The Peripheries of Travel

Travel was not a part of my life for the longest time. When I was younger, the only travelling I did was to my family’s hometown and to the temple-towns nearby. I associated the word ‘travel’ with crowded temples, cramped buses, communal bathing areas, and the smell of camphor and cheap rose garlands. Needless to say, I had no veto power when it came to these trips. I was dragged, kicking and moaning. There’s not one picture from our trips back then in which I don’t look mad.

I’d only ever experienced travel in the literal sense of the word and so I thought the people who claimed to love travel were masochists. Not that I met many back then.

The first time I was exposed to the spirit of travelling was when I moved to Big Cityᵀᴹ. Of course, it wasn’t a holiday. I’d moved for work. But during weekends, I got to experience the joy of discovering a new place without being confined to its temples. Seeing the buildings and the beaches I’d only seen in movies gave me goosebumps. The simple act of waiting for a bus that would take me to a whole new place, a place that I wanted to see, gave me happiness. I even discovered that I loved visiting temples if I got to do it on my own terms.

My first significant holiday travel experience was in 2015 when I visited Foreign Countryᵀᴹ and I loved every bit of it. Since then, I have visited a few places but it’s nowhere close to my well-travelled friends from Big Cityᵀᴹ.

I assumed this lack of experience was serving me well during the corona lockdown. Maybe the fact that I hadn’t thoroughly explored the different facets of travel was the reason I didn’t miss it too much. I thought I was too practical to catch the travel-withdrawal bug that seems to have affected more people than corona itself.

Just as I patted myself on the back for ‘seeing the bigger picture’ and being ‘above it all’, it came to me. Not a bug, but a bird.

I was out on my balcony drinking my tea when I was accosted by a particularly aggressive pigeon. I don’t know if its intention was to drink some of my hot tea or watch me spill it over myself, but its bravado took me to a different time in a different place – the last day of our trip to Beach Countryᵀᴹ.

My husband and I were milling around the resort searching for food. We were hungry but none of the restaurants was open as it was past breakfast serving time. We were saved by a food truck serving mediocre snacks near the beach. As we sat down to enjoy our subpar delicacies, we were visited by another aggressive but hungry bird. After testing us a bit and learning that we were quite meek, it took the liberty of stealing food from our plate.

and it brought a friend!

This seemingly funny memory made me feel sad. I realised I was missing something; not the travel but the things that came with it. Like learning whether the birds in the new city are bigger jerks than the ones back home.

I don’t miss travel but I miss waking up to new sounds and smells after the first time you sleep in a new place. The slight trepidation when you set foot in a new city tugging against the thrill of making it there. Wondering if the stranger you see on the road is nice and if the local culture dictates you to smile and say hi or tighten the grip on your bag.

I miss the guilt of being touristy and relaxed around people going to work on a Monday morning. The surreal feeling of leading a very different today than yesterday. Imagining the possibility of rooting yourself to this new place and starting over. Trying on a new personality and shedding it soon after because it just doesn’t fit.

I miss the endless walking. The vain pride in disposing the pair of shoes that couldn’t withstand the abnormal amount of strain you’ve put on it.

I miss the obscene curiosity you feel when you come across someone who lives in that magical place – What is their life like? Do they like living here? Do they have a family? What do they do on Sundays? What kind of food do they cook at home? Which are all variations of the same question: Are they like me? Are they like me? Are they like me?

I miss making a mental list of the ways in which the new place is like home and unlike home. The ways in which the people you meet there are like you and unlike you.

I miss missing home after a bad meal. The sudden realisation that everyone you know back home is going about their lives without you. The sneaky loneliness that takes over at night prompting you to flip through the channels in the hotel TV to find that one show that you know and that knows you.

I miss the last minute foraging to find the perfect fridge magnet that somehow showcases your personality and perfectly summarises the trip that was. The endless discussions on meaningful but functional souvenirs to buy and which of those will be available back home for a cheaper price.

I miss the butterflies in the stomach when a trip is about to start and the pang of sadness when it’s about to end. Packing till the last hour and finding that you missed out something important after it’s too late. Standing in queues to check in and imagining the life story of the person in front of you.

I miss planning the trip. The ball of sunshine you carry with you once the travel plans are confirmed, cheering you up whenever you feel lousy, till the day of the trip arrives. The little prayer in your mind just as you leave your home, hoping that the trip would be everything you thought it will be but also hoping you’ll come back home at the end of it.

I miss the sense of calm when you unlock your door and find everything exactly where you left them. The feeling of belonging when you flop down on your favourite side of the bed after being away from it for so long. Enjoying the few hours of respite before your normal life starts back up. Firmly shutting down the possibility of a different life and settling back into the old routines.

I miss a song, a smell, a sight reminding you of the place you visited months ago and the momentary but heady mix of nostalgia, satisfaction, and emptiness that immediately follows.

I don’t miss travel but I miss the peripheries.

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