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  • Writer's pictureBharat Ranjan

Travel

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

— Anonymous

 

Throughout history, there have been those individuals who lived to travel the world and explore the myriad of things and experiences it had to offer. Starting in the early 14th century and through the middle of the 17th century, the Age of Exploration witnessed a surge of human travel and marked the beginning of globalization. This time saw luminaries like Marco Polo and Zheng He leave their homes and travel far to then-mysterious and foreign cultures. They and many others best illustrate humanity’s unlimited curiosity and desire to expand beyond the known life. In those days, their families did not really expect them to return given the dangers of travel and the lack of modern medicine to combat exotic diseases. Throw in wars and the risk of being robbed or killed for possessions, travel was not something the average person indulged in. But, as global population grew and societies grew more civilized, more and more individuals began to travel, and it became something the common man could attempt. This culminated in the period from the early 1950s through the 1970s when air travel became more accessible and there was a sort of glamor and romance associated with this golden age of travel.  Today, with global travel commonplace and easily accessible, exploring the world has never been easier or cheaper. Along with technologies like maps on our phones and the many apps for travel, even the farthest parts of the planet can be reached and explored like never before in history. But regardless of ease, there are those that cannot simply sit at home and the wanderlust within is always crying out to be heard. I am one such individual.

 

One of the earliest memories that I have of my love of travel was around age 7 when my grandparents took me to another town for a wedding. In those simpler times of 1970s India, we took a train that used a steam-powered engine and had to stop at every station to refill water. Since my grandfather was in a senior position in the Indian Railways, he took me to the engine and had the engineer let me onboard. I will never forget standing there in utter fascination at the men shoveling coal into the boiler, others checking various gauges, and the main engineer showing me how it all worked via a bar and switch system. He even let me toot the steam horn which was the cherry on top of the already delicious cake. From this and other early memories of my life, there has always been an undying sense of wanderlust and exploration in me. There is just something elemental inside that drives me to go to new places and explore to the fullest. Another memory was when I was 8 years old that I wandered off to explore a new neighborhood a bit away from our small flat in Wadala, a suburb of Bombay (as it was called then). I was fascinated with the new shops and houses and slipped into a dreamy daze that only the innocence and exuberance of childhood can enable. It was only when I heard my dad shout in relief that I came back to reality. Apparently, they thought I had been kidnapped or worse, and had spent an hour searching for me. This resulted in a lengthy session of scolding and a few spanks but was well worth it.

 

After I moved to Bangalore to live with my grandparents the following year, I got the greatest gift which was my own bicycle. Along with my friends, we explored every part of the 20-mile radius around my grandparents' home. The experience of going into what felt like faraway neighborhoods or fields was the ultimate thrill in the beautiful, slow analog world I grew up in. In those days before mass overpopulation, Bangalore still had forests and wild places which we would explore on our bikes or on foot. Coming indoors, even for dinner, was something that ended the excitement of being outside and was an annoyance. In later years after moving to the US, this drive to go explore just kept growing. I remember many a night I would stare at a poster of somewhere in Germany I had up in my room and daydream about one day exploring all those places. My parents also like travel, though to a much lesser extent, so I got to see a lot of places on the US east coast and also frequent trips back to India. At some level, the universe also had the same plan of travel for me and thus obliged starting early in my career. In my days on interning at GE in the late 1980s, they sent me to Puerto Rico for a few weeks to do some testing. My next internship at Bell-Northern Research sent me to Ottawa in Canada for a month-long visit to work with the team there. Though my first job at Sprint in Florida did not send me anywhere outside the state, it laid the foundation of network engineering that has since fueled the life of wanderlust. I still remember applying for a job titled 'Global Implementation Engineer' out of Reston in Virginia with Sprint. I assumed because it was internal, I would get it easily. I did not but another small company called Microsoft came calling and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

