I was sitting on a big square stone that had fallen off the Pyramid of Khafre, reading my guidebook when Ramadan, a camel owner and his camel, Abu approached me and asked what I was reading. At first, he seemed like any other camel owner who roamed around the Pyramids area. You know the kind who will say or do anything to get some money out of you. Believe me, there is no shortage of such people in Egypt.
But as we started talking, I realised that I was mistaken. He was not being friendly because he wanted to hustle me into buying a ride on his camel for an unreasonably high price. He was genuinely looking for someone to talk to.
He asked me if he can see the book. He flipped through the pages and beamed an ear to ear whenever he saw picture of a place that he recognised. We talked for about an hour, using laborious hand gestures and broken English and Arabic. He told me about his village and his eight year old son, who hated vegetables and would not eat them at any cost. He told me about his dog which would bark all night long for absolutely no reason. He told me about his father who taught him to never be dishonest even if that meant going to bed hungry.
I realised that I was wrong about camel owners. Not all of them were dishonest. I cursed myself for judging him before I even got to know him.
We should never judge people based on the job that they do or the place that they come from.
This was an important lesson that I learnt that day in Cairo. Travel teaches you many things.
In this special post, which is being published on the blog on the fourth anniversary of my first solo backpacking trip, I share with you the top five things that I have learnt while on the road.
1. Don’t trust the travel warnings
The travel warnings that are issued by the governments from time to time is definitely something that you should keep in mind while planning a trip, but please do not cancel a trip because of them. Be cautious, and try to avoid the places that are tense, but always remember that just because a terrorist attack or a riot happened in some part of a country, doesn’t make the whole country totally unsafe all of a sudden.
I remember one of my friends made me to write a will for my Playstation on the back of a napkin before my trip to Egypt, few months ago. Most of the governments of the western world had issued travel warnings against visiting Egypt.
I had absolutely no problems travelling in Egypt. In fact, it turned out to be one of the best trips I have ever had. Forget violence, the Egyptians were extremely warm and welcoming. Even Aswan, which was, as per media reports, tense after clashes between two communities was nothing but friendly.
Come to think of it, I am glad that these travel warnings were in place during my trip. There were less tourists and tour groups around. At times, I had the beautiful monuments all to myself. The hotel prices were at an all time low and the locals were at their hospitable best.
The only thing that I had to worry about was the crazy traffic.
2. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.. (but try not to die doing it)
What is the most uncomfortable/awkward thing that you can think of?
For me, it was being naked in public.
But then, when you are in South Korea, how can you not experience the traditional Korean bath house. Pulling down my pants for the first time was definitely awkward, especially when I could feel the stares of the staff, for they had probably never seen an Indian guy in his birthday suit before.
But soon, I got used to it. That is the incredible thing about us, humans. We get used to stuff quickly. Be it living with a laptop that shuts down as and when it pleases, or staying in a stupid village in Uttar Pradesh, or bathing with naked Korean men. We adapt and learn to live with it.
And when the shame and awkwardness subsides and you realise that you are not the only naked guy in the bathhouse, the radius of your circle of comfort increases by a bit.
Of course, you have to know your limits and learn to differentiate between what you can and can’t do. Failing to do that might cost you dearly. Trust me on that.
Trying out a tarantula in a Cambodian village, for example, is stepping out of the comfort zone.
Jumping into a restless sea with strong currents, during heavy rains, just to see “The Beach” that lay on the other side is just dumb!
(No wait, that did not sound dumb enough… what did I miss.. Oh yeah, I do not know how to swim either. Now, it’s DUMB!)
3. It is good to splurge once in a while
I know some of you may pride yourself on being able to travel on the cheap. I do too. But my money minded brain is always in a fight with my comfort seeking body, while I am travelling.
Over the years, I have learnt that sometimes we should put our money matters on the backseat and just follow our heart.
Be it sailing on Ha Long Bay or cruising on the Nile. Be it riding a camel at the Giza Pyramids, or watching an expensive Ping Pong Show in Thailand. It has been totally worth it.
Sometimes it is good to just go with the flow, listen to your heart and do what you really feel like doing.
And if it doesn’t work out, you can always make up for it by staying at the cheapest hostels, and eating roadside food for the rest of the trip.
4. Every place is special in its own way.
I remember having this conversation with a friend before my trip to Cambodia.
“You should go to Paris instead.”
“It has the Eiffel Tower”
“Eiffel Tower is better.”
My friend thought for a while, totally stumped, before finally mumbling out quietly.. “It’s bigger, I guess.”
The point is every country, every city, every cuisine, every culture is special in its own way. The whole point of travelling is to see, and experience new things.
Cambodia, France, Mozambique, or Afghanistan.. Do not discriminate.
Go everywhere. I know I would love to.
And stop asking me stupid questions like “Are the Pyramids better than Taj Mahal?”
That’s like asking me if I like Butter Chicken more than Cheese Burst Pizzas.
I love both!
(Uttar Pradesh still sucks, by the way!)
5. You do not have to travel thousands of miles to find something that amazes you
It takes three hours to travel from Delhi to Agra.
No, wait.. Let me put it this way…
People from all corners of the world, go through long, uncomfortable flights and layovers, spend a fortune on hotel bookings, just to come to India and see Taj Mahal.
And I spent my Sundays in Delhi, flipping through TV channels, shovelling potato chips in my mouth and then washing it down with cola, while day dreaming about places that lay far far away.
All I had to do was get up early, and board a bus to Agra.
And when I finally did that, I realised that we do not need to cross international borders to see something incredible.
I know, not everyone lives in Delhi or Cairo, but you can always step out of the house and explore. Some cities have great temples, while some have great beaches. Some cities may have an amazing history, while others may have a glorious present. Some may have great nightlife, while others maybe all about the food.
No matter how dull it may look from the outside, every city has a story to tell. You just have to go out and find it.
If you are a follower of this blog, you would know that advising people is not something that I do very often. And while I love reading other travel blogs and do consider them helpful when researching about a certain country, I do not rely on them too much.
It is because, over the years, I have realised that it is okay to make mistakes while on the road.
It is okay to get on the wrong bus and end up in an unknown town in the middle of nowhere. (Trust me, it has happened to me more than once)
It is okay to eat something that you know will make you vomit.
It is okay to get violently drunk and pass out in your hotel bathroom.
Just be calm. Have an open mind. And believe that you are strong enough to tackle whatever the world throws at you.