How Travel can be the Best Medicine

Head on a short vacation the next time you’re feeling a bit off colour.  
niloufer and her daughter
A short break can do you wonders. Photo: Andre Morris

It’s become second nature for me to quiz people I meet about their travels. I want to know where they’ve holidayed, which hotel they stayed at, what experiences they’ve had. I store all these bits of information away, to use in creating this magazine of course, but also to pass on to other friends and family who count on me to give them travel advice. Friends often ask me for suggestions for their next vacation, where to stay or eat, what to do for the particular kind of holiday they’re looking for. One of them calls me “travel doc” and I’ve always laughed at that label, thinking nothing of it, until now.

I’ve been feeling under the weather for about two weeks, with a nagging throat issue that won’t go away. The first doctor I consulted prescribed medicines, which frankly, made me feel worse. The second said, “Do nothing, it will go away.” When the weekend came around, I packed the family and went off to spend one night in a hotel in the woods near Mumbai. It was a lovely room with great views, an open-air bathroom, a hammock on the deck, and lots of trees for company. We did nothing much. The child had a blast running up and down the stairs, into the loft room, onto the patio, soaking in the tub, ordering room service, and generally monkeying around. I hung out in the hammock, the lounge chair, the bed, the other bed, and the sofa; a walk and yoga session were thrown in. After 24 hours, while I obviously wasn’t totally cured, all three of us felt refreshed and renewed, having done nothing of any real consequence. It was, in short, everything the doctor ought to have ordered but didn’t.

Which set me thinking: How come medical practitioners don’t actually recommend that people leave town and go on vacation when they’re unwell? No doctor has ever given me, or anyone I know, a prescription with the words “Travel” or “Head off to a hill station” scrawled on a letterhead. We all know of the convalescent homes and residences the British created in hill stations across India, where military personnel and others were sent to recover from a variety of ailments. This idea, of sending the sick on holiday or to the hills to recover, has somehow not filtered down into the medical practices of the current century. Instead, I know the opposite happens. I’ve heard of doctors telling friends not go to jungles as there are too many insects and mosquitoes, not to venture into the hills as the pollen in the air won’t suit them, telling folks, no matter what their ailment, to stay confined to their homes and if possible, glued to their beds.

Although I don’t have a medical degree, I beg to differ from most doctors and am offering my own (quack) prescription: If you’re not going to spread anything contagious around, and you can, do take a break and head on a short vacation when you’re feeling a bit off colour. It can be a few days at a favourite beach or even one night in a hotel, like I did. Sometimes, all we need is to get away from the mundane: What to cook, what to eat, answering the door or the phone. Sometimes it’s therapeutic just to stay in an unfamiliar room where you don’t have to think about making the bed or deciding what’s for dinner. And where almost anything you need is either a phone call away or at the nearest buffet table.

Appeared in the November 2015 issue as “What The Doctor Should Order”.


    Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through wilderness or the bylanes of a city, and to instill in her daughter a love for the outdoors. As Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India her gig involves more of pummelling stories into shape than actually travelling.


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