Are you living life the way you are, because you are content, or simply because you haven’t gotten around to doing what you really want to? asks Sarika Pandit, the traveloholic.
Ten years ago, while on a train to Kolkata, I came across an Australian woman travelling in the same compartment as I.
Premature crinkles around the eyes, weather-beaten face, no-nonsense shoes; she sported what I had come to recognise as the ‘seasoned traveller’ look.
Fascinated, I began chatting with her and soon learnt that she, along with her boyfriend, had taken a year-long sabbatical to travel around the world.
“That’s what I do,” the woman said. “I work for a few years, save enough, travel for a year, then work again only to travel some more.”
I remember dropping my jaw and gaping at her in awe. To the twenty-year old college-going kid that I was, one who loved the idea of travel, but who, at that point, had neither a passport nor the moolah to do so, the Aussie woman’s life seemed like an exercise in ‘living the dream’.
Shutting my wide-open jaws, I managed to ask her about the places she had been to. Then, I almost wished I hadn’t, as she rattled off destinations, much like an Udipi restaurant waiter rattles off items on the menu.
“I still have a whole lot of places on my bucket list though,” she finished. My awe quickly made way for several pangs of envy. “I wish I could travel like that too,” I heard myself say. “What’s stopping you,” the Aussie shrugged. “Just pick a place, pack your bags and take off.”
Was it really as simple as that? I wondered. Perhaps not, but she made it look simple, alright. Later, as I lay on my berth with thoughts buzzing in my head, I found myself asking the question – what’s stopping me from eventually living her kind of life? Okay, not exactly her kind of life, but at least something close to it.
We, Indians, have a strong need for that sense of security. We have that compulsive need to have a clear road map – study, get job, work, save money, buy a flat, a car,
marry, have kids. So ingrained is that road map in our DNA, that we build the very framework of our identity around it.
Nothing wrong with that, except that, God forbid, if one of those milestones does not quite thud into place as per plan, or topples off by some stroke of misfortune, the very foundation of that framework is torn in bits.
Perhaps, the Australian woman had figured that out early in life. Perhaps
ticking through her travel bucket list was her way of fool-proofing her sense of
identity. So what if her life suddenly began to spiral out of control?
She still had that bucket list. A bucket list that was hers and hers alone to cling to, to tick through and to live by. To me, there was something immensely liberating and powerful about that idea and I found myself pledging to get myself a passport. Immediately. That didn't quite happen.
I suppose I got caught in the daily grind of life, its occasional curve-balls, its disappointments, not realising that little by little, I was losing pieces of myself along the way.
I still nursed the dream to travel, but it lay buried somewhere, beneath life’s excess baggage.
It was a good five years and several pep-talks-to-self later that I finally managed to snap out of my rut. Not only did I now have a passport, I also had my own to-do bucket list – to have all its pages stamped by age thirty.
I suppose I didn't want to embark on the journey of becoming that fascinating, and somewhat ambiguous, entity called ‘seasoned traveller’, without defining exactly how many travels it took to make one seasoned.
As many, I eventually decided, as it took to acquire a cover-to-cover stamped passport. And so, I began to acquire those stamps, slowly and steadily. Each stamp, gradually, bringing with it the pieces that I had lost.
In losing myself in the world beyond, I began to slowly regain my sense of “self”. Of course, I eventually did realise that it wasn't the number of stamps that made one seasoned; it was the ability to travel with minimal fuss, to be able to empty one’s mind of all preconceived notions and constraints, to be able to wholly embrace everything - the good and the bad - that the destination has to offer.
According to me, travelling without the right company is like tasting a dish without seasoning and garnish. Thankfully, there are many travel groups these days.
Moreover, it’s heartening to see women’s tour groups (like WOW and Girls On The Go), all dedicated to bringing together like-minded travel crazy souls, many of them ready to take off whenever you wish to.
A few years ago, I decided to make a trip through one such tour. On the tour, with me, was a girl who had been married for a couple of years.
At some point, during the trip, she mentioned that her in-laws weren't too thrilled at the prospect of her gallivanting across the globe, without her husband. Eyebrows were being raised, taunts were being cast, she rued.
“And yet you came?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said, simply. “Travelling is important to me.” I thought it was admirable that she was unapologetic about wanting to broaden her world beyond marriage and career, or that she refused to let herself be
defined by them alone.
Every once in a while, in life, you come across someone like the Australian woman or the married woman in the train. And you feel that inevitable twinge of envy. And you can’t help but ask yourself the question: Am I living my life the way I am, because I am content, or because I simply haven’t gotten around to doing what I want to? And if it is the latter, wouldn't it be a shame if it were too late?
(The writer is the author of ‘Bucket list of a traveloholic’; published by Fingerprint)