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Rites of passage

Travel enthusiasts keep telling us it isn’t the destination that matters, it’s the journey. Here's how to make your journey as good as your destination is going to be, writes Parul Khanna.

india Updated: Apr 25, 2009 23:16 IST
Parul Khanna

Travel enthusiasts keep telling us it isn’t the destination that matters, it’s the journey. We’re not certain if that thought applies to all our travels all the time, but we are certain of one thing. We want our journeys to be very comfortable, thank you. And we’re certain that’s how you want it too.

So we did the research, called the experts and put together these two pages of travel tips that hopefully, will make your journey as fine as your destination.

Chug along
Train journeys evoke extreme reactions. Either people love them or they love to hate them. But in India, there are still many places minus airports and trains are the fastest way to get there. Also, if you’re happy with the idea of relaxing quietly, then gazing at the changing landscape as the train winds its way though the country is lovely. But of course, you need to prepare for some things.
* If you’re content with omelets for breakfast, and thalis for dinner, you won’t go hungry. Indian Railways will provide. Special dietary requirements aren’t provided for however, so if you’ve got problems, pack food that won’t go bad, such as bread, jam, packaged and homemade snacks and fruit. The Railways provide tea and coffee too, but only at specific times, so you may find yourself buying from vendors who wander through the train corridors. Carry small change for this. You may also enjoy buying cooked food from vendors at railway platforms. If you have a sensitive stomach however, avoid doing this.
* Most people start retiring for the night early. So prepare to sleep early. Entertain yourself at night with books and iPods. Board games are fun if there are more than two people with you.
* If you’re a light sleeper, carry earplugs or headphones to filter out the noise of the train and the sounds of fellow passengers talking or snoring.
* Indian style toilets often stay the cleanest. And, as peak time for bathroom use is usually between 8 am and 9 am and just after any meal, it pays to get to the loo before the rush begins. Carry toilet paper and antibacterial hand wipes with you.
* You’ll need cash. Lots of it in all denominations. There are no ATM machines on trains or at railway stations. You need cash to pay for your food, to tip porters, and also for the final taxi.
* Ask for the upper berth when buying your ticket. It’s more private and you can stretch out any time, even in the middle of the day.
* Ideally, carry bags that fit right on your berth – use them as footrests and pillows. All travel documents should be in contact with your body at all times.
* The bathrooms are too dirty for you to change clothes comfortably. So wear something comfortable you can sleep in.
* If you’re a woman and you feel uncomfortable in any situation on a train, do not hesitate to change your seat immediately, with or without asking the ticket collector.
* Do not get off the train for too long, even at prolonged stops at major stations.
* Women travelling alone should be on their guard. Do not shy away from pleasant conversation because you are afraid for your safety, but do not feel a false sense of ease because you feel you know your fellow travellers.
* A bike chain is a must to attach any suitcases you place beneath your berth to a handy rod or table support.

Fly high
Planes are not exotic, but they’re fast. Aim to make the journey as comfortable as possible, so you can reach your destination fresh.
* Check in on time or, ideally, in advance, to get the seat you prefer. Some airlines offer online check-ins. That will usually give you the seat you want. This is particularly important if you’re on a long-haul flight in economy class.
* When you buy your tickets, pen down your food preferences. If you have special dietary requirements, say so when you buy your tickets. You don’t want to go hungry.
* If you are travelling with kids, make sure you ask your travel agent to mention that. Also, inform the flight attendants. They may be able to customise your seats, food and help you handle the children.
* Wear loose clothes and footwear that is easy to take off and put on.
* Flights can get cold, so carry a jacket or a light shawl. Wearing socks is another good idea.
* Carry eye pads and blow-up pillows if you’d like to sleep. These are usually available on long-haul flights.
* Entertain yourself with iPods, books or even your laptop..
* The rules for carrying liquids keep changing. Sometimes, they get stringent, at other times, lenient. So, check the airline’s official website to see what you can carry in your handbags.
* If allowed, carry lip balm and moisturisers. The air inside the plane dries out the skin.

On the road
Though you usually take a longer time to reach your destination if you go by road rather than air or rail, there’s something rather adventurous about a road trip. The journey itself is a holiday of sorts. As you skip from town to town, state to state, you enjoy previously undiscovered places, varied cuisines and the freedom to follow your own schedule. (However, do try and get to your hotel by the time you told them you’d be there.) Here’s how to really enjoy the trip.
* The first and most important step is to get your vehicle checked and make sure it’s in top form. Whether you’re travelling by car or a bike, before you leave, have a qualified mechanic check the vehicle’s vitals: brakes, battery, fluid levels, tire pressure, light bulbs and any parts that need regular maintenance.
* Carry emergency equipment such as a first-aid kit, flashlight, blankets, drinking water, spare cans of petrol and oil and a small tool kit. Try and get a weather forecast for your route and prepare both the vehicle and yourself accordingly.
* Learn to make at least rudimentary repairs to your vehicle before you set off on a long road trip. Also get tips on how to drive and what to do when you have breakdowns in different terrains, such as the hills or a desert.
* Research all the routes leading to your destination. Learn about roads that are prone to dacoities and jams, and roads that might not be big highways but are more scenic, or pass through places you may want to explore. Discovering an unknown place is the best part of a road trip.
* Research your trip also to learn whether there are decent places to stop for a meal or a night’s break or a loo break.
* Unless you know the terrain well, avoid
alleged shortcuts through dirt roads and unmarked paths. Be more careful if you are travelling with kids. You certainly don’t want to be a target for road robbers.
* For meals, stick to dhabas or restaurants with cars, bikes or trucks parked outside. These usually serve palatable food. And they are also safer than deserted ones.
* Keep some cash handy in all denominations for paying toll tax.
* Carry a wide selection of your favourite CDs and a few audio books for entertainment.
* Travelling with children? Carry everything they require. You are unlikely to find anything they need when you’re actually on Indian roads. So take water, food, milk, towels etc. Break your journey as often as you can so the kids can run around. Carry toys and books to keep them entertained. Also, don’t cram the vehicle with luggage. Children get very edgy on long drives, so they need space to move around.