SWO-Yatra 2018: For independence, freedom, and the love for travelling
If you’re ready to take the challenge to travel solo, the ticket for your chance is now open. Along with 50 shopping vouchers, exciting gifts, 10 domestic solo travel grants, and two solo fully-funded international travel grants, one solo traveller will win the challenge by becoming ‘Miss Nepali Traveller’ this year.
By Priyadarshani Shrestha
In 2017, Lonely Planet, largest travel guidebook publisher in the world, had ranked Nepal at ‘number one’ in their list of ‘Best in travel 2017: Top 10 best value destinations’. Praising the country’s beauty, the 46-year-old travel guide has defined Nepal as a trekkers’ paradise that combines Himalayan views, golden temples, charming hill villages, and jungle wildlife.
By the side of mentioning Lumbini: the birthplace of Buddha, Mt. Everest, and eight eight-thousander of Nepal (mountains that are 8000 meters high above sea level), the official website of the travel guide has also not forgotten to admire centuries-old stupas and monasteries, widespread national parks, medieval city squares, subtropical treetops, and other exquisiteness of the country. Besides all these, it has also not ignored to recognize Nepal has a good set-up country for independent travel. Interestingly, it has likened the country to a kind of backpacker Disneyland.
Nepal has remained one of the favorite destinations for the entire world. Only in May 2018, Department of Immigration recorded that nearly 70 thousand foreign tourists visited Nepal and calculated it as a 12.5 percent growth between January to May 2018 year on year. But while there is an impressive number of foreign tourism in Nepal, the same enthusiasm for traveling does not reflect among the Nepalis living in the country.
In Nepal, most Nepalis do not take traveling as the main agenda. On the other hand, females, especially adolescents, are discouraged to travel even within the city in their residential proximity. Believing in the possibility of changing people’s perception towards women’s solo traveling and encouraging them to travel, NepaliTravellers, a community that supports Nepalis to travel, started ‘The Solo Women Traveller Challenge’ in 2015 that continued to provide travel grants and let many women travel solo in their preferred travel destinations. Since 2015, NepaliTravellers have supported 28 Nepali women to explore the expansive natural landscape and diverse culture existing within Nepal.
As NepaliTravellers—now renamed as SWO-Yatra 2018—is again inviting traveling enthusiasts for fresh 12 grants for independent travels in Nepal—including travel grants to South-East Asian countries for two travellers—we wished to know how experiences and freedom of solo traveling change lives and personality of a solo traveler. Thus, we held a close conversation with four winners of Solo Women Traveller Challenge 2017: Juliana Shrestha, Melina Rai, Shlesha Acharya, and Sharmila Dhungana.
- Juliana Shrestha
Works at NepaliTraveller
We were all interested in traveling but we never really traveled because we didn’t have the support of our friends and family. After we got selected for solo travel in 2017, the idea that we had won this opportunity paved way for new and exciting adventures. Today, we, the solo women travelers, have formed a kind of sisterhood; a special bond. We do not only talk about traveling and plan for our next travel, but we also eat dinner and participate in boot camp in togetherness.
After my solo travel, I thought, “Why didn’t I do this before?” I remembered how I used to travel in groups and how I always ended up taking care of them. I realized that I was being a constraint in not being able to do what I wanted to. But from the beginning of this challenge, I was deciding from where to start, where to go, and when to go. This challenge had given me a complete freedom and a boost of independence that we seldom receive.
“Solo Women Travel Challenge is back. This year, along with 10 domestic travel grants, two solo travellers will be getting travel grants to travel South-East Asian countries and the winner will be crowned as ‘Miss Nepali Traveller’.”
- Melina Rai
Studies Psychology at Padma Kanya Multiple Campus
After my travel, I was so used to having fun on my own; I sometimes didn’t feel like interacting with anyone at all. I had gotten used to being on my own and learned to enjoy my own company.
Traveling really broadened my perspective on life. I realized that everyone has some kind of problem in their lives and we tend to think about it so much that we feel like our world revolved around these problems, which sometimes become the source of our sadness. After traveling, I realized how traveling helps travelers to see the world with a broad perspective and believe that their problems aren’t actually big.
“Through travelling, we learn to step out from our comfort zone and look into the lives of people living in different places with different living styles.”
- Shlesha Acharya
During my solo travel, the only moment I felt the need for someone else was when I wanted to take whole-body pictures—not a selfie—of myself against the beautiful landscapes. In one instance, I asked a Nepali local to take a picture of me, and he couldn’t just believe that I was traveling all alone. It was difficult to convince him. He finally took a picture but was admittedly not very good.
