“Don’t you think you would be better off as a lawyer? I mean if the pandemic has taught us something it’s the need of stability. I know it was all dreamy when you were living the fast-paced life of a traveller zipping from one place to the other and meeting so many people. But does that dream seem logical now?!”, rambled away a well-meaning friend. However, well wishes aside, how do I explain to this friend that that’s not how I see the world? How do I explain that a dream and said dreaminess are actually two different things for me? How do I explain that sometimes a dream leaves you so smitten that that you love it even on the bad days, that that might be what the romanticizers of “unconditional love” were actually talking about? So, here’s a small glimpse at how I fell for this unconditional dream of mine.
“Mujhe na bachpan se hi ………..… ka bohot shauk hai!”. Can you fill in the blanks? Nah nah, it isn’t as obvious as “shaadi”. And, if you think that travelling is the correct answer then I’m sorry because while that is true too, that isn’t the answer that falls here. Because ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, mummy and her loyal friends who read my blogs (😉), the truth is that in my case the answer would be studying. Erm, yes. Not what you were expecting? Neither am I suave like Lara Croft the Tomb Raider nor as athletic as… ah Dora the Explorer? So, apologies in advance to shatter that expectation. Because you’re looking at a traveller who slips over own shoe laces, would sulk over scoring poorly in school and well, for the most part was and probably still is a NERD. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the sort of person who loves climbing up mountains, dancing in the middle of nowhere, striking conversations with just about anyone and hugging each person I come across. The whole nerdy scenario is to tell you that the reason I gave up law wasn’t because I didn’t like law. In fact, I liked it quite a fair amount. Law as an industry is known to be quite nepotism driven. That’s not to say that outsiders don’t make it big in this field because they do, they just have to put in their blood, sweat and tears into making it happen. As an eager 18 years old young adult, whom her teachers believed would make them proud, entered college, I did everything that I could possibly think of to achieve just that. From interning for 24 months out of a 5 years long course to writing research papers to being in the debate society and what not, I tried giving it my all. And I was lucky enough to land what I back then considered to be my “dream job”. At a top-notch law firm in Mumbai. Long hours, weekend-less living, weight loss, dark circles and anxiety attacks later, I realized that this so-called dream wasn’t all that it was chalked up to be. So, 6 months into this swanky job, on a random Thursday afternoon, this then fresher gave it up without a plan.
I found my first job rather toxic but then I realize toxicity is subjective, some see the same thing that I label as toxic to be healthy pressure. I’m not here to comment on what works for whom, I’m here to simply share my story about how after putting in years to get something, I learnt that walking away from it was undoubtedly the best thing that I did. 5 months later I picked up a comfortable job. Decent hours, decent work life balance, decent people. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great. Here’s where you can rightfully call me dreamy as I do live for the everyday excitement. I’m not talking about huge adventures but about the little day to day moments that leave you smiling until months later, that have left me smiling even during this lockdown that put a full stop to my travels. Looking back, that 5 months gap was the period in which I grew the most. I lazed, ate a lot of food, met the friends I hadn’t had the time to even call during my previous job, yapped with my mom and just let my days go by without any rush. Since I was 16 years old, I had never done that. There was always some class, some activity, some internship. The simple joy of sheer human existence had been lost. During those 5 months I travelled with my family, with my school friends and with strangers as I took a trip with This Guy’s On His Own Trip. With each trip I got happier. But I have to say that as much as I adore my friends and family, there was something about travelling with strangers that left me happier in unexplainable ways. Whether it was seeing my shy roommate Nikki get excited for the games and conversations after being reluctant to even come for them on the first day, or seeing how a group of strangers helped an innocent boy like Ram talk about the longest crush of his life, or troubling Ashwini with my constant questions, or seeing 16 strangers celebrate Tanya’s birthday with surprises in a place called Lachung in Sikkim which doesn’t even get bread (forget a cake), or making friends with Shaz whom I hugged every single day; and so many more people, each of whom I remember vividly. It wasn’t my first trip with Neeraj. We’d been friends since 2016 when I first travelled with him and the more I thought about it, the more I smiled thinking about each of those trips. Every single one.