But, enough about me and let's talk about travel itself. The first distinction is that there is a massive difference between going on holiday and traveling. The former is a well-defined break that is used to refresh oneself, briefly escape from the trappings of normal life, and come back to the grind that destroys all the hard-earned peace in short order. Travel is a more mental and conscious way to visit somewhere and immerse yourself in another place with no real set goal other than exploration and experience of culture. It is not necessarily about where you go but more about what you experience when you get there and the mindset changes that occur. The concept of a traveler is no longer confined to a set of stereotypes or limited experiences in a faraway place. Travel can happen in the same city you live in or halfway across the world thanks to technology and the age of cheap oil. You no longer need to embark on an overland journey, fraught with risk, as Lawrence of Arabia or the founders of Lonely Planet once did. Travel has become so much more with many people viewing it as an opportunity for positive change, whether that change is within oneself or in interacting with others. In a world that is increasingly divided and polarized, travel serves to remind us that we are all living on the same planet but in different ways. Being in a different culture allows us to let go of media or social generalizations or stereotypes and experience directly what the people of that culture are all about.

 

Because, for most, travel pushes you out of your comfort zone, it begins to serve as a tool for personal development and growth. Travel at its basic level is all about change which allows us to get out of the mindless and repetitive life, even if just for a short while. Standing in front of Macchu Picchu or watching the undulating ocean on the Oregon Coast, pushes the ordinary a bit outside of the mind and allows you to re-imagine your life as an outside observer. The old saying that ‘variety is the spice of life’ is directly applicable to travel. While on the road, every day is a new beginning and every moment a chance to reflect on, learn something new, or improve some aspect of your life. Engaging in new and exciting experiences triggers the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical that powers our motivations and is directly linked to happiness. While we become comfortable in the ordinary and repetitive, there is a part of everyone that craves new experiences or at least an experiment beyond the ordinary. Another factor that adds to this sort of lethargy is the people that are part of our daily lives. Because they are present often in our life, we tend to follow established behaviors around them due to expectations and societal pressures. Travel lets you meet people who are unfamiliar and unstructured (to your life) and this begins a relationship, no matter how short, with a clean sheet of paper. Since there are no expectations, we feel liberated to step outside our comfort zones and grow. Providing the physical and mental setting to allow one to grow in positive and new directions is perhaps one of the best, if not obvious, benefits of travel.

 

Something many people say to me is “How can you live out of a suitcase for weeks or months on end?” This answer used to give me a pause because I never really thought about it. But when I did, I realized I never thought about it in that manner. After I leave home and my flight lands at the destination, something in my mind changes and the contents of that suitcase somehow is more than enough. Upon further reflection, I realized just how powerful it is to live out of a suitcase. From it comes a realization that we really don’t need the million thing that we stuff our homes with and somehow think we need all of that to be happy. In fact, a few days into a trip, my mind is emptied of most of all the entanglements I have with all the things at home and a lightness comes into my being. This is probably one of the reasons why I so utterly enjoy travel at a subconscious level because it is freedom from many of the biggest anchors of life like the house, car, people, etc. If more people would realize this consciously, they would travel with far more awareness and joy than what most get at a superficial level.


