What travel means to me

Note: This post will take 12-14 mins to read, if you would prefer to listen instead, click here for the podcast version

With the current world situation, a lot of travel enthusiasts like me have been forced to stay home. Most of us have gone the longest without travel and it is starting to get bit uneasy. Why is travel so important to this generation than any before us? Our parents are ok with not travelling for long periods of time, in fact summer holidays were the one time in the year we used to travel as kids, and that too was mostly to our grandparent’s house or some years we never travelled at all as travel was expensive. Travel is even more expensive these days, but we give more importance to it and hence find ways to fund ourselves.  

Travel is the one expense I don’t feel is extravagant, it somehow seems like the call of an inner voice.  It may be a road trip with friends, with the music on high or a solo trip to a new country with my headphones on. Travel has enriched me as a person beyond expectation. Travel is no longer just visiting monuments and clicking pictures. Travel means immersing in the culture and expanding our limited mind. Travel challenges your mental limits, for example, how tolerant and broad minded are you? I thought I was a broad-minded person, until I landed in the Philippines and I realized, I was still judgmental. I was shocked with my own thoughts and reactions, I had to open my mind and really accept the culture. It was a rude awakening to my mind’s limit. I admired the all-inclusive mentality of the people there, it was liberating. The Philippines taught me acceptance of another person, no matter what their sexuality, orientation, food choices and diversity. The Philippines has a large number of transgenders and LGBT community members, and they are so seamlessly a part of the society, and for an outsider this is all a lot to grasp and open the mind in the true way. The local people’s food choices were a lot extreme for me, as I am a pure vegetarian and it was a challenge for me not to cringe while sharing a table with this exotic food (pork, beef, all kinds of birds, fish balls, chicks etc.), But this is the part that exposed to me how accepting I truly was, and it helped me evolve, to respect and totally accept another person’s way of life. Trust me you are not as broad minded as you think, not until you have travelled enough. The result was that I made some amazing friends and they showed me their city in their style. 

The joy of holding a paper map and exploring an unknown city is beyond words. This is something my travel to Singapore provided me. The city is well planned, and you can’t really get lost, although I did hop on to the metro and got off at the wrong station. But the independence to move was freeing, the use of public transport was so hassle free. The confidence that it built in me was amazing. I explored the whole city on my own, including the Singapore Zoo, the Night safari and Universal Studios. It was a first time alone in a theme park, but I sat on all rides, including the scariest of roller coasters. I could cut across long queues as a single rider, so that was a plus. It taught me I don’t need company all the time to do things I want to do, I can have fun alone and that is a major learning in itself. I did have a few days when my friends joined me and those were memorable as well. 

Happiness in whatever God has given you, that is something I saw in the people of Bhutan. The breathtaking scenary does not mask the hard life of the locals. The terrain is unforgiving as it is beautiful, but nowhere have I seen the smiles and ligt heartedness of the locals like there. They truly seem a satisfied lot. Our cab was turning a corner when a woman with a child suddenly tried crossing the road, in any other country or city this would have left the driver screaming at the woman and the woman screaming back, that is what we all expected in the backseat, instead to our surprise, both of them burst out laughing and went their ways. This may seem like a tiny incident, but it was a big lesson, in the rushing so called progressive mega cities, we have forgotten humanity. Rushing to office seems like a battle cry, and we take life so seriously. I don’t think this scenario is possible in our cities anymore. 

Coming from a country which was ruled by the Europeans (namely British) for a long long time, subconsciously for an Indian, we assume that Europeans are richer and more privileged than us and we believe only India deals with poverty. My eyes were opened when I travelled across Europe, when I saw there are poor and homeless even in the progressive nations. Money imbalance remains a global phenomenon, but for an Indian to see a homeless European with a board begging for money, is a cultural shock, I felt extra sad for the person. I don’t think many non-Indians will understand this, but this was another aspect of life I witnessed, something only travel could bring about, no media is going to showcase this, not in India at least. 

