Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thoughts on travel

{Roman sunset}
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to travel. Maybe that’s just what happens when you’re born in one place but live in three, all spanning across different continents, by the time you even turn three. I’ve lived in Mumbai, Nigeria, Houston, New Jersey, D.C., and now Madrid; had my family or I chosen to stay in either of these places longer than we did, my life would have gone in so many different directions. Who would I have been if I hadn’t met my best friends or lived near the family that I am so close to? If I hadn’t met the people who introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut or Kanye West lyrics or The Office? I think the one of the many, many reasons I travel is to compensate for that. My life could have been drastically different and I’m grateful for every place I’ve been to, and if they’ve all shaped me so much, how much more could I grow by adding to that list of cities? How much could I learn and grow after three months in Madrid or six in Amsterdam or eight more in Mumbai or anywhere, really. The place isn’t as important as the people you meet there, the people who make you think and grow; think about yourself and your views and where you come from, where you're going, and who you are. 

You never fully appreciate home until you leave. This is true for America when I go to India or Nutley when I moved to D.C., and even for Madrid while I was in Italy. New isn’t always good but new definitely adds to you: how much you know, how deeply you think about certain things, how closely you hold certain parts of you to what you identify with. So yeah, travel is quite important to me. It always has been, and always will be. But right now? For the first time, I want to stop traveling.

When I first came to Spain, I was excited. I was grateful. On one particularly early and sleep-deprived morning, I cried because of how grateful I was to be here in Madrid, doing what I am. Grateful to my parents for making this possible in every sense of the word, but also to myself for valuing my desires and ambitions more than simply the progression of my career. For investing in myself wholly rather than in just a part of myself, as I would have been doing if I had chosen to intern somewhere this summer. (Hell, at one point I even shed a tear to a Drake song. But then again, if “Look What You’ve Done” doesn’t make you appreciate how far you’ve come or how far your family has come or how much your parents have done for you, then your soul is dead my friend. But I digress.)

But now I am tired. Maybe I’m jaded. I no longer fully appreciate every unique building, every sunset, every stroll through new streets and new neighborhoods. And that just isn’t me. The concept of gratitude and of appreciating every opportunity and every moment of beauty or happiness or peace is such a big part of who I am. One of my favorite quotes comes from a Kurt Vonnegut anecdote in which the author talks about his uncle Alex, who often made a point of stopping to say, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” And that’s what I try to do, too. If these evenings in Madrid, if these views from long train rides, if these glasses of wine and conversations with strangers and new words learnt aren’t nice—then what is?

But somewhere along the line, I’ve lost that appreciation. I was talking to a friend back home and found myself complaining about how I didn’t want to travel anymore, not for a while at least. I need a break after this summer is over. I said to her, “After all, there are only so many cathedrals and museums and parks you can see.” And I stand by that, too. Too much of a good thing really is, well, too much. It gets old and mundane and tiring and you stop valuing it the way it deserves to be valued.

This past May, before leaving for Spain, I was talking to another friend about Madrid and Amsterdam, where I wanted to study abroad this coming spring semester. She had been to China the summer before and loved the experience. We got to talking about Europe and she spoke about how she didn’t feel the need to go there. She had been to Austria to visit family before and it was enough for her. I was confused. I had only been to Europe for the first time the summer before, to London, Paris, Brussels, Antwerp, and Amsterdam. I had loved it all and thought that she was being a bit unfair; in such a diverse continent how could one have had enough after visiting just one part of one country?

But now I see what she meant. The places I’ve been are definitely different from home, but only to an extent. I feel like I’ve learned so much here and I’m grateful for it all, but going to a few more countries and cities won’t do what I need it to. It won’t make me think differently or grow in any way, not when I’m as tired as I am. In a few years, when I go back, I’ll have grown and changed enough that the setting will be able to add to me. But at this point, it’s not going to make a difference.

(I’m trying to be careful here; I know Europe is a big place with an indescribable level of diversity and opportunity to grow and develop. The issue isn’t Europe here, it’s me and where I am right now: tired, weary, jaded, and in need of a break.)

At this point I’m reconsidering study abroad. At moments, I wonder if I even want to do it, which if you know me at all is insane. I’ve been looking forward to study abroad for eleven years, since my aunt spent six months in Australia and loved it beyond words. But even if I do study abroad (and I do think that I will), I’m reconsidering Europe. I’m reconsidering Amsterdam and instead I’m considering places across Africa and Asia, especially India. Being Indian-American is an enormous part of who I am and I think it would be incredible to live in the city where I was born, to reconnect with family that I would’ve been closer to, to explore the neighborhoods that would have been my own. I will never not be grateful for living where I am, for being Indian-American and for the people and places I call home. But sometimes I wonder. Would I still have the views and thoughts I do, be they religious, political, or otherwise, if I still lived in Mumbai? Who would be my friends? What would I think of the family I have in America? It would be amazing to go back, to live in the city that changes me and challenges me and teaches me so much every time I go back. 

I used to go to Bombay every other summer and at this point, it has been six years since my last visit. I celebrated my fourteenth birthday in India and as I inch closer and closer to twenty, it hurts to think about how long I’ve been away from one of the places I still consider home. India has changed enormously since I’ve been away, and there’s nothing weirder than returning to a place you call home and having it be drastically different. Regardless, I know I want to go back and I think to myself, if I don’t live there now, then when?

I still plan on visiting about four more cities this summer; it seems silly to not take advantage of being here and having my weekends free to explore Spain and Portugal. Coming here, I didn’t expect to want anything but Europe. And all those cities across this continent will remain on my wanderlist. But until I’m ready to explore them, until I’m at a place where I will be able to appreciate and enjoy them as much as I potentially can, I’m taking a break. And I’m reconsidering things that I thought to be true, which if you ask me, is one of the biggest benefits of travel anyway.

~ V


  1. Hi Virali!

    This post was awesome. I'm feeling very similarly, but in a reverse order as I just spent six months working with an NGO in rural India, and then spent some time traveling including time in Europe. I think I've found a difference between vacation spots for when I'm older and places I would like to live and learn from.

    There's something about going back to India as an Indian-American as well as going somewhere that is so radically different even in the smallest daily activities. My advice, not that I'm in a position to give any, is to go somewhere that you haven't seen before (even a different part of a city/country you've been to), that will push you out of your comfort zone, and that doesn't depend on any "must-see" museums or cathedrals so that you can enjoy every sunset, every cup of coffee, and every conversation. Good luck with your travels :)

    1. Thanks so much for reading and for your words Sumana! Where in India were you?

      That sounds like great advice. I'm thinking of programs in Delhi, so I can be relatively closer to Bombay but still far enough that it'll push me more than living with family would. It all depends on what kind of programs work with my major and minors though. Again, thank you so much and good luck to you as well :)

  2. Delhi sounds awesome! I met a few girls who did an SIT program in Delhi and they also spent a month in another part of India as well, which definitely helps get a fuller experience. I was in Jamkhed, a town in Maharashtra working with this organization - www.jamkhed.org. I'm interested in healthcare so I had a really great experience! I hope you find the right place for you and let me know if you have any questions!