People

Perhaps the best part of travel is the opportunity to meet and connect with humans from all over the world and from different walks of life. At a fundamental level, we all have a basic need to have social engagements with our fellow humans and travel offers a significant opportunity to do just that. I have had so many encounters at random locations that I have lost track of the details. But, at least from some of these, I have met people who have become friends, and we keep in touch to this day. These amazing people have opened up their homes to us when we visit their country or have come to visit us in Seattle. These encounters and engagements showcase the best of what humanity is all about and the love that we all share for life. I have sat at a table in Istanbul where good food and wine was shared by a mixture of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, a Buddhist, and even an atheist. At no point was our religion or culture an issue or even something for discussion; We were all just humans enjoying an evening together. I have had many such experiences, and these microcosms of humanity is what makes me love being alive and in this earth at this time. I have met people at bars in cities long forgotten, armed with nothing more than a smile and a ‘Hi’. I have been invited to dinners, parties, or get-togethers by strangers I met just the night before. And that, of course, leads to meeting even more people and getting a beautiful, intimate glimpse into the local culture and how people live their lives. While there has been a small percentage of encounters that have been less than desirable, a vast majority has been all about love, laughter, and shared humanity. I have had strangers help when I am lost or trying to make sense of a foreign language or system. I will never forget being in a very busy station in Tokyo and lost as to where I needed to go for my train. A couple standing a bit away from me noticed my confusion and walked over to see if I needed help. Without hesitation, he not only walked me down to the right platform but also made sure I was in the spot where my carriage would arrive. I have had people give me a ride to my hotel when I was lost in the back streets of Dublin. A couple who invited us for a drink at their house in the islands just because we said hi to them on the beach and struck up a conversation. If you ever want to truly feel connected to being human, go travel!!


Kit

A dimension to travel that is often overlooked is the equipment we take on our travels, no matter how far from home. The right set of equipment will ensure that you get all the benefits of travel, while being comfortable and having a connection back to your home life. First and foremost, the suitcase we carry has the most impact as it must go wherever you go. For me, nothing is more comfortable, versatile, and roomy than the rolling duffel bag. I have used one for years ever since I discovered its design benefits. The right items to fill this bag include a good toiletry bag and the ever-versatile packing cubes that come in many different sizes. The latter is a great way to separate different types of clothes and makes for far more efficient packing and organizing. The other thing that is important to a good travel experience is the type of backpack taken. I take two backpacks that serve separate purposes: one for carrying while flying and another for walking around. While the first may be an obvious need, the latter is something many don’t think about. I discovered the need for one ages ago while traveling in Asia where it was hot and humid and I needed to carry multiple things and also wanted to buy a few things. Putting everything in a plastic bag ended in disaster as it broke and spilled everything onto the street. Having a small and light backpack lets you carry things from the hotel (water, battery, umbrella, etc.) and put things you buy while out and about. Besides providing the utility for carrying things, it also provides security from pickpockets or grab-and-run thieves. A final piece of kit that I really focus on for travels is the shoes I wear. I buy the most comfortable shoes for walking and use that everywhere I go. I love exploring new places and typically log 5-10 miles a day in walking. Shoes that are comfortable (and look good) are a necessity to ensure enjoyment during these miles walked. Final items that round out my equipment is a travel jacket (I prefer light, puff ones that pack down to a small space), sunglasses, in-ear headphones with noise-cancellation, and a comfortable cap. Best way to build a good collection of travel equipment is to learn from each trip on what works for you and what does not. Travel is a fairly personal experience and only you know what you need and what items work for you.

 

Technology

Perhaps the single biggest tool that has greatly improved the travel experience is the often vilified (by me 😊) combination of the Internet and the Smartphone (I+S). Online maps ensure that we never get lost as our means of exploring is to take random roads based on something that we see is of interest. The number of times we have taken roads and found amazing vistas, or a hidden temple or castle is too many to count. This is just the way we travel where we really don’t set an agenda for the day other than which town we will end up in to sleep. This lack of planning would never work without the significant help technology provides with an always-connected device. And being able to download offline maps helps when there is no signal in remote places. Of course, there have a few mishaps like the time we were driving late at night to Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic and Google led us down a road that was under construction and abruptly stopped. Another time in Italy when our maps insisted that a goat trail was the best route to drive to our hotel. But these have added to the fun of travel and never has been detrimental to our enjoyment of the trip. Another big benefit has been discovering local restaurants or bars because of reviews left by other travelers. Being vegetarian, this has been invaluable in finding places that have great food and a choice of dishes.