“While our solo travel inspires urban females to come out from travel restrictions imposed on them, it also makes rural women realise how Nepali girls have now become empowered enough to travel all alone just like the foreigners and take challenges all by themselves.”
- Sharmila Dhungana
Public Health graduate
Travelling isn’t just for fun or to waste time. Personal growth and understanding of many things are two of the most important learnings that I derived from my solo travel. In my solo travel, I didn’t feel the need for someone else because I was so happy that I was all by myself. If I become sad or down, I could always recall my experiences and think of people that I had met during my traveling and instantly feel better about myself. My travel experiences are kinds of my very own motivation bank.
“From travelling, people who are dependent on others will get a good practice in being content and happy with their own company. They will learn to enjoy with themselves.”
Tips on solo traveling
- Be prepared for the worst
While planning for my solo travel to Khaptad to Rara, I had focused only on one trekking route. During my individual session, I was questioned about my contingency plans against accident that are probable during traveling. At that time, I had no idea about where the nearest health post could be, from where the transportation facilities could be availed, where helipads were located for rescue or where was the nearest airport.
- Pack Light
I had planned to take a lot of things I didn’t really need for my solo travel. While traveling, I realized I had packed so many things that weren’t really required. In the end, it seemed like I could have traveled with just one pair of clothes.
- Plan alternatives
- Do the research
As Rasuwa and Ilam were my travel destinations, I was under the impression that I would easily find hotels at the districts’ headquarters. However, when I was in a discussion with the team at NepaliTravellers, I realized the importance of doing a research beforehand. I learned, the more research I do and the more well-planned and detailed my travel plans are, the more relived and stress-free travel becomes.
“In 2017, Lonely Planet, largest travel guidebook publisher in the world, had ranked Nepal at ‘number one’ in their list of ‘Best in travel 2017: Top 10 best value destinations’.”
- Constant contact
NepaliTravellers doesn’t only provide travel grants, but it also prepares you enough to get through any situation you can imagine all by yourself. We were in constant contact with the ground team here in Kathmandu. This helped them to keep track of us. If in case something would have gone wrong, they would have back-tracked us and looked for us from the last point of contact.
- Follow your gut
When I was in Dadeldhura, I went to a hotel. At its reception, I saw a photo of a beautiful place. When I inquired about the place, the locals suggested me not to go, informing me that it required four-hour downhill trek and again six-hour uphill trek. As I really had this surge of going to that place, I, finally after few days, started the trek, and it just took me one-and-half hours to get there despite getting lost in the way. It was one of the highlights of my travel. So, I learned to follow my instincts and trust my gut feelings.
- Open up to experienced travelers
During my individual session, my itinerary was revised many times because I had initially just planned to go to Langtang, but after discussion with the team, I included Gosainkunda in my itinerary. We, being amateurs, might not know much about the places; thus, consulting experienced travelers is a virtue.
When you travel alone, you are no longer confined to a group of people. You should open up yourself to people who are around you, even if you don’t know them. Listening to the travel stories of experienced people will be such an inspiration.
- Be courageous and determined
When I reached Rara, I had to cross a road that was densely forested and less traveled. Everyone in that place suggested me not to travel through that area because the forest around it was thick and there were instances of bear attacks in the past. Although I was determined to go through that road, I couldn’t help to stay shaken by all their warnings. So, I decided to stay in that place for one more day and prepare myself mentally. I didn’t know what to do, so I first started to walk around the forest. I didn’t know what came over me but I just stopped being fearful and continued my trek. I was lucky for not meeting a bear but I did see faeces of a bear in the trail I was walking through.
Process for applying in SWO- Yatra 2018
- Create your itinerary to travel to one or many places for more than 10 days.
- Fill the application form which requires you to include your itinerary and pays Rs. 300 application fee.
- Once your application is confirmed, NepaliTravellers will post your picture on Facebook along with your travel plans until July 31st.
- All participants who get more than 1,000 likes will advance to the first round of interview from which the top 50 will be selected.
- The top 50 will get a gift card worth Rs. 5000 for KTM CTY and will advance to the second round of interview, in which, the participants will be required to prepare a more detailed itinerary with all needed information about hotels and routes.
- After the second interview, top 10 will be selected who will be participating in boot camp consisting of a series of workshops and training on risk management, map reading, wilderness first aid, trekking tips, documenting, researching, and many more.
7. Finally, the travel will begin, and the period for traveling is between September 15th and December 15th.
“Since 2015, a total of 28 Nepali women have travelled to many places in Nepal all by themselves. The time is again here to grab the opportunity.”