“There is no happiness for him who does not travel, Rohita!…The feet of the wanderer are like the flower, his soul is growing and reaping fruit; and all his sins are destroyed by his fatigues in wandering. Therefore, wander!
The fortune of him who is sitting, sits; it rises when he rises; it sleeps when he sleeps; it moves when he moves. Therefore, wander!”
-Indra in Aitareya Brahmana
With India’s rising GDP, “travel” has become the most cliche and ubiquitous hobby. Thanks to Bollywood, a quintessential Euro trip (with a road trip in Spain) is “the” thing for aspirational Indians. But what does it mean when people say “I love traveling.” The answer is person specific. A soul’s love for traveling is like her love for music, it completely depends on her personality and expectations. If on one end of the spectrum there are people who love the five-star-hotel-hopping-things-to-do-photos-to-click approach on the opposite end is the wildcraft/decathlon brand ambassadors crowd: pushing themselves to the limit, holidays are about uncertainty, bruises and adrenaline rush for this crowd. Mostly we are in between the two extremes. But irrespective of our position on the spectrum, there are very important life lessons that traveling teaches us.
Connecting with ourself
This is the best and most beautiful aspect about traveling. For solo and frequent travelers the connection happens at multiple levels. From the very basic to the profound: what kind of traveler am I? How do I want my trips to shape up? Should they be planned to the last detail or am I the “bring it on” kind? What would make me happy: a to-do list covering everything or more time to a select few? Do I prefer the beach or the mountains or the ruins? Should I go for a trek or a holiday with family/friends? Do I want company for this trip? Do I enjoy myself better alone? Who are the people I want to ask to come along?
Answering these questions before every trip makes us know ourselves better. We start understanding our likes, our preferences and our expectations.
If it’s a trek you have to keep your rucksack light. If it’s a regular holiday then there are baggage allowances. Either way, you learn the benefits of traveling light which in turn teaches you to prioritise and plan your packing accordingly. Your wallet, your ID (passport if abroad) and your phone are the three most important things that need to be there. The rest can be managed but losing or forgetting to carry any of these three is going to be really troublesome. It helps you in sieving the fundamental from the superfluous-be it things or people.
This coming down to bare essentials approach gives a very different perspective towards life in general. The “kya fight hai, figure out ho jaega, chill” approach gets deeply ingrained. You fuss about things that truly matter: your health, your family and whatever else it might be.
No matter how well you plan, things will get out of hand if they have to. Flight delays, lost baggage, theft, booking mistakes: when Murphy takes over there is nothing that you can do except enjoy the chaos. You learn to deal with unplanned and unpleasant events that throw your plans out of the window in a calm and composed manner, may be with a pinch of humour thrown in-what I call the Wodehouse-ian approach towards issues. You stop asking stupid questions like why me? How could this happen?… You learn to accept exogenous events as things that happened and instead of focusing on the Why? ask the more useful Now what?
An intolerant traveler is definitely an oxymoron. The more you travel, the more you see, the more you learn, the wider is your acceptance of people’s customs and opinions. When you travel to offbeat destinations or during a trek, the help and warmth offered by locals makes your faith in humanity stronger. You learn to trust strangers because there is no other way to survive. You learn to respect their culture and get a better perspective on humanity.
Traveling does one of two things: you either stop having notions regarding comfort zones or the set enlarges to encompass almost every experience that life can throw at you. Food, inclement weather, hostile fellow travelers or having forgotten to carry cash-every situation can be dealt with. Motion sickness, aversion to hills or beaches, living in a village without electricity and cold water baths during treks-things that would have made me shudder are now non-incidents.
Familiarity with places and innumerable stories are the essential ingredients of starting a conversation with a stranger. My usual conversation starts with: “So where are you from?” The answer to that is followed either by an over enthusiastic “Oh really! I was there for…..” or an excited “I’ve been wanting to go there.” The stories are the fodder to keep things going. The observations and experiences are the condiments to spice things up.
I got lost. My passport was stolen hours before my flight. We went for a trek but forgot to plan our stay. We reached the station to realize our tickets never got confirmed and then randomly took the next bus leaving the bus stop. We were supposed to camp but a snow storm started in the evening so had to do a night trek back. Such is life when travel is a vital component. That sarus crane that we unexpectedly saw, the owl perched outside my tent, the milky way, the salt desert, picture perfect valleys, the sound of gushing water, all these make for amazing company when you’re sitting all alone contemplating about life!
When standing next to Pangong Tso a friend asked if the water was fresh or salty, I saw the solution to the problem in drinking the lake’s water. For life I shall not forget that it’s salty! Such experiences abound. Your knowledge base shall be vast and based on practical experiences rather than a mere what-I’d-read-in-a-school text book/Google.
Travel makes me measure life in memories. Travel isn’t just about a break, for people like us it’s therapeutic. All in all it’s an amazing hobby to have, aptly put in the poem Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson:
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known…