“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal” ~ Paul Coelho
The freedom to travel is among the many joys of modern life that we take for granted, until something intervenes. Most often it is due to illness, emergencies of the work or family kind or sometimes related to weather. These happen rarely and apply to a specific trip or group of people. Yet, for over two years, the entire world was affected by a global ban on travel, thanks to the tiny Covid-19 virus.
When I first moved to Singapore, I lamented that I had never before lived in such a small space – a country that was a fraction of the size of the metropolis of Bombay that I had grownup in. Singapore had its advantages though, the prime one being its connectivity through its fabulous Changi airport.
Like a portal to another world, the award-winning airport had taken me to cities as far north as Copenhagen and southwards to Christchurch in New Zealand. The comfort of the buzzing departure hall contained my excitement at my impending journey while the calm arrivals hall welcomed me with its familiar efficiency. I considered myself a seasoned world traveler, until I forgot how.
Relearning travel basics
On my trip to India in June, it took me many hours to pack my bags. First I had to find them, wipe the dust off and then set off in search of my passport pouch and toiletries case, among other things. Luckily my passport was still valid and I didn’t need a visa but I still had to check the exact terminal location, reporting time and vaccination documents before I could say I was ready.
It wasn’t until I waited in line to check in at the airport and overheard a conversation that I realized what I had forgotten to do. Web checkin! A term and a process so familiar to me had totally slipped my mind. While it wasn’t a problem, it took the counter personnel a few extra minutes to assign me a seat. Of course, I had also forgotten to update my meal preference to vegetarian but since I was taking an Air India flight, veg food was not a problem.
Sitting in my non-reclining seat at the back of the aircraft, I wondered how I could have forgotten the process of web check in. What else had I forgotten? Did I have local currency? What would the weather be like?
I mused about how much I had missed this aspect of my life – the ability to get on a plane and head to a new destination.
Travel had always been the easiest way to hit the reset button on my life.
And now I was feeling stressed by this very act.
Of unfamiliar sights and unexpected facts
Last week we went on a weekend holiday to Malaysia, our nearest neighboring country. The preparations had to start at least a month prior, with a visa application, hotel and flight bookings.
It took an hour to clear the immigration process at Kuala Lumpur airport but it felt good to see a different sight. Outside the terminal the sky was overcast and as expected we found ourselves in thich traffic amidst a heavy downpour.
The hotel lobby was crowded with people dressed in wedding finery. Life was buzzing even in wet weather. But rain is the primary enemy of tourists. So we did the next best thing. Enter a mall. While the shops were not very different from Singapore, we felt the pinch of limited vegetarian options in the food court. I picked up my favorite set of writing notebooks from Muji and took pictures of interesting storefronts for future use.
The next day we headed to Kula Lumpur’s iconic building, the Petronas Twin Towers and got tickets to ride all the way to the top. Inaugurated in 1999, the towers were considered the world’s tallest structure for 6 years. Today, they rank #17 in the world. You never know who will come behind you and push you off your top spot! The Petronas Towers still remain the world’s tallest TWIN towers though. Goes to show that a unique style will last longer than mere linear metrics.
Looking for something different
The roads in Malaysia are a pleasure to drive on and we headed to the hills of Cameron Highlands. Despite the distance, we enjoyed the drive along vast highways and smaller rods that ran through quaint towns with strawberry farms that allowed us to pick our fruit and tea estates that doubled up as tourist attractions.
South East Asia offers the best beach destinations but we wanted something different this time. In the town of Brinchang which sits at an elevation of about 5000 feet, the cool weather was a welcome change from the hot humidity of Singapore. We enjoyed strawberry cake, strawberry ice cream and just plain juicy red strawberries on the terrace of a small cafe with a view of the mountains.
The next morning we undertook a short trek to Robinson Falls. There is something soothing about the sound of running water. In the embrace of the full green forest cover we passed a few other tourists exploring the same paths. Our next stop was a tea plantation.
I was expecting lush green tea gardens on either side of the winding road, much like Munnar in Kerala, India but that was not the case. The setup seemed more suited for photo-ops than as a working tea estate. Yet, it was a good excursion on a slow day.
Going away and coming back
Before we knew it, it was time to return home. The long drive, the boring wait at the airport and the final stretch from Changi to home.
What is it that makes us plan and pack and take the trouble to go away? And what is it that makes us long to get back to the same familiarity of the home that we actively sought to escape from?
Perhaps it is this paradox, this push and pull between adventure and predictability that makes us human (among all the other dichotomies that we hold dear).
All I can say right now is that I am glad that I can once again exercise my freedom to travel. It’s time to plan the next trip.