 

The other tool that we use often is short-term rental applications such as AirBnB or VRBO, which allow us to go live like locals in any part of the world we are in. We have truly marveled at the beauty or authenticity of places we have stayed in and felt like owners for a short while. We found a place in rural Thailand near Chiang Mai called Villa de Siam on AirBnB. The lovely owners, Mayuri and her husband, have turned what used to be rice fields into a very unique space of gardens, ponds, and villas set amidst nature. The buildings are all built using ancient Thai methods and wood that has been reclaimed from abandoned structures or buildings set for demolition. The amazing attention to detail such as the figurines in the room, or royal canopy over our bed ensured we really felt like we had gone back in time. Another time we found a place on the Amalfi coast owned by a family for over 300 years. We stayed in their house and learnt to cook local dishes with our hosts and spent the evening watching the sea while chatting about life over wine. We have stayed in houses on the Oregon coast with a front-row seat to the magical Pacific ocean. Another time, in rural Belgium, we stayed in a castle that had not changed much since medieval times. The people we have met and became friends with and the experience of living as locals in a house that is also local is something that would not have been possible without technology. To this day, it amazes me the places we find on VRBO or AirBnB and the gracious people who let us call it our home for a short while.

 

There are many other useful apps that add value and utility to the travel experience. We used Google’s Translation app to chat to our taxi driver in Vietnam. An entire day spent with us typing in what we wanted to say and he replying by doing the same. We got to experience and see places we never could have without being able to tell him what we wanted. We have used apps to scan statues, buildings, etc. and get instant information on the history or details about its build.  We have watched ruins of ancient buildings come to life as we pan the camera on the phone and an app shows what life was like so long ago. New services allow us to find locals who offer curated experiences of their towns for a modest price. Experiences like learning to make green curry from scratch or go to a little-known local concert for the rendition of Mozart. We have paid for coconut water to vendors in India using our phone because we had no cash. Have been able to get a reservation at a “sold-out” restaurant. To be honest, the freestyle method of our travels would simply not be possible without I+S technology and applications.


Mobility

The other thing that really enables the level of freedom to explore and go anywhere during our travels is the ability to get around without relying on somebody else. A long time ago when living in London I learned that I must have the confidence and the ability to drive a car whenever I travel, especially in countries where rules are generally followed. While I was a bit nervous the first time I rented a car when living in Stockholm, I soon realized it’s no different than driving anywhere else and just need to be more attentive. Even in places like Italy where drivers have NO patience, I realized it’s ok to get honked or even cursed at because I was going slow or unable to enter a roundabout quickly. One very lucky thing from when I was growing up in North Carolina is that my best friend taught me how to drive a manual-transmission car. This has saved me numerous times as many places outside the US do not have automatic-transmission cars. As my confidence went up, I even have driven in India which is perhaps the greatest challenge of all. Given most there don’t really follow any rules other than maybe direction of traffic flow, there are bikes, livestock, dogs, and people to avoid at all times. But again, with a bit of confidence and attention, it is possible. The other two things I would advise to learn is to ride a scooter and a bicycle. The scooter is the primary means of travel in much of Asia and far more efficient in terms of time to get around. There are places in Goa or Bali that would have taken us an hour to go a mile, but we got there in 15 minutes thanks to the scooter. And bicycles are the best way to see large parks such as Sukhothai in Thailand or cities like Paris or Sydney and a great exercise.


Photography

If there is a perfect companion to travel, it would have to be photography. Anybody who travels wants to have memories of their experiences and to share them with friends and family. From the earliest parts of my childhood, I was fascinated with cameras and how they worked. Of course, in those days it was a labor of love to capture an image, send it off to get processed, and wait for the postman to deliver the finished photos. And there was no way to know the quality of the captured image until days or weeks later. In some ways, there was an art to photography and a deep sense of engagement in the production of each image. Of course, like everything else, modern technology has utterly commoditized the experience and made it as commonplace as possible. Today, anybody with a modern smartphone can capture an image and share it with anyone around the world, in seconds. But, just like traveling is not the same as going on holiday, neither is taking a picture the same as photography. For those who care, there is an experience and a thrill in capturing a scene and the preparation that goes into it. In some ways, I think I am privileged as I have always had a natural ability to look at any scene and instinctively know how to capture it. For me, photography during travel has always had the twofold purpose of sharing the beauty of this world with others and to create a tapestry of my life’s memories that I can marvel at throughout my life. As I always joke with Rupa of when we are old and in adult diapers, we can look at our pictures and video and reminisce about our days of traveling the world.

