Those who know me well know of my obsession with travel. Genetics is one part of the reason—born into a family of armed forces officers (I hold the dubious distinction of being the first male in my family, my grandfather onwards, of having a "Mr." for a title), living out of a suitcase has pretty much been second nature.
But as any psychologist will tell you, the line which divides passion and obsession , though a thin one, does exist. And to tip over to the other side requires some serious provocation.
There was a time when travelers endured scurvy, mutiny and cyclones to reach their destination. Tough as it is, enduring airline food and Titanic re-runs isn't half as bad...
Here is mine: I have reason to fear that travel is fast earning its place in the "endangered activity" list (cue to climate change warriors and other elements of the global niceness industry to take a bow).
I have lived through enough travel freezes—all with the ostensible intent of "saving the planet"—to break into a sweat quicker than you can say "Pachauri" when I hear the words "climate change".
To me, "climate change" spells withdrawal symptoms from macadamia nuts and Perrier water and all the good things in life which, as the old saying goes, are free or expense accounted.
But hope, as they say in consulting, reigns eternal. A time will come when travel freezes will be roughly as fashionable as bell-bottoms and no consultant will be denied his inalienable rights of travel and an expense account.
There was a time when travelers endured scurvy, mutiny and cyclones to reach their destination. Tough as it is, enduring airline food and Titanic re-runs isn't half as bad—so I am shocked when I hear people talk about travel as a pain ("challenge" in Consultese).
Personally, the worst thing I can say about all my travel is that there hasn't been enough of it.
So- what makes for an effective traveller? If the definition of an effective traveller is one who enjoys every traveling moment, I guess I am quite well placed to dispense some well meaning advice. So here goes:
1. Pay mind to "no-brainers"
Conventional wisdom became "convention" the old fashioned way—it earned the right. There is truth in old adages.
Don't forget to smile (unless you are in Russia or, to err on the side of caution, at the opposite gender in most of the Muslim world). Learn the
local etiquette, especially the taboos. Be respectful.
How many of these have I been guilty of breaching? Each and every one of them. Over and over. Hell, I've pretty much made a career out of committing cultural faux pas.
2. You can either be afraid or curious. Never both
I'd recommend always opting for curiosity. Ask yourself, when was the last time you were irritated by a foreigner seeking to know more about your country? The answer is probably "never." Curiosity is seen as curiously flattering. Always. Some of the best friends I made as an expat are those to whom I went with my silliest questions.
Curiosity denotes earnestness, good intent, interest and respect. But above it all, it makes getting forgiveness for the transgressions that you will inevitably commit much easier
3. Talk to the cabbie
I mean beyond the fare and distance. If you trust him enough to sit in his cab, you should trust him to have a conversation. There's no better way of knowing not just the city and its landmarks, but also a section of the population that you may not have the chance to interact with at any depth otherwise.
Travel is not about the commute from hotel room to conference room. If you make it that, travel will always remain a "challenge."
I landed in Manila two months before the country went to polls. Nothing in the newspapers and television channels predicted what I knew through my chats with cabbies. I drew a lot of you-have-no-idea-dude smiles at the country club when I suggested that there would be a regime change. I have to say that my stock rose the day the poll outcomes proved me right.
4. Never underestimate the power of trivia
I belong to the generation when quizzing was a big deal. It earned you trips to other schools and cities, gave you a legitimate reason to skip
classes, got you on a TV screen and in general justified carrying a chip the size of Jamshedpur on your teenaged shoulder. I must admit that the ability to cram useless knowledge has taken a considerable beating in the trendiness sweepstakes since I was a young boy.
Except that it still earned a middle-aged me some very interesting friends and a travel group to explore Bohemia. The trivium, by the way was—Prague is called so because it is situated at the confluence of two river tributaries. The other city to be similarly named is Prayag—our very own Allahabad.
5. Don't forget to let your hair down
This bit is most important. Travel is not about the commute from hotel room to conference room. If you make it that, travel will always remain a "challenge." See you on the road!
My Heartfelt Advice To People Who Think Frequent Work Travel Is A 'Challenge' [ed]