The magic of solo trips: Neetha Manoj embraces the wanderlust in her

‘Life is short, and the world is wide’ - Neetha Manoj lives by that adage. It is this passion for seeing the world, relishing the sights, sounds and beauty of a new place and meeting new people that make life worth living for this actor, who became a popular face among Malayalees with the web series Ullam. The actor shares more about her travel jaunts. 

Her father’s letters took her closer to her wanderlust

Right from childhood, she wanted to travel. “This conversation has to begin with my father who instilled the love for travelling in me. He worked at the Merchant Navy and his letters were filled with exciting descriptions about the various countries he visited, their culture, food, weather, clothes. My mother used to read them out to me,” she recalls. 

She loved his Russian accounts and used to marvel at the thought of countries that had snowfall. But since her father was always travelling, she never really got an opportunity to travel. She kept dreaming about visiting all the countries her father narrated in his letters. 

That trip to Wayanad

One of her earliest travel memories remains the trips she made to Wayanad, which made her fall in love with hill stations and misty mountains. “I still remember the mountain pass, the huge trees and the ravines en route Wayanad.”

Being married to a travel junkie 

Neetha admits one of the best things about her partner is that he is also a travel junkie. And they are constantly planning impromptu trips. “After the children grew up, I made it a point to accompany him on his business tours. We both love exploring the food and other interesting little places, it can be a museum, a historic library, or just taking a stroll in the park. And then of course shopping. Yearly we do make time for family trips as well.”

Game for solo trips as well

She is not really picky about her travel companions either. From tagging her mother-in-law and mother, friends and family, Neetha thinks travel opens her mind and all that is required is a thirst to explore new places. She often takes solo trips as well and that is another experience altogether. “Though I have taken solo trips to Bhutan and Melbourne, I would urge women to travel solo at some point in their lives. It makes you more self-reliant and more organized. Usually, when it comes to family trips, I leave all the planning to my husband but when I travelled solo, there was so much to plan,” she says. 

Tips for the solo woman traveller

When it comes to solo travelling, you need to book hotel accommodation, arrange transport, and even decide the places to visit. Then there is the question of safety. “It inspires independence in you besides taking some time off to spend time with yourself. And nothing beats that experience. The joy of being alone without a thought about the world and being free of responsibilities occasionally is an inexplicable feeling. I was able to do a bit of soul-searching during these trips,” confides Neetha.

Neetha also shares some handy tips if you are making that first solo trip.

• Look confident so that you will not be taken for a ride by strangers

• Blend in as a local. Dress local. Listen and watch.

• Check maps and transport schedules before you leave your hotel so that you are sure about your destination. It helps you to enjoy the place more.

• Let someone back home know about your itinerary, along with a photocopy of your passport. It is also smart to let someone know in the hotel when you step out, even someone at the front desk, just in case. 

• Travel light. Make sure all your valuables are not in the same bag. 

• Keep your cards and cash in different places on your body. 

• Explore. Wander the streets, sample local food, check markets. 

• Relax and have fun

Places I want to go back to 

If there is one place she wants to go back to it must be Europe. “I have been there countless times. I think every artist gets a space to perform in this world. When it comes to Europe, it is fascinating to watch different kinds of artists performing at the square. There are dancers, singers, trapeze artists, acrobats, musicians, magicians, clowns, actors using that space to showcase their talent. The fact that they are not getting a big stage to perform does not seem to faze them. It’s a heartening sight,” she admits. 

Neetha says they are offered money by the crowd and seem to be content, performing without ego on the streets. “They take pride in what they do. And more importantly, they are respected. I love that. Living life to the fullest. Living for the moment,” observes Neetha who has travelled Europe extensively by road. 

When in India…

Since they are settled in Bangalore, Neetha prefers to explore places closer home, like Ooty. That old fascination for hill stations is also another reason for her Ootty love. She loves the journey via Bandipur forest, spotting animals and birds. 

