The Joy of Discovering My Own Backyard

Writer Neeti Mehra discovers the pleasures of staying at home.

beach in Palolem, Goa, India at sunset

Sameer Nawab / EyeEm / Getty Images

For years, I lived out of a suitcase, ever ready to get on a flight whenever I got a chance. Discovering the world through the eyes of a writer, I diligently annotated every experience, committing it to paper for when memory faded, always eager for the next destination.

This nomadic existence derailed slightly when I took on work that tied me to a desk, but not sufficiently that I would be pigeonholed among four walls. The pandemic brought all my flights of fancy to a screeching halt, as it did for everyone else. With the world locked down for months, the flicker of desire for travel in me waned. What place was better than home? But what really was home? Having lived across cities, homes, and suitcases, I had to rediscover my own backyard.

A Fresh Pair of Eyes

I was born in the coastal city of Mumbai, named after the goddess Mumba Devi who was worshipped by the city’s earliest inhabitants, the Kolis or fishermen. The city, per the last census, has a population of over 20 million people, all packed densely into a narrow sliver. Having lived here for 15-odd years, there were parts I knew minutely and loved, and others beyond my comfort zone, which I hadn’t explored.

I decided to become a tourist, seeing the city anew through the eyes of a visitor, rather than my jaded ones as a local. I tagged behind out-of-town friends to tourist spots such as the Gateway of India, watching the sunset from the Queen’s Necklace on Marine Drive. I went on a sunset cruise for the first time on a tiny sailboat on the magical Arabian Sea. I attended sushi-making, origami, and an ikebana class, picking up a smattering of five Japanese words.

Revisiting the roads that I’d trod on so many times, I noticed nuggets of history from British-era times, recently restored milestones tucked into inconspicuous nooks and crevices. I noticed our fabulous single-screen Art Deco film theaters sitting forlornly amidst gleaming skyscrapers.

This exploration would have been meaningless without food. Dining out, which was surveyed as the most desired activity last year by a McKinsey survey, took me to much-loved seafood haunts and meals under a starry sky.

Staying at Home

But most of the time we spent indoors. In the U.S., during the peak of the pandemic, nearly 50% of the population spent more than 18 hours a day in their homes. Cooped up at home for hours, days, and weeks on end, suddenly all the overlooked warts and ignored wobbles became noticeable—a tiny, cramped workspace, under-utilized vintage chairs, a stained mirror, and a closet hanging with clothes that had not seen the light of the day since the start of the pandemic.

Selling off the furniture on thrift sites, I donated the clothes, bought a sturdy, functional desk and chair, and over a dozen house plants. Creating a space I really enjoyed being in, I spent long evenings watching "Rick Steves' Europe" in my own tropical jungle from a comfy chair.

The First Trip

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, 2020 was the worst year for tourism with international arrivals decreasing by 73%. The UNWTO said the biggest challenge of pandemic travel is the uncertainty and the smorgasbord of different rules in different countries to adhere to.

I finally got on a plane to make it to the closest destination possible to us by flight—the sunshine state of Goa, less than an hour away from Mumbai. Putting my toe into soft powdery sand was precious, even after a lifetime of exotic travel. After a week of bliss on the beach, though, I was relieved to be back home.

Ever since, I have made a few short journeys but the travel bug seems to have been squashed, at least for now. But even as tourists will be flocking all over as revenge travel takes over (if you're tempted, read about regenerative travel and outdoorsy, active tours here before booking anything), I have realized that despite chasing sunsets all over the world, there is no place quite like home.

View Article Sources
  1. "Impact Assessment of the Covid-19 Outbreak on International Tourism." United Nations World Tourism Organization.