 

As with everything, technology has largely equalized the quality and capabilities of the camera so that many phones begin to approach the image quality of those of large, Digital SLR cameras. Today, the cameras in most phones can take photographs that are not only great to share online but also to print out in large formats and put on the wall. I would highly encourage all of you to spend a little bit of time learnings some basics of photography and how to capture an image. Given the breath of resources on the Internet, this can be done with no more than a few hours of investment. But the real art of taking beautiful pictures comes from the heart and the engagement one has for it. When traveling far or near, just let your eye do the work of seeing what is there and absorbing the beauty of a scene. Don’t be in a rush to take a photograph because it then becomes mechanical and repetitive. Digital cameras took away the need to take your time thinking about the shot and preparing for it. More importantly, it provided instant gratification and the ability to take hundreds of photos with no regards to quality. So, take a slow breath or two and just immerse yourself in the scene and enjoy it for what it is. Just be! And only then take out your phone to take the pictures. I force myself to limit the number of shots to no more than 3 per scene as that provides some level of quality. I also got tired of coming back from a trip with 7000+ pictures 😊 While all this may make it sound clinical or technical, it is not meant to be. All I am saying is that if you really enjoy the scene without a camera, you will end up with pictures that are better captures to take you back days or even years later. Invest in good equipment, be it a phone or DSLR, but realize that more money does not equate to better pictures outside of a few specific cases like night photography or action shots. Over the years, I have actually invested in a better phone (camera) and the DSLR now travels less and less with me due to the bulk and weight.

 

Solo Travel

One aspect of travel that is often overlooked by most people is solo travel. This is where you pack your bags and go off to a new place all by yourself with no plans to meet any known person at the destination. First off, solo travel is the ultimate adventure in the sense that you can be whoever you want to be as nobody knows anything about you there. Because everything is unfamiliar, you are able to shed all your identities and to a small extent, experience the real you. Second, since you are alone, you are naturally open to meeting new people to enhance your experience. This is a great opportunity to meet strangers in foreign countries and even make a few friends. I have so many examples of where I have met people who have shared their city with me through local eyes and some, I have even become friends with. Being alone at a dinner table or at a bar seems to attract attention and encourages people to strike up a conversation. I remember a time I was in Dublin and had just moved there for a 6-month assignment. I went to a random pub near St. Stephen’s Green and ordered a Guinness (of course!) and was just people watching at the bar. Two guys next to me struck up a conversation with “hey fella, where are you from” and that led to a fun evening bar hopping and ending up at a Mexican-themed nightclub (yay globalization). Or a time in my 2nd week after I had moved to London in 1997 where I was at a bar in South Kensington on my own. For me, in those days in my late-20s, there was some great excitement of going out without knowing anybody as there was infinite promise of things to come. The guy next to me made some sarcastic comment about my drink which finally led to him saying “well, you are not as stupid as I thought”. That guy is now one of my closest friends and we have shared decades of life experiences together.

 

Another aspect of solo travel is the opposite of what I have talked about so far and that is the experience of solitude. For some odd reason, society generally looks at solitude in a negative manner which I have never understood. For me, it is a fundamental requirement of life and something that I purposefully seek in my own life. There are days when I drive to a quite beach in one of the nearby islands or just go for a walk in the forest which is just a mile from our home. I just go immerse myself in nature and do not much more than sit or slowly walk and just be. This state of semi-nothingness provides for reflection and also mindlessness, both of which are invaluable for inner peace and also mental and spiritual growth. Even while traveling in other countries, I make time to go into nature and do nothing. It is much easier in that environment since I am (usually) in a different time zone and there are no pressing local engagements or household duties calling. My advice would be to actively make solitude experiences as part of solo travel so there is a balance between meeting many people and socializing and much-needed alone time.


