Traveling — it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” — Ibn Battuta.
There’s always a travel plan — either on back pages of your to-do journal or a dreamesque getaway, nestled deep within the recesses of your mind.
Travel, as they say, changes you to an unfathomable degree — and it’s often the journey, not the destination that matters. But, coming to think of it, what makes “the journey” so spectacular a concept? Is there more than what we know of when it comes to the myriad therapeutic benefits of travel? Does satiating our wanderlust truly improve the quality of our well-being and happiness?
Turns out, the answer is a resounding yes and is a science-backed belief.
Nicholas Epley of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago found that social connection with strangers in safe public places (airports, trains, etc.) is one of the simplest and best ways to increase happiness because we feel a sense of connectedness. Interestingly, he found that when he asked people to predict whether they’d feel happier in solitude in public spaces versus talking to a stranger, most people believe the former will increase their joy only to later report the exact opposite. Our society has trained us to believe and it has been enhanced through our strong attachment to our devices that ‘do not disturb’ is the best policy. In actual fact, the rejection numbers when we reach out to others are so minuscule that they are not even significant for study! Best of all, talking to the person in proximity benefits the happiness quotient of both the initiator and the recipient. Sunday Chronicle digs deeper-only to bring forth incredibly heartwarming stories from ardent travelers from the country…
“I enjoy historic towns and one of my favorite cities in the world is Porto. There’s so much of Prague and Rome and the pace is nice. One of the things I try and do on my travels is to visit old coffee shops of the city,” says Rehan Poncha, national champion Indian swimmer, Olympian and Arjuna Award winner. He further adds, “I’ve always been an early riser and love my morning coffee. Watching the city wake up as I have my latte has always been one of my “things to do.” On one such morning in Porto, I was sitting at a coffee shop, alone. Besides me was a gentleman who seemed to be enjoying the morning as much as I was. I noticed he wore a “golf “ hat from the Open Championship, a sport that I love. I initiated a conversation with him on how and where he bought the hat. It turned out he was an avid fan of the sport and had frequented the Open Championship as a spectator for over a decade. From the holy grail of golf at St. Andrews to the beautiful links of Carnoustie in Scotland, he’d seen it all! He went on to relive moments of past champions winning at this tournament in such detail, that it left me feeling I had personally seen them all. Being an aspiring golfer myself, the two lattes I had were immensely enjoyable stirred with not just sugar but terrific conversation. I went on to tell him about my journey as an athlete and my travel for golf as well.”
Heart to Heart Talk
For those wondering whether it’s worth the wait-to get the other person to initiate the conversation; Rehan has a wise tip to sage.
“I’ve always been one to start conversations with people I meet outside my friend circle, be it a cab driver in Mumbai or a golf fanatic in Portugal! There’s a certain sense of love and happiness that comes from connecting with new faces and people on travel and this story from Porto only encourages me to do so, always!”
Quite like how different people make the world; myriad travel personalities traverse along through the same journey. Chaitanya Kenchammana Hoskote, founder, Maya Medi Spa, believes that being candid while traveling brings forth instances of serendipity.
Taking us through one of her favorite travel rendezvous; she says, “I sat next to Danny Glover, the actor on a flight from California to Denver. I knew him only through movies like everyone else and my impression of him was of a tough guy as he is portrayed on screen. I took the chance, nevertheless.” Lucky for her, the conversation sheds light on a lesser-seen side of the iconic personality. “Well, our conversation was not about movies, but about health and climate control. He is a freak about a holistic approach to his health through nutrition and fitness. And was interesting to talk to him about his view on it. He was coming to Wyoming my home state for a movie shoot and so as our conversation went on he wanted to know how from India my journey had landed me in Wyoming.
Wyoming is a state with abundance in natural resources from petrol, natural gas, trona to coal. Mining is the way of life for us in Wyoming so it was wonderful to put forth my views and how he was able to see a perspective from my side was
very interesting. As we could have differ
ent views and perspectives on any social, political or economic issues but we could let our ears to hear both the sides which we are lacking these days. Of course, in the end, I had to let him know how much I have loved watching him and he was such a darling who knew how I wanted a selfie but did not want to embarrass myself so was hesitant to ask and he finally said ‘girl, are you not going to get that selfie now’. As I kept looking at my phone and jumped at it for a selfie with Danny Glover.”
The Art of listening
Her parting travel tip? “We must always lend our ears and have the patience to hear what others have to say. Listen to hear out and not to reply.”
