I have been thinking of writing this post for a long time but I never got around to writing it till now. It is something based on personal experiences and it definitely shapes me as a traveler. You must be wondering why I am saying that Indian travel is different when I just wrote a couple of months ago about how people around the world are same. I still stick to the statement. People around the world are same but the circumstances surrounding the way we travel makes Indian travel different.
In recent years, there have been some excellent discussions on the black travel movement and I love reading about the progress they have made. It is definitely not easy for them and I am in awe of how they still continue to travel breaking the norms.
But that said, Indian travel is also not easy and I felt the need to write about this. This may sound like a rant but unless we start writing about it, there is no way we can change it. It is not my idea to bash my fellow Indians either but sometimes they have to be told the truth. I know reality sucks but isn’t it time that we faced some of it? It is another long post. So kindly bear with me and give me your inputs.
Table Of Contents
Table Of Contents
Having a weak Indian Passport
According to the Passport Index, the Indian passport currently ranks 74 in terms of the Global power of the passport. Just to give a perspective, Singapore has the strongest passport in the world while Afghanistan currently holds the status of the weakest passport in the world with a rank of 93. If you see in terms of individual ranks, then we rank at 159 while Afghanistan ranks at 199. We have a visa score of 51 which means that we can go to 24 countries without a visa and we can avail the visa on arrival facility in 27 countries. Also, having a valid US/UK/Singapore visa can give us an option of availing visa on arrival for a few more countries. Singapore nationals, on the other hand, can go to 124 countries without a visa and avail the visa on arrival facility in 35 countries.
So what does that mean? It basically means that we are royally screwed if we ever want to travel outside the country. Most Indians are terrified of applying for their first visa because the chances of getting rejected are comparatively higher in our case. When most of our compatriots in other countries are contemplating their gap year around the world just after college, we can only dream. The process of applying for a visa is often complicated and comes with a long list of required documentation. I just think about the number of trees I could have saved if I didn’t have to go through this process every single time. For e.g. I am not allowed to enter a country if I don’t have my return tickets booked or if I don’t have a certain amount of bank balance.
It definitely gets better once you have a number of stamps on your passport. But the documentation is still daunting and I wish I didn’t have to go through this process every single time. The visa application process comes with a lot of uncertainty and that is something I find hard to digest. It is so difficult to make spontaneous travel plans when we are travelling outside the country. And to add to the confusion, the rules are quite different if you are applying from another country other than India.
I do not have the privilege like my friends from other countries. I cannot just wake up one fine day and decide that I am going to book some last minute deals to a new country. Many of my travel blogger friends decided to head to Romania for the Experience Bucharest / Experience Romania events after TBEX Ireland and it was a last minute decision for many of them. But I couldn’t think of doing something remotely like that since I had to worry about my visa. Also with an Israeli stamp, I cannot even think of going to Iran or Saudi Arabia with my passport in the near future. I also don’t have the luxury of dual citizenship like most of my other travel blogger friends from around the world.
I could go on. But you get the gist. How can we change the situation? I don’t know. Most travellers to India complain about how difficult the process of applying for an Indian visa is for them. But I really hope that our government works to improve the strength of our passport. Should I be happy that we moved 3 measly points up in the recent update? After all, there are 1.2 billion of us and it is time we fixed this issue for our future generations.
Are Indians racially discriminated when travelling outside the country? But are we racists as well?
The answer to both the above questions, unfortunately, is an astounding yes. I wish I could tell you that I have never been racially discriminated against but that would be a lie. It has happened to me around the world and I know it will continue to happen as long as I live. My brown face routinely gets singled out at airports for an extra security check while others are not even asked to remove their coats. Am I being petty writing about it? But like I said before unless you write about it, how can we bring about a change to a problem that shouldn’t actually be a problem? Casual racism should not be taken for granted and no one should be given the ability to form prejudices about me on the basis of my skin colour. You cannot assume that I can’t pay for a room in your fancy hotel or pay for my own food based on the colour of my skin. I agree that my fellow Indians are partly to blame for that. But still, it is not acceptable and it is time we finally move from the era of white privilege and other forms of privilege.
Now let us come to the second part of the question. In a country where the ‘Fairness cream’ industry makes a killing, it is not a surprise that Indians are racists as well. And that is not only against foreign nationals. We are racists towards even people from our own country. I don’t understand the obsession of my country with race but I hope we soon outgrow it in the future. Else there is no hope for us. When we talk about race, we should also talk about trying to avoid all forms of cultural/ Social/ Economical racism as well.