Long-Term Travel

While much of what I have discussed is short-term travel (less than 3 months), there is another type of travel that can be far longer, measured in months or even years. While some of this can even involve moving to another country for work or personal reasons, it still falls under the ‘travel’ umbrella based on what mindset you take with you. The single biggest example I will use from my own life is when Microsoft moved me to Hyderabad in India for what was to be a 3-year assignment. Even though I am Indian and have been there almost every year for the past 25 years, I still arrived in Hyderabad as a relative stranger in my own country of origin. This is because living somewhere more than a few weeks means you must engage in the society far more than at a superficial level. Even though Microsoft had rented an apartment for me, and I had an allowance to get a driver, everything from having drinking water delivered (we are SO privileged in the “west”) to finding a local grocery store becomes a task. But there is no better way than to know how a society functions and really get to know the people and culture than staying somewhere for more than a month. We have had amazing experiences staying 1-4 months is places like Chiang Mai, Porto, Sydney, Amsterdam, and Goa. Every place is very different and because of this, the mind is forced to think in new ways and accept things that are not in its comfort zone. I am amazed how quickly the mind and body adapt to things far outside the comfort zone which then sets the stage for personal growth. One small example I can give is how I now drink green tea, my favorite beverage of choice in the morning. Living in Thailand, I saw the way in which green tea is served in an earthen pot and drank using a very small bowl that provides at most a few sips. The reason behind this is force one to really cherish the flavor and drink slower than if the tea was in one big mug.

 

Meeting locals is a given during long-term stays as humans tend to get curious when they see a new person more than once. I have made some lovely friends just going for my daily walks around random neighborhoods wherever we happen to be living at a given time. It is fascinating to me to be able to observe people in their native element, whether it is watching somebody during their morning prayer ritual in their garden in Bali or an elderly Italian man, dressed impeccably, having his afternoon espresso shot in a small square in Milan. Here also, technology plays a massive role in allowing us to find places that we can truly call a home versus a short stay for a few nights. The reviews left by others are invaluable to determine if a place will work because we are usually stuck with it after booking. There are numerous times we loved the photos of a place only to read reviews that give all the negatives or the fact it is in a bad neighborhood. Because of the ability to do deep research on a place and location beforehand, most (not all) of our experiences have been great. And the few that have not, I have just accepted it as part of life and moved on. And nowadays with many companies allowing some amount of remote work, I would highly encourage you to explore long-term travel. And for kids, I cannot think of a better experience than to be exposed to other cultures and ways of life at a young age.


