2010 – 2020: Highlights From A Decade Of Travel

Me at the viewing platform on Lake Pehoé, Patagonia, Chile

Our first international trip – exactly thirty five years ago – was an escorted five country Europe hop over eighteen days. I cannot imagine replicating it today under any circumstances.

It worked for us at the time. Travelling abroad wasn’t as commonplace then as information was difficult to come by and collecting enough foreign exchange (legally) was almost as hard as bagging visas.

I remember arriving in Paris on a Tuesday when the Louvre was closed. We did get to climb the Eiffel tower, were driven around the city in the evening, got dropped off at a mandatory cabaret show and at Galeries Lafayette for shopping the next morning. Apart from Italy, where we had nearly a week, this was the whirlwind routine in most other ‘countries’.

We had only ourselves to blame. We had intentionally picked a tour that crammed as much as possible into as long an itinerary as we could find. We didn’t expect to set foot out of the country ever again.

If someone had told us then that socialist India would open up as it did in the 90s, we would’ve laughed at them. But it did! It took a while for us to pick up the courage to reap the benefits of liberalisation, and our first priority when we did was travel.

We still went with tour groups initially, but began choosing those focusing on a single country. Mainland Greece with Trafalgar was brilliant. We had a passionate guide who filled us in on the stories on the long drives in between major sites. Spain, Morocco and Portugal (multi-country!) the following year proved a big mistake again.

By the time we were finished with a mega Turkey tour we were done with being herded around ticking sights off our lists. This time, we had planned an extension to Rhodes and Santorini on our own and were encouraged by how much better we enjoyed the slower pace.

So we took the independent travel route in the following years. Rajasthan was our first, independently organised but still hand-held by the Taj group who had a tie-up with (the now defunct) Jet Airways.

Cote D Azure, Provence and Paris, soon after, went like clockwork but we realised we’d packed too much into three short weeks. (The hop across to Barcelona for three days at the end was definitely over-ambitious).

We’ve come a long way in travel planning since. We’ve learned to slow down, to experience more than see, and to use as many local services as we possibly can.

I have travelled solo several times in the ensuing years and also joined groups where solo travel seemed a challenge. The group tours ranged from average to disappointing although the most convenient options under the circumstances.

I might still opt for small group tours into destinations featuring landscapes I find difficult to get to by myself, but I doubt I can ever again go on an urban exploration on a fully conducted tour.

We’ve been fortunate to have had only two major disruptions in all these years: a volcano eruption (in Chile!) causing the closure of Buenos Aires airport that led to us missing our flight to El Calafate, and the current pandemic that cut short our Chile trip with two days to go in Atacama and two in Valaparaiso. (We managed to make it to El Calafate on a long day trip from Patagonia on our recent trip!)

I look back on a decade of wandering around the globe (I couldn’t let 2020 go without at least one travel post!) with ten photos representing the most memorable destination/experience for each year.


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2010

We spent five perfect days in Jordan. But it is the memories of our longer journey through Egypt that I cherish more. The process of crafting a mega travel guide over the past month reinforced my love for all things Egypt…easily the most memorable of all the countries I’ve visited. Only our Africa safaris pip it on the experience scale.

If Egypt is on your list, my ten day itinerary covers much of the Nile Valley including the temples of Abu Simbel, Abydos & Dendera.

A felucca on the Nile in Aswan
Felucca on the Nile in Aswan

2011

I am hard-pressed to pick one spot from our South America destinations. Rio de Janeiro was an afterthought since we were increasingly shy of multi country itineraries for trips shorter than four weeks. But we were so glad we gave in to the temptation. This tantalising taste of Brazil had us craving more.

Much as we enjoyed Lima, we didn’t have enough time in the city for it to feature here. Machu Pichu was as iconic as we’d expected and Cusco as gorgeous. But it was Buenos Aires with all its grittiness and street art and tango and Parisian vibe that was the highlight (even if my photos from every other place on that trip are better!). The dulce de leche ice cream might have much to do with it, as well as the fact that we ended up with eight days here due to the missed connection to El Calafate.

Colourful street art in La Boca, Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires Kitsch

2012

An Asia-centric year. Japan, on a spur of the moment decision to accompany my sister on a ladies only tour, was an introduction to a culture so exotic, and to grace and politeness that I had never encountered before. Have been dreaming, ever since, of returning to Kyoto for a slower exploration.

