Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chasing Wanderlust


The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page –Saint Augustine
Our world is a fascinating place- rendered exciting by its plethora of landscapes, people, culture and life styles. ‘To travel the world’ is an item in the bucket list of most of us. We often wish to travel, but never seem to be able to do it on a regular basis and end up blaming our busy lives, work schedules and dwindling finances for not making the trips we planned for. In our midst, we have those fortunate people who always seem to find time to follow their passion – they too are bound by deadlines at work, they too have children who have classes and exams and most of the other ‘detractors’ we point out for not being able to travel. How do they do it?, we have often wondered, while enviously going through their tour photos in the social media.
We are here to provide some answers to these bugging questions, for in our midst, in the VSSC community, we have a traveller who has taken life in his stride and fulfils his thrill for travel on a regular basis. Meet Renjith Das, a VSSC employee who has been to over 13 countries since 2011, and is in the process of preparing to cover 15 countries in 25 days this year. A few excerpts from an interview with him (which, incidentally, was taken while he was travelling on train)...
About you...
I am a native of Nedumangad in Trivandrum. I joined VSSC in 2008 and currently live in Sreekaryam. My family comprises my wife Lizy, who is an Assistant Professor at LBS College of Engineering, Trivandrum, and two kids – Lavanya and Rino.
Planning your travel...
My first foreign trip was to Malaysia and Singapore, in 2011. My motivation for travel was further fuelled by my friend Mr. Mathew John. We do not book our tours through travel agencies or tour packages, we manage the Visa processing, planning and implementation on our own. Generally, we plan a destination well in advance. The place is chosen based on its popularity, travel and accommodation expenses and scenic beauty. We try to travel during the summer vacation, when the schools are closed; however, other factors at times force us to travel during non vacation times as well. We wait for the perfect air fare and book well in advance to get cheaper air and hotel fares. For Asian countries, we book around 7 months in advance, usually in Air Asia, as the tickets are cheaper. Once the tickets are booked, we plan the tour using google maps and reviews from friends who have been there or work there, or websites like trip advisor. Wherever we go, I take a local sim card with data so that I can access google maps. We take public transport as much as possible and hire self driven vehicles for other trips. We select average hotels for stay based on their facilities and customer reviews, distance from train or bus stations and car parking facility. Since we are travelling with kids, we plan our luggage in advance; start preparing our bags two weeks prior to departure, and carry a lot of snacks as well. However, the children have attuned to different places and manage well during our trips.
Travel within India....
We have covered most Indian states except for some states in the North East region. For short distance trips within South India, we go by our own car. My longest trip by car is a tour to Mumbai. Due to high air fare, we planned to go by car. We stayed the night at Kasargode and proceeded to Goa via the scenic konkan route - resplendent with greenery, hair pin curves and beautiful sights. After four days in Goa, we set off to Mumbai. After another four days in Mumbai, we returned through the Pune express highway.
  Managing different languages, food, people, cultures....
English would serve the purpose in most countries. However, in Macau, we came across a communication barrier and had to resort to sign languages to get about. Each country has a unique style and has its own beauties and problems. In terms of the people, food and culture, my vote for the best country goes to Indonesia. However, their transportation system needs to be improved. I came across the biggest traffic jam of my life in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Singapore is the best country in terms of planning, while England, Ireland and India take the top slots when it comes to scenic beauty. Wherever I have been to, we have been treated with respect as a tourist. Since I travel with my family, we get additional respect wherever we go. One thing that we need to note is the cleanliness in foreign countries. They are very particular about keeping their surroundings clean – which is something we Indians need to learn. Dustbins and public toilets are a common sight in most foreign countries. The punctuality of the public transport system should also be applauded. Among the countries I had visited, I found USA vastly different from India – different with respect to Time zones, food, people and weather. I have had my own share of culture shocks as well, one being the first time I saw women smoking and drinking during my Europe trip. With regard to food, we usually have continental breakfast pre-booked at the hotel where we stay. We try to sample the cuisine of the place we are visiting and also find Indian food in most places. McD and KFC are also frequently found in most places.
Interesting/Unpleasant experiences....
The first one that comes to mind is a scooter ride with family through the entire Bali island – a spontaneous decision which added to the thrill. The island hopping speed boat ride in Langkawi was really exciting. So is getting the first glimpse of famous places like Niagra Falls, White House, Taj Mahal, Petronas Towers or NASA.  I have driven a car in 6 countries and a bike in two countries.
Talking about unpleasant experiences, there was this time when I lost my wallet in Langkawi and spent a nerve racking day before I got it back, by God’s grace. Another one is when we were caught by the Scottish police for being in a restricted area near a nuclear reactor. We had been taking photos of the place, which is quite near the beach, and didn’t see any sign keeping visitors out. They were very polite and let us off soon.
Dream trip....
A trip to the Arctic Circle, during Christmas, to revel in all the ice. We had our share of fun in the ice when we stayed for around 5 days at Denver in USA. However, this is what can be called my dream trip.
Christmas in London....
It was during a trip to Ireland that one of my friends suggested spending Christmas in London. We stayed in London during the Christmas Eve as well as the New Year. That was quite an experience. We stood in a long queue for around one and a half hours in freezing cold zero degrees to attend mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral. However, most attractions were closed on account of Christmas. We glimpsed the New Year fireworks at London and saw the London bridge opening for ships. Days are much shorter during winter in Europe with temperatures plunging below zero degrees. Even during summer, the temperature is a benign 18 degrees. 
How does travel shape an individual...
Personally, travel gives us exposure, improves our knowledge and boosts our confidence and communication skills. My kids have benefitted immensely from travel. Besides that, when we travel, we connect with the place so that when we later hear any news or event connected with that place, we can imagine what it would really be like.
Future plans.....
In the immediate future, we have planned a trip to Europe in July. The trip is spread over 25 days and we plan to cover 15 countries including Germany, France and Switzerland. This is the longest trip I have undertaken and we have booked the tickets and accommodation. Most of the journey is by train. In the future, we plan to keep on travelling, visiting new places and meeting new lives and lifestyles.
We hope the readers join us in wishing Mr Renjith and family a pleasant trip to Europe and much more interesting trips in the years to come. We wish you would soon fulfil your dream of travelling to the Arctic Circle for Christmas. He is an inspiration for those of us who love to travel but put it off citing excuses which, as he showed us, can be surmounted if we are willing to set our hearts to it.

 travel makes you realise that no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn”.

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