A few days ago, while going through my inbox to delete unwanted mails, I found a note sent by a friend. Mailed in May 2019, this note was an account of his eventful (and harrowing!) overseas trip in April 2019. It brought back memories of my own first foreign trip to Thailand – I accompanied my elder sister to spend a summer month on her university campus. She studied, I played, we both partied!
Most of us remember our first, especially our first overseas trip! The excitement of preparing, the nervous tension as you step into the international terminal, butterflies in the stomach as the flight takes off and the awe of watching miles glide away. With 2020 being a year of travelling through memories, I asked a few of my friends to tap into their memory box and share stories of their first foreign trip. There’s no better time than now to dust out that old photo album, right?
You’ll notice a majority of the ‘first’ international trips for Indians is to a south-east Asian country. The reasons are many, primary being connectivity, finance, cultural connect. The experiences are always unique.
If these stories bring back memories of your first foreign trip – and I bet they will! – share your story via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), leave a note in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you…
Murphy’s Law and a rough road to Paris
Gautam Chakravarty | IT professional + trainer | France in 2019
I’d never thought life would be incomplete if I didn’t travel abroad. But I’d often wondered what it would be like to seek permission from people who ‘run’ a country to enter their country. I guess the universe heard my thoughts and decided to grant my wish. In early 2019, my sister Monali (happily married to a French man from Brittany) demanded that the wife and I accompany them to France. Arrangements were made and we (me, the wife, the sister and her man) were set to fly to Paris from Mumbai. The wife and I reached Mumbai well in time to meet a few friends at the terminal. All was well until… Murphy’s Law!!!
Monali called us with two updates – one, their flight to Mumbai had been delayed and the second, our flight to Paris had been cancelled! The disbelief in the wife’s eyes matched my state of mind when I told her about our predicament. The best course of action seemed to be a conversation with the airline crew. Only, this was April 16, 2019, and the airlines in question was Jet Airways. Their financial crisis had led to a pilot strike which resulted in our Air France flight (operated by Jet Airways) being cancelled out of the blue!
Imagine your first international trip in jeopardy, you being clueless about the outcome and being made to run from pillar to post by a group of people who were probably more clueless than we were! That’s what happened to us over the next 36 hours as we…
- tried our best to get an answer from Jet Airways but failed
- couldn’t connect with Air France because their phone lines were jammed and they didn’t have an office at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai
- landed at a friend’s home with bags and emotional baggage to spend the night
- spend hours looking for flight options while sweating over the possibility of lost money (4 tickets is not a joke!)
- applauded the genius friend who remembered a ‘travel agency’ relative who told us not to give up or give in
- got our hopes high after we managed to get through to Air France and ‘confirmed’ tickets
- had our hopes thrown into the blender yet again by the carrier flight that declared they’d board us ‘only if there’s space’, despite confirmed tickets
- ended up ‘explaining’ our predicament not less than 20 times in a span of 36 hours
- saw the Frenchman (aka my bro-in-law) turn a dangerous shade of red in anger and frustration
- understood the literal meaning of ‘counting minutes’ and ‘waiting with bated breath’ while we the four of us stood on standby, ready to be ushered into the aircraft
As I walked into the aircraft, I couldn’t help but look back at the events. It seemed as if the cosmos had conspired against us, to test us. And we’d passed with flying colours. We made memories. They weren’t pleasant while we were living it but today, we laugh at them.
You can connect with Gautam on Instagram @gautamchakravarty.
Of bubble teas, BFFs and a pre-tourist era
Yesha Bhatt | journalist | Singapore in 2008
Setting foot on foreign shores is something we’ve all wanted to do. My chance came when I was 16. My first foreign trip – to Singapore – was not going to be the usual one week or ten-day trip but rather, a two-and-half month sojourn that involved meeting family (that lives in Singapore) after years, exploring the country, relaxing. And the cherry on the iced cake was the chance to meet my best friend after over a year!
Imagine exploring an island country on your own – or with your same-aged BFF – at the impressionable young age of 16! My girl and I explored the neighbourhoods of Bugis, China Town and the likes, sipping on bubble tea by the gallon and shopping for souvenirs while gaping at the new world we were in. It was something we’d always planned for and there we were, making it happen!
Travelling around Singapore was very different back then. The country was not as polished and advanced as it is now, there was no Marina Bay Sands or Universal Studios or Garden by the Bay. Even the Singapore dollar exchange rate was below INR 30. I remember heading to the East Coast for an evening of skating – rubbing shoulders with the locals, feeling the wind in my hair as I rolled around on my skates, my uncle keeping a watchful eye on me (in picture)… an unparalleled feeling. Sometime later, I was joined by my parents and brother for a weeklong cruise to Malaysia and Thailand!