Laos, Cambodia and Bangkok were all wonderful cultural immersions. I’m picking my standout experience purely based on the memories this photograph evokes…a glimpse of the sacred.

Monks at prayer in Wat Mai, Luang Prabang
A glimpse of the sacred

2013

We finally made it to the Taj Mahal “more with the intention of putting an end to the “You still haven’t seen the Taj?” question rather than a burning desire to see it”. We experienced Delhi with new eyes, loved Lucknow’s urbanity, survived Varanasi and discovered the many faces of Kolkata on photo walks.

It is our return to Paris (for the third time) and a birthday picnic by the Seine that stands out for me.

Bride in a red flowing dress on the Pont Alexander III, Paris
An evening in Paris…

2014

We struck the wildlife lottery this year. I finally broke my big cat jinx (on an unplanned visit to Kabini with friends), we got to rub shoulders with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and witnessed the great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti all in a single year!

My first solo week in La Serenissima wasn’t any less special. But Africa is Africa. Stepping foot into that great continent does indeed change you forever.

A herd of wildebeest frozen as they thundered past our vehicle!
Our very own NatGeo moment!

2015

This was a packed year that included tiger sightings (finally!), witnessing Marwar meet Andalusia in Mehrangarh, a sultry (as in sweltering July heat, just to be clear) birthday weekend in Pondicherry, a milestone anniversary spent in what is now our favourite part of Spain, my first collaboration with a tourism board, Chettinad with friends and an unexpected year end river cruise through Myanmar!

Standout? It’s hard to choose between Spain and Myanmar. Will have to go with Northern Spain – both the Basque region and Cantabria – for its exceptionally scenic coastal villages and the food. Oh the food!

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, one of many gorgeous stops between San Sebastian and Bilbao.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, one of many gorgeous stops between San Sebastian and Bilbao.

2016

The echoes of glory in Hampi (along with the temples of Badami & Patadakal) edged out Thanjavur by a whisker and Kochi by miles among domestic destinations.

Croatia was the standout, however, (not quite apples to apples, I know) and strangely – although not surprising if you know my preferences – Zadar is my pick over Dubrovnik.

 ‘Greetings to the Sun’ installation on the Zadar waterfront at sunset - Zadar, Croatia
Serendipitous alignment around the ‘Salutations To the Sun’ installation on the Zadar waterfront.

2017

Two nights in Ayutthaya and a yoga retreat in Chiang Mai bookended our friend’s son’s Bangkok wedding in March. We ‘dared’ to take off to Kashmir in May, just to prove a point. Then, I flew off to Belgium with a friend and to Portugal with Ravi in September.

Kashmir was achingly beautiful and Belgium fairytale lovely, but I’m going with Portugal. Here’s why.

Tram 28 in Alfama, Lisbon
Tram 28. Ravi said Bye and returned to the hotel for a nap while I footed it around Alfama all afternoon.

2018

Sri Lanka in Jan and a family holiday in October (in Koh Lanta) to celebrate many milestones, including our grandson’s 18th birthday, was the only travel Ravi & I did together (apart from a special birthday playing princess for a weekend in Udaipur in July.)

A campaign with Thalys, close on the heels of Sri Lanka, had our group zipping through four cities in three countries in five days, I took off for a solo week in Malta at the end of it. A second campaign, with the German Tourism Board to celebrate the Bauhaus Centenary in Weimar, was followed by a few extra days in Berlin.

A toss up between Sri Lanka and Malta would have been the way to go if I hadn’t slipped off to Ladakh (in the extreme north of India bordering China) in September. That magnificent high altitude desert is my standout pick for 2018.

Two wild horses against a mountain backdrop in Ladakh.
One of the reasons why our drive back to Leh from Tso Moriri took twice as long as it should have.

2019

We shelved tentative plans for Indonesia in order to maximise the year-long validity of my German Schengen visa. So the focus this year was on Europe and it was liberally sprinkled with memorable moments.

I got to witness the aurora borealis in Iceland on a photography tour. I stopped over in Paris on the way back (my fourth full visit not counting the overnight stay with Thalys) and discovered loads of alternate things to do there.

