Open up to travelling, and you will discover the world

It can burn a hole in your pocket, but it's money well spent if you plan well ahead

Travel opens your eyes, it brings about new possibilities, you come to know new people, new perspectives, new ideas, new cultures, and taste food you’d never thought existed. Of course, it can burn a hole in your pocket, but it’s money well spent, if you plan well ahead and travel within your budget. I am not a very experienced international traveller but I’ve flown abroad a few times and every time I travel, there is something or the other to be learnt and picked up. Let me share a few of my lessons.

Firstly, travel light, especially if you have many stopovers. It helps when you’re travelling by train or buses. Unlike in Europe, where most trains have special coaches just to keep your luggage, or racks at the ends of the coaches, some trains in the US don’t have such facilities. You have no choice but to heave your luggage on to the narrow overhead racks, which could be quite a pain.

It’s good to try and get to know the culture of the country you’re visiting. For example, is tipping allowed? If yes, then how much? In the US, for instance, tipping is normal; even if you are just requesting an attendant to bring you a trolley at an airport. I’ve heard that tipping is not the norm in Australia though. It’s a good idea to browse various online platforms on the etiquette and culture of the country you’re visiting so that you don’t end up accidentally offending someone. In Hong Kong, on a business dinner with hosts and a visiting delegation (of which I was a part) of about 10 people, I was told to not say “no" to food put on my plate by the serving attendants. Although I must admit that I would prefer to say “no" than let food go waste. But still, it’s good to know in advance.

Should you travel on your own when abroad, or is travelling with a group tour better? That’s a very personal choice. I like a bit of both. If I want to travel the length and breadth of a country, I’d take a group tour. Most of them do a pretty good job of showing sights that we never knew existed with inside information and a lot of history, copiously researched. Yes, group tours can be extremely rushed but that’s also because there’s so much to see and such little time. If I were visiting a single place, I’d rather travel on my own, using public transport wherever available. So, for instance, I travelled across France in a group tour, but I did Paris on my own.

Big cities have a lot to showcase—places, food, culture; all of it can’t be experienced in just one or two days, but which is what most group tours do because of their larger itinerary.

Make sure you stuff your haversack (during day travel) with essentials. Water, some fruits or curd to keep you going, first-aid, lots of tissue papers, a pen, note pad, cap, sun glasses and a small umbrella are some of the things you should have with you all the time. Keep it as light as possible since a heavy bag is difficult to lug.

Try to get a feel of the place instead of a tick-box approach to sightseeing. For instance, Paris is much more than the Eiffel Tower. Take a walk in Montmartre; the art district. And go beyond the majestic Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, once there. Walk through the cobbled streets of the art village where famous painters such as Picasso and Van Gogh once lived and worked. Stop and admire the works of the gazillion painters, sketchers and caricaturists who may be there to make some money, but still. Get your portrait or caricature done by one of them; it’s fun and may be a better memento than a replica of the Eiffel Tower. And always try local cuisine. Perhaps it’s a good idea to leave behind your favourite snacks such as thepla, dhokla and bhujia at home and try something new; something you may not get back home. Who knows, you might just like it so much, you’d want to get the recipe also!

Plan your local sightseeing well. Certain places have free admission on some days, like museums in Paris on a Sunday. But then, be prepared for long queues. Some sights in some cities require a lot of time. London is one such place; it takes 4-5 hours to see just the Hampton Court palace, for example. A little bit of research always helps. And, always tap into a concierge’s expertise. Every reasonably sized hotel has a travel desk (concierge) that guides you about the best places to eat, go to, shop, drink and so on.

Last but not least, if you’re a frequent traveller, it’s better to stick to one or two airlines and enrol for their frequent flier programme. Although it’s good to hunt for that cheapest ticket, in the long run, it may be better to add air miles to one airline and earn that free reward ticket in future. Have fun!