“Wow! You’re going to Europe? Again? That’s so awesome!”, exclaims my hyper-excited friend from work when I tell her why she is rid of me for the next 15 days. Little does she know.
Before the criblogpost begins, the customary disclaimers. I am quite the travel-o-holic. Its an occupational hazard of being a traveling consult-woman (unrecognizably ripped off from the Traveling Salesman). Every morning when I wake up, I need a millisecond to acclimatize myself to the new hotel room I am in and to try and work out which city this hotel room might possibly be situated in. Living out of the suitcase is pretty much the only way I live now. The maid at home in Mumbai is used to washing clothes in a pipeline of bursts. As is the iron-man. (Yes, yes, my sense of humour primarily rests on the rock solid foundation of cheap rip-offs and puns.)
But planning a vacation for family – trust me, that’s a whole other ballgame. Many posts ago, I chronicled the, well, ‘economical’ ways of living we swore by in Europe. I went there as a student, with many partners in crime. The ‘student’ tag was largely restricted to the visa. And used extensively for hoarding student discounts. That apart, it was 3 unforgettable months of poor-hungry-Indian-travels. Between spending nights on city route buses, getting thrown out of railway platforms and using McDonald’s as a public restroom, our travel logs would give the Lonely Planet publishers some serious competition. (Oh, that reminds me. I need to download an e-book copy of ‘Europe on a Shoestring’. Any links in the audience?)
Sadly, when you travel with your family, you have to bid a somber farewell to those masterpiece tactics. When you travel with family, you have to be responsible. You have to look up places you want to show them. You have to figure out the best and most comfortable ways to get there. You have to ensure a roof over their heads and a bed under them, every night in every city on the itinerary. When you travel with family, you have to HAVE an itinerary!
And with the need of an itinerary, arises the need for that necessary evil – the TravelAgent-man. This is a superhero who, for all the money laundering talents he possesses, may well have spearheaded many a hawalas in his day. Keeping a watch on him soon becomes your full-time occupation. For, if left unattended, this man is quite capable of booking the Buckingham Palace for your overnight stopover in London. And then secretively telling you how he ‘had to pull many strings’ to get you a free buffet breakfast for just 150 euros a night. Note that he would say this in a manner that makes you feel obliged to get down on your knees and swear your eternal gratitude to him.
You dodge some bullets from the TravelAgent-man menace. And pray that the number he did manage to hit you with is a small one. Feeling like a blindfolded target in a shooting arena – certainly not the best start to that heavenly vacation.
The good thing about vacation planning is that it does not leave you with time to dwell on bullet wounds. So you brush the feeling aside and roll up your sleeves for Stage 2 – packing. Now, being the compulsive traveler that I am, packing is second nature to me. “So this should be easy”, I tell myself, “right?” Wrong. When you pack for Europe, it’s nothing like packing for Nasik, Balugaon (don’t ask) or Delhi – the kind that you are used to. This is no domestic trip where you throw in some sets of your everyday clothes, an extra toothbrush and expect to be all set. This trip demands shopping. Shopping. My Achilles’ heel. Somehow, while he was assembling the perfect woman as part of my creation, my Maker left a slight manufacturing defect. He forgot to add the shopping gene he has blessed most women with. I musts confess that I quite enjoy the feeling of diversity this gives me, not to mention the favour with the gentlemen. But it’s at times like these that this defect leaves me in the cold. Winter gear, boots, backpacks – somehow all the stuff from the last EuroTrip has been devoured by the monster in the attic and I have to do it all over again. Screw you, Murphy.
You find a friend better equipped at this sort of stuff. You bribe him with a KFC burger (what can I say, my friends come just as cheap as I do). And you get him to do all the shopping while you trudge along behind him, holding the bags and the credit card.
The final lap – the documentation. With the family in Delhi and you in Mumbai, this is an act of utmost co-ordination. It involves ugly-ass photographs you hide immediately once the job is done, forms filled in the triplicate, passports being couriered back and forth several times, and, of course, TravelAgent-man manning the entire mission. This stage involves a Visa interview where the scary-moustache-uncle peers suspiciously at you with his X-ray vision from behind that 60-inch thick glass. Just for some added fun, he mumbles his questions in the most inaudible volume. You bite back the urge to request permission to go get your pet African Elephant, as you read somewhere that they can hear infrasonic frequencies. Something about this gentleman tells you that sarcasm might not go down very well with him. So you muster that last ounce of superhuman hearing you hope to subconsciously possess and try to answer his questions best. It all ends with a friendly I-will-take-your-fingerprints-now and duly complete the exercise of making you feel like a sentenced convict. Just 2 more hours of waiting in the room where no mobiles, no iPods and no magazines are allowed. Just 2 more hours of enduring and inflicting some very uncomfortable staring contests with fellow convicts and you are done.
With that Holy Grail stamp on your passport, you are now officially ready to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. As easy as that. Or so my friend from work would think. Little does she know.
“A vacation is where tired people go to get exhausted.”