Must-visit destinations, scams to watch out for and other top tips to help you navigate your holiday plans.
“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything…You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” — Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe
Signing up blind can be an exciting way to play it, provided you have the luxury of time. But when you don’t, it’s best to plan out your trips to the T. Snapshots from the haunting finds of these avid travellers will point you in the right direction.
My secret hideaways
A RESIDENT of Worli, Digant Desai favours destinations that offer scuba diving and wildlife spotting opportunities. “For the last 13 years or so, I’ve been making at least five or six such international trips a year,” he says. An avid diver, Desai who was a partner at one of the city’s foremost travel agencies for 23 years, launched ‘Scubacentric’ seven years ago to guide others who share his passion.
Tips from Digant’s travel diaries
Places you must visit: South Africa’s Simon’s Town, a couple of hours from Cape Town, is a beautiful place to explore, with Victorian era buildings, and some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted. Scuba dive there and you may just get to watch seals engaged in an underwater ballet. In Bali, Indonesia, you can enjoy the pristine beaches of Pemuteran and Menjangan, or take a day trip to the mountain lake resort of Bedugul. For $200, you can get a two bedroom villa in Pemuteran, with a private pool, and with the sea on one side, and volcanic peaks on the other.
Packing tip: Pack your things with your itinerary in hand — in the order they will be needed in — so you can retrieve them easily.
Word of advice: For the best deals, deal directly with hotels instead of opting for packages, or go through wholesale hotel agents — you don’t need to be part of a big group to do so. And, stick to known hotel chains rather than experimenting with a standalone property.
Loosen up the purse strings
SWARNIM Bharadwaj traces his love for travel back to his childhood. “My family often explored new destinations around India, and I guess that made me develop a taste for offbeat destinations,” says Bharadwaj, a marketing director at Unilever. Bharadwaj who moved to Singapore six months ago, has already been exploring the islands near by. “But I will try to make three to four trips a year to faraway places too,” he says, adding that he prefers to travel with friends. He recounts a funny incident from one such trip last year, when he visited Russia to watch Russia take on Spain at the FIFA World Cup 2018: “We attended the match in Spain jerseys, expecting the team to win, but at the end Russia won, and the crowd went wild. The party spilled out onto the streets, and here we were, dressed in the wrong colours to enjoy it.” So, Bharadwaj and his friends did the only thing they could, of course: “We slipped into a store, and promptly switched our jerseys and loyalties, and joined the party.”
Tips from Swarnim’s travel diaries
Places you must visit: Whether you’re looking for a cultural eye-opener or fantastic food, Peru in western South America has it all. Aside from the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, the place has a vibrant cultural and party scene. Beirut is another great destination, although the political climate tends to deter travellers. If you’re keen on a European destination, opt for Prague in the Czech Republic, or the Hungarian capital of Budapest — these make for more pocket-friendly holidays than trips to France and Italy. In Southeast Asia, Bali is a great bet. There are no visa restrictions for Indians. Aside from the beaches of Kuta and Seminyak, you can explore the forest region of Ubud.
Packing tip: I carry a multiplug, a phone charger, a waterproof case for my phone so I can take pictures in water, an expandable bag to accommodate the shopping, and PartySmart tablets to avoid hangovers.
Word of advice: Take an international debit card and withdraw cash as and when you need it. You get the best rate, as you cut out the middlemen. And, mainly, stop looking for Indian restaurants. Remember, you’re there to try different food and different experiences. That’s the whole point.
A new world
A MARKETING professional in the tech industry, Preethi Chandrasekhar, who divides her time between Abhiramapuram in Chennai and San Francisco, fell in love with the idea of exploring foreign lands when she visited Kenya with a bunch of friends, shortly after completing her education. Chandrasekhar, who records her experiences and offers advice on her blog, ‘the eager traveler’, is currently enjoying a getaway in Tashkent (Uzbekistan).
Tips from Preethi’s travel diaries
Places you must visit: The ‘five stans’ in Central Asia — Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — which are just opening up for tourism. I’ve been invited by strangers to have tea at their homes, attend Iftar dinners, and even to take pictures with them. When they hear that I’m from India, they invariably ask me about Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. Besides, the Islamic architecture in cities like Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkhand are a visual treat. One of my favourite things to do is to stroll through the bazaars and try the big flat bread and dried fruits.
Packing tip: Always travel with a ‘carryon’ suitcase, so you’re not leftstranded if your luggage gets lost in transit.
Word of advice: Ask the locals for advice on where to eat and shop instead of referring to a guide book. Be wary in places where language is a barrier, as shopkeepers and taxi drivers may try to overcharge you.
There should be something for everyone
A MOTHER of three and an educator, Priyanka Pandit usually travels with her family — her husband Vivek, and their children Kaiya (16), Nirvaan (14) and Tahira (11). “We try to cater to everyone’s passions, and to see that each itinerary has something to nourish the mind, body and soul,” says Pandit. “Last winter, we visited Borneo with Vivek’s family. In all, there were 13 of us,” says Pandit. Making sure that everyone got their fill of holiday fun meant exploring Mount Kinabalu, trekking through the rainforest of Sandakan, known for its orangutans, enjoying picturesque walks and nature trails, and scuba diving off Sipadan Island. Next month, they’ll set off on a trip to Europe and the UK.
Tips from Priyanka’s travel diaries
Places you must visit: New Zealand is perfect for family holidays. You can go biking, take in the natural beauty, enjoy wine tasting, or even go for an overnight hike. I also love Kenya, for the historical and cultural experiences it affords. Our children enjoyed learning about the Maasai Mara and how they live when we visited. And, on our ride from the airport to the lodge, we saw a lion hunt down a wildebeest. The wildlife reserve of Ranthambore is fantastic too, and if you want to immerse yourself in culture, or enjoy great food, there’s nothing like Amritsar.
Packing tip: I start packing a whole week in advance. If it’s a short trip, I’d put together outfits for each day. I never travel without a good book, lip gloss and a swimsuit.
Word of advice: As the only Indian citizen in a family of American citizens, I have learnt, through experience, to organise visas well beforehand. Get all the travel advice you can first-hand, from people who’ve visited before you. Or, look up tourist reviews online.
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