My visit to Denmark was finally materializing and I was browsing the flight options on Yatra. Vacation planning is now at one’s fingertips – from the comfort of the home, one can plan the minutest detail – be it national or international travel, stay, food or daily itinerary.For a compulsive planner like me, I heaved a sigh of relief as I could now pose as many irrational questions and what-if scenarios to plan a vacation, without a travel agent threatening to sue me for causing a nervous breakdown.
Our last trip to Gethia near Nainital had entirely been planned remotely, as have been so many other vacations in the past.It was such a complete contrast to the vacations that I recollected with my parents when I was a kid. Vacation planning was an exceedingly hectic activity back then – dollops of advice from friends and relatives on where to go and stay, peppered with numerous calls , running around reservation counters and the action finally building up to the long awaited day of travel.But it was awesome fun all the same and as kids, it was the event of the year.
Of my trip to Agra back in 86′, besides the Taj, I remember the smell of red chillies because we stayed at a Mirchi Wali Gali(Street of chillies) and surprisingly enough,memories of us walking in the hot sun and eating fresh Kakadi (cucumber) with a dash of salt and red chilli powder.It had been a moment of camaraderie and laughter.
Funny, the things that stay with us.
As we were chatting over tea, a close friend posed a hypothetical question. If I could take my family and friends to any place on the planet, where would that be and how would I make the trip the happiest one ever.
There were lot of things to ponder on that one.To my mind, there is a difference between traveling and a vacation. Traveling is more about the journey than the destination whereas vacation is more centered around the destination. Since this question was centering around the destination, I figured this was more of a vacation question.
To respond to that, I had to first examine what constituted a memorable vacation. Each vacation that we have had was precious to me, in its own unique way. Would I swap one for the other? Maybe not.
We loved road travel whenever possible as it offered complete freedom to do as we chose.
I still fondly remember an awesome 7-day road trip across the Nilgiris – through the picturesque ranges and coffee plantations, discovering hidden brooks and the most amazing getaways.Amidst the cacophony of the frenzied lives we used to lead, a 7-day vacation had been an absolute manna from heaven.
So number one on my list was freedom – to choose where to go, what to do or to just sit staring at a spider weaving its web if that’s what I wanted to do. No frantic checklist activity, this. Not surprisingly, we hated packed vacations.
Short weekend vacations in the lap of nature were more frequent and each one had been memorable.Nature is probably the common trait in all the unforgettable vacations we had. Give us the smell of the earth, a walk in the woods, the chirping of the birds, the whispering of the trees or the gurgling of a stream any day.
So the next on my list is nature.
The importance of a comfortable stay cannot be refuted.In this regard, we had developed a fondness for home-stays. A comfortable, cozy, homelike atmosphere along with delicious home cooked food were what home-stays promised.The best ones are those which have developed the fine art of giving the guests ample space and freedom to be themselves, and yet, accord a personalized home experience.
So with that I could count out the ingredients of a great vacation for my family & friends – Freedom, Nature, comfortable stay and food.
If I could take my friends and family anywhere on the planet, then my top pick would be South Island,New Zealand. One of the most dramatic and breathtaking sights New Zealand has to offer, the majestic Fjords featured in the Lord Of the Rings, JRR Tolkein’s movie. It offers some of the purest natural landscapes one can ever experience – braided rivers, snow-topped peaks, turquoise-blue lakes, sun-drenched beaches and the magnificent Fjords.
Now for the happiness bit.Could I guarantee happiness by putting all these ingredients together ?
I remembered a short vacation to Jungle resorts where we had heard a neighboring room couple’s incessant arguing punctuated by intermediate sobbing. They cut short their vacation and left shortly after that. There was nature, good food and everything else the place had to offer, and yet, it wasn’t enough.
Last year, on a week long trip to Kerala, we had stayed at different locations. Each of the places were heavenly and we envied the owners who could stay there.
As we got talking, the owner in one place gave a glimpse into her life – life was hard with her husband being away at work in nearby metro for a substantial part of the year while she had to manage the home-stay and take care of her daughter on her own.The beauty around her became an afterthought.The lady who owned a dream place right by a beach, told us about how she felt tied down due to continued tourist traffic and how she had no time for anything else in life. The owner of yet another place, was an old man who was in charge one of the most scenic backwater resorts I have ever seen.But his forehead was creased with worry for his son who was struggling for an IT job.
It sure was an eye-opener. We had implicitly assumed that people living in places like these were blessed.We can travel all we want and stay at the best hotels and still not be happy if we are not happy from within.And we can be living in our own homes and still be having a vacation !
So if the vacation has to be the happiest trip, I would rely on each one of us to look inwards and find the happiness, to enjoy the wonder that is around us.If we have the ability to see and find joy in the small things – a beautiful butterfly, the breeze chasing the wisps of cloud in a blue sky, the call of a cuckoo, a meandering brook, I am sure each vacation would be nothing less than the ‘happiest’.