Iso lafiya, folks!
Dear dad, mom
I am hoping by now one of my – four – sisters would have told you about my blog Wanderink.com. Mom, a blog is essentially a website only that it takes up a lot of time and gives nothing in return… something like what you said about cats after you had to give up your puppy Pepsi before that road trip to Goa with daddy. I was just about to update my blog with more sights from my recent visit to Rajasthan when I remembered your upcoming trip abroad. So I have put on hold my post on the camel centre in Bikaner; nothing much missed anyway as what appealed most to me about this ‘India’s premier research centre’ – sorry for breaking your zoologist hearts, again – was the camel ride. Instead I thought I would write one for you guys. And for the rest of your ilk – for whom passing years only means the travel bug is getting fatter, those blessed with a remarkable Zorba-like zest for living, endowed with an undiminishing curiosity about new places and people, an adventure streak no condition can dampen or tame. Because folks like you are hard to come by it has been scientifically proven that travel makes you go a long way too. No other research I have come across recently has brightened up my day more.
In countries like Australia the government misses its elderly citizens when they travel overseas more than their own families; their foreign affairs department has a very nice website for travellers (no mom, though this website does not make money though it is not a blog). You can fill in your travel details beforehand and you are flooded with every pertinent information: From ‘do not travel’ to Afghanistan and ‘reconsider your need to travel’ to Bangladesh or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ to India; Malaysia is alright as long as you do not venture into Sabah, the wonderful site assures me. And not because these are election times and the incumbent government does not care anymore, we don’t have such fantastic sites out here. Our government takes for granted that those who can travel can very well take care of themselves; better still those who want to travel ought to take care of themselves. I can think of no other reason why I came across so many elderly tourists with advanced arthritis, asthma, even, sitting stumped at the basecamp of the Parikrama of the Mount Kailas in Tibet. The onus thus is on us, travellers, to watch out. It is on us, the families of travellers, to sound all the cautions.
Once at the airport in Jammu I watched with horror an airport security officer insist an elderly lady passenger take generous gulps from all her medication bottles. There was nothing I could do as the guy was probably just doing his job and I barely missed an Indian kind of no-fly list as I had declared my shiny cabin luggage – boxes of lighting and microphones – as ‘shooting’ equipment. That lady at the airport keeps looking around helplessly even today as I proceed towards check-in, mixing her cholesterol with vertigo?
“She has to carry the doctor’s prescription on her person.” A friend with a leading travel company advised when I told him about your medicines, mom. This brings us to the first and foremost point of this travel advisory.
Medication: Carry a letter from your doctor detailing out all the medicines that you have been prescribed. Ask the doctor to state clearly the amount you will be carrying on your person with an assurance that it is for your own personal use. Also do not, I repeat, do not put all the tablets into a convenience bottle or those fancy portable medicine cabinets but carry them in their original packets.
You might pass through one check-in or two without having to produce this letter even then do not throw it away; security alerts can pop up any time requiring passengers to demonstrate innocuousness of content by rampant sampling.
Documents: Daddy’s secret pocket can conceal without crease a handful of Euros, yes. But when you put your passports too in there it will look like he’s wearing a bulletproof vest. Since even AK Antony doesn’t wear bulletproof vests I am guessing the usually adroit pickpockets may not take it as one either. This brings us to the most important document – the passport – and its safety. When it comes to international travel, passport is more important than even money (mom you are frowning but it’s the truth).
“Make three copies of the passport – of the front page, the last page and the visa page – and leave one at home, one in the luggage and one in your handbag.” This is my friend from the travel company again; in the eventuality of a lost passport a copy will be required to issue an emergency certificate – the document you will need to re-enter India issued by the Indian Embassy in that country.
Though you shouldn’t be carrying notes on your person either I know that travellers’ cheques and ATM cards do not hold much currency which dad – who trusts his secret pocket more than the Knox vaults.
Travel insurance: This is not just about natural disasters or falling ill but also about non-refundable tickets in the eventuality of cancelled flights or baggage loss. With a small additional sum a whole lot of unforeseen inconveniences are taken care of. See, we don’t have to be particularly unlucky for travel insurance to be useful, even flight owners who are criminally cavalier about their fleet and operations will do.
Food and jet lag: What you eat – or don’t, really – at the airport or at home before flight make all the difference between arriving refreshed or sleepless and fatigued at the destination. Light eating or moderate fast is advised for 16 hours till departure. Even if you are hungry at the airport avoid fast and fried foods, carbonated drinks and alcohol. The humble idli-sambar is a frequent flier favourite.
Baggage assistance: Most airports have baggage assistants or porters who will help with lifting your luggage off the conveyor belt, load them on to the trolley and lead you till the exit – for a small fee. Dad might be mortified about hiring a hand for such a minor job and mom you may not take too kindly to parting with the money. But trust me, after long hours of relative immobility your backs and joints are none too eager to be exerted at short notice. If you still keen on cracking it, stretch some before the haul. But seriously.
Pack wise: I hope you will be packing two medium suitcases instead of a single monolith. Do not pack one person’s stuff completely in one and the others in the second one but pack both your stuff in both the cases. This way even if one case gets lost or arrives late you won’t have to frolic about in silk floral sarongs; better than ‘I love NY’ tees any day though. Since the weather is warm both here and at your destination, wear comfortable slip-ons or sandals with Velcro and easily removable belts as these items have to be removed at the time of check-in.
Save for research on traffic conditions, phone call cards, currency exchange and first aid box – which I am hoping your travel agent will be taking care of – I hope I have covered it all. Once again thank you for ferrying us kids around continents, across states, for those pre-dawn trips with packed breakfast and lunches, those incredible driving lessons that started with overtaking monster trucks.
Or ‘Iso lafiya’ as they used to tell us in Nigeria.