Travelling has so many benefits it’s hard to know where to begin. The best thing about travelling is that you don’t have to go halfway across the world or go as far as backpacking, sleeping on trains and at hostels to learn something from travelling. By simply being somewhere away from home, speaking to locals, seeing a new culture and the different ways people interact with each other, you’ll gain a lot. It broadens your mind so much. I know that’s a phrase people throw around a lot but it’s true! Especially if you’re from a small town or village sometimes it can seem like the world is very small, but that’s because your environment is your whole world. If you’ve only ever gone as far as Dublin, then that’s all you’re going to know.
To know that there’s a whole world out there where people think and act completely differently from you is humbling and strange but also kind of wonderful. I’ve travelled quite a bit in my 20 years. I’ve been all over Europe and to India. Kolkata, India was where I benefited from travelling somewhere the most. Surprise surprise. But then again it is somewhere so completely different from Ireland or anywhere I’d ever experienced that it was like I’d flown to another planet.
For one thing I learned that women are treated so differently there. It was like stepping back in time. It’s kind of scary because after two weeks I almost started to feel a tiny bit like I was inferior to a man, simply because I was in that environment all day long. That was only two weeks, after 17 years of feeling and being taught that I can do anything a man can do. So the strong women living there who stand up and fight to be heard and recognised and seen as being equal to men amazed me. It also made me incredibly grateful that I was born into a society where women are mostly seen as equal to men.
Their culture was also so different! They don’t use toilet paper, they use water and their left hand. That was something we couldn’t bring ourselves to do. We bought toilet paper but had to be careful not to be seen eating with our left hands in public as it would be seen to be so disgusting, we’d probably turn others off their food.
Cows are sacred to Hindus. If a cow decided he wanted to go for a stroll down a street traffic stops for an hour.
The caste system was something that was completely alien to me and made me incredibly sad to witness. It’s so horribly unfair that people have no escape and can’t move higher than the rank they are in.
Also the taxis had no seatbelts and they don’t seem to have any rules of the road or traffic lights. At the start I’d cling onto my door handle, terrified we’d crash, but by the end of the visit I lay back exhausted by the heat, thinking whatever will be, will be.
You had to take your shoes off before you entered someone’s home or a temple. Here we only take off our shoes if someone’s mam is really posh.
Indians have a really conservative standard of dress. I had to wear loose clothes and keep my shoulders and knees covered. I remember sitting on a bench in the place where I was staying and one time rolling my pants just above my knees, in the 39°C heat, then rushing to roll them back down when I saw a woman walking towards me. A funny thought when I’ve seen girls walking by the Sacré-Cœur church in Paris wearing shorts that their bums were hanging out of.
But you have to respect the culture of a new place and be aware of it before you travel.
I just want to stress again that you don’t have to travel very far, back pack, take a year out or go to India to benefit from travelling to somewhere new. Anywhere you go that is even remotely different from where you live will teach you something. By doing so you’ll open yourself up to new experiences and it will help you to become a more accepting, understanding and well-rounded person.
Having travelled you’ll also seem a lot more interesting. But don’t take my word for it! Hop on a plane, train, car or bike. Get out there.