Circa 2017 – I am waiting to board my flight, comfortably perched on the seats at the boarding gate at Mumbai International Airport.
Enter- a smart chic, wearing heels and walking daintily with perfectly manicured nails, colour of the purse coordinating with the attire and the rest of the luggage. Oh yes and the makeup. It was impeccable. But the fact that not even single strand of her hair was flabbergasting. I marvelled at her. No, in fact, I almost gaped at her, as I have, a zillion times when I see girls and women so well-put together and fashionably dressed while on the go.
Impulsively, I looked at myself (again) and well.. Here I was, wearing a sweatshirt, worn out jeans and sneakers. I had a backpack adorning my slender back and I had a sling bag as my neckpiece. My hair was tied up in a pony and I probably looked like a boyish, mini basketball player! I wondered if I was too tense and conscious about being comfortable and as compact as possible while traveling or she was just plain well, too fashionable and probably with little or no common sense. This led me to thinking that sometimes common sense is not so common. I mean to refer to the stylish girl, if she was comfortable walking a lot on the airport and considering a possible chance of getting her nails chipped, well, then I have nothing to say. I am no expert, but having spent my childhood travelling by train a number of times has taught me a thing or two about traveling in general. Now, with air travel, it has become much easier. Still, for the first-timers, here are a few things which could help with making the overall travel experience better.
Comfort First Fashion Second
This is the first lesion I learnt from the first time ever travelled with my parents or alone. You HAVE to wear comfortable clothes. Pradas and Guccis and M&S and others are great, but please make sure you are wearing confortable clothes and shoes. Which means heels can be stowed away in the bag. By comfortable I mean not too tight, which will keep you warm or cool enough, especially considering the temperatures in the flight. I, for instance am very sensitive to cold. So I always make sure that wherever there is AC, there is a jacket for me. Long story short, it might be a good idea to avoid tight bottoms, short tops and the likes while traveling overall, but especially for long hauls. Another aspect of comfort is to reach the airport or the train or bus station well in time, so you don’t have to stress about missing your bus, train, or flight. Doesn’t matter if you have to wait half an hour more, but trust me, nothing can make you more miserable than missing a flight or even the thought of it.
Documents in Order
Nowadays, even when we travel locally in India, it is a must to carry some kind of identification – driver’s license, our national identification card or the likes. Obviously, you need to make sure you don’t lose it. When it comes to international travel, it is all the more tricky. You have to take care of your passport, the most. I remember when I did my solo trip to London, my aunt who had by then travelled to Canada and USA, gave me a gem of an advice. it may seem funny, but that’s true. She said, “Whatever happens, DO NOT lose your PASSPORT. Even if YOU die, it is ok.” (the next part was obviously a joke. But the crux was to be very vigilant about taking care of the travel documents, with the passport being the most important thing. So what I do is that I always have the passport in a sling bag, constantly attached to my body. It almost becomes a body part. Additionally, I keep minimum 2 copies of all the documents, for instance,
- Copies of the passport
- flight/train/bus tickets
- Hotel/hostel/Airbnb booking vouchers/
- tickets for local tours if booked online
- Tour itinerary if booked through a travel agency
The best way to do is have 1 set of each in your suitcase or the biggest bag and the other one handy with you in your purse or the sling bag. Keep a pen handy too, as you never know where you could need to jot down something or sign somewhere!
Being Alert & Safe is the Key
I am sometimes alert and careful about my things, especially money and documents to the level of being paranoid. But one needn’t be. But, please please do not leave your purse on the ground and go ahead to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower. There is a possibility that you may not see your purse with all the valuable stuff again. This actually happened with a couple of girls who were on a group tour with one of my friends. It completely sucks. Please be alert, even while generally walking down the streets or alleys. Avoiding run down areas, lonely and secluded areas is definitely a good idea, be it men or women. For women, especially, if you are going to stay in a hostel, a female only dorm can be a better option. I have read on a number of travel groups on social media about uncomfortable and not-so-good experiences of women. Me being from India, this is a serious deal. So when I was just trying to be funny and said I am going to book a mixed dorm in London for my solo trip, pat came the answer from my dad- NO.
(Don’t) Show Me the Money
As much as the passport is your lifeline, when it comes to international travel, money is another one. Be it traveling locally or otherwise taking care of your stash is another thing we all learn the more we travel. Most of the seasoned travellers would already know this hack. It is advisable to distribute the cash in two or three different places instead of having it all in one purse or in a bigger bag. This will ensure that even if god forbid, your purse gets stolen or let’s say your baggage is delayed, you will have some money in either one, the purse or the suitcase to fall upon.
Whether it is deciding what to eat, where to eat or what all places to visit, a decent amount of research is a bonus. So reading about the place you are visiting, including the weather there always gives you an upper hand. Trying the local cuisine or dishes is one of the best ways to know the local culture. Another great way to explore is to walk as much as you can in the neighbourhood. There are umpteen walking tours these days, especially in cities across Europe and USA. Some cities in India too have that, but there is a lot of scope to improve on that front. When I did my first solo trip, I researched a much as possible about the area where I had booked my hostel. So when one night, the restaurant in my hostel had given the chef an off, and it was just the bar that was open, I wasn’t left in a lurch about my dinner. I knew there is my saviour in the form of McDonalds’, thanks to my research before travel. This is probably nothing out of the world or path-breaking. But research was actually turned out to be immensely useful for me, since I was alone.
Finally, you have to be ready for the curveballs which will be thrown at you where you would have to think on your toes. No amount of mental preparation and research can help you be ready for that. But hey, this is not to scare you. This is just a parting thought for those who have just started travelling anew. Because it breaks my heart when I see people on the airports or in the touristy places looking for their valuables or missing flights.