Imagine flitting about from one place to another every month, living on nothing but bare essentials. For Amanda Sodhi, this lifestyle seems perfect. Equipped with just a suitcase and a penchant for travelling, the Indian-American has already traversed solo across 10 cities in just 12 months. The inspirational traveller tells us more. By Rajlakshmi Dastidar
Travel + Leisure India: Tell us about Twelve Steps To Home and how it came into being?
Amanda Sodhi: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. At the age of 24, I moved to Los Angeles. At the age of 25, I moved to Mumbai. And at 29, I moved to Kolkata from where I was shuttling to and from Delhi quite a bit. While I grew up in the States, it never really felt like “home,” perhaps because my equation with my family has always been strained. And, within India, I felt like I outgrew both Mumbai and Kolkata after a certain point. Most of the friendships I formed never quite stood the test of time. It felt isolating. Last year on Diwali, while I was sitting in a shikara at Dal (Srinagar), I realised there was no point in going back to Kolkata and feeling lonely in one place for the indefinite future. I decided to downsize to one suitcase and consciously uproot myself month-after-month in 2021 to see if any city felt like home, if I could find my ‘tribe’, or perhaps if my definition of home and belonging could change. And, so, on New Year’s Eve, I began this journey. I’m writing a book about it titled Twelves Steps to Home.
Travel + Leisure India: Where did you first travel solo and how did it feel?
Amanda Sodhi: I was 25 when I travelled solo for the first time. I was living and working in Los Angeles back then. I went to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. None of my friends were in a position to take time off for a quick trip, and I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone to execute my travel plans.
Going to Vegas alone was quite an eye-opener! Since I grew up in a very strict household, where even going on school field trips was generally forbidden, it felt liberating to finally travel alone. Visiting the Grand Canyon was on my bucket list, so I was truly happy.
Travel + Leisure India: How has travelling solo changed your approach towards life?
Amanda Sodhi: It is empowering to be able to make a travel plan and follow through with it without having to wait for someone else or coordinating with another person. Travelling solo teaches you how strong you are when you navigate tricky situations that come up in a new place. Travelling solo has also taught me to be a bit more minimalistic in the way I live. It has opened my mind to new perspectives. Most importantly, it has exposed me to the stories of so many people.
Travel + Leisure India: What are the challenges you’ve faced living out of a suitcase?
Amanda Sodhi: Packing for different weather conditions and terrain was challenging. I’ve also learned to style the same clothes in multiple ways so I don’t get bored with my outfits. Since I’m a bookworm, not being able to hoard a lot of books was a pain point. One thing I didn’t want to compromise on was carrying a few trinkets—my favourite mugs, fairy lights, a small Hugsy, a candle lantern and a notebook—that would help me personalise my room each month so I could settle in and feel like it was my living space.
Travel + Leisure India: Out of all the places you have visited, which place made you feel the closest to home? What makes it special?
Amanda Sodhi: Sadly, no place felt like home. I’ve realised home isn’t just a place, it’s people. I was estranged from my family, and only very recently reconnected with my mom, with whom the equation is still a work-in-progress. When you don’t have strong family ties, it is challenging to view any place as home. It’s hard to really find a “chosen family” in your 30s.
However, that said, I quite loved the vibe of both Hyderabad and Srinagar, which is why I plan on dividing my time between both cities in 2022. While Hyderabad has all the comforts of a tier-one city, it also has a slow pace that allows for leisurely interaction and conversations to unfold at an unhurried pace, similar to Kolkata.
As for Kashmir, it isn’t a place. It’s an emotion, a paradox, and poetry in motion. There’s a strange sense of sukoon [peace] I get when I’m there, despite the challenges.
Travel + Leisure India: What were some hidden gems you visited when you travelled to Andamans and Imphal, respectively?
Amanda Sodhi: Unfortunately, when I landed in Imphal I stepped right into a lockdown and curfew. Both the army and cops were patrolling the streets. So, I didn’t get to explore Manipur much. However, I had a blast in Andamans! I was fortunate enough to befriend an amazing group of locals who showed me a lot of hidden gems such as Khurmadera Beach and Mount Harriet. The view from Wildgrass, Sea Princess and Sea Hills is lovely. I highly recommend Ross Island. There were so many deer and peacocks! Sunsets at Chidiya Tapu beach are beautiful. I love Havelock Island and Neil Island because they are pristine. Honestly, Andamans would not have been the same without the people I met there. It was one of the best months this year! And, I finally went snorkelling, too.
Travel + Leisure India: What have been your most memorable encounters with the locals on your trip?
