This Day, Last Year – Celebrating my Birthday in Santorini!

Exactly a year ago, we were in Santorini for my birthday. It was my husband’s idea that we could go on our honeymoon in July and spend my birthday in the place that I’d been mooning over for ages. Isn’t he the sweetest? 😀 And what a birthday it was! We spent the whole day walking up hills and steps and had leg aches for days after. But will we ever regret that? No! Never!

Santorini is one of the most beautiful places in the world. There are many people who say that it is overhyped, that it isn’t what it is made out to be, that it is too crowded. But I will have to respectfully disagree. Because finding myself amidst people who shared my awe of the beautiful whites and blues that surrounded us was something that filled my heart. I couldn’t at first believe it. I couldn’t believe that I was treading the same path that I had always dreamed of treading. But slowly and surely, it did sink in.

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Let me start from the very beginning.

We stayed at a hotel called Santa Elena, which is just 10 minutes away from the Kamari black beach. The hotel’s owner, a pretty woman called Sofia, was sweet and accommodating, but strict when it came to certain things. Like driving, for example. Anyway, the day we landed by ferry, I fell ill and we couldn’t travel or go sightseeing anywhere. This was the day before my birthday. So it was all relaxing and trying to watch Greek TV.

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The day of my birthday dawned bright, as Greek mornings are wont to do at this time of year. We woke up early (by my standards), freshened up, and rushed to breakfast. We had booked a boat tour that would take us around all the islands that Santorini constituted, hence the rush. It would be a shame (and a waste of money :P) if we missed it.

A two-minute walk from our hotel brought us to a church beside which we stood waiting for our designated bus. An old, rusted scooter gave us company as we looked around unsurely. And when the bus did come, I was very unfairly surprised at how comfy it was.

The bus took us down to the port where we climbed the tour boat. It was quite sunny and though we had lathered on layers of sunscreen, we were still ruing not bringing caps or hats. Then again, would we get pretty pictures if we wore those contraptions? Nope! But the whole point of what I’m saying is that it was sunny and the waters around us glittered and glimmered merrily. And I was already loving every minute of it! Now, as I think back to that moment, I wish I could have stayed back there, lulled by the gentle rocking of the boat and comforted by the swishing of the water as the boat cut through it.

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Our first stop was a little section of blue Aegean waters called the Palea Kameni. The boat stopped for about 20 minutes, allowing swimming enthusiasts to enjoy a lap or two in these waters. My husband and I preferred to stay aboard. We had enough to look around at so that the 20 minutes were up before we knew it. As the boar pulled away, we tried to take in as much of that nook, the water it was steeped in, the two yellow boards moored there, the hills in the background, the luxury yacht bobbing in the water some way off – EVERYTHING!

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Our second stop was the Nea Kameni volcanic park. Oh what a sight it was, that upward climb! We did go halfway up, but then our legs protested too, too much for us to ignore it. Instead, we waited in a shade until we saw our group returning. Of course, in the meantime, we HAD to click pictures. With such stunning sights before us, how could we sit and just watch? We had to bottle some up so that we could bring them back with us and unstopper and savor them whenever we wanted to! Up where we sat, on the way down, back on the boat – we got some stunning pictures all along. And these are memories that I will savor for the rest of my life, as intended.

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As the boat swooshed away from Nea Kameni, I felt a twinge of regret at not having climbed all the way to the top. But it was quickly overshadowed by the realization that I probably couldn’t have completed the tour if I had. Little did I know what was in store for me.

The next stop was for lunch at the foot of a fishing village, if I remember correctly. There are a slew of cafes and restaurants over there and once we had our lunch (with another Indian couple), we made our way for a walk to the last restaurant, just to get a glimpse of how it was back there. Though we’d had a not-bad lunch, we could have waited and walked a while for better. But hey! How could we tell? 😛 Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the boat because we needed to be back there to get to our last stop.

There was just a minor problem with this ‘last stop’. We had thought there would be pulleys or cable cars or something to take us to the top. But the moment we got off the boat, we were confronted with steep steps. It looked like there were not many. But if you happen to go here, then know that these ARE A LOT. Appearances are deceptive. In my dress and white bellies, I was almost dying (exaggerating A LOT). Also, I was dying to get to the top. (Now figurative. :P) Let me tell you, however, that the view on the way up is absolutely spectacular! My God, I’d climb up again and again if it meant I could lay eyes on that scene again!

