I got the taste of travel very early on in life. Hailing from an Army background, we had to shift every couple of years. By the age of 15, I had seen 20 Indian states. We had a box full of albums documenting our travels. Now when I look back on those photographs I can remember my transformation from one picture to the next.
My real growth, however, began when I started travelling by myself. My parents were apprehensive, concerned about my safety. But as they saw me grow bit by bit, they not only became supportive but also enthusiastic.
And this is why I am writing this letter to you—the Indian parents. I want to attempt to show you the side of travel that so many of us call life-changing. So before you close the tab, thinking this is another rebellious article by a girl in her 20s, I urge you to read the piece till the end. You won’t regret it, I promise.
Travel helps with self discovery and confidence
This is something all women need more of. As a child, my parents made all the decisions for me. But the first trip I took by myself made me realise how much work goes into planning one. I was travelling to Rishikesh with a few friends. Everything from booking the accommodation, managing our budget, keeping ourselves safe and managing to have fun was in our hands. I've become quite comfortable doing all this since, but that first trip made me figure out so much. As a result of travel, today I am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses, my likes and dislikes. I have learnt to stay calm in times of crises and manage my excitement in times of joy.
Travel teaches us women to handle unwarranted male attention skillfully
Getting unnecessary male attention has become something of a rite of passage for women. I remember, as a teen, when I was cat-called or eve-teased my parents would always come to my rescue. I always got the impression that women were supposed to hide behind veils and closed doors. I grew up with a feeling of fear, always conscious of attracting too much attention. Travelling changed that to a great extent.
Last year, on a train to Dehradun, I encountered a man in his 40s, who wouldn't stop staring at me. Any time that we made eye contact, he would give a sly grin. When he didn't budge, my discomfort turned to rage. So, instead of taking it down sitting, I confronted the Uncle ji. He got extremely embarrassed and eventually left. I count that incident as a personal victory because before this I never mustered the courage to question an offender.
Travel makes us stronger
I don't want to fool you into thinking that the world of travel is a bed of roses. It has its own set of challenges. But facing these challenges has taught me how to effectively deal with them and many others. Travelling has helped me conquer my fear of heights, get out of my comfort zone to try things I never thought were possible, brought down my ego, and made me realise that the universe is greater than all of us combined. Those are lessons you won't find in a classroom.
It helps develop our intuition
Growing up in a protected household, I got used to having others come to my rescue if I was ever in trouble. But when I started travelling and was in the thick of things, I had to rely on myself for protection and support. I clearly remember this time when I had to take a local train back to my hotel at night. I had been out partying till late with some locals at this pub in Hamburg. As I started walking towards the subway, I had this weird feeling that I should take a cab instead. I trusted that instinct and reached home safely in an Uber. The next morning I found that there had been some glitch in the system and the entire subway network had lost power for about an hour around the time I was going home.
I've had a number of such instances since that have taught me to trust my gut and I cannot tell you how many times I've avoided sticky situations as a result. This wouldn't have been possible if I kept depending on others to take care of me.
Travel helps us embrace our flaws and love ourselves
Given today's social media life, it has become difficult to see ourselves in a positive light. Travelling has helped me interact with so many women and learn about varying beauty ideals. On my trip to the Andamans a couple of years ago, I met a group of European athletes who were on vacation there too. These women were muscular, looked extremely strong and were owning a bikini like nobody's business. We got to discussing this over drinks one night and I found that they too had received so much slack about the way they looked. While on one hand my friends and I found them sexy as hell, that wasn't the popular opinion. I was stunned. This also got me to read more about body image. I realised that we fret too much about looks and beauty, when in the long run, it's all temporary. I've learnt to respect my body a lot more as a result and treat it with love.
It makes us more compassionate
Often we look at the world in first person, from the “I” perspective. But travelling brings many glaring issues to light. Our own problems begin to seem small and we learn how to comfort someone who is in trouble. I was travelling to Leh about two years back. During one of our walks down the local market, I saw a group of poor boys, feeding a mountain dog as they were eating their own meal. I later found that they had adopted 10 such strays and were feeding them daily, taking out portions from their own food and also by taking help from other locals. I was moved by their compassion. I try and learn from such incidents and become more compassionate in everyday life.
We tend to pamper our daughters and want to protect them from any harm that may come their way. We forget that this keeps her from becoming capable to face difficult situations. Would you want your daughter to have to depend on someone for the rest of her life? Or would you want her to stand strong, be assertive and kick any adversity in its face? Travel helps with the latter. And it helps one grow in ways words cannot describe.