Throwing in a bit of research; it has been widely found that humans being the social beings that they are, are wired to connect, share and love. “As humans, we are built to empathise and cooperate with those who have helped us to prosper as a species. Certain fundamental values and gestures are common across the world like a smile, helping attitude, welcoming personality, etc. One does not need to know various languages to feel trust or to collaborate or to help a stranger in a public place,” infers Prasad Shejale, co-founder and CEO of Logicserve Digital. “In our daily routine, we mostly work with humans in an effort to improvise and make things better for humans. Hence, the understanding of human nature is paramount for success in personal as well as professional life. The best way to understand human nature is to interact with people from varied backgrounds. Travelling, either for a vacation or your daily commute, is a unique opportunity to meet and interact with other people. All you need is a genuine smi
le or a simple favor to start a conversation. Then you don’t need to make any conscious attempts but follow your instinct of helping someone or accepting help from others to feel comfortable and turn the conversation into a great story of your life.”
Speaking about one of his most cherished travel memories, Prasad adds, “I remember another incident during one of my trips from San Francisco to Mumbai back in 2002. That was also the time when the airlines had started allowing only one cabin bag. During my travel back home, I had bought a big doll for my daughter. I had described the doll to my daughter the previous night and had told her that she will get it once I am back home. However, when I reached the airport, the airline crew didn’t allow me to carry the doll as I had another cabin bag with me. They asked me to pay extra charges for it.”
But, what ensued was indeed beyond a one-off experience. “Although I was a bit irritated, I was ready to pay (much more than the actual price of the doll). At that moment, a fellow passenger who was standing just behind me came forward and told the airline staff that he is carrying the doll and, since he did not have any cabin bag, there shouldn’t be any charges. I was happy with this small gesture from a stranger and it brought a wide smile on my face. We obviously had a long conversation later and soon became very good friends. Over the past 17 years, our friendship has grown, and we have helped each other a lot, professionally,” Prasad chimes.
Kind words cost nothing
More often than not, reality is stranger than fiction. A true-blue traveler knows the rule: travel makes you realise that the world is actually a big and beautiful place. “I was in New Jersey at a grocery store and bought a bunch of supplies after waiting in a long queue. As I exited the store, rivulets of sweat poured off me in the blazing weather and I craved a refreshment but had to get back in line just for a soda,” begins Namratha Hegde, an entrepreneur, actress, and producer. “The lady ahead of me was billing a long list of groceries and asked if all I had was a soda. I replied in the affirmative and she paid for my soda. I immediately pulled out my wallet to pay her but she was adamant and refused to take my money. She asked me to consider it a blessing. The lady in question was not from a wealthy family. She paid for my soda with food coupons. As she emptied her wallet she filled my heart with gratitude. I was touched by her generosity and thanked her profusely acknowledging her kindness but we didn’t
exchange names or numbers, just that kind gesture left an imprint in my heart forever.” While Namratha urges people to make healthy conversations, she doles out a few tips. “Ask for recommendations and share your interests. Don’t share personal details and don’t discuss the weather. And yes, always smile.”
Thinking along similar lines; Ramit Chennithala, Assistant Commissioner, Income Tax, opines, “The world is full of potential friends we have not met, yet! Since opening up random conversations with random people has always been a habit of mine, I took a similar talk with an auto driver once. The city was Delhi. The season was receding winter. The month was March,” he begins, adding, “The journey was of almost 15-20 minutes and throughout, it was him who talked, me acting as a good listener. Quite often, the ‘English speaking lot’ of modern urban India forget the woes of the lower middle class who are more concerned of how to make ends meet and pay their children’s school fees than about social media sensations, Netflix TV shows or even which political party rules at the Centre or State. He even invited me for his son’s marriage scheduled to be held at the end of that month. “Agar dil kahe toh aa jaana sahab. Aap jaise bade sahab ke aane se meri bibi bahut khush ho jayegi.” This ‘strangerisation of myself’, as
I call it in my journal entries, has helped me learn more about myself than the world, if truth be told. Would forever cherish such colloquies, and continue the quest for the stranger in me.”
Quite certainly, it is safe to say that every traveler has a story to tell. Advait Kottary, an Indian actor, stumbled upon an unforgettable experience of human connect during a trip to Athens years ago.
“It was dusk, I was walking around the Acropolis and taking in the views of all the monuments and searching for a spot where I could see the Herodian theatre, but I seemed to get lost every time,” he recollects. “I approached a lady who seemed to be walking a similar path and asked for help, and she turned out to be an architect, who had studied Ancient Greek styles of architecture.
As a plus to her, she was fascinated by India but had never had any exposure to anyone from there. She ended up giving me a wonderful walking tour of the whole acropolis citadel, and I gave her a small view of our people and our culture. But more than that we both had a great time and we actually remain friends to this day and she made me realise that a stranger can make you feel at home in the most alien landscape.”
Speaking about his biggest takeaway from travels; Advait believes the perfect travel is often a pretty interesting combination of places and the people in them. “A human connection is always an experience. It changes the filter with which we see the world. It can make us feel at home anywhere. It helps us reconnect and understand what a small yet special place we hold in this big, magical and mysterious world.”