I used to be a travel fanatic, frantically ticking destinations and countries off my bucket list while simultaneously checking weather channels to schedule my next destination. I wanted to cover as many destinations as possible while I was still physically fit to do so, and my strategy was to focus on any mildly challenging to downright character-building destinations while relatively young and mobile, such destinations being those requiring more than three transits or necessitating multiple transport modes (any combination of planes, trains, boats, tuk tuks or donkeys would do), or those involving altitude sickness, questionable public toilets or necessitating visas from embassies that do not even exist.
I planned to save the more civilised and refined destinations for my later years – those requiring a packing list beyond flip flops, modest clothes for temple visits and presents for local village children; and destinations not requiring half a suitcase of wet wipes and travel-sized bottles of Dettol hand sanitizer. My ultimate goal – to be a member of the Travelers’ Century Club.
Then I hit 50 (countries, not years of age), and without warning, the car punctured. I stopped feeling like it would be the end of the world if I did not go somewhere new, and I started to enjoy staying put and going about my daily routine. Trips to previously visited destinations also seemed a breeze and nicely comfortable, like a cosy night in front of the television, because there was no rush to develop an itinerary. In fact, “repetition” became the new “discovery”.
However, when I think back on my travels and gaze at my photos, I am in awe of life and what I have experienced. I am not only grateful for the wonders of the world that I have seen, those that sit on any traveller’s generic list such as the beautiful Taj Mahal or amazing Petra, nor for having had the joy of wandering around the quaint streets of Colonia Del Sacramento or Luang Prabang; but also for the small moments.
Amongst my most treasured memories are attempting to ride a moped on a quiet stretch of road parallel to the landing strip on Aitutaki and almost driving myself into the gutter; cuddling a village boy’s tricolour baby goat in the middle of nowhere in Rajasthan and not wanting to give it back for a very long time; totally misjudging the weather around Inle Lake and trying to get beautiful morning shots of the lake with steely determination and near frostbitten fingers; sitting in a stopped vehicle while on safari to let a procession of ants cross our path; celebrating New Year’s Eve in a quiet corner of Patagonia dressed to the hilt in sequins while dancing to cheesy YMCA-type tunes with the hotel manager, chef and bell boy; and screaming while canyon swinging in Queenstown only to find out later that what I thought was my voice was in fact my then-boyfriend’s screams that had gone up by one octave.
Surprisingly, I can think of very few bad experiences, perhaps because I am a very kiasu traveller, taking back any unfinished bottles of mineral water from restaurants in India and proudly building my precious collection of “safe” water to use when washing up in the bathroom. Sneer as one may, I pride myself on never having fallen ill throughout my many trips to India, and as a result, being able to enjoy the beauty that it offers to the fullest.
I conclude that I have such few bad memories also because the majority of things that happen on holiday are looked back and laughed upon. What may not have seemed funny at the time are wholeheartedly filed into the holiday fun section of the archives and suddenly everything was part of “the experience” – like having to dry ourselves with the smelliest towel that a kind Keralan villager had offered us lest we appeared unappreciative of his generosity, being bullied by intimidating immigration officers in Africa, or waking up in a desert in Oman to find that a friendly sand gerbil had deposited his idea of a Christmas present, a puddle of wee, on the pillow next to our noses.
With this in mind, there is only one experience that I look back upon with apprehension, this being the worst few nights of sleep I have ever had whilst in the most beautiful ski resort in Colarado. Although we are avid skiers, we only skied for about 5 hours in total throughout our 3-day trip (unheard of by our standards), and we fully attribute our bad experience to bad Feng Shui in the room. While the softest snow was falling outside, it felt like a heavy beam was falling down across our necks as we slept. With the lack of sleep fast accumulating, we lost our energy and eagerness to ski, and the trip was done for.
What would normally have been fun pit stops while skiing were looked upon as nightmare lunch stops, having to stand in cramped shacks while eating cups of substandard chilli con carne, and freezing temperatures which would normally mean a great day of skiing became times of extreme sufferance. All because of one badly positioned beam.
Two years on, I realise that I have barely “travelled” of late (according to my definition of travel that is, i.e. requiring the coverage of a new destination). Packing for the few trips that I have done this year have felt akin to learning how to ride a bicycle again, and airplane turbulence, which would previously lull me to sleep, has started to make me blink like I have an eyelid disorder. I cannot remember why I stopped travelling, but I feel the wanderlust urge starting to creep through the door and consume me again.
I have just revisited the Travelers’ Century Club website, and am delighted to learn that I am actually at 64, not 50 (again, countries, not years of age), and with just 11 countries to go before being able to apply for a provisional membership, I might just resume my quest. But in my older and wiser years, I shall endeavour to ensure that I always have a good Feng Shui compliant night’s sleep wherever my travels take me.