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We did get to the top. Obviously. And we thought, and still think that it was worth it. Worth every bit of leg ache, headache, backache – EVERY BIT! The little lanes, the expensive brands, the quaint cafes, the souvenir shops, and Atlantis Books! Oh, Atlantis Books! What a beautiful store it is! There’s so much to explore in the little narrow cobbled streets of Santorini! Dappled white and blue, this beautiful island took my heart like no other! Even now, a year later, I can feel the goosebumps as I look at the pictures or even think about it! What wouldn’t I give to just set foot there once again?

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Last but not the least, the sunset! Thing is, there are a lot of people scrambling to watch the sunset. Crowds, in fact! But it didn’t lessen the intensity of the awe that rushed through me as I lay eyes on the orange glow of the setting sun. I took in my surroundings: white buildings, blue domes, pink flowers, my husband by my side, and thought, ‘Wow! I’m really here!’ That feeling that coursed through me then remains unparalleled and will remain so for the entirety of my life.

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What a way to end our first day in Santorini, or any day for that matter, I thought. It is a memory we made for a lifetime, and it becomes all the more special for me because that bucket list wish of watching the sunset from Oia came true on my birthday. And for that, I am truly grateful.

A year later, as I celebrate another birthday today, I look back to the birthday I spent in Santorini with my husband and wonder, “Will anything ever top that?” And as the past glows in remembrance, the future smiles at me. It’s a cheeky smile that says, “I’ve got a lot in store for you.” And I don’t dispute it. I smile back, without a word.

Instead, I turn to my husband and softly say, “Thank you.”

Travel Thoughts, Dreams, and Wishes!

There has hardly ever been a day that has passed in which I haven’t dreamt of breaking free and hopping from one continent to another without a worry in the world. I have dreamt of snowy landscapes of the Himalayas to urban epicenters like Times Square to quaint little villages in the corners of Greece or Italy. I have dreamt of weightless travel and tensionless zipping from one city to another. I have dreamt of a lot of things, yet I know that there are many dreams that will be left unfulfilled, for how many places can I actually “definitely go” to?

There is only so much realism that a person can work with. Beyond it, every thought and every word spoken is a dream, dripping with the hope that you can scrape through life with every last penny on you and yet live all your dreams. If you are ready to accept that, then THAT is realism.

There are so many people who gave up their monotonous lives to see all possible corners of the world that they can fit into their lifetimes. They gave up all their belongings, city-hopping and experiencing a million cultures in the small amount of time that they have on Earth. And I envy them. They may not have a steady home or a steady source of income, but at least they are rich in experience. In the end, that’s what matters, doesn’t it?

There are some who fill their years with life by staying in one place and doing what they want to. And there are others who make moving around from one place to another and traveling their life, their years. Either way, Abe Lincoln was right. “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” So does hanging in limbo really make your life worth living? Blurred vision is thy name, would be the sentence on the lips of whoever reads this (and I know it is a very small number).

Dreams hardly ever come true, and if they do, they are solely because of you. How hard can it be to give it all up and live your dream? It shouldn’t be so hard. Settling down is just a phrase used by people who have finally found what they love to and want to do in life. It may be working the sweat off in a single office for every day of your life, or by zooming around from place to place, from city to city, from village to village, in the murk, in the cold, in the heat and still loving the sound of your own footsteps.

Because, when you start detesting yourself, there is hardly a chance that you can get your life into the groove that you’ve always wanted. Until that time when you can do this, live with a foot on either side of the thin line. Have a foot in reality while the other caresses the ground in your dreams. And maybe then, your footsteps will sing a different tune than you had ever imagined.

So dream on.

Erase that frown.

Get up and go on.

Just. Don’t let the monotony catch up with you.

Travel into the greenery.

Travel into the blue.

Enjoy the scenery.

And more importantly, enjoy being you.

