I'm the Worst Traveler Ever
I arrived in Mumbai late last night after three+ months of island life on Koh Phi Phi Island, Thailand. It was easy too (#sarcasm): 36 hours that included a ferry ride --> taxi ride --> 12 hour overnight bus ride --> taxi ride --> 10 hour wait at the Bangkok airport --> 4 hour plane flight --> taxi ride --> rickshaw ride --> 45 minute train ride --> 2 km walk is all it took to get me to the hostel where I sit writing this blog post.
Long hours of travel come to be the norm when you start defining yourself as a budget long-term traveler, as does the well-known "culture shock" of entering a new and entirely foreign place. So, I should have been prepared, knowing these two things exist. But I will admit, I overestimated my ability to take on Mumbai, a busy, crowded, loud, million-person city after a sleep-deprived, malnourished journey from an island that had a lifestyle quite the opposite.
Which brings me to my brief but permeating thought that crossed my mind today: I'm the worst traveler ever.
I had 36 hours in transit with nothing but time. I could have written 15 or more blog posts, worked on the novel and/or short story I keep telling myself I'm going to write, read a book or five and meditated about the meaning of life. What did I do instead? Watched half a movie and fitfully slept off and on to a couple of different Spotify playlists on my phone. And, if I'm being honest, I could have planned the journey better so I didn't arrive in Mumbai so sleep-deprived and malnourished, but I digress.
The real traveler offense happened today, after I was safely situated in Mumbai. Despite still being exhausted and somewhat apprehensive about taking on the big city that is Mumbai when I woke up this morning, I told myself I was going to make the most of my first day here. I hate wasting time (except for when it's slowly ticking by on a bus or at the airport, obviously). After some coffee, I found the enthusiasm to head out into the city and managed the public transportation just fine. Some will tell you it's totally doable while others will say it's a nightmare; fortunately my experience was the former.
I was on my way to see some of the sights I had dutifully put on my "to see" list before getting here and I was also on the lookout for some good Indian food. As an Indian food lover, my first official meal in India had to be Indian food, right? Nope.
I had to do a double take when I walked past it, but the double take confirmed that it was absolutely there: Le Pain Quotidien, one of my favorite cafes in Los Angeles. What in the world was it doing here in Mumbai? As a responsible, culture-seeking traveler, I looked at it longingly and then walked past, set on finding my first Indian meal. Then I turned around and walked it with only the tiniest bit of guilt plaguing me.
That's why I'm the worst traveler ever. I enjoyed a 700 Rupee salad (equivalant to $10 USD), which is a lot of money here (or anywhere, really) for a salad. It was financial irresponsibility bordering on recklessness. And, when I set out on this around the world journey, I was excited to become culturally immersed and challenged by everything non-familiar I was going to come across. But here I was, only 4.5 months in, desperate for a "familiar" meal.
And, now that we're on the topic, that's not the only egregious travel error I've made since I started my trip. I've wasted money because of my laziness (possibly read "inability") to properly barter with people. I've loaned people money from my travel savings account and have yet to see repayment. I've bought stupid things that I said I was going to use but those things are now just taking up space in my backpack...I can't get rid of them though, sentimental value. My impulsive decisions to change my itinerary has cost me hundreds of dollars in visa fees. The list goes on.
But the thing is, I don't actually believe I'm the worst traveler ever.
Today, while sitting at Le Pain Quotidien and wondering if I had become one of "those" travelers--the ones who claim cultural immersion by watching people go by from the window of the Starbucks of whatever country they are in--I realized that there are no rules for traveling and "those" travelers are something I made up in my head when choosing stifiling expectations of what travel is "supposed" to be.
Choosing to have a "comfort" meal inside of local cuisine, doesn't make me any less of a traveler than the next guy (who, if we are being honest, could have easily have done the same thing just yesterday). Financial missteps and bad planning come with the territory, both in travel and in life. Today, while reinserting myself back into the travel world, I was keenly reminded not to sweat the small stuff...it's all just a part of the experience.
In case you were wondering, I had a pretty fantastic first day in Mumbai. I saw the Gateway of India:
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel:
Had a leisurely stroll along Marine Drive:
And made a new friend at a cafe who happens to be from Denver (small world, right!?).
And, I found some great Indian food for dinner. I can't wait to see what adventures await tomorrow. Because even though I sometimes dramatically assume I'm the worst traveler on this side of the Atlantic, I'm having the time of my life, I've met some amazing people, I have had nothing short of miracles happen and times when I thought all hope was lost, and have only just begun to learn about myself and the world. Even on the most "mediocre" days, I have to admit, life is amazing. So maybe I'm doing at least one--hopefully a couple--things right.
Until next time,