Anika Mikkelson, a math teacher from Minnesota, traces Buddha’s path to the East on a solo trip to Nepal in this week’s Women Who Travel Solo.
How did you get started traveling?
During a study abroad program in Venezuela, I decided to cancel my flight home. I wanted to stay longer to spend more time with new friends, a great host family and in a new space. A short time later, I gave in and went home to finish my Master’s in Math Education. A few years later, my brother moved to France. After visiting him there twice, I decided I too must move abroad. I found a job teaching math in Kuwait and loved the ease of access the country has to explore many new places. This year, I decided not to return to my job but instead to continue traveling full time!
Why did you decide to take a solo trip to Nepal?
I first traveled to India finding that the flights were affordable from my home destination of Kuwait. Since I had two weeks vacation from work, I did not have quite enough time to explore Southern India, but instead decided to chase Buddha’s path East – through Varanasi, India and Lumbini, Nepal. I then continued farther in Kathmandu. All three cities rank high on my ‘must-see’ list for fellow travelers. Varanasi is the Holy Land for the Hindu Religion, and Lumbini is celebrated as being the birthplace of Buddha. There is evidence there of human activity dating to 1000 B.C. and it is now regarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tell us about your experience in Nepal as a solo traveler.
I started in Lumbini, taking an overnight bus from Varanasi, India and crossing the border by foot deep into the night. I stayed in a hut at the border crossing until dawn, then continued into town by taking a 20 minute bus ride to the city. Throughout the day, I explored the many monasteries from all over the world. I rented a bike and took it down several of the extensive dirt paths leading from place to place.
There are parks, ponds, and golden statues everywhere. The monasteries serve as holy places to visitors from each designated country including Sri Lanka, France, Cambodia, and Germany to name a few. I appeared to be the only westerner and was stopped many times by others to pose for photographs. Though it was a funny switch to go from photographer to photographed, it was a lot of fun and opened up so many conversations. No one snapped a photo and walked away: often times we ended up sharing stories, going for a walk, or warming up with a sip of masala chai together.
What recommendations do you have for solo travelers in Nepal?
Night buses come in and out of Lumbini daily, and it is entirely possible to see the sites during the day between bus rides.
For accommodation I recommend Buddha Maya Garden Hotel, and for dinner Three Fox Restaurant has a covered patio overlooking the main street and central market square. They also have wifi in case you really need to check in.
To get around, I highly recommend renting a bicycle. You can find a few family-run shops just off the main street.
What was the best part of your solo travel in Nepal?
The people are so friendly! They are open, kind and greet each other (and visitors!) with a peaceful head bob and “Namaste!”
What was the worst part of the trip?
The bus trip there. But it was so worth it. From the moment I obtained a Nepalese visa and walked a few meters to freshly made masala chai served by a teenage girl and her brother standing on the street corner to the boy who proudly rented me a bicycle to ride for the day after inviting me inside to meet his family. Watching monks study on a lawn under colorful prayer flags, exploring monasteries from all over the world… I just realized I unintentionally managed to completely turn the question around, but will leave it as such. You see, there was so much more good than bad.
Are there any safety concerns for women traveling alone to Nepal?
Traveling on a night bus across India isn’t for everyone. I arrived early at the station and made sure to get the front seat; this particular bus’s entrance was in the middle- so the front seat felt more private yet close to the driver, so protected. I immediately covered up my head, my body, and my belongings by draping a blanket over everything. No one knew if I was a man or woman and completely ignored me. You might not ever be in the same situation, but it’s important to remember maintaining anonymity can be wiser at times than making friends with the person next to you.
That being said, depending on location the opposite can be true. Which leads me to the best advice I can give you regarding safety: Trust your instinct.
What advice do you have for female solo travelers?
Be smart, be friendly and enjoy. But in certain areas, be wise about what you share, who you smile at and who you talk with. As an American woman traveling through the Middle East alone, I found that often times it was best not to make eye contact with men and to keep a straight face. I call it my ‘mean face’ – but it’s really not that mean.
However in most countries, especially if you don’t speak the local language, it’s really important to be friendly and to be patient. If you don’t know how to say “thank you” a small smile and a quick nod of the head works just as well. Mainly- enjoy yourself. You chose to travel, you chose to go where you are. Make the best of it!
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women solo travelers?
If you have any desire to go and to do – take that step! The world is so huge, yet once you’re out there, it becomes comfortably small.
About Anika Mikkelson
Anika Mikkelson is a 20-something math teacher who decided to break out of the classroom walls to see the world. Making her way through 30 countries so far, she doesn’t intend to stop until she’s been to every single one!
A Minnesota native, Anika now travels full-time and aims to inspire others to explore through these collections of photographs and stories. Each photo you see and each story you read is her original work, and she encourages you to like, love and share to your heart’s content. You can explore these photographs and stories by following her blog, BeautiFulfillment or connecting on Facebook or Twitter.
Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that traveling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to Stay in Nepal
HotelsCombined offers the best rates on accommodations worldwide. Find and book your accommodations in Nepal below.