10 travel tips for the desi explorer
In a foreign country do not pursue the tastiest desi food, watch desi flicks or connect exclusively with desis.
There are two ways to travel - like an invited guest, you can ring the doorbell, enter through the front door and have your host guide you to the prized room of the house while they serve you in their finest china, make small talk and control your experience of the place – or, you can enter through the back door, through the kitchen, see what’s cooking on the stove, set the table, make tea and find your own comfort zone to enjoy the experience at will. The former is a tourist, the latter an explorer and mastering the art of travelling entails being the latter.
So, to all desi travel enthusiasts, before you venture into the unknown, here are the top ten tips to get you into that ‘exploration’ frame of mind.
Disclaimer: If you are one of those insufferable ‘aunty’ types who are only interested in the most soulless part of the city where all the amusement parks and designer outlets are, then please there is no need to travel; all the beauty, culture and bizarreness of a foreign country will be wasted on you - stick to Dubai at best.
- Don't stay with friends/relatives: There is a world of a difference between travelling to meet friends or family and travelling to explore, so be clear on which is a priority. Because, if you travel and stay at the place of some friends or relatives, you will end up spending the majority of the time cooped up inside their house, making frivolous conversation with people from their extended circles, interspersed with trips to places that fit their notion of ‘worth seeing’. Of course if this was the intent then may God save your soul. However, if not, then stay at a cheap hotel or hostel instead and just visit your friends at will.
- Expand your horizons: In a foreign country do not be guided by the single minded pursuit to find the tastiest desi food, watching desi flicks at Cineplex’s or connecting exclusively with desis. Broaden your horizons, expand your circle and step out of your ghettos. Interacting with ‘the other’ is the only way to dispel the many stereotypes and biases you may have against them and vice versa.
- Travel with peas from the same pod: Never travel with people who are not likeminded, regardless how ‘fun’ they may seem or how much you will save by staying at their chachi’s house. Travelling together requires a different dynamic. So there is a rule; either travel with someone you have lived with before and have a shared sense of adventure and comparable level of energy, or just do it solo.
- Be a maverick: Remove the myths, fears and biases you have against travelling solo, and this applies especially to all you ladies. Provided you do the homework, are not retarded enough to stray into deserted places or the dodgy parts of town; you will be fine. You are far more likely to tailor your trip to your taste, meet interesting people and have unusual experiences if you are alone than if you are too busy lending an ear to someone’s whining about how hungry they are, how their spouse/mother/boss ignores them or how they hope their goldfish or baby is fine at home. Trust me, if you do not have someone fantastic to share it with, life is short, do it solo.
- Do your homework: Suggested travel guides are Lonely Planet’s and Rick Steves’. They will tell you everything from the most ancient temples to check out, the sushi place you cannot miss, to the secret bizarres for bargain shopping and designer rip-offs.
- Leave your worries behind: The only baggage you carry is your luggage. Fundamental to a truly reinvigorating experience is to create distance from your own life, circles and routine and devote oneself to exploring a foreign place. Again, if while sitting inside some Buddhist temple, at a quaint café or while trekking up the Machu Picchu, you are going to be obsessing about your life and relationships at home, stay home.
- Take the road not taken: Get off the beaten track. Cannot be stressed enough. Do not get bogged down in seeing the leaning tower of Pisa, the Eifel tower or the London eye. Enjoying such overly hyped tourist sites means you have to brave hoards of (surprise, surprise) tourists, never-ending queues and exorbitantly priced tickets so you can experience a claustrophobic moment of disappointment. It is far better to view them from a distance and explore the non-touristy parts of the city instead, since that is where the real life resides.
- Think on your feet: National Geographic’s tagline, “let’s get lost” has deep wisdom in it. As a qualifier this should be taken in spirit, not literally, implying ditch ‘the plan’, be spontaneous and willing to ‘wing it’. Let the place break you a little.
- Take your time: Absorption implies truly ‘taking in a place’. This might mean you need to pull up a chair, observe the scene around you, write your thoughts, meditate, and if you find that perfect spot, stick around till sunset. For this to happen, you must let go of the ‘touch and go’ paranoia and explore a place leisurely.
- Talk to the people: Talk to your fellow passengers on the train, the immigrant workers selling the trinkets, fellow tourists, waiters, the shopkeepers. Nothing enriches your experience like when you unexpectedly bond with someone who is not of your generation, gender, class, nationality or religion yet somehow a kindred spirit.