That unforgettable trip

If there is one trip that she keeps close to her heart, it has to be the big Scandinavian expedition. Scandinavia consists of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland and except for Denmark, she visited the rest of the countries. They went to a village called Flam in Norway and saw fjord which is a long, deep, narrow body of water that reaches far inland. Fjords are often set in a U-shaped valley with steep walls of rock on either side. She cannot get enough of the sight of the ocean meandering through the mountains and how they took a ferry on that water. The reflection of the neighbouring mountains can be seen in that water, which is a combination of seawater and the melted snow flowing from the mountains. Easily considered as the purest form of water. “I will not forget that journey in my life. I was as excited as a child on the ferry. Such beautiful scenery all around,” she says. Neetha says the 10 km train journey to Flam was one of the most exciting train rides she took in her life. “I would recommend this place to all. You should visit this place at least once in your lifetime,” she says. 

Why that road trip is special 

She also counts the 8-day road trip from Amsterdam to Switzerland via Germany as a beautiful and favourite memory. 

Scuba diving adventure 

If ever anyone wants to try scuba diving, she recommends Australia’s Great Grand Barrier Reef, which is considered one of the best places to try scuba diving in the world. 

When in Palakkad and Bangalore 

Incidentally, Neetha and her husband are from Palakkad and both their parent’s ancestral homes are in Ottapalam, Thiruvilwamala and Kongad. And they make it a point to visit these places whenever they are in Palakkad. Neetha describes them as “remote villages untouched by modernity”. They also love Malampuzha’s Kava, which has also served as the location for many films, along with the Athirapally-Vazhachal waterfalls. When in Bangalore, they love visiting Coorg, which is only 5 to 6 hrs. drive from the city. Weekend trips are often planned to Ooty and Hogenakkal with kids. 

That elusive US trip

Though their US visa is almost 3 years old, somehow that trip never got materialized. “Something or the other comes up. Now the pandemic restrictions are the villain. Earlier children had exams. Hopefully, this year we might finally make that big US trip,” she smiles. 

My life’s biggest high

Neetha is not too keen on one-day trips, she is all for long extended holidays. And that is also one of the greatest joys in her life making elaborate travel plans. Most travels extend more than 2 weeks, that is why they made multiple trips to Europe. “It’s not possible to visit all the places in one trip. We often include three countries in a single travel schedule. We stay at each place for 2 or three days. We do not go through travel agencies and prefer backpacking trips. Since we have friends all over the world, we usually take these trips with them. They are our local guides,” she chuckles. 

When lockdown put a stop to our travel plans 

For the first six months, all they thought was to remain safe from Covid. But after a while being shut indoors was taking a toll on them. “Considering how we travelled once in three months, this was unbelievably frustrating. 2020 somehow looked like a year without any travel but then we somehow managed to make a trip to Coorg in November. It was a great trip with two of our friends and their family. We realised the value of travelling during this pandemic. And in December we took a trip to Ooty,” she says. Neetha says tourist spots are slowly reopening and that is something to look forward to. 

Official trips

She considers the Jordan trip as part of a Television programme as one of her most memorable official trips. They went to Israel and Palestine and it was special as not many get an opportunity to visit these places. Another excitement, according to Neetha, was that they were accompanied by Rima Kallingal, Ramesh Pisharady, Ranjini Haridas, Rimi Tomi and Subi Suresh. “It was quite an experience to perform in Israel and Palestine. We have heard frightening things about these countries. But to our relief, it was a beautifully organized trip. When we crossed the Israel-Jordan border we were greeted by gun-toting army officers. And guess what? They loved Bollywood films and actors and were excited to meet us,” she recalls. 

Neetha never even imagined she could see places like Bethlehem or Jerusalem and was overwhelmed to visit the Church of Nativity where Jesus Christ was born. Same goes to the sacred wailing wall of the Jews, the dead sea, and the famous Petra great temple, which she declares as “magnificent.”   

Our next stop 

“A trip to the Greek island Santorini is one trip I had planned last January. Maybe we will go for our wedding anniversary. Another wish is to see Norway’s Northern Lights, which is really a splash of colours on the sky. We might need to go back to Scandinavia for that. Elaborate planning is needed for that trip and luck should also be on our side. Another wish is to visit Kashmir and Ladakh. My travel list is never ending. And our travels so far I would say was just the tip of the iceberg,” she quips. Here is to more travels and more memories for posterity.   

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