Around the World in 90 Days
With lots of time in hand and no travel plans on the horizon, I felt it was a good time to reminisce about my first international holiday. To call it a trip is definitely an understatement. We actually went for an around-the-world trip that lasted for 90 days. A couple of years after our wedding, my husband planned an ambitious around-the-world vacation to celebrate a professional achievement with his friend-cum-partner. I was fortunate enough to be part of that memorable trip.
I am talking about the year 1989 and life was different then. There was the internet, but only big offices had the resources to afford it. The wired internet used to be painfully slow and would break down every half an hour. Google had not even been invented. (That is another story and let’s concentrate on the current topic). So, the only option for booking tickets was through airlines or travel agents. You could call them on the landline or visit their offices. There was no concept of online booking. We used a trusted travel agency to book our tickets.
A round-the-world ticket meant that you could take multiple halts but travel only in one direction. So, our ticket was Delhi-Singapore-Bangkok-HongKong-Tokyo-Honolulu-San Francisco-Chicago-Detroit-Washington-New York-London-Luxembourg-Delhi. We paid Rs 19,000/- per person ($260) for this multi-stop ticket. Isn’t it unbelievable?
Indian passports are not very ‘travel friendly’. We need visas for almost every country worth visiting. Our trip was not limited to the cities on our ticket. We intended to visit many more places by driving or using the Eurail. A large chunk of Europe was on our itinerary. We had a task on our hands before we started our enviable vacation.
Well, life was simpler then but not always easy. There was no Euro and no Schengen visa. So, we spent the next month stamping our passports with visas for all the countries we planned to visit. For every European country, a separate visa and currency had to be taken. Thankfully, the visa process was much simpler and quicker then. The visas were processed in a day and there was minimum paperwork involved. Every day the visa was submitted to a new Embassy and passports collected in the evening or the next morning. If we had to take so many visas today, it would easily take a year. We managed to get all our visas stamped and arranged the currencies of the countries on our list. And then we started our 90-day-long round-the-world trip.
Ironically, this was the first time I was traveling internationally. I am not counting my solitary trip to Nepal as an overseas trip. My husband was a seasoned traveler and hence he could dare to embark on such a prolonged vacation without any professional guidance, mobile phones, and Google.
Our first stop was Singapore and I was impressed by the cleanliness, glamour, and ambiance of the metropolis. From then onwards, it was a whirlwind journey with stunning views and amazing experiences wherever I went. It was a long trip, and it is not possible to get into the highlights of the places I visited. And neither do I remember the details. So I would just concentrate on some interesting titbits that I remember vividly even now.
On our first leg, we stayed for 2-3 days in most of the cities. We were fortunate to have relatives/friends in various parts of the world who were generous enough to accommodate us in their homes. It was a revelation to see people doing all their chores themselves – from cooking, cleaning, ironing, mowing lawns to washing utensils. And we were supposed to chime in, unlike India where ‘Guests are God’. It was a humbling experience to see the elite class using public transport in New York. We live such a pampered life in India, at least the upper-middle class does. I had lived a very sheltered life with no international exposure, so all this was a bit surprising for me.
The rest of the time we stayed in hotels and motels. We had no hotel reservations in any city. Our plan was a bit skewed, but fitting for those times. All airports used to have a big lighted panel with a separate window assigned to every reputed hotel. The hotels would display some pictures of the property with the current room rate. If you liked a hotel, you were supposed to call them from a telephone hanging on the hook and get your booking confirmed. It may look weird now, but it used to be the most convenient, cheapest, and safest way to make a hotel booking after landing in the city.
It has been thirty years, but I can never forget my first sight of the stunning Niagara Falls, or the gorgeous Mount Fuji, or the iconic Twin Towers. I was completely dazzled. I remember I visited each and every amusement park that I came across, including Disney World. In India, we were starved of amusement parks, and thrilling rides really enamored me. As a vegetarian, we faced lots of issues, but the homestays made it much easier to face the frequent droughts. We mostly survived on Pizzas, French fries, ice cream, and yogurt – not the healthiest of options but the healthy food fad was not an obsession till that time.
After reaching London, we took a break of 15 days and stayed there with my sister-in-law. Our friends went back to India as they had a small kid. From now onwards, it was just the two of us. It was time to shop and buy some gifts for people back home. In that ‘era’, you could not return from a foreign trip without appropriate gifts for every family member. I fell in love with London and it continues to be one of my favorite cities even now.
We had decided on making Luxembourg as a base for visiting Europe through Eurail as my sister stayed there. After reaching Luxembourg, we started our European holiday. We were on a self-imposed budget, and we decided to utilize our Eurail pass to the hilt. We would take long overnight trains to save on room rent and would return to Luxembourg often to stock up our home-food supply. Indians are addicted to home-cooked Indian food and saving money.
It was a hectic 15-20 days schedule where we managed to cover Switzerland, France, Austria, Netherlands, Germany, and Italy – and visited all their major attractions. We would reach a city, explore it during the day, and catch the night train. Sometimes we would cover two small towns in a day. We would be crossing country borders frequently, and refurbishing our wallets with different currencies as we cruised along. We faced a lot of language issues, especially in France and Germany. The washrooms at the train stations were our saviors, though their hygiene levels left a lot to be desired. What bothered me more was the fact that I had to pay to use the below-standard washrooms. Not an ideal way to travel, but we were in a different zone.
Everywhere we went, there were striking monuments, picturesque landscapes, admirable culture, and delectable cuisines (mainly pizzas, pasta, and dessert for us). You can imagine what a mind-boggling experience we must have had. We were young with no other pressing commitments and we made the most of it.
The cities I visited? It is a long list and, to be honest, I can’t recollect all of them. Singapore, Bangkok, Pattaya, HongKong, Macau, Tokyo (most expensive), Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington, New York, Chicago, Orlando, Detroit, Toronto, London, Luxembourg, Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo, Amsterdam, Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Zurich, Geneva, Jungfrau, Rome, Venice, Naples, Pisa, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, and so many more. After spending 90 days on the roads, we took the flight back to Delhi – the last leg of our round-the-world ticket.
It is always good to be back home amongst friends and relatives. However, it was a life-changing event that altered my whole outlook and persona for the better. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world on a regular basis. But nothing can compare with the experience of going on a round-the-world trip for 90 days without a care in the world.
PS: My memories are faded and so are the pictures. The clicks are mostly from the USA as they were taken by our friends. We had not bothered to take a camera. As there were no handy phone cameras around, we are left with our memories to fall back on.