Being Traveler

– Nidhi Iyer

My understanding of travel stems from a simple epiphany – between hoarded boarding passes and carefully kept souvenirs, well-clicked photographs and blurry memories from innumerable trips, life-altering experiences and lengthy diary-entries, it has been an accidental epiphany that led me to realize that travel has nothing to do with these. Travel is not the number of stamps I have on my passport, neither is it the Polaroid films I have of each place I have been to. And while a holiday in an exquisite place gives me a great deal of enjoyment, travel has always led me to look deep inside myself. I have come to realize that travel is indeed awareness.

Traveling is a way of life. And therefore, I believe that being a traveler comes with both it’s own set of responsibilities and sense of contentment. First comes the understanding that each experience is unique to each person. No two people travel to the same place and come back feeling exactly the same. While traveling brings out the beauty of each diverse experience, it becomes more important to not put these experiences in a box.

Being a traveler broadens my perspective of people and their lives.It teaches me to respect this diversity, and this I think is my most important lesson as a traveler. The more types of people I come across, the more spaces I engage with, the more cultures I am exposed to, and the more I realize how different we all are and yet can be kind to one another. Traveling teaches me to be compassionate. It dissolves social boundaries that limit human interaction and makes me see others as my own.

Stemming from a place of growth and awareness, as a traveler, I seek to experience a place as my own. Every place I go to becomes my home,and it’s people become my community. And when I take ownership for a place, I invariably end up assuming responsibility for it. I pick up after myself. I ensure it is clean and safe. I work hard to maintain harmony. I embrace the culture for what it is and spend time understanding it’s roots. Sometimes, I also choose to stand up for what I feel is right for our growth. I strive to seek individual meaning in my interaction with these people and places. The art of traveling creates a strange balance, seeking to bond me with the space without compromising on either of our values.

I still remember a moment of awareness I had sitting in the temple of the Tsuglagkhang Complex, a monastery in McLeodganj, a couple of years ago. Until my visit to the place that I now resonate with as home, I used to view the Tibetan refugees with a lot of pity. Engaging with them and hearing their stories of escape and revolution changed it to a feeling of admiration and empathy. Now, instead of putting myself in a pedestal and sympathizing with them, I actually feel rather small and humbled to be among such people. It has taught me to question my own feelings of pity towards many other people and recognize their battle and strengths.

Some stereotypes can seem simpler than that but have overwhelming consequences. I regrettably admit that growing up, I used to think all of the people of the North-east of India, looked alike. It was easy to believe and propagate that, considering their misrepresentation and underrepresentation in our media and education. Living in the Mon Tawang region taught me that this wasn’t true at all. When I was going to join the community I was set to work in, I remember telling everyone, “I am going to the Northeast”. Living there taught me that I was in a miniscule portion of a large community of people that were different from each other not just in how they look or speak, but also in other intricate and significant ways. To this day, when people ask me, I insist on reiterating that I lived in a tiny part of the Northeast that is hardly a representative of the whole place.

I have also come to realize that while it is important to be cautious while traveling, the story we tell ourselves makes a huge difference. Things that seem small – like having a positive outlook, not being suspicious, smiling at fellow humans, being able to set boundaries and taking out time for myself, have gone a long way in making me feel content through my journey.

To call a place my home and say that I have a reasonable understanding of it, is unfair to both the space, its people and to me. I often feel that the time I spend is way less to justify calling it home – and that has become a permanent feeling I have as a traveler. But calling a place home, like I mentioned before, comes from a place of ownership and not privilege. I simply strive to engage with the space accountably. After every experience I ask myself the same thing – does this make me feel more entitled or more humble? Have I been mindful to those around me? Have I been true to myself? Have I grown? The answers to these questions reinforce my faith in having adopted this identity of a traveler.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”

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