It’s not particularly a happy memory, the first time I lost my camera. A decade ago, I travelled to Manali for the first time with friends. On my way to Delhi’s famous Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT), Kashmere Gate I lost my 3-day old camera. The next 12 hours to Manali were torturous and I wept soullessly. While our stay in Manali was only 3 or 4 days short, I remember very few moments from it. In retrospection, I feel like it was a vacation I took to get over a heartbreak. Nothing impressed me about the beautiful hill station of Himachal Pradesh and all I wanted to do was sleep.

My second visit to Manali, before Spring. That is the view from the cabin I stayed in.
My second visit to Manali, before Spring. That is the view from the cabin I stayed in.

There are many theories related to travelling. Some of them being that it sets us free, that it broadens our horizon, that it makes us aware of other cultures and even that it makes us better and happier people. Honestly, I have met people who have travelled across the world and have none of these qualities or embodied any of these theories. Because truth is that travelling does none of this. It solely lies in the nature of the traveller.

In my first visit to Manali, I was so consumed by my loss that I didn’t comprehend a simple fact of life that ‘I will never be here again.’ Likewise, I have met so many travellers who travel to destinations and take back absolutely nothing from the experience or worse, come back with petty complaints and negative feedback. I will not delve into the popular tourist vs. traveller argument. I have always felt strongly against it because I feel that both are incomplete without each other. Fortunately, I quickly learnt from my dissatisfied Manali experience and travelled many more times to make up for my miss.

Because our stories should always take a positive turn.
Because our stories should always take a positive turn.

Hence it didn’t come as a surprise to many when I chose the Himalayan hill station as a quick stopover during my first solo trip in 2013. Because my consecutive memories of happiness associated with the place made me feel comfortable and safe.

As we all know that travel makes us happy. There have been numerous surveys and studies on this and we have experienced it countless times ourselves. Whether my travel is in the initial stages of planning, or while I’m sitting in a quiet unknown place staring at the trees or when I find my food during my trek—all constitute to my happiness. But how often have we travelled because we are happy people and we want to share that joy with others?

In Goa, I learnt how local women made their mangalsutra and in return, introduced them to pizza.
In Goa, I learnt how local women made their mangalsutra and in return, introduced them to pizza.

The world and the different cultures aren’t meant to contribute to our every day pleasantness or create favourable memories for us. We have to do it ourselves. It is a different perspective but it is true. Sure, we travel to occasionally help ourselves from depression or distress, but I highly doubt that that will be a smooth process for a pessimistic individual. So it would be safe to say that if I chose to associate Manali and my loss, it would remain a gloomy destination for me. However, because I have chosen to recreate memories in the place and the people, I suppose I have allowed my optimistic self to get the better of me.

Perhaps, just like we travel to lose ourselves and get acquainted with other cultures; our interaction with them should also enrich their lives. Travelling is seldom a one-sided relationship. But how many of us have actually given or contributed to those lives we’ve met during our travels?

As travellers, we join the dots and smile at everyone.
As travellers, we join the dots and spread the travel love.

Happiness is infectious and it definitely shows when we associate with others. Every time I have met someone I try and spread this positivity because as a traveller, I need to give back to the people of the land. Even though that seems like an impossible task in its entirety (since I’m continuously learning from all these friends I have met on the road), I try in my own way. Whether it means listening to their stories, following their culture or just sharing a good joke with them, I try and express my gratitude. Because travelling isn’t selfish. And no matter where we go, we’re always coming from somewhere. And as travellers, we ought to be the messengers of happiness than recipients.

How do you give back?

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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8 thoughts on “Travellers: The Messengers of Happiness”

  1. As a french traveller, when I’m in a different continent (often Asia actually !), the fact that I spend time with people, only talking or smiling to them is already a joy for them. Because as you said, that isn’t true that all travellers become good or take time for others. I’m very interested in their traditions and they really appreciate that I’m able to spend the whole day talking with them instead of sightseing. When they ask “what is your plan for the next days ?”, I often answer “I don’t know, I’ll go where circumstances will push me.” This answer gave me a lot of opportunities :-D
    I also accept when they want to photography me, even if I don’t like.
    When I’m back, I talk about them and try to convince others to visit them. I also have the project to open an asian showroom to promote their art and culture.
    And each time I meet a traveller in my place, I always do everything to help him / her, as a return for what I got from others…

  2. lovely post, Amrita. first, i think my son will relate to this one too, since he shares a similar memory with the first camera we bought for him last year. we were just setting off for a trip with the family, and his rucksack, with his camera as well as some books and other prized possessions.. was stolen right on the pavement as we waited to pay off the taxi. the whole trip was clouded by that loss, but thankfully he got over it.

    I too believe that when we travel we carry our own baggage of moods, and this is what colours what we see and experience there. when people ask me about ‘exotic’ destinations for example, i always tell them that i think that it isnt places that are exotic, it is you who makes them exotic. It is our thoughts which determine how we see a place. and the same goes for conversations with locals and what we convey to them. we might learn from their culture and their traditions, but we also communicate about ours. and when we show happiness at their way of life, in their conversation, it really gets through. and after all, we travel for our happiness, so what better way than to share it!

  3. “So it would be safe to say that if I chose to associate Manali and my loss, it would remain a gloomy destination for me.”

    It’s been my experience that my thoughts about a place are clouded by how I was feeling and what happened while I was there, but once I’ve moved on I can be a bit more objective in my recollections of the place. And indeed, sometimes, going back to that place when I’m in a better frame of mind does give me a more rounded opinion of it. I spent four days in Bali, three of them quite miserable, but I’m absolutely certain if I went back there I’d think it was fantastic, because I know my opinions of it have been clouded by my own personal thoughts, and nearly everyone I met there (locals and backpackers) seemed happy and friendly.

    It does work the other way too – being extremely happy when you first go to a new place may well affect your feelings about it to the extent that if you went there a second time, there might be a danger you’d feel a bit ‘disappointed’ by it.

    I don’t know about you, or anyone else reading this, but my moods can swing quite suddenly, and often simply *by* changing location. Last year I was travelling through Eastern Europe, was feeling quite low upon arrival in Vilnius but once I stepped off the train my mood cheered and I embraced Lithuania with a passion, despite not three hours earlier being somewhat frustrated and grumpy in Belarus – simply the change in scenery and people made me that much more positive. The same thing happened later on my journey in Australia, between Perth and Adelaide, which is why (unusually for my friends) I rate Adelaide far higher in my thoughts than Fremantle.

    I do travel solo, in general, though, and that, plus my introversion, makes me a bit prone to negativity sometimes!

    1. I haven’t read anyone who understands their way of travel in relation with their mood as well as you do. Even I am quite emotionally volatile to any travel experience and as you said, it works both ways (and sometimes, in every way). It is important to step away and evaluate feelings at that point or give it another chance. Solo travel has made me cautious and unfortunately, that in return can keep me away from certain experiences. But as long as we’re aware of what’s defining (or not) our opinions, we’re safe :)

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