On a pristine beach in Baja California Sur, Mexico, I watched in admiration as hundreds of newborn turtles crawled towards the roaring Pacific Ocean. About two months ago, their mothers laid nests on the beach and a team of conservationists protected them from dogs, coyotes and poachers. Two hours ago, several babies hatched, and in the golden light of the setting sun, rather fearlessly made their way into the big waves.
My heart broke for them at first.
The waves looked fierce and unforgiving. And whether each turtle felt ready or not, it got swept away into the ocean. They are on their own now. No one to teach them how to keep afloat, where to find food or how to save themselves from becoming food.
Then it struck me that this is nature at its wildest. That even though only 1 in 100 turtles are estimated to survive, the ones who do will live up to 50 years, return to this very beach to lay their own eggs, and continue this natural way of parenting.
In the human world, we have it much easier. Most of us don’t have to look for food or struggle to survive from the moment we arrive on earth. Most of us reading this, have had a somewhat cushy childhood, pampered by you. You spent your precious time, affection and money educating us, and didn’t shove us into the deep end to fend for ourselves. And we are deeply grateful for that.
But something perplexes me very much.
Ever since I started travel blogging over 5 years ago, there’s a question that repeatedly pops up in my inbox. It is some version of this: “How do I convince my parents to let me travel?”
Very often, this question comes from young Indians like myself – financially independent, capable of making their own decisions, wanting to discover the world. Whether the individual is female or male, 28 or 48, living independently or not, the question remains. “How can I convince my parents to let me travel?”
I recognize that strong family bonds are deeply ingrained in us in India. I’ve travelled to countries like Ecuador and Italy, where families are equally closely knit. I’ve seen adults weep inconsolably at the bus station in Turkey when a “kid” leaves home to go to work in a town two hours away! I’ve felt that bond in many homes around the world, from Guatemala to Georgia. But there is one thing that sets us, Indians, apart. Nowhere else in the world have I seen, or heard of, parents making decisions for their children after they turn 18, or atleast after they start making a living.
And there is an intrinsic problem with that, especially when it comes to the way you view travel.
I know there was a time when travel was considered a luxury, an escape from everyday life; it was expensive, borders were closed, visas were difficult. But times have changed and how!
In this world that seems to be fearful of “foreigners”, where all that we read about in the media breeds fear and hatred, it is more important now than ever to travel. Because a school textbook can’t describe the heartwarming hospitality of a traditional Muslim family in Jordan, or the proud and light-hearted spirit of Ethiopians, or the egalitarian way of life in Central America. Fancy degrees might sound good to your friends, but real learning happens when you’re stranded in a country you know nothing about, not even the language, and a kind stranger goes far out of his way to help you. Even death – or the fear of it – acquires new perspective on the road.
No, travel is not a break from life. It is education in its truest, purest form. We need now, more than ever, for people to travel out of their comfort zones, to discover life beyond the cities and cubicles, to open up their world, to chase their dreams. We need less bankers and engineers, and more artists, musicians, writers, travellers, entrepreneurs, sportspeople, dreamers.
Luckily for our generation, there are many opportunities to stray away from the conventional path – opportunities that can open doors for your “kids” only if you let them spend more time on the football field, or in the dance hall, or dreaming up stories, or doing the things they love… time away from their cram-and-regurgitate school work.
I found the inspiration to pen this open letter when Lufthansa reached out to me about one such opportunity – to support India’s young footballers. In partnership with Paul Breitner, the German football legend, they invited school kids for a unique football masterclass. Following this, Bayern Munich will run an under-16 football tournament, and Lufthansa will fly 10 of the best players to play at the FC Bayern Youth Cup world finals in Munich in 2017! Imagine what doors this can open for a budding sportsperson.
And although I speak of travel and sports here, I can’t help but extrapolate my plea to life itself.
Let their happiness, over how much they earn, where they work, and who they end up with, define yours. Let your “kids”, whether 28 or 48, choose their own paths and find their bliss; don’t try to fulfil your dreams through them, encourage them to be dreamers instead. Let them make their mistakes and learn from them. Let them wade into the ocean, learn to float on their own, and find adventures that make life a little bit more fulfilling. This one life is not meant to be spent in the captivity of a job or a partner they don’t truly love.
At 28 years old and having built a (financially-sustainable) life I genuinely love, I can tell you that it wasn’t homework, scoring 90% in school, making it to a decent college or anything in between that helped me chart this path. It was putting myself out there, using whatever money I could save to travel, taking risks, and believing in myself even when no one else did. It involved a fair few battles at home which I believe were worth fighting. But my inbox is testimony that not everyone wants to fight for the independence that is a given in most countries outside of India.
Set your kids free, dear parent. Let them spread their wings, let the wind carry them to lands far away. Because when they come home, I promise you, you’ll be proud of the people they’ve become.
Update Sept 2018: After 7 years of travelling the world – 5 of those without a home or permanent address – I’ve written a book about my journey! “The Shooting Star” charts my battles, triumphs and adventures from the cubicle to the road and from small-town India to remote corners of the globe. Published by Penguin, it has been ranked as the #1 bestseller in travel writing on Amazon India. Order your copy on Amazon or Flipkart, or get it at a bookstore near you.
Do you aspire to pursue an unconventional path in life? What’s stopping you?
I wrote this post in collaboration with Lufthansa. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always my own.
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