The Pitfalls

Amazing! Once-in-a-lifetime! OMG! Not really…. Most (exceptions in the next section) places in the world never really live up to the hype. Modern advertising by bloggers, agents, and the countries themselves try to convince you their place is a paradise, and that life will become magical and beautiful if only you go there. Unfortunately, given global population and affluence, most places have become tourist traps that are overcrowded, expensive, and just not worth the cost in time and money to go there. The Eiffel Tower in Paris is one such example where people queue for 3-4 hours to get in and then pay to go to the top. But the view is not that great and far better is to be had from alongside the river Seine or from atop Montparnasse Tower. In fact, a view with the Tower in it is far better than the tower itself. Vegas is another example that is completely marketed and hyped. Other than the casinos and dodgy guys waving leaflets of prostitutes at you, it is basically an adult amusement park with almost everything overpriced. Everything is fake including the smiles of the overworked wait staff, the Eiffel Tower, and the great pyramid. Even the real Pyramids in Egypt are a letdown based on the hype. It is very hot and dusty, and many go on camel or horses that are near death and starving. Once you get to the pyramids and are close up, they don’t look anything like the photos and its stacked rocks. Going into the Great Pyramid and into the King’s chamber was another disappointment. 1 hour wait (we were lucky that day as wait is usually 3+ hours) and then packed into a small space breathing stale air and looking at the bottom of the person in front of you for the 30-45minutes it takes to get to the chamber. In this day of “influencers”, almost everything (including people) is made to look fantastically beautiful to lure you in. Even cities fall into this trap. Living in London, I used to hear from people about how lucky I was, and London is the best. I used to ask them what exactly makes it “the best”. Most could not articulate it other than some vague comments about pubs or fish ‘n chips. Really? The only good answer I have gotten is to see the historical places and ancient buildings. I suspect with VR travel, most will choose to see these places from their couch versus spending thousands to travel to London. I am not saying don’t go to these places but be realistic in what you will find there and accept things as they are, not what Instagram or ads make you think will be there (i.e a fantasy). Perhaps my greatest letdown was The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen which is heralded as ‘iconic’ and a ‘must see’. Looking at all the pictures, it looks like a beautiful statue of a mermaid that towers over the harbor in Copenhagen. In reality, it is in the side of a large park and about 3-feet tall and looks like a statue you would find in any community park anywhere in the world; hype vs. reality.

 

Travel will definitely open your mind and change the way you think about other people and cultures. But what it will not do is change who you are as a person or who you are as a person. Because to quote a tired phrase, wherever you go, there you are. The key word in that last sentence being ‘you’. If you are generally an unhappy or miserable person, that will still be you. If you get jealous, angry, or upset at thing, yep, still there whether you are in Cape Town, Tokyo, or Timbuktu. You cannot run away from yourself or don’t magically become your desired person just because you are somewhere else. Sure, the first few days everything is new, so the mind is distracted, and these things are lessened to an extent. But, inevitably, within a few days or even hours, you will revert back to the same YOU and there you will be. A lot of this is based on the hype of others but also the way our mind treats reality. We tend to create inside ourselves (where else could we do it) a fantasy version of what we want to see when we get to a place and also how we want to be when we get there. But this is just a fantasy, a projection of hope within your mind that thinks ‘once I get there, I will be magically transformed’. No, sorry, but there is no ‘there’ as it is ALL within you; only the feed of data we get from the 5 senses change when we travel, not their interpretation within. But I digress, as this is not a blog about the Journey Inward  Travel can help build a foundation for growth or change, but it cannot make you grow or change in any way.

 

My Favorites

I have had the good fortune to be able to travel the world, both through my work and personally. There are so many places I have been to and things I have seen, people I have met, and experiences I have done that they amount to what I call the Sins of Wanderlust. Of all these, there are a few that really stand out and I will share them here to provide a window into how I have embraced travel and what it has done for me. I will not delve too deeply into each as you can always go read about them on the Sins website. The following are some of the superlative experiences I have had.

 

Most Memorable: In the north of India in the Garhwal Himalayan range in the state of Uttarakhand there lies a temple to the god Shiva. Called Kedarnath, the temple contains the only known amorphous form of Shiva. Ever since I read about it in a travel magazine, there was some calling within me to go see the temple. I finally got a chance to go in 2018 and it was an adventure beyond anything I expected. While we had planned to go straight to the temple via helicopter, but weather stopped all flights that morning. We ended up hiking to the temple the entirety of the 16km, the way almost all the devoted do. It was in this experience that I realized what we really are without the identities of our wealth and social constructs. You can read the entire experience here.

 

Most Beautiful: I have been to and photographed countless landscapes all around the world, but no photograph or video prepared me for the sheer beauty I would find in the Lofoten Islands in Norway. Starting with the village of Reine, we spent a week exploring this peninsula in September of 2019. Often voted “the most beautiful place in the world”, there are just too many places to see and photograph there. Set on the shores of a fjord with spectacular mountain backdrops, Reine paints a colorful, cartoon-like tapestry of yellow, red and white houses set on the shores of azure-blue waters. Framed by the majestic peaks of the soaring Reinefjorden in the background, the colorful houses and boats set in a calm bay is a sight you will never forget. You can read about it here and here.

