I peered inside the trunk of my car again so see if I had mistakenly missed the jack hidden in some corner. The spare tyre, rods and other equipment to change the tyre were placed on the road but there was no jack. This was an abandoned road. Instead of being a smooth surface there were sharp rocks protruding from the road. It had been left incomplete like most of the roads near the India-Pakistan border.  









We were stranded in the middle of nowhere. To our left was an embankment beyond which were the plains of Punjab. The only sign of human activity was a small village on the right, a few kilometers from here. Young boys riding their herds of buffalos stared at us and smiled mischievously as they passed by. It was as if they derived pleasure out of our struggle.

I peered inside the trunk of my car again so see if I had mistakenly missed the jack hidden in some corner. The spare tyre, rods and other equipment to change the tyre were placed on the road but there was no jack. This was an abandoned road. Instead of being a smooth surface there were sharp rocks protruding from the road. It had been left incomplete like most of the roads near the India-Pakistan border.

After two hours of wait under the summer sky we were rescued by a group of jeeps that was passing through to deliver milk to the nearby village.

Ever since that day I have made it a point to check everything before I embark on any journey. The first and the foremost important thing is my wallet which needs to have some money for petrol and miscellaneous costs, along with an ATM card in case we run short on supply.

I make sure that I always carry my notebook with me. Travel writing is not just about getting to a particular place and writing about it but it thrives on the experience of the journey itself. I usually tend to go in to my traveling zone as soon as I get into my car, making notes at every stop, recording all the conversations, emotions and observations.

I also hardly travel alone. I am usually accompanied by a group of like-minded people so the coordination with these four-five people begins a couple of days in advance even if the journey is short. We discuss spots where we all gather and then travel on one car.

Finally I make sure that the car is prepared for the journey. This involves checking for fuel, water in radiator, tyre pressure, spare tyre and other tyre tools to change the tyre — and of course the jack.  



Get set go
I’m always a last minute planner
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Almost all my international travel trips are planned in a haphazard manner. I am hardly ever sure whether the journey is going to take place or not. The confusion usually is due to extraordinary delay in visa issuance, callous attitude of trip organisers or some emergency in the family.

I abhor this uncertainty about my travels.

So, it’s obvious the last day before my departure is hectic; it’s a race against time. I start packing only when the travel becomes certain. This last-moment activity makes life tough for me. I feel over-worked and have to finish all the pending tasks asap!

It would not be an overstatement if I say I hate packing. This tedious exercise becomes troublesome when I find out that I do not fit in the trouser or dress shirt I had bought hardly a year ago. I get furious. The anger becomes uncontrollable when my family members enjoy seeing me wrestle into an overstretched T-shirt and pretend I am still in shape.

Therefore, a last day shopping trip to buy a rare set of “loose-fitting” Western clothes is inevitable.

The other things on the shopping list are travel-friendly electricity adapters, batteries, safety razors, tweezers, medicines, which I never take till I return, toothbrush, paste etc.

The dollar-rupee disparity is my biggest concern when I go shopping for these goods. I remember it took me weeks to come over the shock when I bought an adapter for $20 in the US. It cost me Rs 30 in Pakistan.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to avoid security checks at airports. Though I can’t bypass these, I somehow succeed in minimising the hassles. Purposefully clad in shalwar kameez and chappal, I rush through the checks while others spend ages to remove and wear belts, socks, shoes and items like wrist watches.

The other irritants during the travel are uncomfortable seats, tiny meal portions, irritating companions interested in knowing about your journey, as well as telling you how frequently they travel and so on.  



Blood ties!
Staying with family — probably not the best idea
By Sarah Sikandar

First things first, never — and I mean never — rely on relatives for accommodation when travelling.

Shamelessly hoping to make my trip to London economical, I kept the cousin, first cousin mind you, in the loop regarding my plans. I even sent him itineraries. ‘Mere hotay hue kahin aur kyon’ still rings in my ears. Spoke to him, like we always did, for hours a couple of days before leaving and felt lucky for finding a home there.

