Travel is a way of life. We all have that imaginary map in the back of our mind, pinned with places we want to visit, sights we want to see, cultures we want to experiences and festivals we want to dance at till we drop! But we need that push to remove those pins, to pack a bag and just leave.
Leave all our responsibilities, our inhibitions and our fears. But the day you finally gather the courage to do it, life will never be the same.
1. Paris, France
‘One ticket to Paris please’, 5 words I never thought I’d hear myself say again. I was 16 when I associated Paris with love. Yes, you can blame the media, you can blame the internet, but I thank them. I discussed running away to Paris with my boyfriend of 6 years. He’d always say, ‘We’ll go for our honeymoon when we get married’. Somewhere that bothered me. I felt strangled, I wanted to live and he was holding me back.
I knew this had to end, but who has the guts to end such a long relationship? Apparently he did.
I found him in bed with a girl who has to me was a faceless, nameless catalyst. I didn’t cry, I cleared my bank account, took my bags and headed to the airport. It’s not like the movies, I didn’t land and feel pure joy. It was way more real. I found my own way to my dingy hotel room, I booked my own tours, I decided where I went and what I did.
I stood under the Eiffel Tour and took a picture of me, not me and an imaginary him kissing, like every postcard told me, just me. That’s the first time in my life I didn’t feel controlled, guided or pushed. I was free. I was me! I didn’t feel scared to go to a restaurant and eat alone, I was excited to order for myself, talk to any guy I wished, I was happy.
Paris did teach me how to love. But it taught me how to love myself. It taught me that I can live alone out of choice, not because no one picked me. It taught me who I am.
This time I’m going back with a lot more confidence and a man who doesn’t control me but respects me.
2. Senegal, South Africa
Have you seen Taken? Well if you have then you’d know why I didn’t choose Europe for my social internship. I choose South Africa. This wasn’t a pleasure trip I wanted to add to my CV, so I took up a rural upliftment assignment in Africa, that required me to help kids and the villages.
Well, a lot of people asked me, ‘Why not help in India?’. But, this was my chance to escape. I packed my shorts, a bikini for my summer time chilling and lots of dresses for night outs in the main city.
I got of the airport, waiting for a chauffeur driven car, what I got instead, was a reality check.
Me and other 5 volunteers sat in the back of a jeep and drove to a place called Senegal. I used my expensive dresses as a floor mat to sleep in huts with families of local villagers, my shorts were drenched in sweat after a days work, my bikinis became underwear when I ran out of clean ones. I did meet a man, his name was Akua, he would smile at me each time he saw me, his mother would feed me everyday and he’d try to talk to me,e evn though we didn’t understand each other’s language.
I spend my 20 days laying under the stars with 8-year-old Akua and his friends along with other volunteers. I came to a village with 8 huts and left it with 25. I came with a dream to experience Africa like a tourist and I left feeling like one of their own.
I landed back home and tore up my CV, I already knew what I wanted to do with my life.
Today I run 8 NGO’s across India and 5 in Africa. And guess who heads all operations in Africa? Well, you already know 🙂
3. Tuscany, Italy
Graduation was upon us and I couldn’t wait to get out of here. Our tickets were booked, bags were packed, we were going to Italy! A girls trip is just what I had wanted, away from all the underage, immature boys.
It was backpacking all the way, only AirBnB accommodations, our train tickets were as cheap as the Rajdhani tickets and we were going to be all over the country for 20 days. I’d made lists, endless lists with a load of tourist attractions and posh pubs. It could easily have been an amateur’s Lonely Planet.
Right from the time we leave the airport to when we caught a bus had been mapped.
Little did I know that all of that was about to go down the drain. We reached our first stop, Rome. That’s where we met Gustav. He was nothing short of a Greek God. I knew that my train was travelling towards fling city as soon as he looked me up and down.
So what happened next? My life became a better place.
He threw away my lists, he replaced the monuments with cliffside views that took my breathe away, he swapped my posh pubs with student bars, where I got drunk on cheap beer and karaoked to Abba. He made me go to places I couldn’t find in guidebooks, he skipped the tourist buses and drove me around on a cycle! We went wine tasting but not to a famous vineyard, to an adorable old man’s little bungalow, who happened to work at a winery and had the best collection!
We didn’t go to a hotel in Amalfi to inaugurate my new bikini, we dived into the ocean instead. We didn’t make it to the train, but we did sit in a jeep and ride to Tuscany. We didn’t go to the Doge’s Palace in Venice, we sat on a bridge and chased each other down cobbled streets.
We spend our day walking and we spend our nights dancing.
He taught me how to let go. And so I let go – of all the dreams that were not mine. I didn’t become a lawyer in Mumbai. I became the proud owner of a vineyard in Italy. And Gustav became the father of our 3 beautiful girls.
Tuscany is home now.
Pack your bags, the clock is ticking.