The Guide to Happiness

Take that trip, take it now.  
Travel surprises are often the best. Photo: Artiga Photo/Corbis/Getty Images

My friend has a zero-ending birthday coming up in a few days. In celebration of this milestone, she is being treated to two back-to-back surprises she definitely never suspected or imagined. Last week she travelled to Bangkok for a weekend with a friend. To her great surprise, the husband had organised for three more of her girlfriends from around the world to be there as well. And the ladies have now whisked off for a few days in Chiang Mai. That girly-holiday treat which Facebook tells me includes zip lining, base jumping, and foot spas ends about 24 hours from now. And, just as my friend reaches Bangkok airport to fly back to Mumbai, she’s going to get surprise number two. Her ticket home has been cancelled and rebooked for three days later. Waiting for her at the airport are going to be said husband and their two young children. I can just picture a whole lot of smiles, even tears, and so much joy! I can imagine her talking about this next year, ten years from now, forever.

Many years ago, my husband travelled 12,000 kilometres across the seas to surprise me. It was a thrilling moment, one of shock, incredulity, and confusion knowing that at the time the journey had emptied his bank account. I ended up taking a week off from my work and had to frantically catch up later, but it was so well worth it; the happy memories of that trip are still fresh in my mind so many years later.

As this year draws to an end, I have a big, well-deserved treat planned for the family. It’s not a surprise. In fact with our current work schedules no thunderbolt like that could possibly work. What I’ve planned, after considering everyone’s schedules, is a 20-day break in South Africa. This trip is a happy-making splurge that fulfils two of my long-cherished travel goals: to visit friends I’ve been meaning to see for over a decade, and to go on a real African safari. Notwithstanding the somewhat tedious process of getting all the arrangements and paperwork in place, the excitement in our home is steadily rising. Though the departure is still a month away, my daughter asks a new question every day—about meeting lions, and giraffes, and hippos, and her parents’ friends she’s never seen before. Well before the trip even begins, the anticipation is generating warm, fuzzy delight.

Every now and again I find it absolutely essential to plan such a treat. It doesn’t need to be associated with a milestone birthday or anniversary, though of course those are great excuses too. With the kind of stressful urban pace we keep, a trip anywhere at all is increasingly becoming a necessity. We need to insert some contentment and zest into our routines, and travel is such a memorable way to do that. To friends in Mumbai who say they can’t spare more than a weekend, I suggest they go to Matheran, to Lonavla, even to Borivali National Park if nothing else is possible! I consider it the salve that makes the daily grind bearable, the blossom at the end of a cold snap, the glue that individuals and families need to keep the madness at bay.

So as another supremely hectic year rolls into memory, give a little thought to a trip you could treat yourself and your dear ones to. More precious than gold or diamonds, more fun than a party splurge, and definitely more gratifying than a night of getting wasted in a bar. If you’ve never treated yourself to a vacation, you so deserve it; if you’ve never travelled a great distance to surprise a loved one, maybe the right time is now.

Appeared in the December 2016 issue as “The Happy-Making Treat”.

  • Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through the wilderness or the by-lanes of a city. She is obsessive about family holidays and has already instilled in her young daughter wanderlust and a love for the outdoors. She is the former Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.

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