You should know that when I went to India I had to wear a neck brace. Somehow I was so stressed out at the end of the school year that all the vertebrates in my neck were out of joint and had to be popped back in place by a chiropractor a couple of days before I would be taking an 18 hour flight in coach.
I was told my neck was too fragile to not wear a neck brace for at least a few weeks. I diligently followed orders and not only stood out as the only non-Indian women on the flight but also the only one wearing a large collar around her neck. Let’s just say I was a favorite of the children on the flight over, perpetually popping over their seats to peer at me as if I were in a zoo.
In Delhi, I was joining a tour for two weeks of travel through Rajasthan. I booked a room at the hotel we would be picked up at a day later, so that I could slightly adjust to jet lag and be presentable when I met everyone. I had decided to only wear the brace at night when I was alone in my room, but prior to the tour starting, I was wearing it whenever I was alone in general.
There was a knock at the door and thinking it was my room service, I opened it. Standing in the hall was a lean, clean cut Indian man. He looked at my face, at the collar and then back at my face.
“Elizabeth?” he asked in a tone that had me wonder if he hoped I wasn’t the Elizabeth he seeked.
“I’m sorry, I’m Raj. Your tour guide,” he stuck out his hand for me to shake. “I heard you were here early so I thought I would introduce myself. Are you okay?”
“Oh this,” my face flushed red, suddenly very conscious of the fact that I looked like I had just escaped a bad car accident. “Just a small neck issues. No big deal. I won’t be wearing it during the day.”
Raj, my wonderful Intrepid Travel tour guide, went on to tell me the specifics for the start of our tour such as what time to meet and how many people would be traveling together. After a few pleasantries, he left me alone in my room. I thought all was well and good, the experience being over and went back to vegging out.
The next morning, I met the rest of my tour group and Raj proceeded to tell everyone about meeting me the day before while I was wearing a neck brace. I hadn’t intended on everyone knowing about my unsightly accoutrement. I was more embarrassed because I didn’t have any cool story to tell about why I had to wear it other than bad joints. I felt like I should tell them I was rappelling one handed from the side of a canyon or fighting off a tiger in the jungle or lasted a round in a lucha libre match before injuring it, but such was not the case.
But I quickly learned there was one great side effect to everyone learning about my injury: they all offered to carry my bag for me the rest of the trip. I became good friends with one guy from Australia and over the course of the two weeks, he made sure to get my luggage on and off the trains for me so that I wouldn’t get re-injured. I learned that sometimes a neck brace isn’t the worst thing to have while traveling.
I share this anecdote with you for one reason…I am about to leave the country for Thailand and I think it is nice to be reminded of first impressions, not only of us to others but of us to the country itself. Our experience doesn’t begin that first moment we walk out our hotel room and greet the day. Our experience of that trip starts from the first moment we put luggage wheels to floor and head out our front door. I could have let that neck injury ruin my whole vacation. I could have let it shadow the whole first week for me, complaining about pain or even choosing not to go, but I didn’t. I let Raj share his first impression of me and I laughed along with the others, and because of that, I met some great friends and injury or not, made my way through the bustling, vibrant country that is India.
My neck got better and I left that neck brace behind in a hotel room in Jaipur to lighten my load. Because that’s what you can do when you travel, you can physically and metaphorically lighten your load, off loading what you don’t need and move on. Stress from your day job, uninformed thoughts about people or a city, one bad day where everything goes wrong, leave it behind. Put it in that hotel room and let the maid clean it up (figuratively of course). Get those luggage wheels rolling again and head out that door and let the next day fill you with impressions, one after another, from first to last.
I will not be posting the next few weeks because I will be collecting new impressions for more stories in the future. As this posts, I will just be landing in Bangkok. In the meantime, follow my Instagram account to see live updates of my travels. While I’m out of the country, I hope you go lighten your load as well and get those wheels rolling and travel.
Featured image is an airplane view of Hawaii. You will never see it, if you don’t go.