What my travels have taught me about life?

Let’s accept it right in the beginning. Travel is the best teacher! It not only changes your perspective on life and things, you get to know yourself better too. Many of us who have been lucky to visit various corners of this world will vouch for this. And haven’t we been regaled countless number of times by family and friends on what they learnt from their travels over the years? Travel has made us all wiser, so here is some wisdom I have picked up while globetrotting. I am sure many of you will identify with these thoughts.

A small act of kindness even to a stranger, will go a long way – Me and my family were roaming around the narrow residential streets of Kyoto, Japan in late evening with not many people around. Suddenly the rain gods open up the sky and there is only limited shelter on the street. We find a place to protect ourselves but were still getting partially wet, there was no umbrella. An elderly gentleman from across the street opened his shop door that he was about to close and offered us an umbrella. Hesitant to take it first, he insists with his hand and we took it. The umbrella is big enough to protect the 3 of us. Few minutes later, when the rain stops, we are still around and offer it back to the owner. Not knowing much English, he just gestures that we should take the umbrella with us and waves us a goodbye. That umbrella has become a part of our most cherished travel collection. How many of us have done such things for a stranger?

Always be willing to learn, even if you think you know everything – The world around us has evolved very fast and adapting to changes and showing a willingness to learn is important whichever aspect of life you look at. And nowhere have we experienced this willingness more than in Cambodia. They are a country that have opened up recently and had a tumultuous history. People are very friendly, warm and humble. In Siem Reap, a city made famous by the Angkor Wat temples, there is no dearth of tourists. But everyone from the tour guide to the tuk tuk driver and from the small shop owner to the manager of a luxury resort seemed open to ideas. In fact, our hotel’s manager discussed ways to attract Indian clientele to his property over a drink in the hotel lobby with me. How different is that from your experiences in much of the western world?

Opportunity in what looks like a problem – I lived in US for many years on student and work visa. My every entry in the US was valid only till the date of the visa expiry. An exception to this rule was passport validity. If the passport expires before the visa, then your entry stamp is only till the date of passport expiry. While flying back to US from a Eurotrip, we realised that my passport was only valid for 10 months, thus the entry was granted for 10 months. In this time period, I was supposed to renew the passport, leave US and enter back again to get an extended admission stamp. This disappointed me because we had no plans to travel internationally over the next year or so. My spouse however saw this as an opportunity for another vacation. Few months later, we made a trip to beautiful Costa Rica, our most fun trip ever and the immigration concern was resolved. Had that passport issue not happened, we would have not visited one of the purest and most scenic nations in the world!

There truly are no limits to human prowess – Our first post-wedding trip was to Las Vegas. Apart from the casinos, the luxury hotels and the culture of hedonism, what really stood out for us was the circus show, ‘Cirque du Soleil.’ It is widely regarded that we human beings use only a small percentage of potential out of what our minds and bodies are really capable of. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you experience the Cirque du Soleil. The show titled ‘O’ is an incredible jaw-dropping spectacle and an aquatic-themed jugglery of surrealism, artistry and romance combining performers from all over the globe. Featuring swimmers, divers, acrobats and dancers, the physics-defying entertainment has to be seen to be believed. The unparalleled thrill will hypnotise you and leave you in awe of what can be achieved once we are ready to push the limits.

Change and evolve to grow – You cannot stagnate and be complacent on your past laurels. Dubai is the epitome of this thought, it manages to amaze with every visit. They really aspire to be the most visited and loved destination in the world and their actions match these aspirations. The changes and new attractions come up so fast that even residents feel bewildered. Skiing in the middle of desert, sky diving over world’s largest manmade islands, ziplining over choreographed fountains and an aptly named miracle natural flower garden are just a sample of the unprecedented experiences. But never research the sights to be visited too much in advance when it comes to Dubai. Who knows, by the time you get there, a tower taller than Burj Khalifa, a lighthouse with a gigantic screen for high resolution projections and 500 outdoor steps that could literally seem like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ would all be there!

Be friendly and share knowledge – Tour guides in most parts of the world are friendly and in this era of online reviewing and word-of-mouth marketing, it is the right strategy. But some will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and will not hesitate to share their insights on aspects related to their country even though they maybe unrelated to the tour itself. We had once such guide in Edinburgh who took us to the Scottish Highlands. His incomparable knowledge of Scottish history, politics and cuisine made that tour the best experience of that trip. I happened to discuss some notorious events of the British-Scottish history that were outside the scope of the tour and he could have easily refused to answer them. But he saw my interest and stepped out of his comfort zone to answer all my queries till I was satisfied. Perhaps a small gesture, but made the trip more memorable for me.

Don’t give up till the goal is reached – It is easy to take the well-travelled (pun intended) path. But many times, our goals are different and due to lack of determination and support, we tend to easily give up. One fine afternoon in Greece’s Santorini island made this clear to us, more than ever. We were searching for this extremely famous view in Oia (see image below), but it turned out that the view is not so popular among the locals and surprisingly, neither the hotel nor the tour guide knew the exact location. Determined not to give up, we took a print-out of the view from the Internet and were literally roaming around the narrow alleys of Oia with paper in hand, asking for its location at every other shop or restaurant. Finally, one gentle elderly lady pointed us in the right direction, this viewpoint was only 500m away! And lo and behold, we reached our target destination in 5 minutes. At times, big lessons in life come from small happenings!

When in doubt, always ask – Sometimes we hesitate to ask for help even when faced with awkward and confusing circumstances. This gets tougher when you are in a different land and most people around you are strangers. But even then, asking for advice can be quite helpful. Few years ago, we were staying at a luxury resort in Palm Springs, California and went out for lunch to a local restaurant. On coming back, my spouse realised that she left her phone in the taxi. Those were pre-Uber days, so there was no way to track the car. We were disappointed that the phone was all but gone. Not sure what to do, I just calmly mentioned about the phone to the hotel valet head. To our surprise, he had seen us disembarking from the taxi earlier in the day and knew the driver personally. He called the driver immediately who promptly came back to return the phone. Had I hesitated to ask around, it would have been never found.

Don’t be afraid, even if everyone is looking at you – We made a trip to Prague with an infant in our arms. Tired and exhausted by the time we reached the hotel, we just asked the hotel front desk for a nice dinner place nearby. Not realizing that we were with a baby, he directed us to a Czech pub. Once we got there, the hostess first stared at us and then assigned a seat in the corner away from the noisy area. Only then we realised that this was not the right place. Everyone was looking at us and wondering what we were doing there? At first, we wanted to leave. But then the hunger got better of us and even the little one was enjoying looking around. We decided to stay and the food was truly delicious. So as long as you are calm and comfortable with yourself, ignore those around you, especially the strangers. Carry on with the task, it will be fun.

Becoming a parent need not change your plans – It is a popular perception that once you have a kid, life changes forever or for the first few years, at the very least. And travelling with an infant is not something that comes naturally to most of us. When we were taking a Eurotrip with a 6-month-old, many of our friends and family reminded us of this stereotype and wondered how will we manage everything from baby food to diapers to sleepless nights to tiring days. Needless to say, not only did we manage, we managed pretty well. And that was our most memorable holiday ever! In the endeavour to visit Paris, French Riviera, Barcelona and Prague, we took numerous flights, trains, taxis, trams and metro. It was completely hassle-free and not even once did we regret our decision. So never put-off plans because you planned a family. Live life to the fullest, this time will not come back!

– Gunjan Indrayan, CEO@Tripoetic  (www.tripoetic.com)

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