That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

becoming digital nomad
On a frisky morning of 2009, around this time of the year, I was standing alone in a half empty airport, holding a one-way ticket to Paris. I was moving out of my hometown and of my parents’ place, on my way to my Erasmus semester. It was the first time I ever travelled alone. I was overwhelmed by a mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear. It was supposed to be a short Parisian get away from my otherwise fully Italian education and future, but life had different plans for me. On that frisky morning of 2009, little did I know that I’d never really come back to my parents’ hometown if not for short layovers. That I would have continued my studies in France to then relocate again and again going through 11 houses, 21 jobs and 8 Countries in a little less than ten years. But most of all, I didn’t know that I would get hooked to that one-way ticket feeling for life.

A primal crave for drastic change,
for bigger challenges,
for pressing reboot

 

I’ve seen the same hunger in backpackers and expats, fortune seekers and off the grid hippies, van-lifers of all ages and citizens of the world I met on the road. “There is not only one way” they said “we built our own”.

I’m not sure where this hunger comes from. My family isn’t really of the explorers’ kind. It might have stared on that very frisky morning of 2009, while I was standing at the airport alone for the first time. Or four years later, while I was crossing a much bigger airport clutching a one-way ticket for Australia in one hand and my boyfriend’s in the other. He used to say that I’m a travel-bulimic: always craving for more until it gets too much. I know he’s right, but that’s the best way I know for growing as a human being. Moving, changing, binging on experiences, stories, faces and life in general.

becoming digital nomad

Back home though, some said that it was just a matter of struggling with commitment. Usually these people are those who can’t conceive a different lifestyle from their own. “Ok, you went traveling, but now you’re back and it is time to adjust to real life.” I never got this thing of real life. I fear that many people use “real” because they’re ashamed of using less flattering adjectives. As I see it, for someone with my education, real life usually means spending most of the day at work staring at a computer screen, to then go out and squeeze whatever is left of your life into a 2-3 hours’ window before passing out in bed. Moreover, life in big cities is expensive AF and working ten hours a day barely gets you by. But hey, you got to save some cash to buy yourself a decent car and maybe one day open a mortgage for a nice small house in the suburbs. And don’t be such a fool to believe that someone is going to pay you back when you’ll be retired, so you better start saving for that as well.

becoming digital nomad

Despite all of that freaked me out, I tried. I really, really tried. In 2015, after coming back from almost two years of work-and-travel, I pushed myself in the 9-to-7, steady income, subscription at the gym and to the phone company lifestyle. Of course the cracks were plainly visible from day one, but I tried to push through. Despite I always worked as a freelancer, I still struggled with the amount of time I spent in an office. I cried almost every given morning when crossing Milan on my way to work. Anxiety and numbness came in waves and I never really got to love (or even like for that matter) the city. But hey, you got to adjust to real life sooner or later right? Especially if you’re almost thirty! I got to the point where sometimes I stayed late in the office kinda-working just because I had nothing else to do outside that interested me. All of my friends were still working anyway. That actually scared me out for real. So I cracked. As I always knew I would.

becoming digital nomad

On 2017 new year’s eve I was sitting around a bonfire on a small island of the Philippines with a mixed bunch of people I met just days before. Each and every one of us was in their twenties going thirty and struggling with the rat race. Some of them just jumped out of it, the others were figuring out strategies. That’s when I decided that I would give myself another year to understand if the real life really wasn’t for me, to give love the chance to make up for all the rest, or to find the courage to really go freelancing outside of my comfort zone, to travel extensively alone and to face for another time that mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear that only a one-way ticket can give you.

becoming digital nomad

I spent the year asking myself what it would be like to do that alone, with no boyfriend on my side. This required a lot of peace-making with my infinite traveling-couple souvenirs and to find the courage to take the leap as a solo woman and becoming digital nomad. Strangely enough (or maybe not) I didn’t really meet any real life advocate anymore, instead I kept meeting free women from all over the world that did choose to jump on that train made of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear and were happy with it. Top level marketers that travelled the world and became surf teachers. Airways hostess that quit to surf full time and freelance under a palm tree. I reconnected with girlfriends of mine that have called at least half of European countries their home or explored the world on their own since they were nineteen. And then I talked to my beloved mum, my all-time role model and biggest supporter. A woman that considers even a short day trip outside of her hometown a tiring chore. She said “I’m scared off my mind, but go girl. Go and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because you’re a woman. You want to be an explorer? So just be it.”

So let be it.

becoming digital nomad
Are you ready for India?  Most common fears and how to overcome them

Are you ready for India? Most common fears and how to overcome them

“I would love to go to India, but I think I’m not ready yet”. I heard this from many fellow travellers over the years. Some of them were quite experienced travellers as well, who may have crossed all South America on their own, but for some reason, India seems always a step up on the backpacking game and not all of us are ready to take it.

