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.
NO TIME TO READ NOW?
CLICK TO PIN 📌 FOR LATER
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!