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By Vidya Kurella

My Summer Vacation

How to Plan the Perfect Trip

Got that tax refund and want to use it on a vacation this summer, but have no clue about where to start? Traveling the world can be an incredibly rewarding experience if you’re properly prepared. Here’s a list of items you should consider when planning your trip.

Where to go?

Although I grew up balancing East and West, I’ve since discovered North and South and have made the world my playground. I always keep a list of places I want to visit, and I pick up information on them whenever I can. I find information in sundry places from the New York Times to the Smithsonian magazine. Then, I do some research on the best times of year to visit those places and what to do there.

What if you have no idea where to go? Then, start with when. If you know you have a break in school coming up or a slow period at work, schedule a vacation. Once you know when you’re going on vacation, you can narrow down where to go—based on weather and price. Ideally, you want to go someplace where the weather is good but the prices aren’t high. Usually, this means going during what is known in the travel industry as the “shoulder” season. These are the weeks or months right before and after peak season. The prices are lower than during the peak season and the weather is almost as good. And as a bonus, it won’t be as crowded. Then, there is the last minute deal. If you don’t know what to do with yourself, check out or A fabulous last-minute vacation is just a few clicks away.

And, if you really don’t know where to go, go to your local bookstore and spend the afternoon looking at guidebooks in the travel section. There are different guidebooks for different types of tourists on different budgets. Looking through them will allow you to easily decide if you’re interested in a certain part of the world or certain activities.

But can I Afford it?
Be sure to plan a budget, or your dream vacation can turn into a credit card nightmare. You can either set a budget for your entire trip or set a daily budget instead. Just be realistic. While you can probably tour South India for $75 per day, you probably can’t visit London on that budget—unless you stay at a youth hostel. Buy a guidebook that works within your budget. That way, it will be easier not to overspend.

If you grew up spending your summer vacations in South Asia being shuttled from one relative’s house to another’s, maybe you just want to see South Asia for yourself. You could rough it and backpack around—trekking in Nepal and sunbathing in Goa—or you could go on an organized tour that plans everything for you. Backpacking will allow you to be flexible and budget-conscious. The guided tour has a higher price tag, but it will allow you to see the most in the shortest period of time.

Who should I take with me?
As our lives get busier, it gets harder and harder to plan trips with our loved ones—our parents, our children or our friends. Picking traveling companions is very important. Even though you can’t choose your family, you can choose your traveling companion. Make sure you talk to potential travel partners about their budgets and their interests. Of course, you can always travel by yourself. Traveling by yourself gives you the freedom to do what you want when you want. You should also consider going on a guided tour by yourself—you can spend your vacation doing what you want to do and meet some new people with similar interests too. Safety concerns should be paramount however, if you are wandering around a new city alone.

Walk, Rickshaw, Bus, Train or Cruise?
Once you get to your destination of choice, you have to decide what to do and how to get around. Methods of getting around in different countries can vary greatly. And, in some places, how you travel determines your entire experience. In South Asia, for example, you can travel around North India on the Palace on Wheels, a luxury train. If you want to see Patagonia, you can either hike and camp or take a cruise ship. And in sub-Saharan Africa, you can take a tour bus around and stay in lodges or you can travel on a truck, camp and walk through the bush looking at the wildlife. Sometimes, your mode of travel will be governed by your budget, but other times, be sure to consider alternative modes of transportation if it will affect your experience.

The South Asian Diaspora
Learning about local customs is always an interesting part of international travel. Add another dimension to your education by learning about the South Asian community wherever you go. These days it is hard to find a country or even a city in the world without a South Asian population. I never fail to be surprised by the South Asians whom I come across when traveling—from the tailors of Bangkok to the diamond dealers of Kenya, to the businessmen of the Middle East.

While many of us are first-generation Americans, South Asians have lived in other parts of the world for several generations. South Asian communities around the world have evolved differently for historical and sociological reasons. Many of these communities consist of descendents of indentured servants, but others are more recently evolved immigrant communities. It is really interesting to see how these communities have balanced their South Asian heritage with the culture of their new home countries over generations.

Khana! (Food!)
Food—it can be the best part of your trip or the worst! If you have dietary restrictions, you may want to consider cooking on your trip or bringing a personal food supply. If you like your daal or curry everyday, you can definitely discover a local South Asian restaurant in your travels. In England, South Asian food has practically replaced fish and chips as the national food.

It’s also fun to discover how South Asian foods have been adapted to local tastes. Thai food, for example, comes from a blending of Indian and Chinese cuisines. In Thai curries, they use coconut milk instead of the ghee that is often used in Indian food. The popular samosa can be found in various incarnations around the world. In East Africa, samosas are street food and often contain lamb or beef. And of course, there is chai, which has been adopted by everyone—including your local Starbucks. With fusion cuisine on the rise, always keep an eye out for restaurants with a South Asian flavor.

And, finally, these days cooking vacations are becoming really popular. You can find organized tours to cooking schools in countries like Italy or Thailand. Or, pick your favorite cuisine, find a cooking school that teaches in a language you understand and build your vacation around their courses.

No one Understands me!
Communicating sometimes can be difficult, if you don’t speak the local language. Sometimes, South Asian Americans find it difficult to travel in South Asia. With all the local languages, dialects and accents, it’s bound to be a challenge. Buy a phrase book or a dictionary specifically geared for where you’re going. These can be found for any language in the world. A phrasebook is geared towards travels and includes words and phrases for things that travelers invariably need. Dictionaries are a little more cumbersome but can be very useful. If you are traveling in a country where the language does not use Roman script—such as Japan or Russia, you may want to consider buying an electronic dictionary. It will make reading signs and asking for directions easier. Just because you have a phrasebook or dictionary doesn’t mean you have to speak the language. Sometimes, just pointing to the book is immensely helpful.

Being Brown
As South Asian Americans, sometimes when we travel, we are crudely confronted with our ethnicity. Even if you wrap yourself in the stars and stripes, when you travel internationally, people don’t see an American—they see a South Asian. While many times this may not matter, sometimes it really does. For example, in South Africa, South Asian people were oppressed under apartheid, and the country is still struggling with integration. Walking down the street in Johannesburg, you will be treated as a local. Although that sounds like a good thing, you could find yourself being the victim of racism. Or, in Hong Kong, South Asians were not offered citizenship when China took back control from the United Kingdom, even though they may have lived there for generations. The underlying racial tensions in these situations have nothing to do with the United States or Americans but they will impact South Asian Americans traveling there.

Sometimes, racial issues are less apparent. Often, I am asked where I’m from, and when I say that I’m American, I’m asked, “No, where are you really from?” Depending on where you are traveling, you may find yourself having to explain that Americans are not just black and white, but come in many shades in between. Some countries are so homogenous that the locals do not really understand how you might relate more to being American than being South Asian. You may also find yourself being asked questions about the Taj Mahal, computer science, Bollywood or Indian-Pakistani relations. If you don’t know anything about what you’re being asked about, just try to remember that to them, you are a South Asian. In countries where there are a lot of South Asian tourists, such as Singapore or England, it is particularly difficult for locals to discern that you are South Asian American. And in some countries, South Asian culture is actually more well-known than it is in America. In England, you’ll find glossy magazines that are marketed to young South-Asian women. And in many places, like Turkey or Cambodia, the local people are intimately familiar with Bollywood films, because they’ve seen dubbed versions.

Hopefully, you now have some exciting ideas to plan your next trip. So get packing!

Vidya Kurella is an attorney who has traveled the world but finds herself in love with New York City.

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