Power of my currency
Another major factor that contributes to the way Indians travel is the strength of my currency. When I travel outside the country, I try my best not to do those money conversions in my head. It will only hurt more. As someone who works in India and is usually paid in Indian Rupees (1 USD = Approx 76Rs), we are not paid as much as people working in other parts of the world. The logic is that the standard of living is comparatively much lesser and hence it is fine. But when you use the same money in other developed nations around the world, it cannot buy you the same things there. So for most Indians travelling outside the country, it is a large slice of the pie of their savings. Yes, we can definitely travel to more economically backward countries too.
The Great ‘Indian Culture’
When we were growing up, it was very clear what we had to do. Get extremely good grades, get into a good college, do a professional course like Engineering or a Doctor or accounting and then get a good job. Once you get that job, work yourself to death paying all those bills. Then get married, have kids and take care of your parents as well. Repeat the cycle all over again. In India, no one ever goes against the wishes of their parents and it is against ‘Our culture’ to go against it. So in this whole cycle of life, there is no place where travel used to fit for most people. Gap years and long-term travel was something that was unheard of till a few years ago.
I have been lucky that way. I have unconventional parents who love travelling even more than I do. So I was allowed to choose what I wanted to do. I know most people don’t have this luxury of having understanding parents. My extended family is not that understanding as well and I keep getting asked questions on why I travel so much. But I am finally glad to see that more and more millennials are travelling.
The cultural mindsets that we have been conditioned to are entirely different from other travellers and that is why I wanted to talk about some of these topics in detail as well.
If you want to travel, you will find a way to travel. Whoever it is.
I am not talking about the people who can’t travel because they have a financial commitment to their family and the entire family is solely dependent on them. Also, there are people who can’t travel because of other reasons.
But I keep getting told of how I am so lucky to travel so much in life by my peers. None of them has the financial constraints I am talking about. But these are the same people who are willing to spend money on phones, cars, and other things. The same people then crib about their inability to travel because of lack of funds. I have made lots of sacrifices to be able to travel so much and don’t undermine my hard work by giving blatant excuses for how you cannot travel like me. If you want to travel, you will make sure that it is your reality.
I am not saying that travelling will solve your problems or even that you will fall in love with travelling one fine day. Some people just don’t find travelling interesting and they would prefer lying on the bed every weekend. That is perfectly fine. As long as you are happy doing what you want, do that. For me, traveling makes me extremely happy in spite of all the obstacles that come along with it.
Never be afraid to experiment when you are travelling
This is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to Indians travelling. They are reluctant to experiment. Some of the examples I have seen are:
- People my age don’t like to stay in hostels or Airbnb’s. They only prefer hotels. I have stayed in numerous hostels by now and I love the vibe that comes with the hostel culture. I still don’t prefer a 10-bed dorm but for people like me, we have the option of choosing either a 4-bed dorm or a private room. It is a great place to meet people from around the world. Also, Airbnb’s are equally appealing to the traveler in me. Thankfully, I am seeing a gradual shift in perspective at least among the younger crowd.
- Try not to survive only on Theplas or Kakkadas or Pulioderes you get from home. I am a vegetarian myself and I have found vegetarian food almost anywhere I went around the world. It is perfectly fine if you want to cook your own food to keep the costs down. But at least once in a while, don’t forget to taste some of the local cuisines too.
- Once in a while, ditch the attractions and head over to the lesser known parts of a place you are visiting. Go for free walking tours in a new city. Find something local and unique to do there. Try speaking to the people there and realize how they are so similar to you. Don’t stick to your own groups and try to mingle with others.
Ditch the superiority complex
They may not travel in the same way as you but that doesn’t make you superior in any way. Learn to respect everyone’s job and their origin. It definitely helps you be a better traveler and person.
Be respectful of other people’s time and money
The ‘Indian standard time’ or the ‘Asian standard time’ has always been a running joke with most travelers. But this means that you have no respect for other people’s time. This is an annoying habit and I hope you will at least put in some effort to be on time from next time onwards.
Be respectful of other’s privacy
I know we Indians sometimes tend to have no boundaries. But that is the way we have been brought up. As I travel more, I am learning of things that we Indians do that are considered rude in other’s cultures. No, it is not polite if you ask a lady her age or a guy his salary in any other culture.