My List of 10 To-Visit Beaches Abroad

Beaches. Waters. Sands. I’m not a great fan of water. Maybe because I feel vulnerable when I’m bombarded by it. So when it rains, you’ll find me staring at it in annoyance. When I pass by a puddle, I skirt it and curse anyone who splashes. When I’m near a pool or the beach, I make sure I’m careful enough not to be around people who can dunk me into the water.

Nevertheless, there is something about beaches that pulls me to them. There is a sense of calm that comes with sitting on the beachside, watching the waters, or walking through the shallow waters just so that your ankles get a taste of the blues. And because of this, you can find me staring at beautiful pictures of beaches, of waterfalls and of large hotels with glistening pools. Especially Santorini, my dream destination that I had the absolute pleasure of visiting last year. I seem to look at dreamily at the white and blue walls as well as the blue waters that twinkle in the backdrop.

So instead on going on and on about the white walls, let me focus on the sandy floors and the tempting blue waters, where one does not have an option but to wade into them, even if it is just to test them. India has some very beautiful beaches and I have covered all those that I would love to visit. Now it is time for me to spread my wings and fly over those that wait for me abroad.

So here are the top ten beaches that are on my must-visit list. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

#10 – Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California, USA: I’d visited Los Angeles on my trip to the United States three years ago, but due to time constraints, couldn’t visit this beach. Here’s hoping that another chance will present itself to me to travel there and to experience the atmosphere that it is so famous for.

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Picture Courtesy: venicebeachsuites.com.

#9 – South Beach, Miami, Florida, USA: I’ve visited this one and I’m so, so glad! The combination of the sparkling white sands and the blue, blue waters is one that I’m not going to forget in a hurry. Here’s a look at a picture that I took when I visited this beach.

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#8 – Secluded Beach, Furore, Amalfi, Italy: Italy is a gorgeous, gorgeous country, and there is no two ways about it. So when a secluded beach from the Amalfi Coast popped up in my search, enclosed by mountains and just a thin entrance/exit via water on one end, it blew my mind and ended up on this list.

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Picture Courtesy: Pinterest.

#7 – Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida, USA: I’ve been to Miami, but again, due to time constraints and due to having been a little under the weather in this city, I couldn’t visit Key Biscayne. And this remains a regret that I hope to rectify soon.

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Picture Courtesy: keybiscaynemiami.com.

#6 – Paradise Beach, Mykonos, Greece: Oh yes! I’ve been here! Here’s a picture from the time that Paradise Beach took my breath away. The sparkling waters of Greece, coupled with the gorgeous people milling around and relaxing, spun my head like that totem from ‘Inception’. Someday, I’d love to go back there and experience that atmosphere again.

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#5 – Tahiti, French Polynesia: There are those places that feature on your list solely because of the gut feeling within you that says, ‘Oh I have to visit this place!’ Tahiti is one such place, though that gut feeling also tells me that this beach will give me an experience that no other beach possibly can.

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Picture Courtesy: alterra.cc.

#4 – St. Lucia, Caribbean Islands: Another of those gut feeling beaches. Just look at this picture that had me hooked and you’ll see why I am so taken with this place.

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Picture Courtesy: stlucianewsonline.com.

#3 – Phi Phi Island, Thailand: Ah. Thailand. The country that is known for its promiscuity, but you’ll only hear of it in a subtle manner. But then, it has some pretty stunningly romantic scenes that no other country can offer you. Phi Phi Island is home to such beaches that will leave you goggling in a stupor.

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Picture Courtesy: mythailandtours.com.

#2 – Whitehaven Beach, Australia: What would you expect from a country that gave you the stunners called the Hemsworth brothers, Chris and Liam? Yes, there are those reports of animals laying claim to all they lay eyes on. But hey. Is that such a bad price to pay if in the end you get to visit the wonders like this beach down under? 😉

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Picture Courtesy: letstravelmag.com.

#1 – Baros, Maldives: Maldives is one of the most romantic destinations to exist on Earth. And with the beaches with thatched enclosures overlooking the sands and waters that say hi to the stunning horizon, it’s no wonder Baros figures on this list. Soon, I tell myself. Soon, I will visit this place and make it mine. Soon.

