A very good friend from high school asked me about my travelling experience and asked if I would be willing to share the benefits of travelling, the impact culture plays, my journey, hurdles and what helped me continue my trip. I have thought about her request and how best I could do it justice.
My family’s reaction, when I informed them that I wanted to volunteer in Saigon for two month was not supportive. Rather, my parents were apprehensive and worried about my safety which, of course I understood. They disclosed feeling more assured if I was travelling with a friend. My mum, went one step further and stated it would be great if I was venturing out with my husband. Of course, I wasn’t in a position to do so. I wanted to fulfil my life long dream of volunteering in an orphanage aboard and I didn’t want to have to wait around for my supposed husband as I may or may not get married. My friends were more supportive and given most of them have travelled they were far more encouraging. I was able to relate to them more because they had done what I wanted to do. I feel, in hindsight, if my parents had gone backpacking or travelled solo then perhaps they would have had an different approach.
I could have backed down or accepted that me wanting to volunteer in Saigon was upsetting for my parents. However, I felt it was important for me to voice and stand up for what I wanted to do. I know if I had caved then I would look back at this moment with nothing but regret and resentment. Of course, I respect and love my parents and my family for that matter but I also love and respect myself. It has taken me a long time to realise that living my life how I want to doesn’t make me selfish. I am no less of a person or a bad person for that matter. Culture, society and family all have these expectations and labels which are both impossible to meet and never ending. It is not the done thing to go travelling, solo, as a Indian woman. It is not spoken of and certainly not encouraged. I met very few solo Indian women travelling over the last three years and very few solo Indian males for that matter. I hope one day this changes and that society is able to both accept and encourage people to live their life how they deem fit.
I don’t fit social norms and expectations, I never have and I never want to. There are many aspects of being an Indian which I love and embrace but I refuse to let it stop me from living my life how I want. Most of my Indian friends, at my age are married and all settled but I am not because I chose to travel. Many are home owners and are expecting or have their first child, again I do not because I was too busy travelling. I understand and respect my friend’s lifestyle choices but some struggle to accept or understand mine. I’m not proposing that everyone should go travelling or volunteering overseas. Rather, I’m advocating that we should all be given the opportunity to chase our dreams, whatever they may be and the freedom to live our life to the max.
It was through my travels that I truly felt liberated. I was free to go where I wanted, eat what I wanted, wonder when I wanted and move on when I wanted. I was answerable to no one but myself. I was both responsible and independent. I managed my money and affairs how I deemed fit. I had no pressure or expectation over my head. Of course, some of this can be achieved without travelling for instance, I managed my money and was independent before I hit the road however, travelling exposes you like nothing else. The unpredictable and constant change of environment is different to that of working a 9-5 job at home. The energy and people who you are surrounded by are also different. I found there was little judgement and more acceptance of my life choices. I felt I belonged more with backpackers whom I had just met then with people back home, who I had known for years.
The more I travelled, the more I wanted to travel, the more I saw something amazing, the more I wanted to continue. I was told before I left that travelling was addictive but I didn’t listen at the time. Furthermore, the more I travelled, the more my perspective changed as did my priorities. It was no longer important to plan and worry about my future rather it was more important to enjoy the present moment. I learnt to appreciate and live in the now more so than ever before. Whilst I remain indecisive and over-think, I learnt to make snap decisions and take more risks. I was open to last minute road trips and watching the sunrise. The more I embraced and invested in my journey, the more I was given back. I could have come back home after six months or a year but instead I have continued for nearly three years now.
Both the amazing people I met and my experiences kept me going. I have had friends say I am brave for doing what I did, I don’t think I was. I feel I had enough courage to pursue what I wanted in my life and thankfully my courage helped combat my fears. It isn’t easy being on the road, away from family and friends back home but I was constantly surrounded with some amazing backpackers/volunteers/travellers. Some days are harder than others, yes but then if it was easy, everyone would be travelling and venturing out into the unknown. It is through the difficulties, the barriers that we grow. I am thankful for all the hurdles as these were all opportunities for development and growth. I may not have seen this or appreciated this at the time but in hindsight I have learnt a lot from the challenges I experienced.
My parents still struggle to understand why I am on the road but they have come to accept it. Had I not left for Saigon, my trip would have been over before it started. They say we have to pick our battles and I sure have. It is not easy as a British Indian because we live in a land filled with endless possibilities but are raised within a traditional, conservative culture which restricts what we do every step of the way. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to be defined by these restrictions for life is too beautiful. So I pick and chose parts of my culture, tradition that appeal to me and do not disempower me. I like to think that more Indians will embark on adventures and will want more from life whatever that maybe. I also believe if I have children then they too will go backpacking around the world, in the search for something more.