Exploring India at every age
Alison King tells us about her travels across Nepal and India and her top tips to being an over 50s traveller alone.
Who Am I?
I’m Alison King, a 56-year-old woman who has spent years caring for my children and a husband and I now find myself without responsibilities but limited finances. I started looking for some life experiences which I can look forward to and start to fill my life with a richer more fulfilling future.
This year I travelled to Nepal and India on my own. I travelled around Nepal for three weeks and then got a bus down to Varanasi in India and travelled around India for the next 10 weeks. The following tips relate to Nepal and India. I did some volunteering along the way, which I had already organised so this gave me a structure to my trip, but I gave myself time between each volunteering placement for looking around and being a tourist.
You may feel that going away on your own for a few months to a strange country, might be at best, difficult, or even scary and unachievable. Fear not. I can assure you that even with minimum organizational effort, not only is a trip like this achievable but also it’s life-changing and fun! I hope my top tips help inspire you to leave your comfort zone and head out for an adventure you’d never forget.
If you want to do something a bit more worthwhile on your travels, there are some great volunteering organisations around. The website Workaway.com is a good place to start looking. Workaway opportunities are worldwide and cover masses of volunteering opportunities, from schools, and woman’s centres to helping out in a garden or eco-farm. This is a great way to engross yourself in the culture of the place you are visiting, you will hopefully meet other volunteers and most workaways offer board and food in return for 4 to 5 hours work per day.
Hotels vs Hostels
For me, there is no contest. If you are travelling alone, always stay at a hostel. They are clean, friendly, usually pretty central and cheap. This is where you will meet others young and older travellers are all there. If you are unsure about sharing a dorm there are always private rooms at an extra cost. Dorms are usually around £4-£6 per night which often includes breakfast and afternoon tea. I always ask for a lower bunk that was easier to get in and out. Also, you can make your space more private by hanging a shawl around the bed. Hotels are impersonal, unfriendly, and often don’t always represent value for money.
I found some great Hostels in India with many franchises such as ‘Go Stops’ and ‘Zostle Hostels’, who have accommodation all over India. They also offer tours of the city and always keen to help with advice regarding where to go and what to do.
Don’t take too much stuff: Remember you are going to have to lug your bags on and off buses and trains. Everything is available to buy there from sachets of shampoo, lovely soaps to amazingly cheap summer clothing. So if you need anything you can get it there for a fraction of the price there.
Kathmandu in Nepal has a main shopping district called Thamel. There you will find dozens of shops selling cashmere scarves, shawls, blankets and jumpers, beautiful embroidered coats and rugs and lovely felted toys, bags and animals.
India is absolutely full of shops selling everything you would expect. From elaborate embroidery to simple cotton dresses and trousers to bags and religious trinkets. I found that most vendors will barter down about 10%-15% but to be fair everything is so cheap it seems unnecessary to really worry too much.
If you find you have got carried away or want to buy larger items, posting from India is relatively simple, there are plenty of post offices or courier services. You may have to pay import tax but you can claim this back when you return.
Rickshaws are plentiful and cheap. The average journey costs around 50p-£1. You can usually book a rickshaw to take you around for the day for about £6-£10. Often an Uber will be cheaper and safer for a single journey but not as much fun as driving around in a rickshaw.
Makemytrip.com is a good website and app for all travels to help book your travel around India. You can also simply go to the local station and find the tourist desk or a travel agent who will book your tickets for a small charge. Trains get booked up weeks in advance but there are usually spaces reserved for tourists, however, try to book tickets in advance if you can. My advice would be to try to get an A2 or A1 bunk. Again, like the hostels, try to get a lower bunk. No windows high up and difficult to get on and off a high bunk. You might well be on the train for as much as 20 hours. Make sure you get to the station in plenty of time and make sure you are on the right train. The trains do not run to time so just because there is a train arriving at the platform at the right time it may not be your train.
There is plenty travel accessible by bus, in fact, in Nepal, there aren’t trains at all – just buses. As I travelled from Kathmandu to Pokarah, I travelled through some of the most fantastic scenery on basically unmade roads that hug the mountainous terrain – not for the fainthearted!
Buses through India are great, although the roads are terrible and the drivers are maniacs! Pre-booking is always going to be the best way forward. The Red Bus website is a great way to do so and it links directly to your Amazon account.
Staying in touch
It is very cheap and easy to get an Indian sim card and it’s the best way to stay connected. For approximately £8 for two months, you can have unlimited Internet access whilst you’re there. Always double check that your phone will accept a sim that isn’t part of your usual network. Make sure before you leave that your phone will take a sim that is not part of your network.
The street food is wonderful and amazingly cheap. My secret trick is to try to choose a stand that is busy with locals. The main dishes in Nepal are spicy dumplings called Momos, and Dahl Baht, which is essentially lentil curry soup, veg curry pickles and rice. In India the same thing is called ThaliLocal cafes are usually absolutely great and the food although basic is cheap and tasty. Your hostel will have lots of recommendations of places to eat. A vegetarian meal will cost around £1.50 while a meat meal will be around £2.50. Chai stands are literally everywhere. The sweet, milky, spicy tea is delicious and will set you back 10-20 pence.
Be brave and go on an adventure. Travelling around the world on your own is really achievable and you will meet lots of like-minded people from all over on your way. It’s cheap and fun.
Of course, you can easily go on a guided tour which is expensive and well organised, but if you are like me and prefer to be independent and free to go when and where you chose, you can easily visit all the places on the tour in your own time.
I hope this small insight has given you the inspiration to get out there and give travelling alone a go.