People travel for a variety of reasons. Some travel to discover new places, others to reunite with families in distant lands. Some travel on work, others take religious pilgrimages. There are those who want action-packed adventure vacations, some don't want anything more strenuous than the spa. Some believe, philosophically that we travel to get there, others insist that we get there to travel. And then there are, luckily for us, those who travel to write (VS Naipaul, Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux, thank you).
Regardless of the reason, human beings have been on the move since the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Guided by a primordial urge to seek newer grounds, human beings still instinctively seek to stretch out, conquer, discover, or rediscover their world. We use parallels with travel to describe life (a journey) or marriage (the road ahead). Many universities offer semesters in one or another foreign university in study away programmes. Travel, clearly, is the best education.
For years I travelled for a less lofty reason: to spend time with my family. In the daily rut of Delhi life, it was easy to fall into a pattern where conversations often included such gems as: "Homework done yet?" Or, "When did you say your meeting in Bombay was?" It was only away from the routine of life that we could dig deep. On a long walk with my younger daughter around Khecheopalri Lake in Sikkim we spoke about death and trying to deal with it. Driving down the Konkan coast on another vacation, my elder daughter first told me about why she wanted to be a lawyer.
Not every conversation was loaded with meaning. In dak bungalows and forest lodges, we played board games, read our books and exchanged very bad jokes in the light of the petromax. Or we'd wander off to the nearest kirana store to buy dal or unfamiliar local vegetables. The point was that we were all disconnected from our ‘real' lives, discovering, exploring, unwinding and, mostly, laughing. We grew as a family as we discovered new places together or took our children back to the ones we had loved before they were born.
But as the years went on and the children moved into more ‘serious' classes with life-determining board exams and suchlike deciding their routines, holidays became fewer and more precious. Vacations of just goofing off became even rarer. Our lifestyles seemed to have changed to a point where the long vacation – I'm thinking of the annual month-long visit we made as children to visit our granny — became an anachronism. Even 10 days off seemed like a forbidden luxury.
Now, time was at a premium, something to be spent wisely: what was the point of doing a 16-hour road trip to Manali when you could fly to Kulu, and take the cab ride from there, instead? And, hey, what about those nifty four night/five-day packages to faraway foreign locations? What great value for money — and free breakfast too. But did they add value in building a portfolio of memory? I'm not sure you can get nostalgic over a shopping mall in Dubai or a massage in Bangkok.
Add to this the stress factor. Post 9/11, the fear of flying has taken on new meaning. Terror threats seem to become more sinister during the holiday season. In Mumbai, right now, police are looking for LeT operatives, asking people to avoid crowds and places of worship. In Rome, parcel bombs have just gone off in some embassies. No matter how abhorrent we find it, we are resigned to invasive physical searches and full-body scanners.
And yet, incredibly, we make plans to spread our wings. Guided by low-cost carriers, the temptations of dozens of glossy travel magazines and a new exploratory desire to traverse our globalised, flat world, we seek new experiences or try to recreate familiar ones.
Ideally, travel must take us out of familiar zones to new cultures, new ways of life and new ways of doing things. When we return, we're the same people. Of course we are. We just see our world differently.
Happy holidays and safe travel.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.