My vivid-est memory from the cruise is one of attending salsa classes with a girl I’d befriended. Every evening, she’d knock at my door and we would dash to the ballroom, selecting partners for the day. The cruise was also where I befriended three girls from Karachi – we remain connected. Soaking in the morning sun while on deck, visiting islands by afternoon and singing in the karaoke club or learning salsa by evening, we made some of the best memories a teenager could!
More of Yesha’s travels and her writings on Instagram handle @iyeshabhatt
From The Land of the White Elephant to The City of a 100 Spires
Joydeep Ghosh | corporate marketer | Thailand in 2005
Like the majority of my compatriots, my first foreign exposure was to The Land of the White Elephant, Thailand. As a 25-year-old, way back in 2005, the opportunity to get my passport stamped for the very first time was quite exhilarating. When I boarded my first international airline – Thai Airways, from Mumbai to Bangkok, the experience was as novel as it would be to a first-time flier. My favourite memory from the trip is that of the temples and markets of Bangkok. Till date, Bangkok draws me for those two experiences. You can lose yourself in the local markets of Bangkok for hours, and still not be bored. Chatuchak Weekend Market is my favourite, for the sheer variety of products available. And then there was the aroma (or should I say smell) of local street food. For Indians, especially vegetarians, it can be quite strong and repulsive. Even for the average non-vegetarian Indian, the aroma of Thai street food (and of SE Asia in general) can be challenging to get used to.
But I’d like to think I have two ‘first overseas trips’. A decade’s hiatus from stepping on foreign soil makes my recent trip to Prague another ‘first’ international trip. And this one was special in a different way, being the first to a European region and a first as a grown up, with friends!
Day 1 in Prague (with friends) had been about checking into the Prague Square Hostel and walking around to feel the vibe of the city (picture above), grab some street food and some of the famous Czech beer, and take a stroll by the Vltava. The second day was to know Prague up close and personal. I had packed most of the “touristy” stuff for this day – I walked about 20kms in the central tourist district of Prague, hopping from one area to another, and ticking off all the to-dos on the itinerary. Some vivid memories from that day would be the flavour of the smoked bacon from the roadside cafes, and the freshly baked trdelnik from the tons of pastry shops lining the alleys, making it difficult to curb the hunger pang. A traditional Czech lunch accompanied by local house brew, the memory of which is still fresh. Day 3 was for endurance and patience-testing combined as I found myself in the serpentine queues to enter Prague Castle, a tiring steep uphill climb from the bridge to the castle, another steep trek to Petrin Hill, an additional 100 steps to the tower for a view of Prague, my first funicular ride and then, 15km of walking around town. The day ended with the last thing on the to-do list, the Beer Garden with a view of Letna followed by…. Well, that’s a story for another day.
About dubious massage parlours & chopsticks
Trupti Morone | photographer + digital content designer | Pattaya in 2005
People who know me, know how much I love travelling. Growing up, travelling meant a visit to either parent’s hometown. These days “travel” means wayfaring through the streets you’ve travelled before via photos of your trips. Covid much?
Amid one such ‘travel’, I went back to the year 2005, to the streets of Singapore and Thailand – my first foreign trip! I still remember how excited I was. And sad too. Excited to be embarking on my first international trip and upset I couldn’t take my 10-month-old daughter along. I remember sobbing my eyes out on the way to the airport – part nervous, part upset, part dealing with postpartum depression. I was a mess.
The first part of our trip was Pattaya. I was in awe of the beautiful blue waters there. We stayed at a beachfront hotel, a dream come true. My husband and I couldn’t stop gushing about the arrangements and the place itself. The next 2 days were a whirlwind of activities, the usual “must-do” experiences. A walk on the sea-bed to feed fishes, paragliding, night market, malls and massage parlours. I’ll never forget the horrified expressions on our faces when the two of us walked into a fancy parlour! The moment we realized it was not a conventional parlour, we ran out! The memory still makes us ROFL!
The 2nd part of the journey was onboard a cruise liner in Singapore (picture above). The first look at the majestic ship docked at the harbour made us feel like “we’ve arrived” in life. The thrill! The ship was fit for royalty. I can still feel the breeze on my face when we stood on the deck looking at the vast expanse of water in front of us. The casinos, the theatre, the play area, the swimming pool, the discotheque, the various dining options, I wanted to live there so much, so I’ve added it to my bucket list! Though it was not without its own ‘incidents’ – like the time we decided to dine at a Chinese restaurant and walked out blushing profusely. Why? Because the menu seemed ‘foreign’ and the thought of eating with chopsticks left us nerve wrecked. The first of many trips that followed, this finds a special place in my heart. A trip that made my husband and me proud of ourselves, a trip that our middle class family could boast of, a trip where we bought “branded” gifts for friends and family, a trip that pushed me out of my comfort zone, a trip that ignited the hunger to discover new places.
