I’m the middle child but I never liked being the center of attention. In fact, it was more comfortable to blend in then stand out, which also happens to be a strong Scandinavian value. However, being in India has been a huge lesson for me. It’s okay to step into the light and be the center of attention. People are relying on you for a job, a smile, a bit of entertainment, a respite from their day. Once you learn to embrace the limelight and realize the power a smile, a selfie, a wave, or a tip can bring people, you can get immense joy out of being in such a privileged position – to be the deliverer of peace, joy, and love to the world. And priveleged I am.
I Don’t Deserve Any of This – But the Universe Has a Plan for Me
I am humbled by the incredibly smart, kind people around me every day who have never even left their own state. My driver, Himat, speaks 4 languages and possibly more – English, Italian, Spanish, and Hindi – completely self taught and he has never traveled outside of the country. Mindblowing. I feel like a complete spoiled brat despite coming from a working class family. It’s ironic, actually. Neither of my parents went to college. My dad was an engineer who was so devoted to providing for his family and spending all of his money to send his children to private schools and college that I’m convinced he worked himself to death. My mother was a flight attendant who made a small income but allowed us the opportunity to travel for free around the world through her vocation and gave us ALL of her attention, joy, and strength to make sure we felt safe and loved. It was a solid launching pad.
Being the Type A personality I am and complete people pleaser, I didn’t want to disappoint my parents and worked tirelessly to get good grades and be a financial success in life. From an early age, I knew I wanted to be an ‘international business woman’ even though I had no idea what that meant. I just pictured a woman, in a suit, flying around the world and making business deals. And, I achieved that! I’ll never forget the moment I went on my first ‘international’ business trip to Canada as an Associate Brand Manager while working at Procter & Gamble. P&G has several corporate jets and when booking my travel arrangements to meet the Canadian Marketing Team, I was told I was going to go on the Corporate jet since an executive was flying there the same day. WHAT?! Another mindblowing situation. Boarding that little plane on a tarmac in Cincinnati, having customs agents walk onboard the plane and breeze through customs like it’s no big deal, and work with that team in Toronto at the age of 23, I felt I’d made it. I’ve had SO many more moments like that – from wine tasting with coworkers in Cape Town, South Africa, to spending a month at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia leading VIsa’s global social media plan, to consulting a bank in…Bali…for two weeks, and spearheading Twitter’s Cannes Lions Advertising Event in Cannes, France – I’m constantly amazed and thinking – how in the world did I deserve this?! Seriously, pinch me. Who am I?!
Well, I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve any of this. I’m no better than anyone else – except for having a few more opportunities than others, supportive parents, a decent brain, strong willpower, and an insatiable desire to see this world and get things done. I can ONLY chalk it up to something greater, someone greater that has a plan for me. I recently finished up the book The Universe Has Your Back by Gabriel Bernstein. I had never heard of the book until a few weeks prior to India and all of a sudden I felt like I kept reading or seeing the title of the book everywhere, which I took as a sign that I should add it to my reading list. Funny enough, it wasn’t at the top of my list but every book I tried to download on my Kindle one night was failing until this succeeded. Another sign! So I started reading it, and I couldn’t stop. Key message: Trust in the universe. Trust in your gut instinct. Stop feeling guilty. Stop living in fear. Stop judging others but most importantly yourself. Just stop what you’re doing and tune into the Universe. You are where you are for a reason. Main goal? Focus on living a life of joy, peace, and love and amazing things will start to happen. You just have to let go and have faith.
From Skeptic to Believer – What’s the Proof?
Okay, I’ll be the first person to say I was a skeptic. I suppose I’ve always believed in God, angels, and some sort of ‘heaven.’ I liked the theories I learned in all of the Christian schools I attended and Lutheran church attendance from my childhood. I also joke I have attended pretty much every Christian school you can imagine – from Presbyterian preschool, to Episcopalian grade school, Lutheran middle school, to Catholic highschool – they all have the same core values, and I was pretty spiritual I’d say by the time I got to college. Up until my Dad died a year after graduating from college. After losing my Dad – my compass in life, my confidant, my soundboard, my guiding light, my hero, and my best friend – I quit God. Yep. I just stopped any sort of communication. What was the point? I was angry. He took my beacon away.
That was the first time I felt alone. Not because God quit me, but I quit God. I figured I could just do it alone. I’m pretty good at being alone and often prefer it. And alone I did. I pretty much achieved everything I sought out to achieve. Big job? Check. Big lifestyle? Check. Perfect picture of what I thought I wanted? Check. Well, it wasn’t enough. It didn’t make me happy. It made me so unhappy and lonely, in fact, that my body and mind were going crazy. And, I didn’t care. I became depressed and dove into work like a maniac. I stopped working out. I stopped being a good friend. I failed at being there for my sister and brother the way they needed me to be. I wasn’t a good partner. I valued the wrong things, in the wrong people and put faith in their negative, limited world views. I made poor decisions. My health was at risk. I didn’t care.
And then I went to Bali. I wrote about it a while ago but I had a bit of a religious experience when I went to a 10 day solo wellness retreat – my first one – in December 2015. I entered the retreat a total spaz and left feeling like I was me again. I mainly went because they offered two massages a day as part of the package. But the meditation and yoga portion was by far the best part. It’s where I discovered listening to your inner voice, or as I like to think of it, your one on one connection with God, the Universe, or whatever you believe in. All those thoughts that come to mind? I believe they are the bigger Universe talking to you. Actually, talking through you in most cases. Once you start to listen to the voice and trust the guidance, you’ll be amazed by the miracles that start to happen. Proof for me? Well, as soon as I started to tune into my gut instinct, my voice, things started to work out.
