While “solo travel" may be one of the most worn out travel trends, there is no denying that it offers unbridled joy to meet new people and helps evade all passive-aggressive dynamics of group travel with friends or family. Bengaluru-based strategist with a brand consultancy firm, Richa Chhabra was keen to drown out the noise of her last group travel experience with that of an airport announcement she would cherish forever. It was to her dream destination, Italy. Chhabra gifted herself the first passport stamp as a solo traveller on her 33rd birthday this October. “Since I’m a bona fide extrovert, it was a personal challenge to spend time with myself," she confesses .
“Constant travel for work within India allows me to visit multiple cities in a year. My radar is always up for cultural insights like local food, architecture and people. I am specifically intrigued by the history and how it juxtaposes with modern life," she says. “Italy seemed like a no-brainer after spending many hours of researching. It’s a moving destination with art, gastronomy and brilliant architecture at every bend."
Mockingly hailed as the ultimate planning virtuoso, Chhabra proved her friends right by scouring through websites, guidebooks and taking tips from others who had visited the country, before chalking out two weeks to visit Rome, Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre.
Grip on work
Cracker & Rush, the brand-consulting firm where Chhabra works, has a lean team and prides on its “all hands on deck" tenor. She planned the trip five months in advance so there was ample time to briefly delegate her work to others in her absence. “My bosses, colleagues and clients were extremely supportive, and helped schedule important presentations before and after my trip. They were thoughtful enough to help me stay away from the laptop," says Chhabra. “Despite the support from work, I checked mail in the mornings while on the trip and addressed any issues, four-and-a-half hours before it was office time in India. It took only minutes to stay on top of things."
Making a budget
Not the most prudent saver, Chhabra was sure that she wasn’t going to jet off anywhere if she didn’t discipline herself into saving at least ₹ 2 lakh for this trip. “Since I’m terrible with finances and tend to overspend, I decided to put away money in my Dad’s account regularly for about a year. If you can’t see it in your account, you can’t spend it," says Chhabra as a tip to serial squanderers. She chose hostels over hotels to counter budget restraints. It turned out to be a great way to get savings tips from fellow travellers and she swore by the budget-friendly recommendations from receptionists. “I wasn’t going to give up wine just because I was keeping an eye on my wallet. So I picked the relatively cheaper house wine at restaurants and avoided all haunts that were packed with tourists. Instead, I chose the ones that were teeming with locals, where I could sit for hours without being hurried out. Free walking tours were a boon and I booked museum tickets online in advance to bag discounts," explains Chhabra on managing funds while on the move.
Exploring the cities
“I prioritized food and wine over sights, and enjoyed the brief trysts with other travellers," says Chhabra, reminiscing about a 62-year-old Argentinian lady and a group of Russians she befriended in Venice and Cinque Terre. “I started with the most commercial city (Rome), took a break from museums in Venice, then jumped to Florence for its small-town feel and ended with the beachside Cinque Terre. This Italian Riviera boasts of dramatic coastal scenery and five fishing villages with colourful houses propped on terraced cliffs by the sea." Of these Riomaggiore was Chhabra’s favourite. Even though an impending storm forced shops to pull down the shutters, she found one of the few open cafés for a memorable glass of wine to end the trip.
Finding a balance
Even though Chhabra genuinely enjoys her work and was hardly dreading going back to office, she confesses that the trip offered an epiphany about work-life balance. “I love working, and it gives me immense confidence and financial independence. While that is an external growth, a vacation helped me connect inwards. It was the ideal birthday gift to myself," signs off Chhabra.
Trip Planner is a series that looks at how working professionals choose a travel destination keeping in mind what they want from the break without breaking the bank