“You have transformed from a tourist to a traveler”, commented a friend of mine. I had not realized this until my friend stated it explicitly.
Rohini, my wife, and I had just returned from a road trip along the periphery of the country, traveling for four months across 19,000 odd kilometers. Somewhere during this journey, I had come to understand the significance of slow travel. Through this transformation, travel had become enriching and holistic.
After spending a decade in the corporate world, the road trip across the country came not only as a big break, but also as a big change. Travel changed my life for the better and it continues to be the greatest educator.
Travel turned me into an explorer – an explorer of not only the outer world, but also the inner self. I feel like a pilgrim while traveling to new lands. To ask questions and to find answers, to get lost and to find my path. Mundane things like food on my plate, people on the street, sunrise on the hilltop makes me mindful.
I feel alive.
Long-term travel has made me embrace uncertainty. On most of my travels, I would not know where I would sleep or where my next meal would come from. But as I made peace with uncertainty, I began to live in the moment and enjoy it. So when my bus to the Bolivian Amazon broke down in the middle on the night, and a 14-hour journey took more than 24 hours, I ended up making friends with all the passengers in the bus instead of bemoaning my bad luck.
When all my needs fit neatly into a backpack, quickly did all the stuff back home become redundant. The realization of how little resources I needed to travel was humbling. All I needed was TIME. Money, I believe, is inversely proportional to time while traveling. The more time I had, the lesser money I needed to travel.
Time permitted me to travel with the less expensive and (greener) mode of transport. Over years of travel, I have come to realize that fossil fuel based transport is not sustainable. Subsidized fuel is making air travel popular, but leaving behind a huge carbon footprint. Public (land and sea) transport surely is a more sustainable option.
Seriously slow travelers walk the world. Twice a year Prof Anil Gupta, spearheads the Sodhyatra– a walk through rural India in search of grassroots innovation. Cycling is gaining popularity across the world as well. Swaraj University, every year, conducts a cycle yatra– a journey into villages with no money (hence no security of food and shelter), no mobile phones and no identity cards.
The book Motorcycle Diaries traces the early travels of Ernesto Che Guevara, then a 23-year-old medical student, and his friend across South America. The motorcycle journey transformed ‘Ernesto’, the student into ‘Che’ the revolutionist. Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries inspired me to travel across South America. The same book was also motivation to take my 19 year old motorcycle and ride across Bhutan.
The other major requirement in travel is accommodation. I learnt how impersonal paid accommodation is, when I started living with locals, volunteering at farms, staying with a community, or camping along the bend of a river.
Couchsurfers welcome travelers into their homes in exchange for a cultural experience. There is no exchange of money. What better way to experience a new place than to stay with locals. I walk in as a stranger and walk out as a friend for life. Our first Couchsurfing hosts in Barcelona were an Ecuadorean girl and her seven-foot tall German boyfriend. Next year, the couple came down to Shantiniketan to stay with us for a fortnight. Seven years later, we stayed with them again, this time in Ecuador – thus Couchsurfing with the same couple across three continents. We continue to host travelers at our home even today. When I am not traveling, travel visits me. At least the stories do.
Dharamshalas, temples, mosques, gurudwaras, and churches all over the globe almost always offer a free place to sleep. Every year hundreds of thousands of people undertake the Camino de Santiago– walking the ancient pilgrimage routes across Europe leading to Santiago. Cathedrals all along the route throw open their door to pilgrims.
During our travels in Europe and South America, we were carrying our own tent. A lot of countries have designated places to camp with shower and cooking facilities. Schools, police stations, petrol pumps, and farms often allow pitching ground.
Voluntourism is volunteering while traveling. Internet throws out a wide range of options across countries and across causes. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a network of organizations that facilitates volunteering in organic farms. Imagine picking fruits in New Zealand and in exchange getting a place to stay.
Food, I learnt, is best when eaten local. “But I am a vegetarian”, a friend said, “and while traveling I hardly find veg options”. Well, we prefer to cook on our own while traveling. We buy vegetables from the local market and cook up a new dish. While Couchsurfing, we make it a point to cook for our host. Invariably, we get an invitation back to eat with them. Also, choosing campsites and hostels that offer a communal kitchen helps.
Have you been meaning to start your own social enterprise? Or an organic farm? Or learn a new art form? Or just live sustainably?
Travel could open up all these possibilities for you.