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Travelling to India: Retracing old steps

Travelling to India: Retracing old steps

Shelley takes a risk. Will she find a new way forward by retracing old steps?

Tomorrow I jet off to a place I travelled to years ago and credit with moulding me into the person I am today. We all have these types of trips or experiences in our personal histories: the moments, places or fleeting connections that fundamentally changed our way of looking at our past and refocusing our future. For me it was a solo backpacking trip to India in my 20s, but it could have been a skydive or a chance encounter or a kayak trip up the north coast of British Columbia.

My trip to India awed me, crushed me, grew me and humbled me. I cried at least once a day, but also found myself routinely swamped by wonder and joy. Someone warned me: every day you are there you’ll be desperate to get home, and the moment you leave, you’ll be plotting ways to go back. This turned out to be true, but for one reason or another, my return has been 15 years in the making.

I’ve been musing lately about what it means to go back, to retrace steps, and why it’s so complicated. There’s a reason our culture is forever propelling us forward; progress is feted, but backtracking carries with it a whiff of failure, a lack of ambition or curiosity. These days we’re so hungry for whatever comes next, we rarely take the time to revisit the things that got us where we are.

These days we’re so hungry for what comes next, we rarely take the time to revisit the things that got  us where we are.

Don’t get me started on how this hunger for new drives our disposable culture. I try not to get sucked in by the latest iPhone iteration or the newest, breathable, wicking, waterproof, odour-free, 100 per cent reflective, high performance jacket, but it isn’t easy. What’s new is hot and used is not. This affects our careers and personal relationships as well. People stay in friendships and dead-end marriages simply because it’s easier than cutting ties and starting over, and we stay in jobs that offer us security and an annual merit increase, even if we are no longer challenged or fulfilled by our work.

Self-help books advise: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I’m not sure when I’d find the time to fit this in between eating eight to ten fruits and vegetables a day, managing my weekly expenses, flossing and exercising at a moderate to vigorous pace for a minimum of 30 minutes. What I do know is that forward momentum feels simple. I’m good at what I do and if I keep doing it, my guess is it will get easier and safer.

Going back, however, this will test me—even with a bigger travel budget and better pharmaceutical defences. I worry India will be something less than it was the last time or worse, that I myself will be something lesser: less open to new experiences, people and amazement.

I hope not. I hope I can see with new eyes all the changes the country has been through, but also experience the thrill of recognition in feeling again some of what I felt before. If nothing else, I hope that in going back I may get a glimpse of the young person who set out all those years ago and came back thinking anything was possible, or at least worth trying once.

Shelley is a regular contributor to Okanagan Life. She blogs about her travels and travails at

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About The Author

Shelley Wood

Shelley Wood has been a regular contributor to Okanagan Life since moving to Kelowna in 2000 after completing her graduate degree in journalism at UBC: Vancouver. By day, she is the editorial director at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation in New York. Her fiction, nonfiction, columns, and travel writing have appeared in the Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, National Post, The New Quarterly, Room Magazine, and others.

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