Travel and tourism to me is an educational pursuit, a way of absorbing knowledge through experience and it is the spice of life. I never stop learning when I travel. I never cease absorbing new things about the world, about life, and about myself. Though everyone picks up different gems of understanding at different times, there are a few universal truths, a few inalienable facts that we all have to learn. Some of these truths are hard won, while others are subconsciously absorbed with time. Our tastes, our traits and our personalities make us choose the destinations we choose for our holidays and so there is a distinct traffic heading to Las Vegas and a very different bunch going to Varanasi. They will both enjoy their respective destinations though not necessarily each other’s target cities.
So what has travel taught me as I have grown up travelling my vast country and the world? Plenty; I have acquired certain invaluable pieces of knowledge, mostly about myself, which makes me a far more reassured and happy traveler, who complains about virtually nothing. I must admit that my love affair with the internet which makes me plan my travels far more efficiently has a lot to do with this, but what has changed most is ‘me’.
I today intend to share with you some of these valuable travel lessons. They make life easier. They make life simpler. These basics might be philosophical, existential, physical, or even simple common sense, but the fact is the more you travel, the more you come to realize they're true.
1. You're here for a good time, not a long time: This is something a teacher said to me when I was young and under his tutelage was out on a school trip, and I've never forgotten it. The idea is that you don't get many holidays in this life. You don't have long to explore the world. So with that in mind, don't sweat the small stuff. Don't get upset when things go wrong. Just savour every little moment.
2. More money does not equal more enjoyment: As a budget traveler you find yourself occasionally lusting after five-star hotels and fancy dinners, but as you grow older and start affording them, you start missing the good old days of budget travel. Some of your best travel experiences will be had on low-budget journeys to unfashionable places.
3. You travel for your pleasure and not for your Facebook status: This is not a competition. You're not holidaying to impress your friends, or to make your colleagues jealous, or for any other reason besides the pure enjoyment of travel. You choose your destinations for you. You choose your experiences for you. No one else matters.
4. Kids don't have to slow you down: There's an assumption that having kids will put an 18-year halt on your travel plans, that you might as well get used to staying at home for a long while. But it's not true. Travel with kids of all ages is not only possible, it's enjoyable, and rewarding for everyone involved.
5. Less is more … It takes a while to understand that you should take all the money you think you'll need for a holiday and double it, and take all the clothes you think you'll need, and halve it. Yes, you understand that you really don't need all that gear, and that you could easily ditch half of it – but which half? Wheelie luggage makes it even more tempting to over-pack.
6. You need more money than you thought: You really do. Something tends to happen to money when you're travelling: it just disappears. Best to take lots of it but not in cash. Cards are best and safest.
7. If you can't afford to lose it, leave it: There's no point stressing out your whole holiday over your expensive watch, or those nice earrings, or the bag you really love. If you've can't bear to lose something, then don't take it travelling. It's not worth the worry.
8. Backpacking is a state of mind: You don't have to be young to backpack. You don't need to stay in hostels. You don't even need an actual backpack. Independent, long-term, experiential travel – the sort of travel backpackers do best – is open to anyone at any time. That said, there will come a point – usually before the age of 40 – when you realize you're too old for dorm rooms. The rustling of plastic bags, the lights on at 4am, the drunks stumbling around … There's only so long you can put up with that.
9. People rarely just want to practice their English….smell a scam: There's a wariness that comes with experience for travelers, a knowledge that, sadly, not everyone you meet on the road has the best intentions. One of the classic warning signs is the friendly local who wants to practice their English. This has "scam" written all over it.
10. Change your money in the airport: Do not rely on friendly locals to give you a better exchange rate. This is an age old trap. Do not ever lose the sight of your passport, even when you need to show it for hotel check in.
11. Haggling is essential: It's an uncomfortable feeling, essentially arguing with someone over money – but haggling is a deeply ingrained part of many cultures, and it's something you should try to enjoy. But don't go too hard.
12. Take it slow: In your first holiday, you want to see everything. Ten countries in two weeks: no problem. Check all the boxes, do all the things. After a while, however, you realize that sometimes less is more when it comes to travel. Spend more time in fewer places, and you'll be richly rewarded. Imbibe the culture, appreciate the geography, get inspired by the architecture and the civilization and enjoy the distinctive cuisines. Breezy conducted tours will not allow you to do all this.
13. Language is power: You can travel without being able to speak the local language quite easily. However, you're just floating across the surface; you're seeing everything in 2D. Learning a language allows you to interact with locals, to learn and experience and show respect. It's a difficult skill, but so valuable.
14. Local food is best: By far the safest way to eat when you're travelling is to dine on whatever it is the locals enjoy. The food is fresher, it's cooked with passion and skill, and you eat it surrounded by new friends.
15. It's OK to splash out: You want to spend $300 on dinner because you love food? Go for it. Want to experience a night in a five-star hotel? Do it. Want to hire a Tuxedo and attend an expensive concert? Do it. Want to fly business class just once? Make the booking. There's no shame in saving up for something you really want to do and then splashing the cash. It is your money and it is being spent on your happiness……no harm done!
16. Bad days happen….makes you capable of amazing things: You can plan everything to the finest degree: you can do your research, you can read reviews, you can book ahead, you can pack everything you need. Some days, however, will just be a disaster. Move on. You can survive when things go wrong. You can make yourself understood in another language. You can befriend strangers. You can explore the world on your own. You can change your life with a split decision. This might be the most important lesson of all: you are capable of amazing things.
17. People are fundamentally good: There's a tendency to be on your guard at first, to listen to tales of thievery and scams and believe it's safer to assume the worst in people. But that's a mistake. The people you meet on the road are overwhelmingly good of intention and of heart. You might run into the odd exception, but the vast majority of people are kind, generous and well meaning. Exceptions are everywhere, they don’t form the majority.
