When I started to put together the lessons learned from traveling like a nomad for half of my life so far. I found it difficult to put everything in a single essay. In last 17 years, many relatives became aliens and most of the friends are now family guys. I was a rebel from day one. I am still a rebel – challenging the general meaning of happyness and prosperity. My ‘happyness” is different than regular “happiness”. It is happyness of “Chris Gardener, Marco Polo, Emilia Hurt and Richard Francis Burton and I am on my way to achieving happyness of Sir Ralph Fiennes. I spend nearly 3 years in Africa from Alexandria to Capetown, Marrakech to Djibouti. Another two years in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, and Malaysia. A good 6 years in India and Nepal and then another two years in Europe. All this working as a website designer, brand consultant, and business process developer. Why?
Because this is the way of my happyness. When I was in north India in Mcleodganj, I met a Buddhist monk. I asked him “Who is the most fortunate person in the world?” and he replied with a quote from Dhammapada.
“That traveler who had completed his journey.”
The similar answer, I got in another part of North India but with a different quote from Brahmasutra.
“Whatever is knowledge, that is born from curiosity to know the God.”
I am happy without any reason. It comes from inside like a fragrance and anybody around me can feel it. This is what I learned from the traveling. Instead of living like a frog in well, I decided to be a free spirit.
17 years is a really long time to be a frequent traveler. In those 17 years, I spent almost 6 years living out of a backpack with no fixed plan for tomorrow. First of all, I was raised in a family where going out on business trips for a long time was a tradition. Furthermore, I followed the footsteps of my father and my grandfather to take the traditions to a new level. Settling down was not easy after marriage and I was sure from the day of the wedding that nothing is going to turn the nomad inside me into a ghost of past. Lessons learned from traveling so long are hardwired in me.
I never let it go away. Instead, I nurtured my nomadic nature with some honeymoon vacations and frequent visits to nearby places. The best decision I made in my life was moving partially to a small town in Himalaya. From here I can operate my regular business activities without giving up my traveler instinct while frequently visiting LA to take care of my family.
In a long span of 17 years, I made amazing friends from almost every corner of the world. Once, I was settled in Dehradun, I started exploring new vistas around (near and far) and three years ago, I started Arctrails. The primary goal was saving my friends from traps of the travel industry. It worked very well and saved time, money and efforts for my every acquaintance. I keep the Arctrails more like a hobby instead of full-time business and I was sure, sooner or later money will come.
Two years ago, I entered into my collaboration with a leading tour operator in Los Angeles. Being a solo traveler or a small group traveler is one thing and being a guide and tour manager is a thing from a different world. I hit it right on my first tour. 32 senior citizens (mostly doctors and consultants) with physical limitations pulled the most creative tour package possible in India. We covered three countries in 27 days and on last day – Nothing prominent was left to visit in India, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. That was the beginning of a new concept. Idea is – take an orthodox travel plan and turn it into less expansive, more fun, more encompassing and more comfortable itinerary by adding my long travel experience into it.
When you travel, you learn something new with every covered mile. This learning may come from a book you are reading on the bus, or a short break at an unknown tea stall or taking a new trail instead of a well seen and established one. In 17 years, I covered five continents, 28 countries and a million miles and I learned enough to fill a small library. I think it is a good point in which to sit back and share what exactly travel has taught me.
1. It is all about right mindset:
Every year millions of people take a break and go out of the door to explore the world. It might be a small three days trip to Vegas or 100 days journey through Europe. Duration of your outing is not so important. The toughest part of traveling is picking up your bag and leaving the home behind. Once you are inside the train, bus or plane going away from home – you are traveling. You need to just prepare yourself to step out from your comfort zone and seek the unknown. Once you are on road, everything is easier. The block is in the mind.
2. You learn something new everyday: :
Traveling is the best way to learn. If you are on a beach, there is more than just Sun, sand and water. A small strip of sand is an ecosystem of its own. You need to adjust your eyes to a microscopic level to see the things that are not visible on first look. An hour trip to the local market can teach you a great deal about the culture, traditions, and society of that town. Marco Polo or Livingstone never said that “I went to China and I had a lot of fun”. Nope. They learned the new things and that’s why they are great explorers. Don’t be just a tourist. Be a student with curiosity to learn. It may be a cooking lesson, a new word, a tradition or just a new way to eat a burger.
Long after, when you are back at home and having your coffee on Sunday morning, you can just close your eyes for a moment and slip back to a coffee shop in Kerala, where you learned a small deal about coffee beans.
