‘Be a traveller, not a tourist.’ This is now a new slogan of the youth that looks at travel from a holistic and fulfilling perspective. Since air tickets have become cheaper and more accessible, travelling has become a cool new trend. Travelling not only enriches you, but also broadens your perspective. From spiritual enlightenment to generous joy of giving, travelling is a multi-dimensional experience that makes you richer than what you were before.
Here are a few things that I learnt from my travels.
1. Connect with people and try to understand them
Homestays are one great way to come closer to culture and tradition. Remember, the simpler you are, more connected to locals you will be. Eat at a local café in Italy, savour the complex street food in India or interact with the tribes in Kenya, whatever you do, make sure you break away from the crowd and make a difference.
I remember, on one of my recent visits to Amsterdam, I stayed in a hostel with a local college-going girl called Sanne. We taught each other our native languages. We got so well connected, that I often hung around with her girl-gang and partied with them.
2. In Rome, do as the Romans
This classical adage holds importance even today. Be adaptable to other cultures. It is very important to eat with hands in India, bow down with respect in Japan or greet a total stranger with a kiss on his / her cheeks in France. Be a culture chameleon. These small nitty-gritties may not mean much to you, but they do mean a whole lot for the locals who stay there. It pleases them and imbibes confidence in them. To be honest, it impresses them.
To add to this, while I was in South India, I wore sleeveless during a temple visit. The stares were digging my soul, as if I had purloined their pride. I immediately pulled out my stole and wrapped it around myself. You may dress the way you do in your city, but as you cross lands, people get emotionally sensitive and respecting their values is an important part of the travel culture.
3. Show empathy towards the locals
You may engage in a conversation with a local monk or food vendor to start with. Remember one thing, more you talk and engage yourself in conversations with locals, more connected you feel to the place. Humanity is best experienced while travelling.
I once, shared a homestay with a local on my trek in the Sahyadris. They had a small girl child who loved playing cards. We stayed up all night and played with her. She gifted me a painting that was personally made by her. To date, it is my favourite memento.
4. See with a meaning
Don’t just go to places, unearth their histories, dig deeper and find out secrets about that place, which no one is aware of. Hire a guide and learn about the significance of frescoes in a temple or the geographical wonder of that place.
I always make it a point to catch a local guide to indulge me in some fascinating trivia. Travellers like us know that no online website can share insights like locals do. I have although met some lousy people who think that internet is god and it provides all the necessary information, I think otherwise. Not all that’s around in the world is available on the internet.
5. Be a good travel ambassador
Travel with the responsibility of being a good ambassador. Remember, you represent your country. Help a local, partake in charity, teach a kid or just be a good eco-friendly no-nonsense traveller. The world needs such benevolent people.
‘Voluntours’ are trending these days. Volunteer while you experience the place. It will be an experience that you will cherish throughout your life.
6. Choose off the beaten path
Surprises often come when you least expect them. Take the road with least footprints and you will meet the kindest people. You will also be introduced to amusing traditions and cultures.
Like one time, I attended a friend’s wedding in Greece and was surprised to find out that the groom sent money to his bride in the shoes that he bought for her. My devout Marathi aai (mother) almost skipped a heartbeat when I told her, considering how Indians treat money as pious.
Author: Winnie Karnik Photo Courtesy: Abhay Singh