Before getting to that point, however, I had to admit what I was failing at. I finally acknowledged that my 6-year marriage wasn’t working the way I had envisioned it would. We were completely loyal to each other, we loved each other, but we fought non-stop. We just didn’t see eye to eye on how to approach life. Of course we had common interests and general values but, as one good friend put it, we were at war with each other. Over time, we wore each other out, and I felt completely wasted – as a human being. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, and I made a conscious decision to not accept unhappiness for the rest of my life no matter what that meant reputation or appearance wise. We simply were not a good match – despite what that darn Match website said when we first connected.
So, what’s my proof? As soon as I started to tune into me, I became happier. Issues at work seemed to dissolve on their own, my luck started changing for the better, everything I applied for or tried for was granted, I started feeling better, I had a desire to workout and get back to me again. I was injected with a new enthusiasm and zest for life. I started to go for the goals that I had at one point shelved as being unrealistic, or being too old, and I accomplished all of them. Then there’s an entire spiritual aspect that I won’t get into but I’ve connected with more people who I feel like I’ve known forever in the past few months than I have in years. I’m excited about the future but in love with the present. I approach each day with joy, and wonder. And, it is SO great.
Yeah – I know this sounds like a lot of BS. I get it, I’m not stuck in an office, working at a job 9-5, and I’m traveling the world for a year. But, please, believe me. Just try listening to what your inner voice is saying for 24 hours and honor whatever it says. Just do it! See what happens. Don’t judge – just do it as an experiment. Let me know what happens because it is honestly so much fun. You’ll find that childlike wonder and excitement you thought you had lost.
Okay, so Remind Me What Exactly You’re Doing in India?
I threw together my India itinerary fairly quickly. I knew I wanted to go to an ashram – in particular, OSHO, who is a modern day philosopher and whose beliefs I largely agree with around love, life, etc. I had booked my ticket to India in January knowing only 2 weeks would be filled with the Ashram and the other 3 were free. So I ordered a pdf version of Lonely Planet’s India right before I set off from Thailand – a resource I have grown to love and rely heavily on in each country I visit, thanks to my friend Kathrin. I just keep a copy on my phone so I save myself some suitcase weight. I then did a bit of research on the best places to see the fabled palaces of India as well as the main textile centers within the country. Once I had a rough plan in place, I handed my wishes over to Real Incredible India, and they booked all transportation within the country, my driver, and hotels. Thus far, I’ve been to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Naugur, Ahmedabad, and now Bhuj. My last stop before heading to Pune for a two week meditation retreat at OSHO International will be Mumbai.
It’s been nothing short of amazing. The pictures speak for themselves, so scroll down below for some Indian eye candy. If you’re still willing to read more, see below for what I’ve learned about traveling alone in India thus far.
What I’ve Learned About Traveling Solo in India for 2 Weeks
- It’s Safe – If you stick to the tourist destinations and states like Rajasthan and Gujarat, you do not need to have any fears. Yes, you will be popular, people stare, and everyone will want to take a picture with you but everyone is friendly. Whether traveling as a solo traveler or with a group, please do yourself a favor and visit India. The food, the people, the views – it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Check out Real Incredible India and book through them. They are great, AND bonus – they have really good wifi in the car.
- You Won’t Be Lonely or Bored – I have a long reading list, I’m building my business, and everyone is friendly. I have not been lonely once. The other day at dinner was the first time I thought it would have been really nice to have a dinner companion simply because the view was absolutely breathtaking but there is so much to do and see, you won’t be lonely. I also FaceTime with my family often and call friends – don’t abandon home while you’re on the road!
- I’m More Aware and Present – Because I’m alone, I’m constantly looking around, aware of my surroundings. I’m interacting with everyone and everything. I’m more present than I’ve ever been.
- I’m More Productive – My mornings and evenings are my ‘me’ time. I workout, meditate, journal, FaceTime home, create INA + ILIA content, edit photos. I’ve never been this productive with such little time.
- I’m Happy – I feel I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m happy. I’m feeling grateful, and so full of joy. There are moments of being exhausted, yes, but generally so so happy.
- I’m Getting Comfortable with All the Attention – Once you learn to turn the attention towards you into something wonderful – a smile, a ray of sunshine, a laugh, a small gesture of kindness – you realize how privileged you are to make the world a better place. Do not fear being in the middle. Embrace it!
- I’m Meeting Amazing People – From my drivers, Bhawan and Himat, to Rupa – my new best friend from SEWA, which supports 18,000 female craftswomen around Gujarat, I have met truly incredible individuals in India that I will keep in touch with
- I’m Soaking in the Culture – From taking a camel ride in the Thar desert, to enjoying traditional folk music and dancing in Udaipur, to sleeping in an old Palace and being treated like a Queen – I am loving every single minute of this incredible trip. Say yes!
- I’m Making Fantastic Business Contacts – I’m interacting with more people than I would on a normal basis. It’s really the only interaction I get with people outside of my driver so I’m meeting as many business contacts for INA + ILIA – building out my supplier base and so incredibly grateful I’m meeting these individuals in person.
- I’m Stronger than I Thought – I’ve made it two weeks, and I still haven’t gotten sick or mentally tired. I thought I’d want out by now. In fact, I was fully ready to change my plans and go to a different country if I wasn’t liking where my India journey was taking me thus far. But I’m happy with where I’m at, proud of getting this far, and excited about the next three weeks.
Enjoy this Smorgasbord of Color from my Time in India thus Far!