Thursday, November 14, 2013

The accidental traveller

Let me be honest. All those times in my early childhood when I would sit in a happy corner of my home flipping through cartoon magazines from Belgium or Russia (Thanks to the over-indulgent father who claims to have encouraged me to getting into the habit of reading and developing a world perspective. I firmly suspect his motives. For all that I know, that could have been his easy way out to tame a kid who talks non-stop whenever she's not bugging him with curious questions), or those times in my early adulthood when I would read adventure books and fall in love with historical fiction, I never really believed that I could see these places for myself.

My father has done quite a bit of traveling during his early days, and my grand father (whom I never got a chance to meet) was a world traveller, thanks to his brief stint in the army during the WWII as a translator. I've grown up hearing many interesting travel stories. I used to enjoy all those happy trips with family, but I wasn't a great fan of road-trips, thanks to my motion sickness. I've always been the most delicate one in the family. With a petite body frame, the frequency with which I swoon or my tendency to throw up within 10 minutes of boarding a long distance bus (unless I fall asleep), the fuss I used to make about food while on the road, I was a nightmare to travel with. But I liked to see places as much as I used to hate covering the distance from point A to point B, whichever mode of travel it might be. I would read up about exotic places, I would watch videos of historic cities, and I'd make plans in my head. I wasn't very sure about the execution part, though. I could think of a 101 reasons why it's not my cup of tea. Horrible stories of adventure-trips-gone-wrong in the news, the thought of thriving on food I have no idea about for days together, what if I get sick? what if I get bored? what if I get mugged? and endless other what-ifs.. and to top it all, I was (/am) a control freak for a good measure. In short, I was all that does not make a natural traveler. Period.

That was until a couple of years back. Things changed since then. I changed since then. Maybe it had to do with some life choices I made, some career decisions I made, and some seemingly unimportant trivia where I took the plunge without counting the possibilities of things going wrong. So the control freak in me did a lot of analysis, but somewhere my reckless alter ego took over the reins. For good. A lot of things went wrong / did not turn out the way I would have liked it to. And when plans fell flat on their pitiful noses, I made a quick plan B or plan C, and got going. Some other times, I just rolled with the punch, like that dreadful boat ride from Chumpohn to Koh Tao during a high tide. I should have known better not to brave it out and eat a spicy Pad Thai loaded with those nasty Thai chillies right before boarding a boat into the rough seas. I kept throwing up non-stop into polythene bags, with those revengeful chillies burning my throat and nostrils while I was being tossed to the floor and hoping to pass out, at the least to save myself from more agony. The trip lasted an hour and a half. The longest hour and a half of my life. I avoided those chillies like the plague for the rest of the trip, but the next day when I woke up to a beautiful morning and a peaceful sea in that lovely little island in the south of Thailand, it all seemed OK. Things got easier when I could laugh at my misadventures, rather than holding myself responsible for bad planning.

And then, about an year back, I opted for a student exchange program in Germany. It had to do more with my urge to get away from my school for a semester, than my interest in visiting Europe. But the closer I got to joining school there, the more keen I was to travel across Europe. This time, the plans in my head had to do more with logistics. Travel passes, hostel bookings, route plans. The works.

I had a bunch of old and new friends there who were keen to go with me. But I soon figured that they weren't as driven about it as I was. All of them where at different levels of 'what if', 'if only' and 'but then', just like I had been. And so, the decision was made. I am going solo. It was a heady thought. It also meant more stress during the planning phase. Many a snowy day was spent nursing a nasty cold and multi-tasking in front of the laptop with a bunch of windows opened. Lecture schedules, Exam schedules, Assignments from the Home University with unreasonable deadlines, Google map of Europe, Travel review websites, Deutsche Bahn website. I have never juggled so much ever. All that while sipping on copious amounts of cough syrup.

As I made my bookings for Amsterdam the day after, it hit me that my Euro-trip was finally taking off. I was excited, and I was also a bundle of nerves as I packed for my trip. Over the course, I have been to 10 countries, and 20 cities/ towns across Europe. Some sleepy, some happy, some like a big party, some fairy tale-ish and some like a scene right out of a horror movie. There were some happy accidents and some creepy ones. As I walked around in my running shoes, carrying my puny little frame around with an over-sized back pack, and a big happy smile on my face, I learnt so much I haven't been lucky enough to experience in my sheltered life. And it seems so silly now to think that all I had to do, was just pack my bags and leave. I had to make a beginning somewhere. A humble one. A practical one, to test the waters. To find out whether I can indeed do it on my own, and to find out what it would mean to me. I plan to get it rolling and to go to places I have never thought I could go to.

I intend to share more about it here, mostly for the benefit of friends who are there where I have been for a very long time. Friends, who could use a bit of encouragement to get started, and more details and reality-checks for the control freaks like me who are just never convinced that they have all the info that they need to book that flight.