Puglia, a much underrated part of Italy, in early summer was delightful, as was inhabiting a gorgeous cave in the sassi of Matera. Exploring Milan and Turin by myself on the way back was icing on the Italy cake.

All highlights in their own right, and I might even have supplanted Paris with a new favourite European city by the end of summer, but Romania in mid September (on a valid US visa), and the Maramures region in particular, stole our hearts.

A farmer in Maramures with his scythe.
One of many Maramures locals we stopped to chat with.

2020

Our wish to extend our visa-hassle-free period was the reason we chose to go to Chile earlier this year. Our US visas were valid for travel then (they aren’t anymore!) and February/March happened to be the optimum month to visit owing to its southern hemisphere location. I am grateful for the serendipity that helped us squeeze in some travel into this bleak year, and for the good fortune that got us back in time!

We loved every part of this spectacular strip of a country, even protest-scarred Santiago. Patagonia might very well have been my top pick if we’d been fit enough to trek its famed routes, or Atacama, if we’d had enough time to experience it fully.

Given the way things worked out, remote, mystical Easter Island tops my list.

Silhouette of the moai, Ahu Ko Te Riku, at sunset in Hanga Roa, Easter Island.
The heavens shower gold on a forgotten god…Ahu Ko Te Riku, the only moai on Easter Island with eyes (restored).

I am nostalgic for the anticipation and excitement that marked the beginning of this decade. The end is tinged with apprehension. Not sure what my travel destiny has in store for me going forward. I have a seriously pared down list of a few places that I would like to get to. Anything beyond that is bonus. And dependent on the time we are granted. Precious time that a micro-organism has already whittled away much from.

I have transitioned from despondency to gratitude though. For all that we were able to squeeze into the preceding years, and more importantly, for managing to get through this one alive.

Here’s to life! To good health and happiness and hopefully a bit of travel…Happy New Year!

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

50 thoughts on “2010 – 2020: Highlights From A Decade Of Travel

    1. It was a good decade Rajat and I’m grateful. I don’t have too much expectation from the next 🙂 Thank you for reading and sincere apologies for the belated response.

  1. While I savored your yearly highlights, what I enjoyed just as much was your description of your travel metamorphosis over the years. As we move from tourist (in those big, multi-destination groups and tour buses!) to traveler, we really get a chance to absorb new places and not just see their surfaces. I don’t think everyone is comfortable making that move, and I feel lucky that we took the leap ourselves! Happy New Year to you and your family, and here’s to getting back on the road in 2021!

  2. I loved this post looking back on the past 10 years in travel – and not just because of the wanderlust-fueling photography. It must have been an uplifting experience to reminisce about all these memorable trips to various corners of the globe. Egypt has been at the top of my travel wish list for the longest time so I will definitely be referring to your mega-guide in the future. And I’m still amazed by the fact that you managed to squeeze in a trip to Chile and get home just before everything went haywire.

    Fingers crossed we won’t have to wait until 2022 to see Indonesia reopening its borders. I’m curious to know the list of places you and Ravi have in mind, and am very much looking forward to meeting up again when the trip eventually happens – Bama and I are both keen to return the incredible hospitality you extended to us back in 2015 when we came to India. So far we have not had any success finding chiku ice cream in Jakarta, even though the fruit is widely grown and consumed here!

    On that note, may 2021 be a fantastic year for you and Ravi! Wishing you two and your extended family much joy and good health and yes, more than a few opportunities to travel again.

    1. Hahaha, that might very well be an opportunity to market chikku ice cream in Jakarta. The latest flavour here is apparently guava and chilli…can’t wait to try that.

      Yes, it was very uplifting indeed to look back on all those years of travel, I kept getting sidetracked every time I opened a new album. It helped put things into perspective too, got me into a grateful frame of mind.

      Our list, its more my list, is focused on Asia: Iran, Indonesia and Bhutan mainly. I’m fine with sitting put until early 2022, The halo of gratitude I have on will not last any longer than that 🙂

      Thank you for your warm wishes James. I wish for you the same, good health and much happiness. Stay well

  3. What fabulous travel destinations and so interesting to read about how your travel experiences have evolved. I share your love of many of the places you mention, especially Egypt.

    1. Hello Caroline, I just found this comment in my unapproved folder. Many thanks for reading and sincere apologies Yes, Egypt is particularly special.