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Picture Courtesy: maldivesexclusive.com.

But until the beautiful sands beckon me over in reality, I’ll have to live and get by, by just looking at the enthralling pictures. And the best part of the wait is that I don’t mind it. I don’t mind it at all. 🙂

Which are the beaches outside of India that you would like to visit? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Do follow me on Instagram @themelodramaticbookworm for regular bookish and travel updates from my life.

I’m also on Twitter as @sonalidabade, and on Facebook as @themelodramaticbookworm.

Miami Beach – Of Sparkly Sands and Excruciating Tans

The moment I set foot in Miami, I understood why so many Americans go there. It’s sunny and is very generous in giving you a rich tan. But that’s completely off the point. Miami is a beauty in itself, once you get past the stuffy atmosphere and the lurking uneasiness that you feel as a result of the stuffiness.

My journey to Miami, as I saw it, began the moment I lay eyes on the structured layout of the adjacent city from the airplane. Flying cross-country on a trip that was without a doubt the best ever, it was with groggy eyes that I sighted the city of Fort Lauderdale from the window. The sprinkled greenery along with the neat rows of buildings or houses, I cannot say, make for a very appealing sight. The mere memory of it still piques my interest.

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Landing in the Magic City in the afternoon and making it to my hotel (Hotel Whitelaw) in the evening, I was too tired from the journey to get out and mingle. Due to lack of time and other options, I had had to book the hotel for a whopping USD 350 for 3 nights. I have learned since then the importance of rentals on Airbnb and such and would stress on the prudence of doing away with hotels and booking beautiful apartments for a lesser price than what you would shell out for these hotel rooms. I simply checked in, where they made a mistake in identification of the allocated room but was sorted out in a few minutes and went up to my room, intending to freshen up and take some well-deserved rest. I wouldn’t call the room spacious, because of the two Queen size beds squashed up in the small space. Despite all of this, it was a cozy, comfortable little adda that had enough stuff stacked up for someone who was intending to spend time locked up in there.

The next day, though, I got out at around 10 in the morning, armed with Google Apps and lots of sunscreen. Weaving through the scarcely populated streets and emerged onto the wide road that connected this part of the city to the enchanting white sands on the other side. I didn’t think much of the heat, though I had received fair warning from a friend what American Sun can do to Indian skin. So, extremely excited to be finally setting foot on one of my bucket list destinations, I came upon the stretch of grass and trees that separated the road from the sands.

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It’s a long stretch of narrow, tiled pathway that snakes from one end of Miami Beach to the other. Here, one can walk down, take segways and roll down the path or rent cycles from the numerous cycle stands that dot the area. Over on the other side of this pathway, the sands start. At first, there was no novelty and I could feel disappointment setting it. I had hoped for so much from this place, I thought, and all that are present are these stupid volleyball courts. But the distant sparkling of something pulled me towards the expanse of greenery that probably shielded what I had been expecting.

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There’s a boarded walk at the place that I decided to enter, after a while of doubt and speculation, that is just like the movies. And boy, oh, boy! The moment of truth was too much for me to bear. I could only stare at the beauty of the white sands that were gleefully scorching my feet and the not-so-distant waters that were too blue to be true. It was not long before I had traversed the wide belt of sand and was standing at the mouth of the water, enjoying its cool, lapping licks at my poor, roasted feet.

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There is something about Miami that enthralls me despite my aversion to the headache and the tan that it offers because of the sun. I don’t think it can be explained in words. Walking down to the water with me being absolutely conscious about the looks that I would be attracting because I knew I was overdressed for American beaches, I glanced at the tens of people lounging around in the sands, being so comfortable that it didn’t seem like their skin was theirs. But maybe this is the thing about Miami. That nobody cares about what you are wearing as long as you seem to be having fun. The beach itself has white sands that glint in the sun, almost like diamonds. On one side are the buildings that indicate modernization and on the other, Nature lays claim.

