Priya (my wife) and I are on a one year trip around India. We are calling the trip India 360, in which we are trying to cover as much of the country as we can in a year. The trip is from April 2017 to May 2018. While we have been enjoying ourselves and carrying on with the trip as if it were our regular day-to-day life, the reaction that we get from people who learn about our trip varies from mild concern to absolute shock. Trust me, most people are happy with what we are doing, but then….!
Common reactions to our year-long trip
Travelling for a year sounds like fun to everyone. Almost everyone dreams of long term travel. Social media, documentaries, movies and books celebrate and glorify the concept of quitting your job to travel around the world to exotic places. “That’s fun. I wish I could do that”, is the common reaction among those who come across content on long term travel.
But if it is being done by someone really close to them, the reaction turns to concern, shock and exasperation. Everyone’s dreaminess comes crashing to the ground and they are suddenly thinking about ‘practical implications’. While some people are overjoyed and encourage us every step of the way, there are others who turn sceptical. “What about your careers?”, “How are you earning money?”, “A trip for a year must be horribly expensive. Why are you breaking your savings?”, “You are at an age where you must settle down. What about starting a family instead of loafing around?”, “A break for a year will be looked down upon by companies. It will be hard to get jobs again.”, “Why didn’t you keep your jobs and simply take weekend breaks or small vacations? What’s the need to go all out and travel full-time for a year?” are some of the common questions that we are peppered with.
Others come to terms with our travel, but are unable to comprehend our lack of planning, since we are travelling on our own terms, haven’t made a detailed plan and haven’t enrolled for a guided tour with a tourist agent. “You drove all the way from Mumbai? Did you say 10,000 kilometres? Why would you fatigue yourself like that?”, “No hotel reservations and you find lodges on the go? Are you crazy? What if you don’t get a room? Will you sleep on the footpath?”, “Aren’t you afraid of theft, crime…..?”, “Does the food suit you? Does the water suit you?”, “Don’t you get lost? How do you manage to get to the right place? Surely, you don’t know every road in this vast country.” are questions from those who like the idea of our travel, but are looking for ways to convince us that what we did isn’t a practically good idea. Some of these questions also reek of over-cautiousness and a general anxiousness about how safe the world we live in really is. Yet others, especially those out of touch with technology, fail to recognise that this is a world with plenty of innovative technology tailor-made for self-planned travel. We have Google Maps, hotel booking sites that can book at short notice, TripAdvisor and what not? Today is the best and the easiest time to plan a travel completely on your own. No tour guides or advance reservations needed.
And then the media spreading stories around certain places didn’t help. “Kashmir? What if terrorists attack you?”. “Goa? Be wary of people who drug you and take your belongings away.”. “Andhra? There are cyclones there 24/7”. “Panipat? Kings go into war there every year” (Okay, okay, I made this one up).
Let’s put things in perspective. Today, as I write this post, we have already travelled for 229 days, are still going strong and are at the peak of our health. We are safe and sound, enjoying every bit of our trip. Exactly as we expected before we started. Let’s talk about why our trip is not as radically lifestyle-changing as people’s reactions will have yout think.
Long-term travel: not as radical as it sounds
People’s reactions to long-term travel makes it sound like Eve sharing the forbidden apple with Adam. Everyone is tempted, but thinks that the consequences won’t be too good. People imagine that there are radical lifestyle changes to be made in order to travel full-time and that their life would never be the same again. This is a myth. Yes, there are small lifestyle changes to be made in order to accommodate full-time travel. You learn to live out of your backpack, leave the comfort of your familiar room at home, go without good Internet connectivity, stay away from your favourite cuisine, try to understand languages that you don’t know and be physically more active than your regular life at home. But none of the lifestyle changes for travel can compare to the drastic lifestyle changes we need to make for some of the decisions that are accepted by the world without batting an eyelid. Let’s look at some of those events.