My family loves travelling and that’s something that I’m blessed with. It allowed me to explore places from a much younger age, shaped my understanding and love for travelling in a lot of ways. My father was in the Air Force and growing up I moved about my whole life. A lot of my friends would hate it but me? I used to be overjoyed with each posting! It meant a new place, new people and new friends! What, I said I was nerdy, I never said I wasn’t a chatterbox. :p My darling Mother Saxena has passed on her talkative and dramatic genes to me very well and so, whether its cracking dialogues in the middle of conversations or yapping away to glory with anyone, it comes from her. She has a quality of making almost anyone feel comfortable around her. From sabziwaalas to her school friends to the ones from fauj, everyone narrates their life stories to her. I mean while the woman hunts for a prospective groom for my elder sister, she ends up making friends with their parents from shaadi.com. One even texted her saying, “I love speaking to you”. Jeejaji ka pata nahi par mumma ka friend circle zaroor milega! (Oops, must run to a friend’s place when I post this!)
Does it also happen with you that while you’re doing something your mind’s already thinking of something else also at the same time? We do one activity while our mind races after a bucket full of thoughts. There’s always this chatter or this white noise in our minds. But when I’m leading trips, my mind is quiet. It’s fully there in that moment. My thoughts don’t take me to other places, my thoughts are just about being with the group and making everyone have a trip they’ll remember. And you only tell me, how could my mind even go somewhere else? When I have a mother of a 15 year old travelling without her husband and son for the first time tell me outside a monastery in Spiti that this trip allowed her to forget about her battles for the first time in a year? When I see a girl who’d told me earlier in the day that she’d been in and out of hospitals her whole life run with her open hair in the middle of snow in Jibhi? When I meet old trippers once again and see them themselves take the initiative of making the new ones feel comfortable? What I witness strangers do for each other leaves me warm and fuzzy every day. Seeing people plan an elaborate birthday surprise in the middle of the green and chilly Dirang, seeing two people who had been competing with each other lend hands to one another while trekking through Dzukou, seeing a couple tear their 10 theplas into 20 tiny bite sized pieces in Chopta just so that everyone in the group got some, seeing people leave with inside jokes that still crack them up a year later and most of all, seeing people listen gently when anyone shares something about their life and then hug them so tightly as if their hug could just yank away their pain or let them know that it’ll be okay.
You see I’m immensely grateful to be a trip leader, to be a part of the OHOT family, to get to travel for a living. But you know what I’m most grateful for? It’s these little little things that I witness. The things that leave us the warmest are not always grand gestures, sometimes they come in the form of loud booming laughs that echo through a valley as a group stays up all night, sometimes they just reflect in people walking around in each other’s clothes, sometimes they drip in tears during airport goodbyes, sometimes they come wrapped in strangers just being humane towards each other and forging friendships as they explore unknown places. While I wholeheartedly love travelling, trip leading as a form of travelling is something that leaves me feeling so warm that all my 1736 words so far may try to convey but still fail. Some emotions, some experiences they cannot be explained as they are felt but I hope a percentage of it reaches you and I hope that it takes you to a time when you’ve experienced something so simple and yet so magical with strangers.
So, ask me again, do I regret choosing trip leading over law? Given the choice, would I go back to that better paying or apparently more stable career option? No. A thousand times no. Not because I hate law or something but because I simply cannot feel all this emotion for it, the way I do for trip leading. Don’t get me wrong trip leading is not all things fun and breezy. It too comes with long hours, with missing birthday and important occasions, with burnt skins that trouble my nani ma (of course, I’m putting multani mitti, nani…ahem), with my mother telling me to be careful no matter what (If there’s a landslide beta, you must run, I’m sure everyone will understand…acha acha acha, trip leader? Run? Riiiight), with old friends who pout about not getting enough time (Who are we? You have your trippers na!… Uff), with roads blocked by snow, with sudden changes thanks to Mother Nature’s moods (each of which I shall duly respect) and more. I know I know, you’re rolling your eyes that these aren’t real problems. Maybe they aren’t. Maybe they are. But not one of these things has ever made me question what I do and why I do it. Not ever could the 5 years of learning law or 2 years of pursuing it compare to the just 3 months of trip leading which left me so happy and so at ease that I walked away from it all towards this path. Not the pandemic, not the failed plans of 2020 and not anything could make me question this decision. And that surety isn’t just because of travelling, it’s because of all the beautiful people who have made this experience mean so much more. People ask me what changed about me when I became a trip leader and my obscure but honest answer is that things didn’t change, things fell in place and I feel more like myself than ever before.
I hope you too have or find that something in your life. Whether it’s out there in the open, in a corporate office, on a creative desk or anywhere, but I hope you too have something that you love in every way, for the bad bits, the endless good ones that can’t be listed and everything in between. Because unconditional love isn’t just between two people, it’s also between you and some of your dreams in life. An unconditional dream.
Click here to read why Trip Leader Niyati Saxena thinks why Staycations are a great way to travel post pandemic!