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I have since, forgiven Miami the tan that it bestowed on me, especially my nose, just because of the amazing experience that it has given me. Of course, it’s a wholly different matter that I looked like a roasted raisin even four months after my visit, but hey! I look at it as a souvenir of my little adventure there…

So if you are planning to go to Miami, take lots of sunscreen, umbrellas if you tend to tan easily and a camera to capture the beauties of this Beach City! 🙂

All images belong to me, The Melodramatic Bookworm / Sonali Dabade. Shot on Moto G.

Travel Diaries of a Pondicherry Fanatic

The Republic Day weekend of last year saw a flurry of excited plans from all around. Two of our closest friends were celebrating their anniversary on the 25th. He decided to surprise her by getting us friends to go on a trip with them. She being too intuitive for his good, picked up that something was wrong and that Vizag was not where they were going, as against what he had led her to believe. Of course she was right. But the story of how we got there is one for another day.

For now, the beauty of Pondicherry, its beaches, and its general atmosphere is one that needs to be dwelled upon.

Pondicherry is tiny. You can finish touring it in 2 days if you rush. But we had decided to have a relaxed trip. So over 4 days, we explored the beach town from almost every corner and returned satisfied. And despite the relaxation, there was the general tiredness that comes with traveling.

Though the number does not quite match up to what Goa has, Pondicherry has quite a few beaches, the most beautiful being Auroville beach. The waves crashed on to the surprisingly slant shore with a ferocity that we didn’t quite expect. They would sneak up on us when we were posing for a picture, the shock and surprise of which I don’t think we’ll ever be able to forget.

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The trees lining the shore were a blessing! You can frolic in the water, come and sit down in the shade of the trees to get yourself some respite from the sun, and then rush back in once you are charged. Oh, and the horizon! When the distant waters meet the horizon as if to lure you in there, there’s nothing more enticing or seductive!

Paradise Beach, though quite attractive on its own, isn’t relatively as attractive or compelling as the Auroville Beach. That doesn’t take away its beauty, though, for the waves slam onto the shore with equal fury. I remember thinking that I could sit there all day and watch the waves crash and blend. I chose to sit down on the sands as the rest of the gang indulged the waters, the panoramic view in front of me almost took my breath away. I’ll have to say, the Paradise Panorama is much more gorgeous than the Auroville Panorama!

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Promenade Beach, named after the Promenade hotel on that stretch, is locally known as the Rocky Beach. Kissing the waters and the rushing waves is the longest stretch of haphazard rocks I have ever seen. Romancing these rocks is the strip of elevated concrete on which you can walk as you admire the view. A road separates this concrete from the rest of Pondicherry.

Parking our vehicles on the opposite side of this road, we crossed it and climbed the two steps to the concrete. Being the “adventurous” lot, we decided to descend on to the rocks to enjoy the waves from up close. It’s the most wonderful feeling to have the waves spray themselves on you; not the drenching spray, but a gentle one: just enough to help a rain-hater like me enjoy it.

Talking of rains, there were spurts of it, though there was nothing as plan-altering as the ones we usually have in Hyderabad. I actually enjoyed them for a change because that meant we were keeping cool. The sun coming out in full force would be a different story on a whole new level.

Pondicherry has two places that you must absolutely visit for its food: Auro or Auroville Bakery, and Spice Route.

Auroville Bakery sits within Auroville, the self-sustained colony that thrives within Pondicherry. It’s a haven for food connoisseurs and heaven for the taste buds. The cakes, the walnut brownies, and the cinnamon rolls are the most amazing I’ve ever had! The first bite and Paradise is yours. And I am in no way exaggerating. It is indeed that good!

We chanced upon Spice Route on Bussy street as a last minute risk when all other restaurants were full. Even this one was full. But luckily, thanks to the three musketeers, we got them to give us a table on the upper deck that had previously been closed. And what a wise decision to not go to Madame Shanthe’s! Every morsel of food they put on the table was heaven in itself! And four of us went back the next day, just to get that taste one last time.

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Pondicherry is cozy and comfy to relax in. The people are somewhat helpful, ‘somewhat’ being because of the language barrier we had. Either way, you can spend two days or ten, and you would still wouldn’t get enough of it. At least, I remember I was too hung over from the crazy trip and I know that I’m definitely going back there again!