Your stupid actions will have consequences on your fellow Indians
When we were at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland a few weeks ago, we came upon this group of South Asians who were just being incredibly stupid. They were doing stunts at the edge of the cliffs and all of us were left too stunned after seeing their stupidity. Most people there assumed that we were with them and asked us to tell them to stop. The locals were clearly not amused. Thankfully none of them fell off the cliff. But just imagine if they had.
I have never been to Thailand yet but I keep horror stories of how drunk Indian men harass the women there. This is not done and it is definitely time we change this attitude.
Such stupid acts should never be encouraged especially when you are traveling outside the country. It affects other Indians too. I hope some sense prevails for at least some of my fellow countrymen.
Learn the tipping culture of the place you are going to visit
Most service industry people are surprised when I tip them because apparently, most Indians don’t. But that is what I have always been taught to do and I still follow that to this day.
Never undermine a place, person or culture
I know there are places we don’t like. I also have places that I don’t like. But I don’t blame it on that place and it is a personal preference. I am also willing to give a second chance to some of these places because the last time I went there, the time wasn’t right. But I keep hearing my fellow Indians talking ill of a place after staying there for a couple of days. How can you judge a place in a few days? I also don’t like comparing two places. I have done these mistakes in the past but I will never repeat them in the future.
I know that many of my countrymen are not tolerant of other cultures. I wish that could change as well in the future.
Also, a person’s sexual preference should never be put into focus when you are meeting people from other places. It is their personal preference and it is definitely not your place to say anything about it. I have many friends from the LGBT community these days but a few years ago, I was as clueless as most of my fellow Indians.
Being Responsible and Ethical travelers
I know taking a selfie with a drugged wildcat may seem cool. But as travelers, we need to be aware of what we are doing is ethical or not. It is a fine line and this is one of those mistakes I am going to try and never repeat again. Plastic is another threat to the environment and as responsible travelers, we must do our bit to reduce our carbon imprint so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of our planet. There are some amazing eco-friendly places in the World and hopefully one day I get to visit at least some of them.
Patriarchal Indian Society
The Indian society is still quite patriarchal. Girls are still told what to do, what to wear and how to behave. Traditionally, a woman was supposed to take care of the house and the kids. But these days more and more Indian women are working and travelling as well. They are slowly finding their voice but unfortunately for many women, travelling is still a far-fetched dream. Most women are told that they can start travelling once they get married.
Again, I have been quite lucky. I have always been encouraged to do what I want and when I starting travelling solo, my parents still supported me. They were not too happy about it initially but as long as I was happy, they were fine with it. The other day during my recent trip to Ireland, one of my friends remarked about how chilled out my parents were. She had to talk to her mom almost on a daily basis and I just had to send a couple of messages a day on WhatsApp to let them know I am alive. It was not always like this but over time, we have finally learned our balance. It is a good thing that my parents are also avid travellers.
But if you consider my extended family, then it is a different case. None of my mom’s sisters has ever travelled out of South India and them probably never will. And that is the case with most of the Indian women and hopefully, we can do something to change that for our future generations.
Why don’t you travel more in India?
I get asked this question a lot. “If you find travelling outside India so difficult, why don’t you travel inside India?: But this is a question by people who don’t know me well. I travel a lot within India too. My country is a gorgeous country and it has the natural diversity of at least 50 countries. From the gorgeous beaches of Andaman islands to the deserts of Rajasthan to the gorgeous snow-capped Himalayan mountains to the backwaters of Kerala to the wildlife sanctuaries in the North-East. We have a great deal of cultural diversity as well and every time I travel, I am amazed by the diversity of it. We speak hundreds of languages and we have people from all religions, all trying to coexist.
But we have to acknowledge the fact that travelling in India is chaotic. I guess most of us try to find the peace in the chaos. It is also very frustrating to see how most of us Indians do not respect this natural beauty or the cultural diversity. How very few of us care about the environment or how even the educated of us find it amusing to deface our monuments! We have a huge potential to increase our revenue from tourism and I feel that we are not doing enough to conserve the beauty and cultural diversity of our country.
Also, it is high time that we make our country safer for women. I have seen lots of discussions by foreigners on how India is unsafe for ladies. And there is nothing that I can do to dispute the fact. It is generally unsafe for women in most parts of the world but the amount of extra caution we have to take in India is ridiculous. Also, not all men are the same and most of the time it is the 10-20% who are giving the rest of their gender a bad name.
Indian travel is different and we still travel
In spite of so many reasons of how Indian travel is not easy, there are many like me who have set to explore the world. So the next time, you see an Indian traveller in a foreign exotic place, give them a high five because you know it was not easy for them to be there.
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