Counting animals, and door knocks
Anoushka Parikh | international shuttler | Kenya in 2004
In 2004, at the age of 7, I marked my first foreign trip with a visit to Kenya. Memories of the fortnight with friends and family still make me want to sing Hakuna-Matata to life and Jambo to its challenges. I recall being super excited on the route, trying to peek over the heads of passengers for a glimpse at the common entertainment system way up front! Personal entertainment systems came into the picture much later…
I still remember the name of our driver – Peter was the best and it was said he could “smell and sense animals from miles away”. Thanks to him, we got to see the most beautiful creatures in their natural habitat! The adventures that started in Nairobi went on through Nanyuki where we stayed in tents, Samburu County, Mount Kenya, Lake Nakuru, and Masai Mara. The lions would walk past our vehicles, their majestic heads held high while the giraffes would pose for photographs and the zebras would ignore us! The highlight of that first trip was the stay at Mt. Kenya Safari Club that housed an animal orphanage – the joy of hugging an orphaned monkey (picture above), feeding a Llama, and riding on the back of a 150-year-old tortoise remains unparalleled. My friends and I kept count of the number of animals we saw – I’ve scribbled 329 elephants and 52 lions in my journal! And not to forget that hot-air balloon ride in Masai Mara that parked us in the middle of a jungle for breakfast! I remember my heart was racing at the thought of being confronted by a lion but that added to the excitement. You know what I mean, right?
I’d be remiss not to mention my second ‘first travel’ in 2011, my first foreign trip representing India at the Asian Youth Championships in Japan. The tournament was in Chiba, a few hour’s drive from the Narita International Airport. My room was at the far end of the hotel lobby, with doors so flimsy, I was on tenterhooks even when someone knocked on the door to the neighbouring room! I ended up paying a penalty for not being able to wake up the first two days for training because of jet lag and being scared! And then one of our teammates got stuck in the metro – a complete heart-in-mouth situation amidst the gut-hurting laugh!
You can see more of Anoushka and her travels on her Instagram handle @anoushka_parikh.
Blue-eyed crushes and the walk of death
Rapti Bhaumick | content writer + editor + blogger | Thailand in 2003
My first foreign trip was at the age of 18. I was heading to Thailand with my elder sister, to spend a month of my college summer holiday at the uber cool college she was studying in. A summer of being a grown up, a crash course in several things Thailand, a glimpse into the lives of people from different parts of the world, the first of fluttering hearts, the heady taste of travelling sans parents… there are times when I just need to close my eyes and I find myself reliving these memories with a smile. But there are two distinct phases (coz the word memories would not suffice) from that trip which takes me through two polar opposite emotions – one makes me cringe and the other brings delighted gratitude.
That cringe phase has to be what was my first international aeroplane journey – the one where the elder sister and I got the first dekko at the effects of ‘free alcohol’ on long-haul flights. Grown-up men binge drinking on a long-haul flight, creating a ruckus, being verbally abusive, throwing around swear words like confetti and raising a stink – it was a horror to the teenager who’d grown up with the experience that alcohol makes you merry. Period.
But the second memory, the one of a day-long trip Didi and I took with her friends wipes away all the bad ones! It was the first grown-up friends’ trip for me (the elder one is six years older to me, as were most of her friends) and my blue-eyed crush (who didn’t know I was crushing on him!) was part of the group trip. That was also the first time I was venturing into the non-city part of Bangkok! Trekking through the jungles to gape at the cascading clear waters of the seven-tiered Erawan Falls, gorging on steaming hot local delicacies at the roadside food stalls, catching hold of cute local children to click photographs and experiencing goosebumps as we caught our first glimpse of the infamous Death Railway (feature photo). Built by the Empire of Japan between 1940–1944 to connect Thailand and Burma, this rail line was used to supply troops and weapons to the Burma campaign during World War II. It also served as inspiration to the French novel Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï, which in turn inspired the epic war film The Bridge on the River Kwai. The day-long trip continues to be the special of many firsts and also the turning point of my relationship with the elder sister. That was the beginning (if I may say so) of our ‘friendship’, one that we cherish as much as our sisterly bond as is evident in the photo above. That’s me in Fanta orange with the elder sister!
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You can also find me on Instagram @from.the.corner.table