2011 was defined by my trip to India–even more so than moving to New York City–so I was sad to bid the year farewell.
Back in April 2011, when Kunal, Cory and I came up with the name for the blog, my only thought of my impending trip to India was excitement. I saw this trip as a way to test myself and explore my limits. But I didn’t really plan anything. Kunal had stepped up and proposed an ambitious travel schedule and I was content to go along for the ride. The only preparation I did was to read a couple books on Indian culture so that I wouldn’t seem like a Western slob around Kunal’s family.
Kunal’s plans–at least on paper–seemed very doable, maybe even conservative to me. I launched the website to share our travels and promote a cause during all our downtime. I was confident my earlier vacations to South East Asia and South America would serve as good primers for this trip and that site-seeing in India would be a similar experience. Sure, they do things a bit different, there are more people and more poverty, but the same rules of civilization apply, right?
By day two in India I recognized that trying to rationalize everything in real-time would be impossible; the new goal would be to take in as much as I could and make sense of it later. It has taken me six months of reflection to finally relax and be comfortable with my travel through India. It helped to reminisce with Cory and Kunal, exchange stories with others who have been to India and answer questions from friends and family.
I have distilled my reflections into four lessons:
- The places you dislike the most when you’re there become the places you’re fondest of later. For example, we were quite restless and grumpy in Kolkata; I couldn’t wait to get out of there. However, months later I think about it as much as my favorite city, Leh. It’s something I’ll keep in mind the next time I’m somewhere outside my comfort zone.
- Cameras are incredible, take lots of pictures. When traveling you see a lot of new things, like a cow sifting through garbage on the side of a city road or a wild monkey. A quick picture saves that moment so you can process or remember it later. You can also have a laugh at yourself for taking such silly photos when cows eating garbage and monkeys become a regular sightings.
- Don’t take culture guides too seriously. Be sensitive to your audience and ask questions if you’re not sure how to act in a foreign environment. Reading the culture guides made me think I knew how to blend in, but blending in for a tall white red head in India is impossible. People are eager to discuss the differences between culture. That said, here’s a cultural tip: if you’re a guy, don’t put your arm around a woman like you would to your girlfriend, no matter if they’re a local or a foreigner–it sends the wrong message.
- No country is more privileged than America. The opportunities we have in the States are unavailable to an overwhelming majority of people in this world. Take advantage of them and share some of your prosperity with others. Over 65 people donated to our fundraising campaign for WaterAid helping some of the poorest people in India take one step closer toward a better life.