3. Be ready to meet different people:
When you are away from home, you will come across a lot of different people unless you are traveling into a 100% wilderness zone like Antarctica. These different people come with different mindsets, languages, and opinions. Instead of creating walls around you, open up your doors and windows and receive them with an open mind. You cannot criticize communism in China. You cannot point out at Islamic terrorism in Syria. There is no point. You are not a social reformer or a political worker.
A traveler is a person who left the home behind to seek new places and new things. sooner o later something “new” and “unseen” will come across. At that moment, just move your prejudices (right or wrong) out of the way and celebrate the meeting with a pinch of curiosity and seasoning of respect. Every man, every place will tell you a new story without any offense to you.
4. Keep your mind open to new things:
Honestly, there are still a lot of places around the world without Starbucks and Mcdonald. You need to open up your mind to accept the new things. At the age of 20, I was pure vegetarian without any cravings for eggs or meat. At age of 21, I became omnivorous. For my family, I was a demon who can eat bacon with a live and wriggling octopus on it. The first challenge will come in form of new food. My grandfather told me that “always eat local because it will keep you healthy and nourished.”
Same goes for clothes and other aspects of day-to-day activities. You need to expand your mindset and conquer your fears. If you have fear of heights, how you are going to enjoy the cable car in Swiss Alps or a view from Burj Al-Khalifa’s deck? Just keep saying to yourself that “I am not the first one to try it and if I am the first one, I am going to set a standard for others.”
5. Don’t rely on guidebooks:
Most of the guidebooks are made of generic content. Real guidebooks are updated every year and it is a tedious task that require a lot of man power and financial resources. Usually, mostly publishers (believe me they are called the best sellers) just add one or two lines in each chapter to update them and these lines are added without real verifications. In fact – 99% guidebooks on book stalls are outdated and nothing more than a junk. They are more like simple framework without any real constructive content. They can tell you that what you can visit at a place but they never help you to make a choice. It’s you who is going to make it for you.
Except for first two years, I never bought a guidebook. I prefer real people who had been there. Guidebooks are written by some people but it’s their point of view and it can be different than mine. If I am hiking, I will rely on the guidance of local people and weather reports instead of a guidebook because facts keep changing all the time and printed books may be outdated. Two years ago, I was visiting Kedarnath in North India and all the guidebooks were mentioning a stoppage named Rambara and when I reached there, I found that there is nothing. Rambara has washed away in Cloudburst a few years ago and even there is no way to go further from ruins of Rambara. I had to go few kilometers back. That happens when we rely too much on guidebooks.
In my blog, I clearly mention that which part of the year, I took that expedition. But be smarter and check with locals – always.
6. Uninstall unnecessary apps on your phone:
An average American keeps at-least 12-14 apps on his smartphone. First of all, these are good when you are at home but when traveling, they create a lot of problems. Most of the countries are rather expansive in terms of mobile data and these apps keep sucking your data pack without your knowledge. You can always re-install them after the journey and imagine that you will have plenty of stuff to share with friends. Most of the traveler keep themselves engaged in the phone while traveling and it leaves them with very little focus on things around them. It’s not safe. First, your phones and camera will attract unwanted attention to you and second your attention level will be low.
Most of all, I am always aware that how much difficult it is to reach an amazing destination and I want to experience it as much as I can. Phone – I will have plenty of time for it at home.
7. Absorb everything:
Be ready to absorb every bit of experience. Absorb it like a treasure. When you will be old and when you will have plenty of time to gossip, you will always have a treasure trove of stories to tell others. Imagine an opening of a story like this – “Once I went to my office and I worked and then I came back to my home”. Now start it like this – “Once I was in Tanzania in a wilderness camp stuck without electricity and network in the middle of nowhere…”
Believe me – As a traveler, whatever comes in your way, it’s good. It’s amazing and it is something to preserve for rest of your life. Don’t miss it.
8. You cannot make a wrong decision:
First of all – be confident. You are not traveling for a business meeting (unless you are). You are out of the home and you want to explore. Your every decision will lead you somewhere unless you make a decision to stay in your room and sleep all the day. You can regret a decision immediately but in long term, you will regret it less and appreciate it more. Because that wrong decision offered you a different experience. My wrong decisions led me to a forgotten Indus valley civilization site. Another decision put me in front of a man-eater leopard. Another one in middle of an angry Maoist mob in Nepal looking for foreigners. Honestly, last two entries scared the shit out of me. But today, when I am at home, I know inside me that I earned a lifetime experience.