I’m on my final day of travelling through Myanmar. It’s been ten days since I got here. And I’m in love with a country that’s still learning how to embrace the free flow of tourists into their country. The systems are still not completely in place – public transportation, lack of signages or population that speaks English to help a lost traveller – it might take a few more years, but those that are in place are admirable – new highways, really comfortable long-distance buses, clean restrooms on highway stops (Allelujah!!) and honest people with smiles that make you want to hug them when they struggle through the language barriers to help you out.
Myanmar, I must admit is not the easiest country to travel especially not in the non-touristy, monsoon season. The hotels offer off-season rates, but you have to shell out a premium for travelling in and around cities. Lack of tourist volumes mean that you are shelling out that much more. And there are few warnings or written material that can help you plan and budget your trip better – often, the hidden costs pop at you when you are already at the spot. There are tourist rates and there are local rates. And as in several other countries, tourist rates are in dollars. But all these aside, there is a joy of discovery when you move through the country. It still feels virginal and lesser explored – not jaded to the ways of foreign travellers poking and prodding through their history and lives.
When I talk about a new plan to travel – a new country that I’m excited about exploring, I’m often subjected to friendly chides – What? Another holiday? Do you even work? Can I have your job? If I could, I’d love to not have to work and only travel. So this post is dedicated to the travel bug – a bug I think that bit me very early in life. And still continues to have its tiny claws embedded deep in me. So what is it that makes you lock your home, pack your bags and take off?
I have been thinking long and hard about this for a few years now.
I know several kinds of travellers too – for a good chunk, travelling is a form of taking a holiday. Not for me, and thankfully for N either. I’d fancy myself as a modern day explorer. If I could make a living doing just this, I’d sell my home in a jiffy, pack my life and possessions up in boxes and set off on a journey. Perhaps these years that I spent as a part-time traveller are a preparation for that idyllic life!
N and I are constantly talking about where to travel next to. I specifically use the term ‘travel’ over a ‘holiday’. The gruelling schedules we draw up for ourselves does not lend itself to the luxuries and comforts of a holiday. Neither are the tight budgets that we often set ourselves. The quality time that you spent with your family? The joy on their face when you put aside your phones and pressing backlog of work to take them out of the daily routine of life to a destination, which is as new to you as to them? Well, the joys of a good holiday are therapeutic, but joys of travel as we know it are not in the same league. I have meticulous notes from most countries I have travelled to as an adult – places I saw, their history, people I met, their names, occupation, the profound life thoughts they shared with me, cultural quirks of different regions. You don’t take notes on a holiday, do you? Then again, what do you remember most on a holiday?
Our thumb rule when we research for places to stay is ensure we have a comfortable safe place to return to at night, clean private bathrooms to use and ease of access to public transportation. This is not to say we don’t fancy holidays. We take holidays too! But there is a clear differentiation. Travelling to explore a country, its culture, food and people requires a deeper involvement, a willingness to forsake comfort to participate, imbibe and appreciate.
There have been days on our travels through Eastern Europe that we have had to egg each other on to take those next ten steps. Being on the move for the best parts of 9-10 hours every day, largely exploring on foot and taking only two at most three breaks for food and drinks is a gruelling schedule. Travelling often leaves you with sore calves, sun-burnt skins and severe jet lag. But you know what makes it rewarding? An exercise I’d repeat every time? The sheer exhilaration of watching a new sunset, changing silhouettes of landscape, meeting people, learning their history, their personal stories that make them special, learning to respect their customs, savouring the peek they allow into their cuisines and ways of life.
For me, travelling is my quest to expand the canvas of my life. Incorporating wisdom – small and large from cultures across the world into broadening my thinking and forming my opinions and viewpoints. Perhaps if more people were inspired to travel and seek first-hand knowledge, we’d be better able to avert biases, fight stereotypes, forms bonds and be wiser and happier.
This is one bug I’m happy to be infected with. My sore calves from climbing pagodas that are set atop hills scream in protest every time I see a set of stairs. But I’d choose sore calves and achy backs over not seeing this big and beautiful world as my eyes get to see it. Any day, every day!