When I travelled to countries who have not yet heard the word “vegan” or “vegetarian”, I faced a new challenge, finding food. I never imagined I would have to think where I will get my next meal, when I see so many restaurants around. But I did face this dilemma, I was in a city which had no vegetarian restaurants, they didn’t even have salad on the menu. I had to scan through the only Chinese restaurant in that city and ordered plain boiled rice with blanched spinach. I have never felt so bad for myself ha ha , sitting there eating the only food I had to survive, it was something else. Survival skills in the 21st century when it comes to food, who would have thought. I learnt a small trick, so any vegans reading this, always remember, if you are in a country that does not have vegan food easily available, search for an Italian restaurant, they can easily whip up delicious vegan food without much of a hassle. 

Receiving help from kind strangers, we have always been taught to be self-reliant and in our day to day life, everything is in place and we have our schedules, the same places we visit, the same routes we take. We are not used to taking help from complete strangers, we may however have extended help. A few situations in foreign countries, I was touched with the act of kindness. I was at an airport, i had checked in and was waiting to board the flight and I had exhausted almost all the local currency in cash, I was thirsty and wanted to buy a bottle of water. I was 2 dollars or local currency short, and I was so thirsty, they did not accept my card as well. The woman behind me in the queue saw this and immediately paid the remaining amount. I thanked her whole heartedly and did feel a bit ashamed that I was short of cash. Accepting help gracefully is another lesson no book can teach. 

Another time, I didn’t have change for a locker at a museum, an elderly man watched me struggle and gladly lent me some coins. You must be wondering why is she always short of cash? ha ha guilty as charged, I shop like crazy. But on a serious note, dealing with currency calculations and understanding the economy of a new country is difficult. A bottle of water may cost Rs.30/- in India will cost 1200 Forint in Budapest. That is a lot of difference to wrap your head around in a day, isn’t it? You may be really good at math, but when you see a coin of 300 or 500 in a local currency, as opposed to seeing highest as 10 in your own currency.  

I observed with each new country I travelled, I matured, and my problem-solving skills improved. Because travelling can bring unexpected challenges that need your decision-making skills to be sharp and swift, along with common sense (which is really not that common). Let me share an example, I was travelling to Belgium, it was supposed to be a connecting flight from Bangalore to Paris and Paris to Brussels, what my travel agent forgot to mention was the Brussels airport was closed and the second flight mentioned in the ticket was in fact a train from Paris airport to Brussels. I found out thankfully when I asked a taxi to be sent to the Brussels airport to pick me up, the local agent told me it was a train. So here I am at the Paris airport, which is a monstrosity of an airport, it is too huge to describe and I am in the middle of a long queue for immigration. The queue right next to me for France nationals is so small and I really feel discriminated, but I am almost sure I will miss my train, because post immigration I had to locate the railway station in this monstrosity of an airport. I judge the number of people in front and behind, and then try my luck, there was an airport attendee manning the queue, I politely told him my problem and I didn’t believe he immediately let me to the front of the queue. My mother’s lesson, which I had finally put in practice, she always says, until you ask you won’t know, so you need to ask for help. I am so glad I did. Had I been shy, and polite and had spent time second guessing, I would have missed my train. 

It is not just foreign lands; domestic travel also opens a whole world for us. India is such a huge country, a lifetime will not be enough to explore it completely, every state has a new language, new culture, new food, new clothing, new arts & architecture, along with the conquerors and their heritage mixed with the local. Diversity needs to be experienced and not just read or taught in schools, our judgmental human nature is very stubborn and will not budge unless we place ourselves in these new and unknown situations. 

Travel is about stories of how silly you acted, how stupid sometimes you felt and how lost you were, that is what travel is all about. When I am old and repeating the same stories again and again to anyone who will listen, I want a bucket load of stories to share. What I shared today are a just a few of the many experiences travel has provided me, I now travel so well packed that I can survive in a remote island for a week, ha ha. You would have guessed I am not a light packer, but that is the fun in it all. Hopefully the world situation will change, and travel will be back on our agendas soon. Next time you travel, look out for such experiences, document them in a diary or in your mind and take the moment to absorb the lessons. Don’t be the tourist that litters the place or screams loudly and doesn’t care of the privacy of the locals, or someone whol falls off a cliff trying to take that perfect selfie ;-),respect the locals as they have allowed you into their space, and be a conscious traveler. Do not travel for social media, do not travel for perfect photos, travel for the right reasons, travel for the stories, travel for yourself.  

Published by Pooja Damle

Tarot reader, Blogger, Podcast host, avid reader, traveller and much more

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