When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But what happens when you're looking forward to a lovely holiday and, instead, all the best-laid plans fall apart?
All those wonderful images on social media don't always tell the full story. Disastrous hotels. Rough road trips. Being taken for a ride by touts. Reality that doesn't match up to expectations. Moody weather and eccentric co-travellers. Shoe bites and tummy bugs. Flight delays and cancellations. Being stranded in an airport. Or worse, the tension of almost missing a flight. Like countless times I have driven to an airport in a city from a remote location and faced delays caused by everything from jams to jashans.
Or sometimes, strange situations of our own making. Like the time my mum and I were flying from Istanbul. We reached the airport more than three hours before our flight because we were anxious about the crazy traffic from the Sultan Ahmet area we were staying in. But then, since we checked in so early, we had no idea which gate we had to head to. And we kept checking the monitors but didn't see our flight listed. And then got chatting with a friendly old lady, completely lost track of time, and finally had to make a mad dash to board. My mum's biggest quibble? Missing out on the duty-free shopping!
Such shenanigans aside, the outcome of a vacation is rarely in your hands. Years ago, I travelled to Jaisalmer with my parents. We were all excited about seeing the desert sand dunes at Sam. For the last stretch, we had to ride camels. Being the youngest, I got assigned the littlest one. We started off and all seemed to be going well. Until, out of the blue, quite literally, a sudden downpour from the skies landed up drenching us. Rajasthan isn't known for rain, and especially not in the desert. Not only did my mum's cool white kurta turn rather transparent, but my young camel, probably shocked at this unfamiliar deluge from the sky, started to grunt and snap at my feet as though the rain was all my fault! Funnier still was that we were the only trio of tourists who reached Sam in a completely wet and bedraggled state, while everyone else looked at us in wonder.
Sometimes, smooth travel is affected by the mistakes of others. Like when a fellow journalist and I got off the train at Interlaken in Switzerland one beautiful day in June a few years ago. We were to have been met on the platform by a local guide. But after waiting for a while, pacing up and down, and making frantic calls in vain, we almost gave up. I suggested we go to the local tourist office to check.
Luckily, they could get through to him. When the elderly gentleman finally arrived there to meet us – red faced and huffing and puffing – he was unexpectedly grumpy for a Swiss. Turns out, he was angry at us for being women! Err what? Well, the agent had made the mistake of putting Mr with each of our names on the sheet, so the guide was looking out for two men on that platform!
When you're a solo traveller, such holiday hiccups feel a bit more magnified. There's no one to discuss the dynamics of any departure from the plan and figure a solution. Sometimes it could be as small a thing as a scary insect in your room. Or something as major as misplacing your phone or passport. I've faced both, and, fortunately found easy ways out. But it could've gone South quite easily.
These days, everyone's travelling and many are keen to share their pictures on social media. Which is why, travel photographs have evolved. What was earlier just a chronicle of places we went to and some shared moments with family and friends has now become a multi-million dollar business. While not everyone monetises their social media feed, there's immense pressure to project one’s best self. Which is probably why selfies in ‘beauty’ mode are so popular.
But these days many travellers work really hard to get that ‘hero shot’, the one that defines the destination or a special moment that they had there. Instead of real candids, posed ones posing as the real thing are posted proudly. Reels and transition videos, colour-corrected images, the bag of tricks offered by platforms is immense and everyone's getting savvy about them. But this translates to more time spent on clicking the perfect picture, wearing the right clothes, striking the most flattering pose, showcasing the best features of the place. There is a huge potential for creativity but an even bigger chance of goofing up. Bad light, wrong angles, memory overload, batteries running down, photo bombers, natural factors, and more. My biggest travel mess-up? Spending so much time capturing the perfect moment that the perfect moment slips away. I'm guilty of this faux pas too but you live and learn.