  4. I’ve been following your blog almost from the very beginning, so it’s quite heartening to know that you’re still traveling and still (occasionally) publishing posts here! 😀 I remember being awed by your stories on Egypt, fascinated by your account on Delhi, and intrigued by your solo travel to Venice, among other things. I’m lucky that since my first trip abroad in 2007, I never had to go on a guided tour, except for Bhutan since it’s mandatory for me and James. I remember one day I was sitting in front of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur waiting for sunset. Then suddenly a big tour group arrived, their guide instructed them to take photos, and ten minutes later off they went to their next stop. That further assured me not to ever try to travel this way, unless I really really have to. Happy New Year to you and Ravi! We’re still patiently waiting for the day when both of you decide to travel to Indonesia. Until then, stay healthy!

    1. Haha, I remember you asking me right at the beginning, if I’d stop blogging at some point. That conversation has been popping into my head of late. I hunted it down from my About page. I did come close to quitting, but have decided to give it another shot. This pause gave me time to organise myself better. I was straddling too many boats between my non-stop travel and family commitments and was too stubborn to admit I couldn’t do it all. So yes, I’m going to be around for a while longer.

      As for travel styles, you guys are half my age. There was an Audrey Hepburn movie titled ‘If it’s Tuesday, It must be Belgium’. I thought I was being clever when I used it for a caption during the Thalys campaign, It went right over the heads of my young blogger friends 😀 I am one of few from my generation of Indian travellers who has transitioned to independent travel. Now I’m on a mission to encourage more people to try my way at least once.

      Am also borrowing one of your productivity tips to have a couple of drafts ready at any given point The thing is, I take way too long over each one and end up as stressed as always when deadlines draw near. But I’m getting there…never too late to learn, Never too old either:)

      Happy new year Bama.

      1. Lol. I really feel that blogging provides us with a different way of telling stories which social media can’t. That’s why it’s really encouraging to see some familiar names still going on in the blogosphere.

        I’ve been taking my blog really easy these days since I only publish one post a month. I think when travel is possible again, I will not push myself too hard — like writing one or two posts every weekend. It helps to keep everything in balance.

        Happy new year too, Madhu!

  5. You’ve certainly visited more places than I ever will. I’ve always been the slower traveller and one fixated on Asia rather than Europe. When I’ve occasionally done a day tour, I promise myself it’s the absolute last! I’m looking forward to where you’ll eventually head next. As for myself, I hope it’s back to Japan again.

    1. Returning to Japan is a lovely thought. My sister and I planned it so many times since our first visit, but it kept getting shelved. Now that she can finally travel, the world has come to a standstill. I’m beginning to believe we have to wait for some places to call out to us! Let’s hope there’s some clarity by the end of this year at least.

      Happy new year Mallee!

  6. What a fabulous post Madhu! I thoroughly enjoyed it, seeing many places I’ve been lucky enough to have been to, and seeing some others that are already on my list (Romania!). Your photographs are superb.
    I loved Varanasi – it’s one of the highlights for me.
    Last year we went from 4 weeks in Rishikesh directly to 2 weeks in Japan – the difference in cultures is so striking, and yet I think I must put India and Japan at the top of my list of favourite countries.
    Your post reminded me of a similar post I’m planning some time down the road – about the highlights of all our travels. Some places/experiences are just standouts.
    Like you we got home March 21st, just under the wire before borders closed. What a strange year it’s been eh.
    Wishing you and Ravi all the best for the new year. May 2021 be better!
    Alison

    1. Amen to that Alison. And thank you for your kind words. I remember you saying you loved Varanasi. It’s a place people love or hate. I felt very guilty about not loving it;) Think we went in the wrong season, I should give it another chance…maybe.

      I look forward to reading your highlights post. You have an impressive amount of travel under your belt especially since you and Don did it full time for so many years. You guys were my inspiration, You still are.

      I have so enjoyed your central America posts, had planned on Cuba, Mexico and similar long haul destination for the next few years. Not sure if we’ll be able to manage that now. Like i said, if we do its bonus.

      All best wishes to you both Alison, stay well.

      1. Cuba truly is a world unto its confounding self, and worth visiting. But if you have to choose I’d say definitely Mexico – such a profoundly rich and diverse culture from world class museums in Mexico City, to astounding Mayan ruins, to extraordinary alive indigenous cultures.
        A.

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