Firstly, to clarify- no, I am not one of those people who leave their lives behind to spend years on the road and then blog to mete out years of accumulated wisdom. I am rather one of those, who keep scouting for airfare sales and hotel discounts on websites, and put on their all- terrain puma shoes whenever time and money permit. And yet, travel has changed my life in ways I did not think possible. I have also been a fanatic reader of classic fiction since childhood, and my reading habit has programmed me to the extent that every small incident around me becomes the plot of a nice interesting story. Not surprisingly, therefore, everyday life to me is a string of unrelated stories woven together by one commonality-me, the observer. Travel to distant lands does call for more proactive involvement though- I have to pack my essentials, draw up a schedule, make an effort to understand how people of a place communicate, and lug around a DSLR camera. And yet, it is all worth it.
Travel opens up your mind. A single great journey does to you what ten good books cannot. I have seen that people who travel are, as a rule, more broad minded, spontaneous and easier to get along with.
Here are some of the life lessons that travel has taught me:
1. No dream is too big, and no destination too far away.
When my husband and I planned a trip to Las Vegas and Grand Canyon, we booked a flight that would reach Vegas from Miami at 12 in the midnight. From there we rented a cab and drove, without a single break, to the Grand Canyon. I am not much of a driver on the highways, and so my husband had to drive all the way-an eerie stretch of 230 miles in the pitch dark night. Sleep-deprived for a full day, (Miami and Vegas have a time difference of three hours, so by Miami time we had actually reached Vegas at 3 in the morning) Kunal drove another five hours to get us to a splendid view of the Grand Canyon. We arrived just in time to see the first rays of the sun break over the red shoulders of the canyon. The early morning fog left us shivering, but nothing could take away the sense of elation we felt when we stood before the Grand Canyon. And guess what- we felt as tall as the Grand old man himself.
On the very same day, we drove to Sedona and back to Vegas again.
Needless to say, we were totally drained when we finally entered the precincts of our hotel. But Las Vegas has a way of infusing mobility even into the dead. Not only, was I ready in no time to go out, but I was also perfumed and dolled up in typical Vegas style.
We took several more trips after Vegas, each time on our mettle to fit in as much as possible into our tight schedule. And every time was better than the last.
In life too, no dream is too big, if you are meticulous enough to take smaller steps at the right time. Take care of the small things, and the big picture will automatically fall in place.
2.When you hear a cry for help, and it sears your soul- answer.
I was very young then, around twelve. Our family had planned a trip to Madhya Pradesh. We booked a safari jeep with a very friendly tour guide and were making rounds of dilapidated structures- palaces of kings and queens that now lay in ruins. It was after midnight when we stopped for some fresh, homely meal at a Dhaba (roadside eatery). A pretty young girl suddenly rushed towards us from nowhere, her scantily clad legs soaked in blood. She was screaming for help. Some people were after her. The guests at the Dhaba immediately shrank from this disturbing sight. The owner of the eatery hit the girl with a stick till she left as he could do no business till she was around. My father wanted to take her to the nearest hospital, but the driver would not agree. His religion did not allow him to carry 'bloodied objects' in his car. The locals too dissuaded us from such daring. We drove away, leaving the lone beaten girl to her 'walk of shame' along the lonely road.
Years later, I met with a very bad accident. It was a miracle that I was saved. And the first words I uttered to my mother on regaining consciousness were these: This happened because you did not save her.
She immediately knew what I was talking about.
The incident will haunt me to my grave. It was a life that I, even as a little girl then, could have saved but did not. But since then, not once have I turned my back on someone in dire need. In my life's journey so far, I have realized that there is nothing that needs more immediate attention than humanity itself.
3. You never get back lost time, so build memories while you can
I always jump at the chance of meeting a new person- I may never meet that person again, but for the time that I have spent with him, I have lived in his world and have had a glimpse into his life.
4. Splurge where necessary, you can earn your money again, but not lost time
Travel has taken me to places that I had only dreamed of seeing as a child, and with the responsibilities that adulthood brings, those dreams too were fast retreating out of sight. But life has been good to me. I haven't only visited my dream destinations, but was also the reigning queen of my adventures.
One of my dream places was Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The joys that the place brings to a believer of dreams like me cannot be put into writing. Oh, to sit again in the Hollywood studios amphitheater watching Fantasmic or see Cinderella's castle light up in a burst of pyrotechnics in the Magic Kingdom. But those hours are past. What remains is a very happy memory of the place. Another lovely memory is Puerto Rico. We were there in Hotel El Convento in San Juan on our first wedding anniversary. Only a year into our marriage at that time, the experience in Puerto Rico quickly brought us closer. The memories of the places we visited and the great times we have had in the early years of our marriage, have laid the foundation for the stable life that we now lead. I could spend a million bucks later in life and yet, never be able to recreate the same magic.
