It is 4.15 am in the morning and your alarm clock has just taken away a beautiful dream. Your eyes are open but pupils are still closed, and all you see is veiled darkness. For a brief moment you can convince yourself that your wakefulness is a mistake, that you can safely go back to sleep. But then you turn around and see your bag overflowing with too many items to be packed in. You let off a sleepy groan when you realise you have to go to the airport.
The taxi is late. There should be an adjective (a synonym of sober, but pejorative) to describe the state of mind that comes from waiting in the orange glow of a streetlight before drinking a cup of coffee. And then the taxi gets lost. And then you get nervous, because your plane leaves in an hour.
You are catapulted into the cold glow of Terminal B, as you run with the suitcase and your flight ticket to find yourself making the long line of security check. The buckle of your belt rings the metal detector, your newly purchased costly deodorant pack is confiscated but you eventually arrive at the gate.
At this point, you will have realized by now what is the conclusion of this very banal story: your flight was cancelled. You will remain stuck in this terminal for the next 218 minutes, the only consolation being a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Will you lose your connection and wait for another plane, but in a different city with the same menu. And after fourteen hours you arrive.
Why do we travel? Sometimes, of course, we travel because we have to, because in this digital age there is still something inherently important in analogical handshake or to see our family partners during our holidays.
We travel because we want to, because the annoyances of the airport are compensated far from the visceral excitement of being in a new place because work is stressful and your blood pressure is too high and you need a vacation, because home is boring and because the flights were at rock bottom prices.
It's not the flying that bothers me because if the beauty of travelling is all about fun and the many rules on airport security killed it long ago. I will always be fascinated by the laws of physics that allow a fat metal bird flying in the troposphere. The rest of the trip, however, it may look like a tedious lesson to the discovery of the ills of modernity, from the x-ray before sunset to airport shopping centres that sell souvenirs at over the roof prices. It is a concentrate of globalization.
Let's start with the most literal aspect of travel, or the fact that it is a verb of motion. Thanks to modern technology, nowadays we can move through air at an inhuman speed. Walking at an average speed allows us to cover nearly 5 km/h, a speed about 200 times less than the cruising speed of a Boeing 747. For the first time in human history, we can beat the time the sun and move from one climate to another in a single day.
Today more than ever we hear on television and newspapers of the famous saying "Travel Smart" but that basically means "start smart". Making a "smart start" does not only mean, as many think, to travel at 5 in the morning or late at night or to be able to travel without traffic, but the "start smart" is a concept that goes beyond the deepest.
Let me here share one of my personal experiences...
Istanbul. It is impressive to look at her knowing her history. Istanbul, the Babel of races resembles life for the careless and indulgent traveller, who searches for pearls in the hollow of the rocks, in the corolla of the flowers that surround the trail, dragging the entrails to lose here and there.
Me and my sweetheart was in the moon from the time we planned our journey to this magical land. She is the one whom I trust more than anyone in the world and can’t dream of re-checking her handbag once she says everything is in from passport to flight tickets to the all indispensable medicines. It’s about the all important trust and those starry eyes if you even pretend to doubt her.
We were ready to fly to this magical land but as soon as we reach the airport our dreams come to a grinding halt as we realise the passport, ticket and a few more essentials to heaven is not in her handbag. So, when you travel whether you are a backpacker or loyalists of all inclusive vacation packages, there are some vital things that you can not leave out before embarking on a journey. Yes, because an adventure, even with the booked trip, does not mean (and does not have to mean) travelling unconsciously.
As we cannot let our dreams slip by, and I was that day lucky enough to have my parents at home during that time, my parents arrive with our passport and flight tickets in time before the jet sets off. From this we learn a lesson that you can happen to forget your toothbrush at home, but you cannot forget the passport and always assuming that it is better to be proactive, always carry a photocopy of your passport and a couple of passport photos. They could make life easier and speed up the bureaucratic process in the unfortunate event of theft or loss of passport.
An even better solution is to scan your passport, essential documents and photos and upload the pictures in your email account, so that it is always available when needed. If possible, keep your passport in a document holder under your clothes and carry it with you.
By the time we reach the magical land and enter our hotel suites, we find our camera and mobile battery has drained out completely and as we reach for the charging point it strikes we are in another land and bitterly discovery that the electrical outlets are different from the Indian ones and will need an adapter. Result? Recharging mobile, PC and the camera becomes a mirage. To overcome this unpleasant (and often overlooked) problem, just get a set of international plugs, easily found on the market.
As our days whiz past in the magical land the morning arrives when my partner can’t stay put in one place with her recurring spinal strain in her back and once again our journey comes to a grinding halt. And then we realize we have the forgotten the essential medicine case back home. I do not share the habit of some travellers to bring a real walking pharmacy but for a long distance journey it is essential to carry a broad-spectrum of antibiotics, aspirin, anti-diarrhoeal medicines and vitamin capsules.
As we wheeze past medical centres, the cost of it all just sends my head into a tizzy. And so we learn our third lesson that before embarking on the all important trip you can not forget the health insurance. If you go on an organized tour general health care coverage is mostly included in the travel agency or tour operator package but it is always best to check in such cases so that it is guaranteed and read the conditions of coverage.
So when you are leaving for a trip organized by you, away from home and you have never had health problems and you are also sure that there will never happen nothing travelling. Never be too sure. Get a good health insurance, which provides for repatriation in case of accident or assistance for a family member, payment of medical expenses and protection of luggage. Travelling is beautiful, but to do so in confidence is even more.
The true sense of the journey in my opinion is just to learn and get to know a country, its reality and its people. A traveller cannot but be curious to find out and know. At this point, if you have not forgotten any of the things mentioned above, we say that you can get on big time.
However at the end of it all, being a super organized conscious traveller in every detail should not overshadow those details that really matter. If you left home the toothbrush it is much better than to miss a landmark after spending a fortune which you may regret later.