Today is my birthday and so I decided to write a different kind of post to celebrate the special occasion. This post is not about my birth (!) but rather about the birth of the traveller in me. Most of my childhood friends and acquaintances often question me about how or when did I develop my love for travelling. Was it a sudden fascination or something, which evolved with time? I had never thought about this until the first time that I was asked this question. This made me really curious because, in spite of all the travelling I had done, I didn’t really know the origin of my travel bug.
I spent a lot of time during my travels, connecting the dots of my past and present, trying to find the reason behind it. I realised that the answer lay hidden back in the memory vaults of my childhood and that certain circumstances ensured that I was always on the move. I left home for boarding school when I was 13 years old. I spent four years at the boarding school, which was cradled in the Himalayas. This was followed by preparation for engineering, bachelors’ degree, masters’ degree and multiple jobs, all of which were spread all across the country. I learned how to adapt to new places and situations ever since that early age. Becoming independent at 13 meant that I learned how to make difficult decisions, weigh my decisions and other fundamental life lessons. Somewhere down the line, all these experiences helped in shaping my personality and instead of shying away from ‘change’, I learnt to accept and embrace it.
I developed a love for the mountains when I was in boarding school. I was the stereotypical Indian man with a set job right after school and college. Being stuck in a monotonous 9 to 5 job makes the mind start thinking out of the box. I was in my mid-20s by the time that stage hit me. I knew that I wanted to travel. But there was one major issue. In India, we don’t do anything alone. The concept of doing anything ‘solo’ doesn’t seem to exist. It is a cultural thing and we are extremely habituated to it. We celebrate festivals in groups; have fun in groups and even travel in groups. Even though travelling was on my mind, solo travelling wouldn’t have been possible. I waited for my friends to be available for trips. I begged them to plan something and sometimes the plans worked out while sometimes, they didn’t. However, this didn’t stop me from making future travel plans without even thinking of whether solo travelling will be possible or not.
My big break came when I discovered the magic of couch surfing. When I moved to England, I used the website to host travellers on my off days. Listening to the stories about their experiences of solo travelling inspired me enough to give my own dream a new direction. I was tired of waiting for people to be available to join me on trips. But at the same time, I was scared because I wasn’t used to taking completely new steps, alone. Then the day came that I finally decided to muster up all my courage and with shivering hands, booked my first solo trip to Stockholm. Why Stockholm? I have already answered this question in my post here. Couch surfing helped me in those initial days of travelling. I found hosts to accommodate me in the different countries I travelled to and this meant that I did have company. The feeling of loneliness never warped me in those strange countries with strange languages. As they say, God helps those who help themselves. I slowly started enjoying these experiences and realised the beauty of solo travelling. I learnt how and where to meet like-minded solo travellers on the same boat as me. My wings were stretched farther with every trip and I was finally flying free.
Things took a major turn last year as I stepped into the best phase of my professional career to date. I was allowed to have ample leave from work and also be able to fund my travels, making it the best of both worlds. It was a dream come true right when I needed it the most. I made the most out of it by wandering across different destinations, at every chance I got. I had the good fortune of travelling to more than 12 countries, spread across 3 continents within the timespan of 11 months while juggling a full-time job in hand. I pushed my boundaries, broke rules, met amazing people, witnessed the impossible, fell in love, embraced the craziness and felt grateful for the beauty residing within the smallest things in life. All of this really changed me as a person, I felt more alive than ever and with every trip that I took, the hunger for travel just kept pushing me for more.
Anthony Bourdain summarised these feelings in four perfect lines:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart, but that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something behind.”
So this has been my journey so far, from being nobody to the wanderer on the road who loves his life. I hope this need for ‘change’ never ends because I truly believe that I have finally found what it takes to make my soul happy. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what is the most important goal in life? Here’s wishing myself a very happy birthday and hoping that the wandering never stops