In the proofreading manual we editors turn to, we have a term called ‘stet’, which means to let things stand, to ignore any attempt to make a change. That stet is what I am afraid of when it comes time for us to hit the high and low roads again.
Because people are talking travel again, breaking out new terms like 'bleisure' and 'workation'. The travel industry is slowly shaking off its enforced sullen slumber and beckoning invitingly, pleadingly, cajolingly, to those humans who have wheels on their feet… and let’s face it, that’s a very large slice of the human population.
In the past two decades, the Indian tourist has increasingly made travel look easy. We headed off to look at things as varied as the Blue Mosque, the Eiffel Tower, Machu Pichhu, the Shinto shrines of Nara, all the while packing our monkey caps, a plastic dibba of khakhra or murukkus, and a large container of pain balm. Thus, we colonised travel.
Now, the viral pestilence has put paid to our wanderings but has definitely not clipped our imagination. And yes, of course, the COVID madness will pass, probably later than sooner. We’ll be equipped with the kavach of the vaccine or the anti-COVID pills. We will take along our hand sanitiser, mask, face shield, and try our level best to ensure physical distancing of sorts.
And so, we will travel again. However, we would do well to think on the concept of travel, in the hiatus that has been forced on us. Are we really going to travel in the carefree, careless, somewhat damaging way we used to? Or are we going to introduce more than a smidgen of responsibility into our future travels?
We would do equally well in understanding that cocking a snook at the coronavirus isn’t going to help us any. Witness all the pubs and restaurants that opened up in the UK and the US, only for a fresh round of the virus to break out, forcing them to quickly shut down again. The fact is, we need to only momentarily let our guard down and the spiky virus comes rushing in to fill that gap.
Of course for a while now, wistful thinking has been on the lines that the best tourists are those who do not turn up at all, who do not add to the burden of spots already labouring under iffy tourist infrastructure. Overtourism, it has been established, is throttling places.
Then again, the flip side of that coin is that tourist capital is needed everywhere from Naples to Nelliyampathy, to help the place flourish. A complex coin, that one. While we should, as before, take along our healthy curiosity about other people and places, intermixed with the willingness to try out new experiences, other must-carry items should be common sense, enough caution, lots of compassion and a firm control of our travel spend, which means no more shelling out for foolish knick-knacks.
So, when the time is right, do let’s head out. Along oft-beaten paths, along roads less travelled. Whether we are going local or global, let’s travel small, travel near, stay in places longer, delve deeper, be less loud, linger over places, plates and perfect moments.
(The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)