If you think this is going to be a story of rainbows and butterflies, of how the world is a beautiful place and you just step out to experience your adventure in it, you’re wrong. It takes a whole lot more than just that.
This is the story of Niyati Saxena, a 26-year-old lawyer who quit her job to pursue her dreams of traveling around the world.
Niyati is a now a trip leader with a travel company called On His Trip, that leads group trips for young adults across India, South East Asia, and Europe.
Traveling with strangers or traveling solo, takes guts. Be it a man or a woman. How will people be? Will I get along? Will it be safe? These are just some of the many questions I’ve had people ask me before booking a trip with us, here at On His Trip. And to see that every person opening themselves up to unknown people during a trip, just leaves me smiling.
And yet, the hesitation and questions I see coming from women will always be a tad more. Understandably. A lifetime of being asked to stay safe and protected does program our minds into wondering what is and what isn’t “safe”. Last December when I was visiting Tirthan for the first time, my friend and I got off our bus at 4 am in a place with not a single street lamp. Light only came when a vehicle approached so we were shivering in the pitch dark, waiting for ours to turn up. The moment we sat in the vehicle, my friend dozed off dead to the world, snoring at shocking octaves for such a skinny person! While I was extremely sleepy, I couldn’t doze off as the gnawing thought of empty dark streets and us being in a vehicle completely in this man’s control played on my mind. As my tense self gazed out of the window, it hit me that my comfort or discomfort is solely in my hands. So, I struck up a conversation with the driver. I’m pretty sure he was tired too and wondering why is this woman being so chatty even before sunrise?! But hah there’s no shutting up this chatty Cathy. As we spoke about him, his family and his life in the hills, I developed a sense of familiarity with the man who just a few moments ago had concerned me. Women are often taught to “not engage” anyone unknown. However, my travels have brought me the realization that when you open up yourself, to the people, to your surroundings and well, to the experience, that is when you begin to become comfortable even in unknown places. When you begin to see the other human being as simply an individual on the job or as a friendly companion or a fellow explorer, that is when the shadows creeping up in your mind die down and allow you to converse, to laugh and to just be.
Having lived in Delhi for so many years, in Mumbai and even in South India and eventually dedicating my life to traveling, has shown me that no one place can be deemed safe or unsafe in a blanket statement. Incidents happen everywhere.No, I’m not saying trust anyone, always be alert and aware of your whereabouts but at the same time give people and places a chance. You never know where and how it may surprise you. And the more you witness kindness and warmth in the world, the surer of yourself you will become.
So how did you become a trip leader, we ask her. “Well, my best friend had traveled with Neeraj Narayanan (OHOT’s founder) on a Bhutan group trip and had raved about how good it was. This was in mid-2016. I heard he was leading a waterfall rappelling day trip, so I booked it. We had a crazy fun time there. I returned to do a few more trips with him that year, and the next, and sometime towards the end of 2018, Neeraj asked me if I would like to lead trips for On His Trip. I did think about it a lot, I had studied law and was now practicing. But I had been on his trips, and the happiness I got in traveling, I knew I would never get in my corporate job. So I joined him full time, and as of Feb 2019, I have lead 19 trips across India and South East Asia.
What else holds back women from traveling?
Beyond safety, I find women holding themselves back on account of perception. Indian women are especially so watchful of the stigmas that they step back.
Last year I was leading a trip to Thailand and encouraged the girls in my group to get two-piece swimsuits. Not because it’s sexy or anything but simply because Indian women so often lose the ability to feel comfortable in their skins. On the morning of our island tour, I saw the girls hesitantly fidgeting a bit with the ends and straps of their costumes but by evening they had full-fledged photo shoots, they stretched out in the Sun and leisurely plonked themselves on the boat without searching or shrugs or cover-ups. Enjoying themselves and their time simply; a picture of the absolute blissful beach bums. That is what travel can do for a woman. As a trip leader, I’ve been lucky enough to see women go through this transition. Before a trip, they’ll ask me about safety and whatnot, during a trip each day their hesitation slips a little further away and eventually you’ll find them making friends with just about anyone, gallivanting as they please, partying at places they could never think of visiting, sharing a quiet moment with a stranger turned friend, overcoming phobias as they dip their feet for a taste of adventure and ending trips with hugs, laughs and promises to travel more.
Seeing girls on Instagram and Facebook, traveling the world and sharing their adventures, especially Indian girls, makes me so happy. We’re still a small percentage but slowly and steadily we’re changing that, breaking stereotypes and fulfilling our dreams. When I lead trips in small hill stations, I have occasionally had a driver or a vendor ask me, “Aap hi ho?”. How will a woman handle these 20-odd people in this terrain? So, I politely smile at them, tell them yes, work with them every day, sip cups of chai and converse, so that the next time I visit they smile and ask “Aur madame Kaise hai?”. To build an equation with them too, so that one day they’ll know that their little girls can do it all too.
So, to all the girls who want to travel, this isn’t a story of rainbows and butterflies, it’s about why you should trek up hills to catch a rainbow, why you should run in open meadows chasing after butterflies, why travel won’t just feed your need for adventure but give you a taste of independence that you will get addicted to, a sense of confidence that will follow your footsteps as you walk in everyday life, let you surprise foreigners that Indian girls are doing this too, have you play games with local kids in dim-lit lanes and share meals with folks from all walks of life, to share stories about your lives and theirs, to leave you wondering about them as they wonder about you wandering in your wild womanly ways.
You can read more about Niyati Saxena at https://www.onhisowntrip.com/niyati-saxena/