That is until I got there.

Babies are merciless when they are hungry and sleepy. Hungry baby is the last thing you want when waiting for a familiar face at the airport. And wait we did. After nearly an hour, we gave up. Got ourselves a room for the rest of the trip and never looked back at the cousin, neither did he.

Whoever said blood is thicker than water had never travelled I think. I have never been stung by a stranger.

The time before this trip I was left at the airport by my cousin’s husband at Dallas International Airport because he was late for a meeting, with friends. My first international travel and I was on my own. If I was as poetic as Joyce, I could write another Araby.

However, I wasn’t alone — excess luggage and a brutal 102 fever befriended me. No wonder I hate talking to strangers on planes.

I say, go where there is no kin. I learnt my lesson the hard way. The next time I so much as think of packing my bags, a hotel reservation is the first on my list.  



Paranoia in air
A list of worries plagues me mid-flight
By Anam Javed

No, I wasn’t going to take my old toothbrush, even though it hadn’t reached its three month expiration date yet. I was travelling abroad and suffering from its accompanying ‘brand new’ syndrome. So I bought a shiny blue toothbrush, popped it into a clear plastic bag, and placed it on a table in my room.

Five minute before leaving, I went over the checklist I had made on my phone, hoping I had remembered every small but necessary item such as safety pins and Q-tips.

All done, I swung the cover of the suitcase — oh wait, I had no lock!

A couple of hours and thousands of miles in the air later, I realised that the toothbrush was still sitting on the same table, untouched. It would remain brand new for slightly longer than I had bargained for. This unforeseen hygiene crisis set my heart thumping until I had checked and assured myself that the amenities bag provided to me had one too.

One emergency solved, my mind found another subject to agonise over, transitioning effortlessly from the minute to the large-scale. What if my luggage got lost?! Whenever acquaintances had recounted tales of lost baggage, I had tuned them out. The possibility had only become real for me when a friend faced the crisis during a school trip. All that time, I internally praised her for not being in constant tears as I would have been if I had to survive on borrowed items!

Leaning back into the seat, I sighed. Even the songs I had transferred to my phone the night before were unable to steer my thoughts into lighter channels. It was easy to wonder why I had paid so much for a trip that would begin with the dreaded packing and would be followed by paranoia. ….All said and done though, I guess I should be grateful that my worries were less pressing than that of the ‘Home Alone’ parents!



A smart way to move
The trick is to be clad in clothes and shoes with no metal in them
By Fasi Zaka

I have never been a competent traveller. But there was a watershed moment for me when I woke up in a flight to discover I had landed in India instead of Colombo. Panicked, I stayed on the plane hoping no one would discover this egregious violation of flight security; I was relieved to find that my ticket had a stopover in India.

Since then I have been doing a little better.

What’s changed? Buying a few essential travel items. Those long wallets with a lanyard to keep the passport, the boarding pass, photo ID etc within reach. The Velcro keeps it safely in place.

I have lost boarding passes several times, and in labyrinthine airports it can be a hassle shuffling between places to get a new one while not missing the flight.

On longer flights I really find it useful to wear shoes with no metals in them, track pants and carry a shoulder bag. The clothing aspect does away with the semi disrobing through security. The shoulder bag carries all the essential items for the flight itself, like an mp3 player and tablet.

I discovered a very cheap organiser called ‘Grid It’, which minimises the space used and ensures you won’t be without essential plugs and cables. Also, I bought a portable battery which plugs into pretty much anything, ensuring the slowly decimating battery bars stand upright for longer.

Probably one of the best investments I know of for a disposable item on arriving at your destination is a prepaid SIM. You need the phone pretty much immediately and roaming charges being what they are the new temporary carrier will do you a world of good.

The website Trip Advisor is invaluable, crowd sourced reviews are great. You can find what you could see within your price range.

Despite my personal improvement in the whole travel process, I am still not very competent at booking flights. Thank God for travel agents.