5. Listen to your friends and family - above all listen to yourself
I have always liked to travel by myself, and at best, in the company of another person whose idea of travel is the same as mine. I do not like to find myself stuck in an awkward social situation where I have to make small talk with an acquaintance, while beautiful landscapes that I may never have the chance to see again, pass me by. As a result of this penchant for solo travel, I have been able to see, enjoy and internalize my surroundings much more than I could otherwise. My friends and family now know this and let me wander off from time to time.
When there is no clamor of voices around you, it is all the more easier to listen to your heart. Over the years I have felt that the inner voice is perfectly logical, sincere and rational, and has never led me astray.
6. Discipline is the key to enjoying your life
A disciplined travel-lover may sound like an oxymoron. How can someone who keeps looking for an escape from the rigor of daily life be disciplined, you say? Well, when one has to pack everything one needs into a knapsack (including heavy shoes), and yet be impeccably dressed on the visit to that fine dining restaurant, when one stays awake to catch the midnight flight on a weekday after work, and yet rushes to reach a theme park early the next morning, when one has to plan for contingencies like traffic and rain ahead of schedule, and still manage most of what there is to see- well, he has already learned discipline. Contrary to the fears of many that if you have tasted the joys of globe trotting, you will never actually settle, travel actually instills values like discipline and punctuality that are a great help in day-to-day life.
There was a time when the idea of discipline appalled me because I thought being disciplined was not much different from being robotic. Travel has taught me how wrong my notion was. If I had not inculcated discipline from my travel experiences, I could not have straddled the responsibility of a full-time job, a ten month old baby and a nuclear family.
7. Physical fitness matters - at all times and for everyone
You have to be fit to travel. The mountains may lie in wait for ages, but you will have only till tomorrow to trek up its snow-sieged slopes, after which you have to return to your regular work. Neither is money so abundant that you can have a helicopter carry you to savor the beautiful hilltop views every time. And even if you are stinking rich, the two are never the same.
You have to be physically fit to climb the mountains of life as well, before life passes you by.
A myth buster: Mental prowess and physical fitness can co-exist together perfectly well. As a matter of fact, exercise clears the mind.
8. Following the herd will lead you to exactly where you are now: in the middle of a herd
Yes, this too is a lesson from travel. My travels have been infinitely more enjoyable when I have done my own research- talked to local people about what I should see and where I should eat, browsed through every brochure in the hotel's lounge area, and paid attention to the smallest of signs on the road.
In life too, do your own research. Of course, secondary research is there for a reason. But I have seen a lot of people out there trying to align their lives to the coordinates of others, and then expect something miraculous to happen. Well, it does not. In fact, given that no two people share the exact same set of strengths and weaknesses, chances are you will have underachieved your target by a huge margin. But do your research and try an inside-out strategy- you will be well on your way to achieving your personal best.
9. Your dignity is not a function of what job you are in
We had attended a presentation in Daytona where we were briefed about the benefits of buying a time share in a hotel group there. The sales pitch was made by Dick Ferency, a Vietnam war veteran. Dick was a pilot in the war and was one of the several US war veterans who were left without a pension or a means of sustenance.
But nowhere in his attitude, did we find a bitterness for the country or the government. He had lost his first wife and had remarried. Now both of them were salespeople selling timeshare presentations to tourists like us. As he was giving the presentation, a high handed supervisor, whom I decidedly did not like, kept a distant vigil.
Dick had a dignity that had nothing to do with the temp sales job he was working in.
He had more dignity than his pesky supervisor, and no one could take that away.
10. The real challenge in communication is not words, but body language
I could not stress the importance of body language enough- especially when you are traveling to a destination that is out of your comfort zone in terms of culture. Language plays, but a very small role in cross cultural interactions.
11. Corollary: Not language, but body language, will decide your choice of friends
On our trip to San Juan, we found only a handful of Puerto Ricans knew English- the tour operators and some of the hotel staff. Tourist like us did not know any Spanish. But the locals were eager to help, despite the language barrier. What followed was quintessential communication- we did not have the luxury for a lavish spread of words but had to know from the locals there, important information like places at which to eat and drink. Luckily for us, the Puerto Ricans are a very helpful bunch. They flailed their arms about till we understood what they meant.
People in the capital city of Washington, DC however, are the extreme opposite and talk only in impeccable English with neither time nor inclination to entertain chatty tourists from Miami. Not surprisingly, I have a bunch of friends from Puerto Rico but none from DC.
Image credit : VassilPublished On: Friday, September 19th, 2014