Flashback-packing !

It was exactly 5 years ago that I left on my first backpacking trip out of India. August 2005. My first Europe trip as well. I guess its been no looking back ever since that trip. So, this is a blast from the past – the post I wrote before my first trip.

fatter me larger backpack

I had been dreaming for eight years and saving for two years to go for a Formula 1 Grand Prix and that’s how it all started…

The Italian Grand Prix was in September… Scarlet Ferraris … Scarlet flags… thousands of fans dressed in scarlet… I sure wanted a taste of it… By March, I had accomplished the most difficult task… convincing my husband that our entire saving needs to go towards financing his wife’s dream to see Schumacher in flesh and blood. The decision that we were going to make that trip… Those words ‘Yes honey, I think we can manage with a zero balance in our bank accounts for sometime’… those were the most encouraging words for me. I just had those words, a free Internet connection at office and my will to plan the entire trip…

‘Entire Trip’ – you must be wondering how Italian Grand Prix turned into entire trip… Well, who goes all the way to Italy and just visits little Monza without seeing all the beautiful cities and countries in and around Italy… I bought a nice notebook and wrote my name very stylishly… and gave it a title ‘Mission Monza’. 6 months to go. That’s sufficient time to plan… So I thought… After all, I was an amateur traveler… My earlier experiences were limited to official trips within the country invariably planned by my company, school excursions geographically limited to South India planned by the teachers, family trips planned and funded by parents or impromptu day trips with friends in and around places where I have lived.

In any case, I started very optimistic like most people do, wanting to see all of Europe in 20 days and with a budget in mind that could probably just take me to the airport and back. My first itinerary looked like the index of an atlas. It had all the names of all the cities that I knew existed, within each of those European countries that I could spell correctly. If I had gone with that itinerary, sure shot I would have spent more nights and days in buses and trains and probably managed to catch the E of Eiffel Tower and L of Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Where do I start? Where… I was confused like any other traveler wanting to see the world. I decided to start by buying the traveler’s bible – Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring. I always wondered why it was Europe on a Shoestring and not Europe on a Sock with a hole in it. That’s probably how much I could afford.Now that I had committed close to 1000 Rs on a guidebook, there is no backing out… Right! Nope… my husband was having second thoughts about the cost of the trip, considering the excel sheet cost estimates that I was mailing him everyday after reading a few pages of the guidebook. I had to do something before he changed his mind. I decided to commit on the most expensive thing, which is buying our air tickets. Once we buy our air tickets, there is definitely no backing out… (Evil me waving those expensive air tickets in front of my husbands face with an innocent pout which stands for ‘Guess what I bought for us honey’ look… I am sure that would work!)

Air Tickets… Air tickets… I decided to go to The Wanderers… they are travel agents if you are wondering whether they were a band or something… I felt like I was sitting for an interview to do a Ph.D. in Travel & Tourism… they asked me intelligent questions like where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see, how many days, what was my budget, blah blah… And my preparation was weaker than my preparation for a microeconomics examination… I learnt 2 lessons that day… Lesson 1 – A cheap holiday is not easy… the more it costs you in terms or time and preparation, the lesser it will cost you in terms of money… Lesson 2 – A traveler has to learn to sacrifice… The list I had drawn out would ideally take someone a year to cover… and I just had to get more realistic… The objective is not to tick off 30 places like a To Do List… The fun is in experiencing each place like you are tasting a new flavour of ice cream for the first time… relishing every moment and making it last long… I rushed out promising to return after doing my homework.

Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Milan, Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Corsica, Barcelona, Madrid, Ibiza, Amsterdam, Brussels, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Interlaken, Zurich, Montreux, Lucerne… I started with a list 3 times longer… Pages of scribbling, pouring over the Internet, I landed up with a realistic list… 3 countries in 3 weeks… France, Italy, Switzerland… here I come!

How did I shortlist these three… Italy… well the race was happening there… that was obvious… The other two were the difficult choices to make… I could have done Sweden and Turkey… or Poland and Belgium… wait a minute… I did not need ‘Europe for Dummies’ to figure out that France and Switzerland were neighbouring Italy and would hence be logical options… Thank the map vendor outside Andheri Shopper’s Stop who sold us a world map about a year ago… We decided on these two countries instantly… all the stuff I had downloaded on other countries were neatly transferred to this folder called ‘Ruled Out’.

