Now that i am just 5 more months away from turning 30, i feel i am qualified enough to write one of those pretentious “Advice to 20 year old from a 30 year old” posts. So here we go:
- You kind of read everywhere how it’s important to travel when you are young. They say you can worry about money and savings later but you NEED to make memories now. “Throw caution to the wind, set yourself free, travel” etc etc; you see posts such like everywhere. Here’s my take on it: This is a stupid advice. You can travel all your life if you are willing to make a few adjustments/compromises. Not just when you are young. I’m pretty sure that when I’m 40, if i have the money required, I’d be biking/backpacking across south america as if there was no tomorrow. What i suggest is, during your 20’s, apart from travelling, invest in yourself. Learn as much as you can. It’s true that making memories is important but 20 years down the line, you wouldn’t remember that funny thing that happened to you while you were stranded in the middle of no where in ladakh…but any skills you have learned will still stay with you.
- It’s not just enough to “make memories” or experience something new while travelling. It’s important that you learn or get something out of it. A friend recently asked me what have i learned while travelling/ trekking in the outdoors and i had no answer. I feel I am essentially the same person that I was at 22. Sure i had some mind blowing experiences but i did not learn much from those experiences nor did it change who i am. I am still a control freak and i still panic when things get out out of my control. I was almost robbed once on the road but did not learn anything from it. As in, if i were to be confronted by a group of people in the middle of nowhere, i still wouldn’t know how to respond or react. Nor do I know what precautions to take before hand. Or, if I were to get lost while trekking on a trail, i still wouldn’t know how to navigate or get myself to safety. I never bothered about these things because i was too busy trying to “live in the moment”. Had i spent a few sane hours learning about basics of first aid, outdoor survival etc etc; I could have put my learning to better use and would still have had more enriching and fulfilling experiences.
- I’d like to think i have become more broad minded by travelling to new and exotic places. But, it’s not true. I still carry my prejudices and biases where ever i go. There is a big difference between who you are as a person when you are on the road and who you are once you are back home. When you are on the road, you feel vulnerable and hence you tend to open up with strangers and learn to accept things as they are. You think you have changed as a person but when you get back home, you get back into the closed cocoon that you are used to living in and the “traveller you” does not fit into this cocoon of yours.
- I once read this line and it rings truer with each passing day: “The only peace you’ll find on the summit of a mountain is the peace you’ll bring up with you”. The same can be said of your personality. I’d like to think that travelling does not change much who you are. Rather, travelling amplifies the person that you already are. Your strengths, weaknesses, your fears and insecurities etc; are all laid bare for you to see.
- I’m sure you have read this over and over again in many many different blogs and i am restating/plagiarizing it here once more: “Fall in love with the process/journey, not the product/destination”. I spent much of my 20’s fantasizing about how I’d become a mountaineer and go stand on new summits with virgin snow. I dreamed of golden sun rises and sunsets over blue ice. But i never accounted for the hard work, skills or the sacrifices required to really be a mountaineer. When confronted with the actual reality of how to go about becoming a mountaineer, i realized that I did not really have the guts/gumption for it. And the skills required to become one takes years and years of practice. Since then, I have scaled back my expectations and I am now content enough to call myself a recreational trekker. (not even amateur)
- No two humans are the same. It’s amazing how people throw offhanded remarks like: “Oh he had it really bad in life and he still made it. If he can do it, so can you”. It’s especially misleading when you see so much content online meant to “inspire” you but is basically hogwash. Read about how one leg amputee climbed everest and how you have no excuses?? that’s bullshit. I can bet you still can’t do it with 2 perfectly fine legs. If there is one thing that the outdoors has taught me, it’s this: “No two humans are the same“. On any measurable scale. To give you examples, one person might be a proficient climber but his body just cannot function in altitudes above 5500 mtrs. Another person might have no penchant for climbing and yet, he flourishes in high altitudes. Some might just eat biscuits, drink tea and survive for days on end on the high altitude by burning off their body fat while you might not be able to survive without decent meals regularly. It’s very very important to listen to your body, know your personality and define your own limits. It’s very stupid to take any generic advice on specific issues from other people. And i think this applies to life in general as well. And as you age, this difference gets starker and starker. You can especially see this in older people. I know of one 60 year old running coach who regularly clocks 3:30 on a full marathon and i also know of a 58 year old relative who died of heart disease.