Why You Need To Travel Solo At Least Once In Your Life

I’m a huge fan of traveling. More than the sense of exploration, it’s the pride that comes with being in the moment of actual realization of dreams that fills my heart. Of course, combing down new places to see what it has to offer, watching people from different cultures interact, trying the different food (difficult for a vegetarian but not impossible), and most importantly, making the place my own, are some things that I can never get enough of. That is, if I have the resources to travel. One day, I dream. And then I whisper to myself – not in a creepy way, I promise – that yes, that one day will come.

While I have only traveled solo once in my life so far, that experience has been one of the most enriching I will ever have. There are multiple reasons behind this enrichment or enlightenment as you will call it. But in good time, I will share all of them in this section for you to read. For now, I shall make do with making a case for why traveling solo is the best thing you can do for yourself and why you need to do it at least once in your life.

Traveling in itself is a joy that not everyone likes to experience. For people who love traveling, the journey and the exploration bring them so much joy and exhilaration that they forget all the stress that awaits them back home. It helps them fall in love: with new places, new cultures, new cuisines, and new landscapes. It is this falling-in-love phenomenon that is most important in a person’s life, especially if the object of the person’s affection is the person himself/herself.

Traveling solo is a joy that helps you realize so many things about yourself. In addition to the exploration of the varied lands and cultures on Earth, it helps you explore yourself: your positives, your negatives, your strengths, your weaknesses, your capabilities, your handicaps! It helps you introspect about your decisions and about everything that you decided to bring into your life. It helps you improve your organizational skills and heightens your decision-making abilities. It builds on your strengths and gradually demolishes your fears. In short, it brings out a new you.

When you travel solo, you can be yourself. No dependencies on anybody, no thinking about what everybody else wants to do and no deadlines to adhere to if you choose to do so. You get to get up when you want to, you get to wander at your heart’s will and you can eat wherever you choose to. There is nothing whatsoever that will stop you from listening to yourself.

But are these external factors the only ones that will help you while traveling solo? No. That’s because, now that you are traveling alone, you have to decide all the logistics of the trip that you will be going on. And this will make you a better organizer. For how else will you be able to go on that trip if not for your awesome organizational capabilities? You are the only one responsible for any successful outings or any disasters. It gives you a sense of responsibility. You cannot blame anybody else for your disasters and it will give you the experience that will show up in your future endeavors.

Above everything else, traveling alone gives you a sense of peace. It makes you discover what you actually want. You can have conversations with yourself, weigh out the pros and cons of anything that you are trying to decide and arrive at a decision, knowing completely that that decision is yours and yours alone, pure and uninfluenced by anybody else throwing their thoughts into the equation.

People give me weird looks or reactions when I say I want to travel alone. Some say I’m mad to want to go solo, as though there weren’t enough people on the planet and around me to go with. Some say I’m courageous to do so; my trip to the United States was met with a lot of raised eyebrows that applauded me. And yet others simply smile at me because they are too polite to say anything about my thoughts. But whatever they say or not, they do not understand why I say so.

Like I mentioned above, traveling alone is not everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is it mine, because I’d like to think of it as a refreshing glass of the cold coffee that I love the most. As an ambivert, traveling solo is too sensible in my head for me to heed any negativity. It just bounces off me now. My introvert qualities give me the opportunity to retreat into my shell as and when I feel like it. And my extrovert qualities allow me to do the exact opposite. So that makes solo travel the best for me, doesn’t it?

The most important reason why I prefer to travel alone (which isn’t possible most of the times, but a girl can dream, can’t she) is that I am not answerable to anyone during this time. I have the utmost freedom to choose what I want to do. And that is something that cannot be replaced. Ever.

I wrote this article about 4 years ago because I dreamt of solo travel even then. It might have been a little premature back then, as I hadn’t yet embarked on a solo journey at the time. But I have had the pleasure to do so since and to enjoy every moment of the time I had to myself. 3 years ago, at this time of the year, I was strutting my way across the United States of America, and the mere memory makes me smile. I cannot wait to set foot forward to go on another similarly beautiful expedition – solo! I know that remains a renewed dream, but I know that someday, it will come true.

Until the next post, keep reading, keep traveling, and add melodrama to your life! 😀