The reaction to our October cover was almost unanimous. Everyone loved it, and no one guessed that the train featured was from India. It got me thinking about train travel in our country, and how in the age of low-cost airlines and road trips, I for one have ignored the joys of train travel.
It took me back to one of the most memorable trips from my 20s, when I bought a one-month Amtrak USA Rail Pass which allowed unlimited travel across the U.S. for 30 days. My companion and I zigzagged across the continent from the East to the West Coast and back via a different route. The wonderful memories created along the way are still indelibly carved in my mind. It was a fun way to travel, and it gave us the opportunity to see so much of one country without breaking the bank.
Similarly, the Interrail pass (non-Europeans buy the Eurail pass) has been popular in Europe for decades. It was first introduced in Europe in the early 1970s for under-21 citizens to travel through a host of countries in Europe. The idea took off immediately and even today over three lakh young Europeans take advantage of it annually.
This month, I read in the news that the European Union is on its way to approving a proposal that will give every EU citizen, on their 18th birthday, a free Interrail pass to travel through all the countries of the EU for one month. The pass normally costs €479 so it’s not a trivial investment the European Union is making.
What a wonderful gift to receive from your government on your 18th birthday! I find it amazingly forward thinking. It invests in youth in a way that’s very different from traditional government programmes. For me, the idea scores on so many levels. It gives young people an opportunity to scout the region they live in, to explore the diversity of their immediate world. It recognises the power of travel to broaden the mind, to build relationships between cultures, to enrich lives, to teach independence and open-mindedness.
The free rail pass initiative will encourage eco-friendly travel too, bringing awareness to minimizing one’s carbon footprint. With the ticket paid for, it additionally gives young people the incentive to work and save up for the rest of their travel expenses, teaching determination and discipline.
Once this initiative comes through, this free Interrail pass will be a blessing, a gift many EU citizens will use, and its long-term benefits will be felt across the continent. Exploring this idea, I discovered that Italy too has given a present to every Italian resident who turns 18. This year, the government is giving everyone born in 1998 €500 to spend on culturally enriching experiences, such as visiting museums, music concerts, or parks. Using a smartphone app, eligible teens can buy tickets to various places and events for which their government will pay.
Travel is an investment one generation can bequeath the next, and it’s apparent that the mood of European governments is to put money into augmenting the breadth of experiences for their youth. I too was lucky in this area. I didn’t inherit any stocks and shares from my parents, but what I got instead was the opportunity to travel. This gave me exposure to the world and to the experiences travel offers. It’s only now I realise that it was a fantastic gift my parents gave me. Indeed, this winter you can give yourself, family or friends that gift. This festive season, instead of any material stuff, I’m planning an exciting trip for the family, one that has been on my mind for years. It’s taking much effort and savings, but it’s a trip that will be much more memorable than any object I buy.
For almost a decade now, there has been a trend of gifting newly-weds travel activities. Websites like honeyfund.com (or wanderable.com, honeymoonwishes.com, travelersjoy.com) allow couples to register their honeymoons online, so that those who want to buy them a wedding present can pay for very specific things: a hot-air balloon ride, a ticket to an opera, a gondola ride, a meal at a scenic restaurant, a spa treatment. Some think it crass to get a honeymoon paid for like that, but I find it a very good idea. It’s giving the couple the gift of travel, of experiences and memories that will last them a lifetime.
Appeared in the November 2016 issue as “The Gift of Travel”.
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.