Have you ever been lost? Amidst new faces, new streets, new practices, strange food, incomprehensible signs and unknown languages. Well, you should. It’s just awesome!
22 years of my life were spent in Bangalore. My school, my college and my university located within 10 km radius of my house. I had not lived/traveled alone even once (being an only child has more disadvantages than the perks). So when I decided to go to Barcelona to do my Masters, I actually surprised myself more than everyone around me. And I feel that is the best decision I ever made.
It was while living alone there, that I started to travel. I traveled with friends, I traveled in groups, I traveled alone, I traveled with strangers and I realized that I LOVE it. Two years of living alone and traveling places made me understand myself a lot more and made me grow as an individual; much more than 22 years of my life spent at home.It changed me. The feeling of being amidst something new, learning about some part of the world you had not known, and discovering some part of you that you had not discovered, can be the most rewarding and inspiring things ever.
I have been wanting to write about all my travels for a long time now, but well, I am lazy and I have a writer’s block. It’s already been three years since I came back home from Europe and though my traveling frequency has reduced, I still make it a point to get out atleast twice a year. Here are some of the reasons why I love traveling.
- When you travel, you live life to fullest. You know you are there in that place for a limited amount of time, so you try to soak it all in. You live in the moment and try to do everything that the place has to offer. Do new things, meet new people, eat new food, dance new styles, shed your inhibitions and enjoy to the fullest. Traveling always makes me happy and makes me forget about all worries and unhappiness. It’s helped me get over a lot of sad stuff. I guess I have found my steroid (Don’t know if that’s a good thing though).
- My kind of traveling. There are different traveler labels people want you to confirm to, but you will have to find your own comfort level with traveling. I started off as a tourist, going to famous places, standing in queues to see touristic things. But that phase didn’t last long and soon I was exploring places that might not be on the tourist radar. Two hurried days in a city turned to a week, then to a month. I have come to realize that I love cities, I love roaming around unknown streets, talking to localities, eating local food. Cities can speak a thousand words, and the people and the culture can enlighten you much more than any geography textbook would. I do like my comfort element in my travel (and like my Bolivian soul sister K always says, we do travel in style!) and need a comfy bed by the end of the day but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to take a backpack and run off into woods/mountains once in a while. Infact hiking the giant Machu Pichu (Peru) across the wilderness of Andes was one of the most rewarding moments of my life.
- Food Connection. I’m a foodie (with a bad appetite: D) and I absolutely louuvve trying new kinds of food. Luckily, I had friends who had the same weird love for food and I remember travelling miles to a city just to eat a particular dish and then just sit there and savour it and return back. From exploring different kinds of tapas in Barcelona, eating waffles with every fattening topping available in Brussels, the sumptuous three course meal that left us immobile in Bruge , waiting in line for hours in front of a tiny little shop to eat the best gelato in Rome, roaming all around Porto to eat a local delicacy named French lady, Pastel de Belém in Lisbon, going all the way to Ghent to a Turkish restaurant to eat Kumpir (*drool*), the real Kumpir we ate by the sea side in Istanbul, the amazing soups and tea in Istanbul, falling in love with bread (/croissants) in Paris and not to mention the soul food in South America, food has really been an integral and tasty party of my travels. I also learnt cooking certain dishes (bolivian, mexican and spanish) but I rarely make them anymore due to my inherent dislike towards cooking. Same goes for the typical interesting drinks too. I have had some fun (:D) memories with Spanish Cava, Colombia’s Aguardiente, Romanian something, Peru’s Pisco Sour, Turkish Rakh.
- No Technology. I have traveled to 14 countries (#littleNarcisstic :P) and I have done almost all of them without having a smart phone. We traveled with big analog maps and by asking people for directions or suggestions for eateries. It might seem impossible to you right now to go out without google maps leading you but I liked those times. It felt good to read paper maps and search for street names and even getting lost. On one road trip, we went round and round Montpellier, completely lost and spoke to a dozen people who wouldn’t understand English but who still used all kinds of sign languages to show us where to go. I do realize I sound like a grandma but I dont care :P But we did always carry one piece of amazing gadget, the DSLR (that my best friend from Turkey, B bought in our second year) and K and I couldn’t get enough of being in front of it :D
Oh! I do have a jumping pic in every city I visited. I might not have collected shot glasses or refrig magnets from everywhere but damn it, I jumped!