 

Most Otherworldly: A photograph of a glacial lake in the far north of India led to a trip to Ladakh. It is a magical and stunningly beautiful land of high-altitude peaks, rugged mountains, glistening bodies of water, all shrouded in a Tibetan-Buddhist culture. The caramel-colored, towering mountains stand in stark contrast to the stark blue skies and aquamarine glacial lakes. Everything in Ladakh is a superlative and the vivid, ever-changing landscapes ensure every moment is captured in vibrance. The camels of Nubra Valley, a relic of the old silk-road, add to the magical mix. My views of Pangong Lake will forever be etched in my memory as something otherworldly and surreal. Even the people here seem to be cut from a different cloth. Most of the small villages are scant pockets of life with towering mountains and desolate valleys dominating all. The people who live here are equally rugged and there is a beautiful balance of peace and toughness within them. If I had to tell you to go visit one place above all, Ladakh would be it. You can read all about my experience here.

 

Most Livable: This was perhaps the most difficult to decide upon and I had to settle as a tie between two places. The first are the cities of the central Oregon coast in the US, the area between Lincoln City to the north and Newport to the south. There is something truly magical about this area and the energy of the ocean is felt in every breath. I have seen and walked on countless beaches here with nary a soul in sight. I have felt oneness with the ocean, the mountains, and all of nature in an instant that seem to stretch into infinity. The entire area is like a slice of paradise that time forgot, and the many misty evenings definitely adds to that feeling. There are many small, quaint restaurants, bars, and coffee shops with friendly people who are more than willing to share a story on their love of the Oregon coast. And since the mountains come down to the ocean here, there are many hikes inside thick forests that end on cliffs with stunning views of the water. And if there is any craving for city life, Portland is only a short 1.5 hour drive away. You can read about them here.

The other place is one that I am writing part of this blog from and that is Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. The town is a mixture of lush jungle, green rice fields, and countless, ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples. There is a natural serenity about this place that is imbued in everything around including the people. I have never been in a place where people are at peace within themselves and with their environment and it is contagious. This is also a place that I experienced true slow living as a default state of being. Time moves at a different pace here and it sets the stage to build a foundation for mental and physical wellbeing and growth. Even the food here, mostly vegetarian, fresh and organic, lends itself toward healing and nourishing the body. The weather in Ubud is also more moderate as it is near the mountains which makes for warm days but cooler nights. Lying on the terrace in the evening and listening to the chirp of a million crickets and frogs just makes one forget about the pressures and speed of modern life.

 

Reflections

Without a doubt, one of my main purposes for this lifetime has been to experience travel to its fullest. It has been the single thing that has built my life’s foundation of curiosity, acceptance, and love for all the myriad of experiences this world has to offer. I am as comfortable sitting in a small chai shop in a random slum in India as I am in a posh restaurant in London. In fact, I far prefer the former as it is a genuine life experiences without any of the pretense of material overindulgence. There is just something beautifully human about sitting with a stranger and talking about life over a cup of tea. From the sands of the Sahara in Egypt to a cozy tent on the shores of a glacial lake in Ladakh or even at café in Notting Hill in London, I have been very privileged to have had such experiences and met amazing fellow humans. Nothing in life compares to the many, many benefits of travel which above all gets rid of biases, prejudices, and positively modifies our own identities. It frees us, if only for a while, from all the material entanglements of home. It can help heal bad mental states such as from a broken relationship or personal failures. In this way, travel allows us to evolve and become more connected with more of humanity and the many other inhabitants of this creation. If the sagely advice of never to stop learning is true, then I know no better a teacher and mentor than travel.

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