A Different Way To Travel - Chapter 1
Jan Banerjee  and  Amitabha Banerjee 25 February 2023
We are starting a new series based on Mr Banerjee and his wife Jan’s passion for travelling. For them, travel does not mean ticking off attraction lists or chilling in a five-star hotel. Most of their stories are off-the-beaten-track experiences.
 
We do hope you will enjoy them! Please do share your feedback. - Editor
 
We are travel addicts.
 
We have been travelling for many decades, starting with going wherever our parents took us, then with friends while in college, and then on our own. Finally, ever since we met, we have been travelling together, initially all over India, and more recently, in some 20-odd countries.
 
When we were young and our pockets were light, we travelled in buses and second class trains. On weekends, we would ride my Jawa to remote (in those days) places like Murud-Janjira, where petrol was sold from a paan-shop and the only accommodation within our reach was the PWD bungalow at Rs10 a night.
 
 
Now that we are older and time is aplenty, we travel differently.
 
Over the years, we have realised that travel involves four prerequisites: time, money, health and above all—desire. If any one of these is missing, travel is not possible.
 
Let me tell you about our travel style, which has evolved over many journeys, and give you a glimpse of the places where we have been.
 
 
Initially, we used to travel to big cities to see all the ‘important’ sights – Notre Dame, Kutb Minar, Tower of London, the statue of liberty, Eiffel tower, Sistine chapel – you get the drift.
 
Things changed after a freewheeling vacation in Sienna (northern Italy) where my wife, kids and I travelled in a tiny Fiat Punto hatchback (each of us had just one backpack as luggage), and no hotel bookings. 
 
Every morning, we decided what we would do that day and, towards late afternoon, we found a place to stay the night. We had no list of things to do or places to visit, and we could extend our stay in any place if we felt like it, or just move on if we didn’t.
 
 
For instance, while driving around one morning I saw a cart path leading off the main road. On a hunch, I turned onto it, ignored the screams from my passengers, and drove on until we came to an open area with an abandoned barn and a little stream. 
 
Our two girls had a great time playing 'haunted house' in the barn and laying stones in the stream to make a makeshift bridge. For them, it was much better than any museum or cathedral.
 
After we returned home, my daughter (age 8) said, “Vacations are like going to school, but this one was different.”
 
We were surprised. What on earth did she mean?
 
She explained, “On other vacations, we had to wake up early, have a bath, dress up, have breakfast, go and see this, that and the other. But on this vacation, we just did what we liked!”
 
That changed our outlook.
 
We stopped going on 'trips', and went on 'holidays' instead because that is what travel is—a holiday, quite different from normal life.
 
 
Now – to narrate our travel style. 
 
Simply put:
- No cities, only countryside and villages
- A car, so we can go where we like
- No itinerary – just a rough idea of where we might go
- No hotels – our own little house or apartment where we have ample room to move around
- No Indian restaurants - either local food, or what we cook ourselves.
 
Yes, most people don’t travel like this. But, we would never go on a conducted tour – 11 days, 10 nights, 9 cities, herded like sheep with 30 others, told what to see and how long to spend at each place...
 
No sir! Not for us.
 
I want to share with you the process of planning and organising our travels, so 
 
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”…
 
Choosing a Country
 
With practically the whole world open for travel, we needed to have some criteria to decide where to go. So, we came up with some simple requirements:
 
 
The very first is – safety. We don’t want to go to any place where travelling alone is not advised. We hear of countries that offer great scenery and wildlife, but travel has to be done in groups, under guard. No, thank you.
 
The second is – communication. An English-speaking country is hassle-free. We can read the road signs, understand the menu, and ask for directions – hard to do these in sign language.
 
 
The third is – the weather. We live in a hot country, so it is pointless going to some place with similar weather. For us, the ideal weather is 3 – 15 degrees centigrade, with no rain, but plenty of clouds so that the sun doesn’t beat down too hard. 
 
Too cold, you think? Well, you can wear warm clothes, but there is a limit to wearing 'extra-cool' clothes!
 
The fourth is – law and order. We hear horror stories of people being held up by goons in police uniforms, pickpockets operating in gangs, and such like. I know – you mustn’t believe in rumours, but why take a risk? There are plenty of other countries to choose from.
 
 
The fifth is – decent food and, in particular, ease of understanding what is on offer. 
 
At a business lunch in mainland China, I was asked what I would like to eat. Rather innocently, I replied, “Well, anything.” My colleague butted in, “Hold on – no scorpion, no snake, no lizard, no pig’s ears, no locust, etc.” I realised, in horror, what I had been saved from eating!
 
(To be continued….)
 
(Jan and Amitabha Banerjee are retired bankers living in Kolkata. They travel the world in their golden years and write about their journeys in their personal travel blog.)
 
 
Comments
blackstone9347
1 year ago
What's your personal travel blog called? I'd love to read more about your wanderings..
pgodbole
1 year ago
Looking forward to interesting stories from your holidays in different countries. Incidentally, last year I have been to Dunrobin Castle in Scotland, a photograph of which appears at the beginning of this article. A great place indeed. Didn't want to leave!
howardroark19
1 year ago
haha...looking forward to this series. Awesome! Will help me plan my travel. Thank you :)
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