- People are strange? Nah! We can create boundaries, we can create differences but people are just people. Before I moved to Barcelona, I was really nervous because there were hardly any Indians in the place I was going. But that fact didn’t matter even a little bit. I lived in a residence (my home away from home) with people from twenty different nationalities and they were such an amazing bunch of people and I have made best friends all over the world. I am still in touch with many of them and we have a global hangout across four continents once a month :)
- Know more about yourself. Being on your own away from your comfort zone can give you life lessons more than any book can. When I was out there taking care of myself, I realized so many things about myself that I never knew. I realized that I am much stronger than I was made to believe back home. I could handle situations better; I realized some qualities in me that I didn’t know existed. I saw myself grow into the strong, independent person I am today.
- Being alone ain’t so bad. This was my epiphany! I could be alone and be fine too. I had never had lunch alone or gone for a walk alone in Bangalore. But I had to do it and I realized it wasn’t so bad. In fact I actually enjoyed it. I love being with people, but sometimes I do like my alone time. When I was living in Belgium, I didn’t know many people initially and I used to wake up and take trains to random cities and ended up exploring Belgium pretty well on my own. Solitude is bliss too, sometimes!
- Stories. And I have lots of them. Everytime, in a new place, there would always be someone who would amaze you, move you and sometimes without knowing teach you a thing or two. Random conversations while waiting for your flight just lets you peak into a world beyond yours: A small kid asked me if I need help when I was standing in a street in Paris lost in my maps. A group of three old women I met on a train to Peru had a pact to meet up and travel once a year no matter where they were and they were living it up. A man from Chile I met on a road trip in Bolivia did traveling for a living! he would go to new places, do some arts/shows and make money and then travel to another new place. A grandma on the banks of a river in Rome made me a bead bracelet. The philosophical conversation I had with an Irish guy I met on a cold night in Paris airport when the flight got delayed. The amazing army people who were always so ready to help us when we went biking in Leh. The stories just pile up.
- Trying new things. I am game to trying new things and I have had a lot of opportunities in every country I visited. Skiing in northern Spain (and ending up with bruises), Ice skating in Antwerp (slightly less bruises), dancing a typical folk dance in Turkey, trying Karaoke for the first time and killing (not in the good sense) a favorite Beatles song in Barcelona, trying to learn Salsa with the help of my Latino friends, participating in festivals in Bolivia, trying Stand-up Paddle boarding in California. Many more things in the bucket list.
- People maketh the city. Going to a strange land, where you know no one, where people don’t speak your language is an experience in itself. But it was amazing. I didn’t feel scared or out of place for a single minute. I have to give it to Barcelona for that. It never made me miss home. It became home. Now, when I think back, it was only because of the people in it. I met people who made it home. So now when I think of Barcelona, I don’t think of La Sagrada Familia or Camp Nou (even though I loved visiting them), I think of that cosy dinner place by our residence where we went to eat often, the park in between the residence and supermarket where we would sit and eat the things we shopped, the streets of Ramblas where we strolled around eating churros, and weirdly I miss the metro:I miss the electronic voice saying Palao Real when my stop came.
- Concept of HOME. Right now, home is a very abstract concept for me. When I was living in Europe, I used to love coming home. But when I finally did move back to Bangalore, I was yearning to go somewhere again in no time and that feeling still persists. All these trips I do are like short escapades from home (and reality?) and everytime I come back home, I feel both happy and sad. I don’t know where home is anymore. All the experiences, and travels has changed me, changed my perspective of the world, and also, of me. And home doesn’t feel like home anymore. I don’t know where home is.
I want to sign off with some memories that are swimming in my head right now and making me nostalgic. Experiencing snow for the first time in the lovely streets of Paris, having the best pasta in Rome, drinking the best wine in Porto, listening to Fado music in Lisbon, climbing up the giant macchu picchu, waking up to see breathtaking mountains all around in Cochabamba (Bolivia), having the best Hookah in Turkey, running around the streets of Geneva playing Touche ( the game we invented then), watching football in Camp Nou, lying on a hill and looking over the vast city of Paris while eating macaroons, getting scared in dark, creepy streets selling vampire costumes in Venice, playing football on the foothills of a hill while road-tripping across France, feeling dizzy at 18000 feet while riding on the highest motorable road at Ladakh, feeling overwhelmed with Kashmir’s beauty, stargazing in the middle of the desert in Jodhpur(Rajasthan), lying blissfully on the beach at Goa, feeling so tiny in the middle of the huge salt lake in Bolivia. *sigh*