Updated: Jun 1, 2019
I know wanderlust sells a lot, but it is important for you to know the truth before you take that plunge
I am not discouraging you to travel. I am a traveller myself, and have travelled extensively in India and to 19 countries so far. But I feel that in the name of travelling, you can neither be putting everything on stake, nor can you be thinking that it's a cakewalk. So, I am going to share with you what traveling is and is not.
1. Travelling is immersive
Traveller and Tourist - the difference
I hear it quite often that travelling is for relaxation. Going to a beautiful luxurious hotel, doing a spa in the morning, then taking a luxury car to the nearby places, and coming back in the evening - is all good. But it is not immersive in nature. There is absolutely nothing wrong in doing this. I have done this multiple times, when rejuvenation was my priority. But on those occasions, you need to accept yourself as a 'tourist', who has a very outside, convenient and superficial perspective of a place.
Travel, by definition, is immersive in nature. Some of the examples of immersive travel experience -
Staying with locals in Himachal, and helping them cook
Spending a day exploring the roads of Paris, and observing the life of the locals
Trekking all the way up to Mulyangiri peak in Karnataka, and coming back by the state transport
Watching an opera in New York with the New Yorkers on weekends
Waking up in the morning to participate in the chants at the monastery in Bhutan
One can choose the mode of transport, or the kind of accommodation. But in general, unless the experience is connecting you with the things that define the place, be it nature, or locals, or food, or culture - it does not make it an immersive experience.
2. Travel is not only travel photography
Because I have been traveling since I was a child, I have seen the traveling world pre and post Instagram. The sudden surge of travellers on this planet can be attributed to the social media. While the platforms have got more and more people interested in traveling, much of it is driven by the visual representation, and not the overall experience. I have heard my friends saying:
So and so influencer had gone to that place, it must be great
This photo isn't good, let's go to another place
And then there is this trend of travel photographers calling themselves travellers, misguiding an entire generation to a point of no return. So waking up in the morning, just to capture great light in photos, seeing the place through viewfinder and not talking to people around to know more about the place, are some of the mistakes we tend to do. I have done them too, and learnt that there are very few times we will come back to the same place, and once the opportunity to soak in the place is gone, it is gone for good.
3. Best of the travel needs planning
I like going with the flow while traveling
Heard this right? I have heard this, believed this, and suffered from this. And that suffering was not related to haggling with the hotel for the stay. I mean that's not a cool experience, but you could do that even before you reach that place. But the idea of going with the flow is a bit dangerous. How do you go with the flow? The best way to do this is talking to the locals. However, if you have no clue about the place, its politics, preferences, where the crowd has access and where they don't, more often than not, you will end up having a micro view of the place. You might be misguided, for reasons which are commercial, biased or not informed.
This will further magnify, if you go to a country with large geographic expanse. You will end up being within the same area, as you cannot expect the locals to guide you to go to the other side of the country. The best way to tackle this problem, is to read up enough about the place. But once you get there, be open enough to listen to opinions of others, and change it, if you are convinced.
4. Travel could be a lonely experience
Hundreds of 'digital nomads' will tell you that you will make friends while traveling, and solo travel, in practice, is a myth. I will also agree with that partly. Here is the fact - if you go to a very/slightly touristy place, depending on your interest to befriend others, you will end up making friends. But then, you will compromise on this being an immersive experience, and for sure your research will bend the knees to the chatter and laughter. Again, there is nothing wrong in that. And if you go to the really offbeat part of the world, you would not find many people of your language, or interest to even befriend. if you go with your childhood friends also to a new place, more often than not, you will find that people derive happiness out of different experiences while traveling. Some of us adjust, some of us change the group, and then some of us start traveling solo. If you are really living the life at sub-zero temperature in Himachal in the month of December, why should you have a big group of people with you, if you really want to feel the winter the way it is? Enjoying something in a lonely manner needs acceptance of yourself.
5. Finally, traveling needs courage and strength of character
We all know that travelling needs money - little or more, but it does. But to explore the unknown, to go beyond what your research tells you, to walk on the path you do not know, and to trust the people you have never seen, needs courage. To continuously evolve in a short span of time can put you under stress. It can disturb your traditional idea of 'soul-searching' while travelling. It can see you fail, when not being able to enjoy a certain place, the way you have always dreamt. And to embrace all these deviations quickly, without hurting the main purpose to move on, and yet managing the psychological and physical changes, needs strength of character. It actually makes you stronger, but not in a linear manner. It does so with a constant up and down during the journey.
So, if you have read so far, let me tell you that, excelling in anything, needs dedication. Travel is no different. So, do not leave your job, or degree, because 'Tamasha' or 'Into the wild' influenced you, or the Instagram feed tells you that it is a cool life to lead. Start small, start for sure, and evolve. If you are up for all the difficulties, sometimes failure, and a constant undying drive, may be you will graduate to a 'traveller' one day. Until then, be a good tourist and enjoy the journey as one of the things in your life.