I’m writing this post on the bus to the airport, but it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I’m going on holiday. I’m not quite sure at what point it will – the whole lead up to this current trip hasn’t quite been the way it would usually be when planning a long haul trip. For the last week I’ve had people asking me if I’m excited, and the honest answer has been that I haven’t really been sure. I feel like I ought to be, and I have had moments of looking forward to it, but for someone who is usually a bit like Tigger before going away, I’ve not really been the same about heading to India.
I know I’ll have a great experience and that I’ll throw myself into it once I’m there, but I think there are a few reasons why this trip feels quite different.
Firstly, it wasn’t a trip I’d really planned to do. If you’d told me a year, or even nine months ago, that I was going to be going to India I probably would have been quite confused. I know it’s top of a lot of people’s bucket lists and I’m very fortunate to go, but it’s never been somewhere I’ve imagined myself going. We’ve been invited to a wedding and I’m thrilled to see our friend get married in their home country, but if it hadn’t have been for the wedding I probably could have trundled through life quite happily without stepping foot in India.
It also feels very soon after our last trip which we’d expected to be our last big trip for quite some time. It’s not often you get an invitation to the other side of the world while you yourself are hundreds of miles away from home. It felt like too good an opportunity to miss, so obviously our plans have adapted, but it’s odd going away somewhere that you hadn’t really planned to. I also don’t usually go away at this time of year, so it feels somewhat surprising to be going away for a few weeks now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to some time off work, but it actually feels a bit odd to be going away at a time when I don’t really feel like I need a break (Christmas wasn’t really that long ago), whereas the last few years whenever I’ve taken time off it’s felt like it’s been overdue!
I’m also not sure I’ve ever traveled anywhere where I’ve felt such a sense of trepidation about going. Where the guide books have been full of stories about scams, where the friends who have already been use words like ‘overwhelming’ to describe the experience, and the ones who’ve traveled out a few days ahead have been full of advice to ignore everyone and act like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going. For someone who struggles with spicy food, has a phobia of needles (we’ve needed quite a few injections to go) and isn’t a huge fan of crowded cities, it’s not surprising that India never made it to my list of dream destinations. With every new thing I’ve learned, it’s been a really strange balance between anxiety and excitement.
When you tell people you’re going to India you tend to get quite a reaction. Those who have been are really keen to impart their hard earned knowledge and advice from their own experiences (and this has been invaluable in helping us prepare!). Whether it’s to book a driver, pack a scarf or to avoid certain types of food, everyone has tips to share and are only too happy to answer questions. For those who’ve never been you’re either met with an envious response (because it’s definitely on their bucket list!), or one of awe, as if by going to India you’ve entered a whole new level of travel experience.
I consider myself to be reasonably well traveled, but I know that I’ve never been somewhere quite so different to home. This is exciting – part of the reason to travel is to broaden your horizons and are you really doing that if you only ever go somewhere that’s like home?! But it’s also made me very conscious of all the differences and concerned about how I’ll cope with them. For the first time in a long time, we don’t have a day by day itinerary (other than where we’re changing location) simply because we think we’ll need built in down-time to acclimatise.
So what am I looking forward to? Obviously the wedding! I’m also looking forward to the bizarre university reunion the wedding will bring about, seeing lots of friends from different places. I’m hopeful we’ll see tigers, as we’re heading to a national park as part of our trip. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Taj Mahal, and the Amber Fort – places I’ve seen plenty of photos of but never actually imagined being there. And what am I anxious about? Toilets. The crowds and pollution. The poverty. The food (although I really hope it won’t take long for me to just be excited by this).
The word I keep using to describe this trip is ‘experience’. I don’t know yet if I’ll love it or hate it, or most likely have shades of both over the course of the time we’re away, but one thing it will certainly be is different, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from it.
Have you ever been to India? How did you find it?