Always pack on time
I can seldom sleep in peace a night before the journey
By Kaiser Tufail

Despite having been a checklist man for the better part of my life, it has not helped when it comes to travelling. Travel woes have hit me in bizarre forms. Even if socks have been checked twice while packing, there has been the shock of discovering — at a formal seminar — that I was wearing different colours on each foot.

We all check the airline ticket before leaving the house, but I have once mistakenly torn a valid ticket to shreds while trying to de-junk the briefcase of previously used tickets and coupons at the last minute. Surprisingly, I was allowed to board the flight on presenting the shreds!

PIA flights to Pakistan’s Northern Areas are always on ‘chance’ and seldom has anyone slept in peace a night before. It is another matter though, that on more than one occasion I have bumped into a captain who knew me and arranged for a jump seat.

Hotel bookings in remote areas always need a cross check before departing on a holiday. This last June it was unnerving when I was told that the manager I had talked to had been fired, there was no reservation, and that I had better look for another place to stay in Skardu. Only an Army Mess saved the holiday.

The dread of being found in possession of some contraband item almost turned real recently, when a swagger stick presented by an Army Unit was found to have been embellished with a spent bullet casing at its tip. The Airport Security Force staff was sensible enough to let me go, with an advice to thoroughly check every item including gifts, while packing the luggage.

In a nutshell: A day before travelling is packing day if you are to keep such travel jitters at bay!



Packing-unpacking woes
Travelling tech-free? No way!
By Zofeen T. Ebrahim

I love travelling but I hate packing for leisure or business! Packing means remembering to take too many ‘just in case’ essentials — an extra pair of spectacles, Vicks and pain killers, photocopies of documents — passports, visa, hotel bookings, etc. 

And it always follows unpacking for I hate living in a suitcase.

But in today’s times because you are catching connecting flights as well as missing them, you are never sure your luggage will arrive at your destination at the same time as you.

So the ‘just in case’, items that I usually lug include a toothbrush, hairbrush, my kohl, a lipstick, a T-shirt, and cardigan (light or heavy depending on my destination) and a clean pair of undies.

Along with the above stuff are the gadget paraphernalia. Even if the travel is for pleasure, cutting the cord on devices is virtually impossible for me. I confess I cannot travel tech-free.

If I was asked to just take one thing, I’d probably opt for my laptop. I would feel quite out of the loop without staying connected to the world through the internet. I need to know the world is not falling apart and that the family back home is fine. And while this may not be well taken, I concede, I like to work a little on my holiday!

Then comes unpacking, which of course is less time consuming except for the toilet bag that needs to be emptied out properly.

If you have not applied your mind to it while packing, you will find, much to your distress, that you left the hair conditioner on your dresser back home. And while you can make do with hotel shampoos, the conditioner has to be your own brand!

Which means a bad hair day the following morning!  



A system of checks
For an avid planner like me, taking a trip is a tedious task
By Sofia Arslan

Going on a vacation, for the most part, is always the stuff of legend.

Apart from the customary pre-travelling butterflies hovering around inside the stomach during the two days of pre-departure planning and then moving to main procedure of packing is quite an ordeal for me.

A needle keeps pricking my mind if I do not give proper pattern to the checklists. They start from trivial stuff like having my sunglasses to chief ones being medical insurance and travel documents — visas and passports.

Health documentation, tickets, trip cancellation insurance, hotel reservations, traveller’s cheques and of course credit cards form the most essential part of the checklist. Once the aforementioned is listed and checked, the real Herculean task needs to be gotten through with. This is the organisation of medications and valuables and the verification of the documents as soon as they arrive.

I completely stand fixed about the issue of maintaining tags in the inside as well as the outside of the luggage which at times has earned me my mother’s severe castigation. She (rightly so I might admit) questioned the purpose of having tags in the inside when they are already present on the outside.

Likewise, reconfirming international flights with the airline 72 hours prior to departure is a must. These have always been my top-most priority.

I feel my pre-travelling procedures are incomplete without these checks.



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