“Each time I left my house for a summer camp, I felt the thrill of heading out without my parents. It was a feeling like I never knew with anything else,” said solo traveller and now founder of Wonderful World, Shibani Vig.
A Delhi-based woman in her mid-30s, Shibani is an Army child, so she grew up living in various parts of the country. While this can have varying effects on different individuals, it made Shibani fall in love with travelling and experiencing different cultures.
To be specific, she lived in Delhi, Ambala, Mathura, Wellington, Secunderabad, Chandimandir, Dimapur, among others. “No sooner had we settled in a place than a move would be imminent. Off I would go to a new place, a new school, a new set of friends,” said Shibani with a smile.
While travelling was something that had a soothing impact on Shibani in her childhood, it hit her hard at the age of 22 when she was studying fashion from NIFT because of which she had to spend a year in Amsterdam. Though low on cash, she desired to grasp as much of the foreign land, so Shibani went on an impromptu 21-hour bus journey from Amsterdam to Barcelona. This was Shibani’s first legitimate solo trip apart from the summer camps she had been going on every year since the age of 13.
“I had about 5 days — so half my holiday was spent on the bus. But it was either going to be that or nothing. So I just packed a backpack and took off and I think I have never felt more empowered”
She told us about her recent trip to Iran and how her views on the Iranian women and culture changed after living there for 12 days. “Each time I have travelled to a new place or re-visited an old one, I have learnt something. It has opened my eyes to another human being’s story. I have come back looking at life from another perspective. It is never the same,” Shibani told SheThePeople.TV.
Talking about her Iran trip, she said, “The thought of covering my head seemed like an anathema at first. But once I was there, I had no choice in the matter — I realised it really wasn’t such a terrible thing! We could talk about women’s freedom of choice here and I was so certain that every woman must hate this. However, having interacted with so many Iranian women really opened my eyes to the fact, that for whatever reason (and we could argue about the basis of those reasons, but that is a whole different conversation) for some women, this is a choice. This is not something I understood except as an intellectual concept till I was there.”
Doing solo trips is considered such an unnerving thing in India, one can never be sure of what kind of people you are going to meet and how they would behave with you. But Shibani is of the view that, “the people I come across are very kind and friendly. If one is just sensible about the choices one is making, you read up on a place before you go — don’t offend people — one is safe”.
She added, “Within India, you do get strange looks at times — that you have to learn to just ignore. And in some places, I don’t venture out alone at night — but very few places. In very remote towns, people are so simple and helpful, it really makes one wonder what living in a city and jostling for space has done to our minds.”
About a weird experience she had while going to places all alone, she recalled one when she went to the Andaman Islands.
“I was in the Andaman Islands doing a research trip for a company tour we had planned, and I was 5 months pregnant at the time. That was a bit frustrating as many men on the road felt the need to ask me why I was travelling alone, had my family abandoned me, especially at a time like this? And of course would ask me if I was Indian! But I believe that it was just simple curiosity.”
If one is just sensible about the choices one is making, you read up on a place before you go — don’t offend people — one is safe
The thing about travelling that excites Shibani the most is the anticipation of it, the reading up and the planning.
“The first day I am at a place; I have no agenda. In any new place; the best part for me is ditching the map and just wandering and getting lost,” exclaimed the woman who ditched her well-paying job in the fashion industry to start a travel start-up.
Shibani started Wonderful World in 2013 when she quit her job and pursued her dream of travelling extensively. But not stopping at that, she wanted to take other women like her along and organize trips. So Wonderful World is an all-women travel organising start-up which encourages women to get up and start experiencing the world.
“We feel that every woman should be free to escape on a journey of discovery, adventure and fun, even when hubby, papa, bhaiyya or boyfriend are not game. Wonderful World offers tried and tested travel for all women who like travel, adventure and discovery,” says the website of Wonderful World.
Initially, her family had reservations on hearing about her idea of a travel startup but she says that her husband was very supportive.
“So it was a random evening when my partner and I decided that it was either now or never. Why were we worrying about clothes when all we wanted to do was chuck everything and travel the world? The many glasses of wine that we had consumed did help with this impulsive idea, am sure. But the result of that evening was the launch of “Wonderful World”. I also proceeded to get pregnant soon after we launched Wonderful World — but stuck to my decision. It was an impulsive decision and the best one so far,” reminisced Shibani.
A start-up faces many challenges, but the biggest for Shibani in her trade was convincing people that it is safe to travel alone. “For ones who were new to the concept, convincing them that travelling with strangers can be a lot of fun was a bit hard. But now with photographic evidence of our previous trips that one has become a bit easier,” she articulated.
Shibani gives some tips from her experiences to all the ladies waiting to get out there all alone:
1. One emergency phone number in the place they are travelling to that they can share with their family back home.
2. Travel insurance when travelling to a new country and relevant phone numbers.
3. A hotel booking voucher for the first night of arrival (I normally only book that and then find accommodation as I go along. This also leaves a lot of flexibility and plans can be changed. But for that first night or first couple of nights, you want to be sure of a place to stay at while you work out the rest)
4. And a little bit of extra money from their planned budget to account for any untoward happening. I usually carry about 15% additional as a buffer.