I totally respect the choice, knowing one’s limits is fundamental. I also understand that India may not be for everyone. Many people prefer relaxing places where the less people they meet the better they feel. But for those who are intrigued by the magic of this very special Country but still haven’t booked the ticket because they’re scared, well, knowing what to expect is key. A trip to India will surely include many challenges and some frustrations, it’s part of the game, but I can assure you that none of them will cloud the value of a trip to India.

Here are some of the most common fears about India and my tips on how to overcome them.

first time in India

Surviving the culture shock

On your first time in India, be prepared for a significant culture shock.

All Asia is renowned for provoking this type of reaction in western first timers, but India takes it to the next level. The usual Asian mess made of huge crowds, hectic traffic, funny smells, open sewage, questionable hygienic standards and poverty, in India is ten times bolder.

TIP: The difference with your own Country will be extreme (which is also the reason why you’re there in the first place) and the secret to cope is taking it easy. You can’t handle the street chaos anymore? Treat yourself to an accommodation that is fancier than your standard. It will be pretty cheap anyway and It will work as your detoxing secrete escape.

Adapting to different public hygiene standards

India is extremely real and human in every possible sense. You will notice that most of human activities like cooking, eating, going to the toilet, being sick can be carried out in the streets. In Varanasi, the holy city on Ganges shores, you can even witness funeral processions, open air cremations and bodies floating on the river. On top of that, you have all sorts of farm animals living –and pooping- in the streets, a consistent amount of rubbish and the odd open sewage.

TIP: Wear closed shoes or sturdy sandals like Birkenstock. Street-level flip-flops are a big no. Don’t put your backpack on the ground (or at least check the floor before you do it – this one I learned it the hard way). A light scarf can be of great use to create a barrier between you and the funniest smells.

first time in India

Witnessing social injustice and poverty

Most of the time, travelling to India feels like time travel. And in some ways it is so! Some traditions have stayed the same for thousands of years. Unfortunately, one of those is the infamous cast system, which is still thriving in India. Believing in casts and karma means that if someone is in a shitty condition it means that A- they deserved it because of what they did in their past lives and B-there’s nothing they can do to change the situation in this life. This creates a fatalist and hierarchical society, where you will sometimes witness graphic scenes of poverty, sickness, child begging or violence that will be completely overlooked by thousands of other people passing by.

TIP: Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it (at least not in short exploring trip). Take your time to adjust to the new environment. If it takes you two days to find the courage to exit your hostel in Delhi, let it be. Then donate if you feel like it, but always avoid giving money to begging children, not to encourage the practice.

first time in India

Making your way through the crowds

Because of the huge number of inhabitants, in the streets the mantra is “every man for himself” everywhere, all the time. It’s the law of the jungle, even when trying to get a seat on the train, queuing for the toilet, buying bus tickets. You will have to fight your way through a sweaty and solid crowd many, many times.

TIP: Do not overload your days with activities. Visiting a popular site in India can be overwhelming, don’t ask yourself too much. Try not to be in a tight schedule, moving around India is already stressing enough. Leave yourself generous margins to reschedule things due to fatigue, unexpected glitches, sickness or just changes of plan.

Avoiding scams and dangers

Scams happen (and not just in India), that’s a matter of fact. Research online before you go so you can try to avoid the most obvious ones, like the one of the closed hotel (so that the tuk tuk driver can take you to his cousin’s guest house).

TIP: Be ready to hustle: bargaining is key to avoid paying double or triple the price of things. Be prepared to insist if you suffer an injustice (cancelled flights, wrong hotel).

Staying safe as a woman travelling solo

You will notice that Indians stare A LOT. Which, most of the time, is out of curiosity. Thus said, when a horde of men stares at you, maybe even pressing closer, it can be quite intimidating. If you don’t like a situation, just walk away asap (this applies to Planet Earth in general). Guys will ask to take photos with you (they probably just want to show off with family and friends). In this case you can politely decline and walk away or propose a “group photo” this will: A- saves you time, otherwise everybody else will want a picture with you and B- gives you the chance to include other women in the picture. On night trains choose the upper classes, where you will mostly share your trip with families. In stations team up with other local women, that generally are super curious and have a protective attitude toward you crazy gal who’s wandering around alone!

TIP: make sure to dress in a humble and respectful way. If you don’t want to be stared more than necessary, wear long trousers or a Sari, avoid sporting a décolleté and always take a scarf with you. This will help you stand out less in the crowds.

