I have been to India 18 times in my life. That may seem a little drastic seeing as how I am only 22 years old, but just as others go and visit their families during the holidays, my parents and I would take the 20 hour flight to Mumbai and do the same thing most summers of my childhood. The last trip I took however was the one that changed my life.
I had never truly experienced Mumbai in all its glory despite being there so many times before. Going as a child, I was only exposed to what my parents wanted to expose me to which were usually sweaty sari shops and glamorously beautiful jewelry stores. This trip, however, I was finally old enough to explore the city I thought I knew with my older cousin.
The first day I arrived, my cousin took me out for drinks with his friends. I instantly clicked with his whole group of friends and I spent the remainder of my trip traveling around with them. This is what I learned from running around this wonderful city and my countless interactions with these Mumbai natives.
1. Don’t worry about tomorrow.
I’m not going to lie; I am a worrier. I like to blame my mom and her whole side of the family for this genetic trait that causes me to stress out over almost anything. In India, they have such a good grasp of living in the moment. There would be nights that my cousin and his friends would have class or work the next day, but were still willing to stay out late and have fun if the opportunity arose. Yes, they may have been severely hungover the next day, but at the end of the day you’re probably going to forget about those couple of days you were puking in your office bathroom, but you won’t forget the memories you made with friends and family the day before.
2. There is beauty in ugly.
That seems like a contradiction of sorts, but it’s so true. Mumbai is not what anyone would call beautiful upon their first gaze. People use sidewalks as trashcans (sometimes even toilets), yet the aesthetic goes beyond even that. It’s the smile you see on a child beggar who just received some food or drink. It’s the rush of energy as a man jumps in the air after making a big sale from his roadside shop. Mumbai taught me that even though sometimes life can seem kind of chaotic and crazy, there are moments (sometimes fleeting) that you can see and experience pure joy, and that’s what makes it all worth it.
3. Try and stay open minded.
It’s difficult to travel to a new country without a little culture shock. I understand that. Even being to India 18 times, the smell of India still made me sick after getting off the plane. India has seen its fair share of political, economic, and social rollercoasters, and even though it’s not a perfect country, it’s far from what you see with the naked eye. Being in Mumbai taught me to not judge but take everything as an experience that could shape my life. At the end of the day, we have no idea what everyone or anyone has really been through, so it’s important to try and not judge but instead learn from it all and let it shape you and help you grow.
4. Keep a few good friends.
When I met my cousin’s friends, I was instantly drawn to them. There were about 8 of them, and they all knew each other from a very young age. I was lucky that they let me straight into their group, treating me as if I had known them just as long as soon as I got there. My cousin would always tell me that no matter what dumb thing he does or says, none of these people would turn their back on him. I got to experience that first hand when he had to tell one of his friends some bad news about her ex boyfriend. I vowed after that trip to quit trying to befriend the world, but rather keep a few good friends who would have my back no matter what the situation. It’s been the best decision I’ve made thus far.
5. Just do it.
Okay, fine, Nike can have credit for that one but it’s a good freaking slogan. When traveling, it’s so important to immerse yourself in that culture and take a leap of faith. There were so many times fear of the unknown wanted to stop me from doing something. Whether it was my fear of going out after dark after all the horror rape stories I heard on the media or trying a new food off the side of the road; if I had let fear stop me, I would have not made some of the best memories of my life. Life is so incredibly short, and I know that is cliché, but as I travel and just go through life, it’s scary how much you realize it’s true. I like to live by the motto of taking risks, but being safe. It’s helped me open up to new adventures and always gets me home at the end of the night.
Everyone has a happy place. Mumbai is mine. Traveling helps you learn things about yourself and immerses you in a different world. It excites parts of your body and soul that you couldn’t even imagine. Mumbai taught me who I am, and for that I am forever grateful.