- Stereotyping is the worst form of discrimination. The very worst. I am no saint. I have fallen for this multiple times and i am guilty myself of stereotyping different kinds of people. But it’s much harder to look past the stereotypes, the biases and accept people as individuals rather than a group of people acting the same way. In Assam, they told me the people of arunachal are too “wild” and are hence dangerous. In arunachal, they said the people of assam are a bunch of backstabbers. In assam, i was told the people of meghalaya areunruly and not civilized. In meghalaya i was told both arnachalis and assamese are stupid and backwards. In leh, i was told the people of srinagar would backstab me for money. In srinagar, they said the mountain people of ladakh are drunkards. Apart from a few isolated incidents, i have never found any of this to be really true. Stereotyping a group of people based on one bad egg is the very worst form of discrimination. To give you another example, in general, i have always found that the people of bihar tend to be discriminated/maligned very badly where ever they go. To me, this is unfathomable. Even the term “bihari” is derogatory. If anything, the kindest/most helpful people i have met on the road were from bihar. If you are ever in trouble on the road or are in need of help, pray to whatever god you believe in that you meet a person from bihar to bail you out. They are the most resourceful and ruthlessly pragmatic people i have ever met.
- “Help will always be given to those who ask for it” I can vouch for this one. I have met with multiple travellers on the road who swear by this “mantra”. I don’t believe in any of the karma crap but somehow, this has always proved to be true. If you follow the basic etiquette of the place where you are travelling and if you are humble and give respect to others, you will always be treated well. I don’t know how the internal mechanisms of this works, but it does. 9 over ten times, this works. The key is not to be scared.
- If I HAVE learned anything from my travels, it’s this: Learn to respect others for who they are and not for what they do. Having talked with servers in highway dhabas, having gotten drunk with watchmen, having slept in a taxi drivers’ house, having eaten the lunch of a food cart worker, having shared food with the staff in hotels, i have gained so many new perspectives on life in general. Most often than not, you’ll find that the wisest people on the road are the ones who have never received an hour of formal education. You’ll find that those who have less tend to give more and more. It is therefore very important to respect every single individual. NEVER judge a person by their profession. Also, learn to call people by their names,not by their job role ie; do not call a waiter as a waiter,a driver as a driver etc; i think it’s very rude and offensive. Instead, ask them of their names and use their names to address them.
- Intelligence is overrated. This does not pertain to travel but is a general life lesson i have learned the hard way from the outdoors. Whenever something seemed difficult, I have always, ALWAYS hid behind the excuse that i am not intelligent enough to accomplish the given task and have backed off from confronting challenges. If the outdoors has taught me anything, it’s that persistence can beat pretty much all kinds of talent/intelligence.
- There is a very very thin line between giving up out of fear and giving up because you have truly reached your limits. I think most of our lives would be spent figuring out just where is this line drawn for us specifically as individuals. Don’t believe in the crappy inspirational blogs that try to make you believe that we have no limits. We DO have limits both physical and mental. It’s a whole other matter that, by training hard and consistently, you can push those limits further and further. But there is always a line. You can’t just see an inspiring youtube video about the outdoors and then go hiking alone in western ghats. You might just get killed. Take it from me. I have made these sort of mistakes repeatedly.
- There is also a thin line between making decisions by taking a calculated risk and taking a decision because you know, YOLO! When to give in to impulse and when to be prudent?? It’s often confusing and i think i’ll never learn where and how to draw a line between the two.
- THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OF ALL. It’s ok if you ignore my whole stupid ranting blog but always remember this: “DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF WATER“end of the story. Period. I have heard of too many horror stories and I have lost one or 2 friends because they broke this golden rule. If you go to the outdoors with friends, and if you chance upon a water body, then you’ll eventually want to get into water. If you do not know swimming, NEVER NEVER NEVER get into the water. Do not give in to peer pressure. If you know swimming but if the water body happens to be flowing, then enter the water only if you truly know what you are doing. Even michael phelps would drown in flowing water. You stand no chance. If alcohol is involved, then for the love of god, do not enter the water. And do not let others enter the water if they are drunk. Someday, your friends will thank you for this common sense. If you are stupid enough to enter the water whilst being inebriated, you not only get yourself killed, you also spoil the place for the future visitors. JUST DON’T DO IT. We once crossed a raging himalayan stream. The water levels in the stream rose exponentially in a matter of minutes. But we knew what we were doing. We had the right equipment and staff to make sure nothing untoward happened. Thus, we crossed safely. Not trying to brag but you really need to know what you are doing when you are near any sort of water body. Do you know that statistically, kids have a one in a hundred chance of being killed in a gun related accident? Do you also know that, 1 in 6 children are likely going to be killed in a swimming pool related accident? Make the right choice. Drunken driving is dangerous but, playing with water when drunk is much much much more dangerous.
- Sometimes, It’s the people you meet on the road that makes the journey worth it. I have been to some incredible places in India. Some of the places were beyond my wildest imagination. But, in the longer run, I am going to remember the incredible, exotic strangers whom I met as a part of these journeys.
Then there is a whole other topic of applying whatever epic lessons you seem to have drawn from your experiences while travelling. Sure, i have learned a lot but, it remains to be seen just how much i will apply those learnings in my day to day life.