Delhi Belly

Well, just embrace the risk. Even if you drink and brush your teeth with bottled water, you keep your mouth shut while showering, you repeat “no-water-no-ice-please” as a mantra all day long, you eat at the best looking eateries… You might get sick. I get sick on every single trip. May it be an easy two weeks’ getaway to Bali or a three months long South East Asia experience, I will get sick. It’s a matter of fact. It happens every time and India was no exception. It was actually one of the worst (probably water) intoxication I ever gone through. But for me it’s part of the game now, I’ve been through so many embarrassing situations that Delhi Belly does not scare me anymore.

TIP: be prepared and take the traveller’s Holy Trinity with you. And by that I mean:

  1. Antidiarrheal drug of choice
  2. Broad spectrum of antibiotic (I use Ciproxin)
  3. Probiotics to restore the flora

Just to be on the safe side, I also carry antacid and antispasmodic drugs to settle my stomach and tummy.

Don’t let your fears stop you!

While you are preparing for the worse, a ton other wonderful things will happen: you will witness incredible traditions, costumes, art, architecture and food. You will be amazed by the people: their genuine curiosity towards you and the country you come from (top tip: bring a family photo to pass around while telling –or gesturing- your story to locals, you’ll be amazed by the reactions) their kindness, their understanding despite the culture and language gap. You’ll found that connecting with Indians was way easier than with every other people in Asia (the fact that many of them speaks English helps for sure).

My general suggestion here is, if you can, to travel to at least one other Asian country before travelling to India. Learning how to deal with Vietnamese street frenzy, Cambodian dizzying wealth gap or Indonesian no-sewage situation may prepare you for India. But not for the cows (and their poop) in the streets. That’s just in India!

So what are you waiting for? Book that ticket for your first time in India and don’t worry if you’re travelling alone, you will meet plenty of other likeminded traveller to share the road, a laugh and adventure with. And you will have the experience of your life enjoying this mystical, chaotic, colourful and magical Country.

 

Want more?
Browse my India photo gallery:

VARANASI

INCREDIBLE INDIA

On splitting up, fear, and solo travelling as a woman

On splitting up, fear, and solo travelling as a woman

woman solo traveller
I often make this metaphor: for me splitting with my long-time partner has been like losing a leg. Suddenly I stumbled at every step. Loosing him didn’t just meant to lose the man I loved, the engine of my adventurous life and the closest person I had, but it also meant losing his family, which I considered as close as my kin, our loving dog and the future that I thought was expecting me. I was heartbroken and terrified, but the leg was gone anyway, and I had to relearn how to walk, even if crippled.

Splitting was like losing a leg,
I had to relearn how to walk,
even if crippled

 

Truth is, you never know how much you depend on a person until they’re gone. I always considered myself an independent girl and a badass traveller. But when he was gone, I realised that he was the badass traveller and I was mostly following him. He was always the one to push me further into adventures. It was his idea to cross the Australian desert on a 4WD, or to travel three months through Asia overland. It was him that convinced me to trek in the middle of the jungle to meet local tribes in Burma, or to ride motorbikes for days across Indonesia. He was the one who teach me how to surf and encouraged me to dive. All the coolest things I ever done, I did because of him.
When I realized that, I was struck with fear. How will I keep doing things I love if he’s not there to hold my hand, play it cool and fix problems?

 

I always considered myself a bad ass traveller.
But when he was gone,
I realised I was mostly following him

 

woman solo traveller

Well, instead of not doing things because I was scared, I chose to learn from our years together and to become the brave one. I made it a point to choose adventure, to travel alone and to play it cool when shit happens (like when I was stranded by a typhoon in the Philippines on my way back home, without electricity nor internet and a blocked credit card).

 

I choose to learn from our path
and to became the brave one

 

I went for my first solo trip, and then for another. It was something that I always wanted to do but I never found the courage for. I chose a destination that I always wanted to visit but never had because he didn’t like it, and just went. I spent 10 days hiking on Norway fjords, meeting wonderful people. It was great. I then took a second solo trip, this time lifting the bar higher. I went to bustling Philippines, a place that I also always wanted to visit but that was definitely out of my comfort zone as a woman solo traveller, and it turned out to be the best holiday ever.

Fun fact: when me and my partner split ways, we took very different life paths. Now I’m the one who’s doing adventurous stuff and kept travelling, and he’s the one working day and night! Isn’t that ironic!?

 

woman solo traveller

It took me quite a while to untangle all the things that loss and failure teach me, and I’m still in the process. That’s why I feel a bit overwhelmed when people underestimate my separation, or that took theirs in a lighter way. Of course It’s impossible to generalize, but I think that it’s how you react to situations and how you choose to deal with your feelings that makes a huge difference. You can choose to avoid pain and walk away as quickly as you can. Or you can choose to start from desperation and to grow from it.

It is the journey that you make
to get back on your feet
that changes you.
Make it count.

 

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