Amanda Sodhi: It was nice to reconnect with friends I knew from my Mumbai days in Hyderabad, while also forming new friendships there. I met the nicest people in Andamans who showed me a good time. It was wonderful meeting Mansoor Khan and his wife Tina in Coonoor. I fell in love—and subsequently underwent heartbreak—with someone I met in Kashmir, so that’s memorable for a variety of reasons! I enjoyed going on a group tour with WanderOn to Spiti where I met a lot of travellers. My landlady in Imphal helped me reconnect with my musical side. She literally setup a jam session on the full moon, which was fun. My landlady in Puri cooked the most delicious meals for me that I’m always going to remember. My landlord in Chandigarh was fun to talk to, and I got along quite well with the cook there—she and I would go for long walks after dinner pretty much every day
There are so many memories from this year I’ll treasure forever! I’ve also conducted a few writing workshops in Hyderabad and Srinagar. Hearing people share their personal stories was a meaningful experience.
Travel + Leisure India: What are some unique dishes or cuisines you’ve savoured during your travels?
Amanda Sodhi: Everyone told me I’d have a hard time accessing vegetarian food in Kerala, but I’ve loved all the veggie tiffins I’ve received throughout my stay. I enjoyed haak, nadru pakoras and waarimuth in Srinagar. And, I had no idea avocados were available so easily in Ooty and at such low prices. I went nuts making guacamole almost every day the entire month!
Travel + Leisure India: What places surprised you with their culture, and how?
Amanda Sodhi: I have travelled extensively throughout my stay in India over the past nine years, so not much surprises me at this point. When I was in places like Spiti and Ladakh, it was interesting to see how kind locals are happy despite the challenging terrain and life there. And, of course, Kashmir is always full of surprises—living in an army occupied place isn’t so straightforward. People there are resilient; however, mental health definitely needs to be addressed urgently.
Travel + Leisure India: A place in India you would love to revisit?
Amanda Sodhi: Kerala, Andamans, Ladakh and Kashmir are my four favourite places in India. Initially, I had planned to spend a month in Ladakh this year, but the plan had to be dropped last-minute. I definitely want to go back at some point.
Travel + Leisure India: How do you think travel has changed in the post-COVID era, especially for solo travellers?
Amanda Sodhi: The pandemic has helped travellers bag better deals on long-term accommodations because there is an overall dip in tourism. The pandemic is allowing solo travellers to see most places without an abnormal number of tourists around. Work-from-home is becoming more acceptable, which enables people to go on workations solo.
Travel + Leisure India: Any advice for solo female travellers in India?
Amanda Sodhi: My advice for solo female travellers in India is to stick to their guns. Many people might try to dissuade them from travelling solo. Many people may taunt them. Many people may even secretly envy them. Don’t think about ‘log kya kahenge?’ [‘what will people say?’] Just go and explore the world if that’s what you want to do.
Having said that, eve-teasing definitely exists in and out of India. I personally plug in my earphones when I’m walking around to avoid paying attention to it. Or, I’ll hop on calls with friends. Try to pick an accommodation that is located in an area easy to navigate through, and has all the essentials you need to access on a day-to-day basis. If you’re new to solo travelling, perhaps begin in cities somewhat geographically closer to home. Ask your friends if they know someone who could serve as a local point of contact in the event of an emergency. Honestly, once you start solo travelling you’ll realise it’s not as scary as it might seem initially. Just use common sense when travelling solo and you should be fine.
Travel + Leisure India: Tips on becoming minimalist travellers?
Amanda Sodhi: If you’re packing for a year of travel, make a list of what you’ll need based on the climate of the cities you’re staying in. Try to pick clothes in neutral colours so you can mix and match them, and keep two-three ‘fun’ pieces, as well as one-two outfits for special occasions that might come up. Carry a reusable bottle to store water. Scissors, a nail cutter, anti-chafing cream, sunscreen and hair dryer are good to pack, as well as a small medicine kit. Opt for small sachets of shampoos. Some places don’t have small laundry detergent sachets available, so I like to keep those along with clothes pins for drying out clothes. I carry a microwavable box, a sponge, small dishwashing bar, knife, spoon, plate and cup because they come in handy when you’re cooking or reheating meals. Carry a few trinkets to personalise your living space so you don’t feel as displaced. A power bank is a must, as well as an extension cable to connect all your devices for charging. Many places have power cuts, so a small flashlight is good to carry.
Honestly, you don’t need much to get through a year of travel if you plan it out properly. You’ll realise living out of a suitcase can be more budget-friendly than living in one place for years because you end up buying less things.