(a) Having children: Bundles of joy are lovely and cute. We love them with all our heart. But certainly, they aren’t easy to take care of. Priya and I haven’t participated in this event that turns lives upside down, but we have seen siblings, cousins and friends going from enjoying weekend trips and performing stage shows to staying indoors and losing their sleep to change nappy after nappy. Then comes the race of putting 3-year-olds in school, helping kids with homework, staying with them as they visit kiddie places and see kiddie movies, resolving their seemingly useless quarrels, sending them to college, dealing with the terrible teens, planning for their marriage and getting it done. 20-25 years pass before a couple can reclaim their own lives and retire in peace. My observations among friends and relatives show that senior citizens are now taking almost full time care of their grand-children, as today’s parents work full time and even over-time. Grand-parents are leaving India to take care of kids abroad. Deciding to have children today is leading you to localities you don’t know about to take care of your grand-children 50 years later. Travelling for a year doesn’t lock you in for 50 years, does it?
(b) Getting married: It may be a love marriage or an arranged one, but there are several lifestyle changes to make once you are betrothed. Even the most successful and loving marriages are not free from major changes in life. A woman is affected more, leaving her hometown and moving in with her husband to a new place, which may speak a different language. She often has to seek a new job. A man don’t often change much after marriage and does not share an equal load of work, either in house chores or in parenting. I see this as unethical. In a good marriage, a man must make several changes to his lifestyle, learning new skills such as cooking. Both the families have different practices and beliefs. Both husband and wife must learn to respect the ways of the other family and the reasons for those ways.
(c) Moving to a new country: People have been concerned, asking how we are coping with such a ‘lifestyle-changing’ year. But no one does a double-take if a youngster in the family declares that he/she is going to the United States / Europe for further studies or for career. In fact, such a decision is welcomed with celebration.
The youngster soon finds out that life in US / Europe is expensive. For a devout vegetarian, non-meat food is difficult to find in smaller towns. Racial preferences are common in certain places. Young expats from Asia and Africa are totally unprepared for winter and snow.
Travelling for just a year around a country means that you only stay for an average of 3 days in a single town. You are out of that town before you start needing to make adjustments. However moving to a country for several years needs you to change your lifestyle in a big way.
(d) Buying a house: Unless you have a really hefty bank account, buying a house will usually put a big skid on your lifestyle. You suddenly realise that you need to commit to parting with 5 digits of money every month to pay off a huge home loan. To keep paying 5 figures, you need to make several compromises. You cannot quit your job even if you hate it with all your nerves. Your salary is what clears the loan one tiny bit at a time. And it still has several years to go. You have to spend more consciously, sacrificing some expenses that usually make you happy. If you bought the house before it was fully constructed, you need to keep track of when it will be ready for you to move in.
The ‘one’ question which is puzzling
While I take all the sceptical and concerned questions in my stride, considering them as amusing, there is one very puzzling question. “But, what’s the ‘use’ of this trip? What purpose does it solve? You have to spend a lot and can’t make a living out of it.”
Well, let’s make some analogies to this question to find out how really annoying it is. What’s the ‘use’ of listening to good music? What’s the ‘use’ of going to a temple, church or mosque to pray? What’s the ‘use’ of eating delicacies and junk food when you can survive perfectly well and healthily on rice porridge?
Let’s realise that life has two facets. One facet is spent on doing ‘useful’ things so that we can make a living, earn money, pay bills, put food on our plate and a roof over our head. This facet should take some part of our life so that we have some stability. Even if we love our routine, it becomes boring over time and our soul starts craving for a different experience. It demands a break.
But what about the other facet? Doing something just for the fun of it. Doing something because you absolutely love doing it and because the opportunity to do it comes along once in a while. Doing something because it takes all of your body and soul to enjoy the experience. Doing something just because it means a lot to you. That’s what music is to musicians and music lovers. That’s what Pooja ceremonies and Sunday mass are to those who are devout about religion. That’s what trip India 360 is for Priya and me. It may not make us a living and it may not be ‘useful’, but we are proud of it and are enjoying every minute of it.
Life throws us handful of events where we need to take big decisions and change our lifestyle forever. Contrary to popular belief, unlike really lifestyle-changing events, travelling around a country for a year doesn’t need you to make permanent sacrifices and you can rest assured that once the trip is over, you are going back to that lifestyle that you set up to perfection back home, but now as a changed human.