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A love letter to travel

Arun Ashok, Country Manager – India

Travel isn’t just about checking off places in your detailed itinerary. It’s also about those unexpected experiences that go on to become life lessons and memorable moments…

I discovered my love for travel fairly late. Having dedicated my youth to school and education, my first independent travel experience (excluding visits to my relatives in Kerala) was upon completing my 12th standard board exams. There were plenty of firsts – my first trip outside India, the first stamp on my passport, my first experience of being on a plane by myself, the list goes on. I was headed to London for a month, to stay with a cousin and experience the good life!

It’s the journey that counts

While the good life was definitely welcome, what really left a lasting impression on me was experiencing a different way of life. Not necessarily more luxurious, just different. The advantage of staying with a local instead of hopping from one sightseeing activity to another was that I got to get into the skin of the destination and not simply experience a brushed-up, touristy version of the city. And that has been the way I’ve travelled ever since.

Travel has, at the risk of sounding cliched, broadened my perspective. It’s helped shape the way I think. Not just blindly assuming that what I see here and now is the only truth, but that there could be a hundred different angles or ways of doing something that would seem to be the most natural thing to a hundred different people living in a hundred different countries.

I have also always planned my own travel rather than rely on a pre-planned itinerary – and this obviously brings with it, its own challenges and surprises. Many missed connections, hotel cancellations and personal belongings gone missing have ensured that I’m always good at dealing with any crisis. If I can handle being lost in a city, not knowing the language, running late for my flight and having lost my passport; then I can handle a trick question at that job interview! Life can throw very few curve balls at me that I can’t handle, thanks to my numerous travel experiences. And I’m stronger and smarter for it.

From strangers to friends

And if I had to pick one reason why I’ve fallen head over heels in love with travel, it probably has to be the friends I’ve made along the way. Random strangers, friends I’ve travelled with, hotel staff who’ve gone out of the way to make me feel comfortable – these are the true joys of any travel experience. One could sample all the desserts and visit all the museums in the world, but nothing replicates the joy of meeting a kindred spirit in another soul, thousands of miles away from home. You begin to wonder if people are so different from each other after all. If you had more in common with an Armenian pastry chef than you did with your friends from back home, the world is indeed a strange and mysterious place.

I can’t wait to head back out there and fall in love all over again. The last few weeks have been tough, but I spend my time yearning and planning for what I’m sure will my next great adventure. For, the world may come out of the COVID crisis, a different beast; but one way or another, I’ll be back on the road discovering what makes it beautiful, once again.

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