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Couples Traveling Solo, a New Trend

Anna Sui, a researcher currently based out of Chiang Mai in Thailand has just returned from a vacation in Vietnam. Kim Ong, a Cambodian based antique dealer, recounts his recent break to Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, saying he had the best time of his life. Rohin Arora, an entrepreneur from India, is still recovering from the time he had in Masai Mara, Africa. What is common to all three travelers is that they embarked on an elaborately planned so lo trip, leaving their significant others behind. No, they are not having problems in their marriage and nor are they wanting time to be “away from each other”. Rather, they are part of a growing tribe of “evolved couples” who appreciate the fact that they have different travel tastes and are completely okay with their partners indulging in themselves every once in a while, so long as they do not insist on taking their better half along.

Building a case for ‘his’, ‘her’ and ‘their’ kind of travel

Anna’s husband Michael, an American likes his vacations to be action packed, throwing in a bit of everything, from walking to sampling street food, browsing through local bazaars, mingling with local residents and checking out every single tourist attraction. Anna on the other hand want to just dig in her heels in a quiet place, ideally a luxury resort that pampers and indulges her. Which is how her week-long sojourn in the Six Senses Nimh Van Bay resort in Vietnam, with its soaring mountains in the backdrop and pristine beaches along with a private pool that came with the villa she booked, gave her the break she needed. She could sort out her thoughts, plan her next book and catch up on sleep.

In the initial years of marriage, she would trudge along with Michael on their joint vacations but return terribly exhausted and irritable instead of being rejuvenated, which was the whole point of the trip. On the flip side, her kind of holiday was extremely boring and uneventful for Michael. After a few disgruntled vacations, they had a heartto- heart chat and found a middle path. They decided to “allow” themselves the luxury of choice and to be mature about this “streak of separateness in their marriage”. Now even if colleagues and family sometimes get anxious asking them if everything is okay with their marriage when they discover that either of them is away vacationing solo, they just laugh and say that it actually has ended up bringing them closer!

Kim’s partner of seven years is a shopping enthusiast and while he is okay to walk the malls and markets with her occasionally, there are times he wants to take off on his own, especially to places which have a lot of history and old world charm. He likes to travel solo and also sign up for groups with like-minded people. The interaction with art collectors, historians and conservationists gives him a high like nothing else. He painstakingly plans his holidays and has over the years learnt to do it in a guilt-free manner. Initially, there was skepticism, after all marriages were about coming together and doing things jointly. But with time both he and his girlfriend realized that there was nothing personal about this decision and by giving each other space, they were actually paving the way for greater intimacy. The sense of gratitude with which Kim returned after his break made him more cheerful and participatory in the relationship. So, the planned 5-day holiday to the jungles of Sarawak and the Mulu National Park to explore one of the world’s most elaborate cave systems gave him not just rich insights into the lives of the tribes-people who have been living there for centuries, cut off from the rest of the world, but also return with some priceless artefacts.

Sealing the ‘pact’ amicably

Clearly couples are warming up to the realization that while marriages maybe about coming together, sharing interests and bonding over dozens of things, they are also about pursuing passions, even if it means embarking on solo travels. They are wisening up as they decide amicably that it is alright to do your own thing every now and then, rather than be saddled with vacations that are a “compromise”. The time, effort and money that goes into taking time off should not be an ordeal to be endured and suffered.

Travel companies confirm the trend, saying that 20-25% of their revenue now comes from solo travelers who are clear of what they want and are willing to spend time and money to get the most from their vacation. A new breed of tour operators are specializing in customized solo travels, all women groups and singles who are looking to experience bonding with like-minded fellow travelers.

Going solo in no way means absolving yourself of responsibility. In fact, the ‘pact’ if one may call it that, gets more defined and as a partner, you end up adding value to the relationship, family and home. “Knowing you have had your time off, brings a kind of peace. You value the other person more. You crib less and any feelings of resentment that may have cropped up due to being two very different people, ebbs away, leaving a nice feeling of quietude” says Misha Chen, an event manager in Singapore who feels that her once-a-year solo break has actually given her the perspective to keep her troubled marriage from rocking. If she did not have the cathartic experience of being by herself every now and then, she would have lost her sanity, dealing with a husband who has a drinking problem and is of “controlling nature”. Getting him to agree to her solo travels has redefined their relationship. Not only is she a lot happier but their own bonding is now less edgy.

Rohin Arora, Promoter of a New Delhi based export firm, is an adventure sports enthusiast. His wife Devicka, a pre-school Principal, prefers things that are tried and tested. She was therefore quite relieved to see him warm up to his solo trips which started with a school reunion to Singapore in 2009. Being a lover of wildlife, it was a dream for him to witness the great Migration at the Maara triangle. It was an unknown group he joined and what made it easier, was knowing that his wife would not have been able to withstand the rough terrain, bad roads, dust, different cuisine and long safaris at unearthly hours. Once couples experience the exhilaration of travelling solo and “breaking free”, they find their family time getting more enriched, for there is more to share, respect and be grateful for, a win-win in every sense.

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