The next two months went in a flurry, a completely crazy time pouring over hundreds of hostel reviews, Eurail timetables, sightseeing websites and I felt like I had already seen most of the places I intended to travel to. I could tell you how long it would take to travel between each of the cities I planned to go to by train, air or bus, with daily departures and fare details. I could tell how much it would cost to stay in a 4 bed dorm, 6 bed dorm, mixed dorm, double room, twin room, single room in atleast 10 hostels in each of the cities. I could tell you where you could get beer for a Euro… After this intense research, I had excel sheets titled Itinerary Version 1.0, Version 1.1 and so on… linked to Stay Options sheet, Sightseeing sheet and finally a formula filled cost sheet which would calculate the cost automatically. I tried thousands of permutations and combinations till I saw the magical figure, which was my budget, on the cost sheet. I was home.

The best part of this search was short-listing a hostel in each city. With peculiar names like 3 Ducks Hostel, Flying Pig Hostel and Fawlty Towers
Hostel, I guess we had to rely on reviews and a large amount of gut feel, before we chose any hostel… there were equal amount of good reviews and bad reviews for each of those places… So, I figured the best approach was to actually book the cheapest place and take a chance… If two places tie for the cheapest option, then book one with perks like free breakfast, proximity to railway station, non-shared bathrooms, sheets for free, free maps, free internet connection, no curfew… the list is endless.

With everything figured out pretty much, the only thing left was to get a Visa to visit those countries. I was enraged to find out that British citizens and American citizens do not require a Visa to enter Schengen countries. I started my Visa application process in a protestor mode… ‘How can you discriminate against India’ mode… that was just my ‘Rebel without a clue’ side waking up for a few days… After a couple of days, I was feeling practical and started collecting all the documentation required… the docket I made contained everything from my blood group to my tax returns to my marriage certificate to my ration card… I had no clue what the guy at the French Embassy would do with all these details… as long as he let me and my husband enter his country as tourists… The fat docket and a crisp covering letter on my company letterhead clearly stating that I had a secure job in India, which paid well, was the assurance that I did not intend to run away to France to sell postcards outside Eiffel Tower. Oh God… how much I hated to lie…

Anyway… to cut a long story short… we got our Visa… confirmed our bookings… planned a little more… and it was now frightfully close to August and we still did not have backpacks. Carrying suitcases and walking all around was out of question. I searched on the net, on roadside luggage stores in town and suburbs and just couldn’t find a nice looking comfortable backpack. The search for the Holy Grail would have been easier. After umpteen enquiries, I managed to find a tiny store in Matunga, selling professional backpacks for long trips. Who would think the place most known for Idlis and Dosas in Bombay would be the place where I would find the ideal backpack. Mumbai Masala proves itself, yet again…

All our bags are packed, we are ready to go… Come August 20th and we set out of our homes with our backpacks and every vegetable Vendor in Pali market was wondering why we were carrying a bag the size of a sack of potatoes and grinning like idiots at 6 am in the morning… Little did they know what was in store for us… Little did we know…

Like I have always said in all my stories… the journey is the reward… the three weeks come and go like a super fast train… but it’s the planning which makes me feel like I went on a six month trip and not three weeks…

What happened in those three weeks… Well, this pre travelogue is not meant for that… Watch out for the travelogue… Coming soon to your mailbox!

4 thoughts on “Flashback-packing !

  1. An authentic Indian Backpacker has such to share to all the travellers of the planet. All the best to you Aparna for all your ambitions and happy tranquilo travelling.Saludos desde España.

  2. I wanted to read about your first trip backpacking and how all this started. Wow! it is really amazing and interesting. 5 years ago and here we are, you going to Wales. Indeed the travel bug searches few and you are one of them. Love you and all the best for your trip. Will read your blog. Love and hugs, Amma

  3. We are Tours Operator in Turkey cultural group and private tour programs in istanbul and Turkey. Private and Regular short tour packages in Cappadocia and in Turkey .Private shore excursions in Ephesus and Istanbul http://www.packagetoursturkey.comhttp://www.touroperatoristanbul.com Our tours are professionally guided, intimate, and safe Istanbul Turkey are great destinations for a wonderful holiday! with their perfect service form TTG Travel Agency competitive prices for the great services and local knowledge that make their holidays really special.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s