18. Risks are worth taking: Travel is at its best when it challenges you, when it forces you to reconsider what you thought you knew when it takes you outside your comfort zone. It's a thrill, an experience, a story. The idea of "risk" is different for everyone, different for different ages, but the benefits remain the same.
19. Off the beaten track is good: Most people tend to begin their travel careers in popular, safe destinations. As time goes on, however, you discover that sometimes the best experiences can be found in the most unlikely places. The entire world is worthy of exploration.
20. But some of the best things have been done before: There's a reason Italy is so popular; same as it's no surprise everyone goes to Australia and Canada. These are truly amazing places. Just because a destination is mainstream, doesn't mean it isn't worth a visit.
21. Stereotypes are ridiculous (and sometimes true): Experienced travelers know that Germans aren't really uptight, the French aren't rude, the Americans aren't boorish, the English aren't whiners, and Australians aren't drunks. Occasionally, however, they are.
22. Two weeks is enough: Anyone waiting for that perfect time to see South America, or Africa, or North America, to hold out until they have six months to "do it properly", will probably never make it there. Two weeks is long enough to have an amazing experience. And there's no better time to make it happen than now.
23. The world is a safe place: Despite all of the security issues, all of the unrest, all of the bad news stories and potential danger, you learn as you travel that the world is actually a pretty safe place. Countries you thought were dodgy are not that bad. People are trustworthy. The world is good.
24. Your own country is worth exploring: Though it's tempting to view India as a destination for "later", there's so much to explore here, so much to appreciate. Whether it is a beach resort or a hill station, a desert safari or a tiger reserve, IPL cricket or white water rafting we have so much that's worth seeing and doing now.
25. Travelling alone is amazing: At first, it seems intimidating: going out on your own, tackling all of travel's challenges without anyone's help, existing purely in your own company. But solo travel is something everyone should experience. It's the ultimate freedom, and will teach you more about yourself than you've ever known.
26. Expect the unexpected: Things will go wrong when you travel. Trains will run late, hotel bookings will fall through, restaurants will be terrible, and nothing will look like the brochure. That's life. The sooner you accept these mishaps and move on, the more enjoyable your travels will be.
27. It's not wrong, it's different: It's easy to judge other cultures, to decide that their way of doing things is a mistake. But your world changes completely when you take on this mantra: "It's not wrong, it's different." This way you will not antagonize anyone and enjoy your travel.
28. You've never "done" anywhere: Any traveler who tells you they've "done Asia", or they've "done the US", or they've "done" anywhere, are kidding themselves. Nowhere is ever done. There's always something new and amazing to discover.
29. Trains are better than planes: The hierarchy of transport options goes like this: trains, then planes, then buses. Trains are the best way to see the world, a way to mix with locals and stretch your legs while travelling efficiently. Planes are fast but soulless. Buses have character, but take forever to get anywhere.
30. You'll probably never see these people again: When you're young you part with new travel friends promising to stay in touch, swearing you'll catch up soon, convinced this will be the start of a lasting friendship. But then you come to realize that with 99 per cent of those people, that won't be the case. You just have to enjoy these fleeting relationships while you can.
31. Great holidays can never be recreated: It's an easy trap to fall into, wanting to go back and do the same things again, wanting to recapture the magic, to see and feel the same things you did before. But travel doesn't work like that. It will never be the same. Better to go somewhere new and make fresh memories.
32. Insurance is essential: This is a lesson that's occasionally learned the hard way – with a whopping medical bill – but one that everyone picks up eventually. You need travel insurance.
33. It's never too late to get started: Though we've chosen to focus on age, one thing to stress is that there's no wrong time to begin your wanderings around the globe. At any age, or any point in your life, the decision to travel will be a game-changer.
34. Coming home is the worst: Come home fresh and not exhausted. Your batteries should be fully recharged. There really is no more miserable feeling than the "back-home blues", the knowledge that all that excitement, all that anticipation, all of those challenges and joys and thrills, are all finished. There's only one cure: book another trip.
35. Avoid political hot spots and war zones: There is absolutely no reason to travel to terrorism prone part of the globe, chaotic countries during their elections, countries under insane military rulers and countries which curtail your civil liberties. War zones are best left for soldiers and the Red Cross!
These five lessons we never learn
Budget airlines are bad
You pay next to nothing to fly on a budget airline, and yet you still roll up to the airport each time expecting five-star service and an on-time departure. Not the way it works.
Brochures are untrustworthy
Though you know, deep down, that there's no way any hotel or resort is going to look the same as it does on a website or in a brochure, it's still a disappointment.
You can't get an upgrade
You can ask for an upgrade, by all means. You can dress smart, you can talk slick and you can make pleading eyes. But it's extremely rare to get bumped up.
Possessions aren't important
Every time you travel you realize you can quite easily get by with just the contents of a small suitcase. And then you get home and completely forget again.
There's no cure for the travel bug
Just one more trip, you think, then I'll stop for a while. I'll stay home and save for that house, that car. But there is no cure for the travel bug. You'll never stop.
Travelling is a spice of life. It promotes the feeling of brotherhood as we are able to meet different people and make new friends. It also promotes trade and commerce and international relations. It broadens our outlook towards life. It is a source of good health. It refreshes our body and mind. This is the easiest way to come in closer contact with nature, cultures and civilizations. Travelling is an essential part of the education for the practical knowledge it imparts to our character. Travelling gives our eyes and our minds views that leave a lasting impression. Travelling also removes narrowness of thoughts and broadens our outlook and helps us to leave behind superstitions as we progress. Thus, there is the need for every man to travel and so we do.