Everyone has had their share of red-eyes, lost (or delayed) baggages, missed flights (or connections), hotels with wafer-thin walls (or lousy room service), watery soup (or unbreakable steak), an occasional bug floating in curry at the airport, a tryst with a conman in a foreign country, long waits in never-ending queues that move painfully slow and so on and so forth while traveling.
If you ask me, these sound painful but to be honest, none of these count as bad experiences. These are rather good. So good that you remember each of them. So good that you talk about these. So good that these make for stories that everyone wants to hear and sympathize with. One of the stories even got me a date once upon a time. The one where I was at the receiving end of Thai barkeep who refused to serve me, because I refused to tip the gatekeeper to get in.
On the other side, the bad travel experiences are the ones where everything goes picture perfect. The worst are the ones where the flight is on time, the cabin has no children, you get your beloved aisle seat, the co-passenger on the window seat does not get up to use the loo, the food is warm and tasty, the immigration queue is surprisingly small, the bag is first off the belt, the taxi is waiting right outside the exit and the weather at the destination, picture perfect. To me, these are bad. There are boring. You cant remember a single thing.
You dont get to talk to anyone. You dont get to experience anxiety. Your Dopamine, Endorphins, and all such -in's stay in control. The damn travel is of no use. After you'e back from the trip, you can hardly remember things you did and places you saw. Because everything went as expected, even picture perfect. Not fun if you ask me.
So, my worst travel experience was this road trip with friends.
Four of us packed ourselves in a car and we drove from Mumbai to Goa. Its about 600 KMs and in India, takes about 9ish hours to drive that much. For Indians, Goa is like the party capital. Its the Vegas of India. There is no sin you cant buy if you have enough money. There is no luxury that you can indulge in if you are willing to shell some money. There is no experience you cant live if you are daring enough to try.
We had, I think, a four day window in which we had to go and come back. I remember that we were to take turns driving and we hoped to cover the distance overnight. Apart from this, I am being honest here, I dont remember a single thing from that trip. It was supposed to be a friend's bachelor and we were supposed to spend the next four days partying, gambling and generally chilling out. And I am sure we would have done exactly that.
Everything on that trip went so well that I have no recollection of it. I dont know what hotel we stayed at, what all places did we go to, how much did I win at the poker table and how much sleep I managed while I was there. I just remember that I went to Goa on a car and we came back on a car. No one had lost anything, no one was hurt, we did not spent a lot of money and we were totally in control when we came back. How boring could the trip go? I dont even know why I signed up in the first place!
There. The worst travel experience of my life.
So since that Goa trip, sometime last year, I go out of my way to ensure that every trip I goto, I do something to make it better. I do something that makes the trips memorable. I use this 4 point checklist that helps me avoid bad travel experiences.
A. Never plan an end to end itinerary. That means you leave some gaps in between. May be don't book the hotels. Or take your onward connection from a different city and use roads to reach that city. Like for an upcoming trip, I havent booked my hotels as yet. I have blocked rooms because I need those for visa and immigration but I plan to figure out accommodation once I reach there. I know I would end up shelling more money but thats ok. Its one life and I can always make more money.
B. Insist on talking to at least five strangers everyday. I start with the co-passenger. Even if he wants to stay shut. Even if they dont speak my language. Start with a friendly hello and the most obvious question of them all. "Are you from abcd?" Replace abcd with your destination.
C. Do not pack as if you are moving houses. Travel light. As light as you can. Travel with just your passport, your identity and probably one toothbrush a la Jack Reacher style. Ok, thats too extreme. But may be carry a small bag, one change of underwear and few teeshirts. Big enough to fir the overhead bin in an airplane. If you are going for more than seven days and you have a bag bigger than overhead cabin, you are carrying more than required.
D. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Try to eat local food, travel the way locals travels, experience the things the way locals do. Its that simple and that easy. And its doable. And its cheap. And it will be eyeopening. And you will remember it.
Thats about it.
I have two upcoming trips. Both of them are to places that I have been to and I would ensure that they are not boring. I will try to post the bits that made the trip interesting. Till then, do share your worst travel experiences. There are teeshirts to be won. No wait. Not just teeshirts but there are bragging rights as well! Details here!