The Cultured Traveler – a column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

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It’s easier for people with wealth to indulge in their passion for travel. And though folk with fewer resources share the same desire to see the world, it’s harder to achieve that dream.

But Molly Roy, a 61-year-old shopkeeper from Kerala’s Ernakulam district, managed to make hers happen.

Molly does not come from wealth. She has 10th grade education. Her husband worked for daily wages, and after he died, she raised their two children by herself.

And yet, Molly has visited 11 countries and travelled to many places across India in the last decade.

Molly Roy (image: Suman Bajpai)

Molly has run a small grocery store for 26 years. She opens her shop at 7 in the morning and closes at 11 at night. She sells everything – vegetables, fruits, groceries, household goods, slippers, umbrellas, even needles and magazines!

Despite her humble circumstances Molly always longed to travel. Flipping through the pages of Malayalam magazines featuring exotic destinations, her desire to explore the world grew.

In those 26 years as a shopkeeper, Molly saved 10 lakhs (about $14,000). Now that her children are grown and well settled, Molly decided to dip into her savings and fulfil her desire to experience the world.

Traveling means a sense of freedom says Molly; it gives her courage and confidence.

IC: When and how did you take your first step out of your shop?

MR: I’d always wanted to travel, but I knew it would be expensive. So, I started saving money. In 2012, luckily, I got the chance to hit the road when my friend, a retired teacher, living in the neighborhood, asked me to accompany her to visit nearby places. At that time, going to Palani, Madurai, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Mysuru, and Kovalam opened a new chapter in my life. I felt as if I had found wings and fresh air to live life with a new and broad perspective.

 IC: When did you step out of India for the first time?

MR: I always use tour companies or travel agents when I travel. So, it is always a hassle-free trip, as I don’t have to worry about visas, tickets, or other arrangements or about safety issues. As I am well versed only in the Malayalam language, guides help me whenever a language problem occurs. My first foreign trip was a 10-day visit to Europe with the tour company “Royal Omania.” Not only was it my first foreign trip, it was my first journey by flight. I will never forget that flight and trip, which made me realize that I can’t spend my life only selling goods and slogging. After all, the world is so beautiful.

 IC: After this trip, was it easy to take more trips?

MR: I spent Rs 1.5 lakh on this trip, which was a large sum for me. I had started saving as no circumstances could deter me from pursuing my dream. I had invested money in chit funds, sold my gold jewelry. After five years, in 2017, I visited Malaysia and Singapore. I wanted to go again to Europe. It was my second visit there in 2019. This time, I visited more destinations like London, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. For Amsterdam, I took the services of a luxury cruise line. It was such an experience that I have decided to travel again in the near future.

The pandemic gave me another break from my trips. In 2021, I visited the US. Within the span of 15 days, I got to see New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

 IC: Which place did you like the most?

MR: The mesmerizing Niagara Falls and Universal Studios in Las Vegas. But…. Kerala, it is the best. 

Molly Roy at Niagara Falls (image: Suman Bajpai)

IC: Tell us about your trips in India.

MR: To be honest, I have to save money for the every trip. In between, I would travel within India. India has marvelous places, and I wanted to know the culture of other people also. In 2018, I visited North India. I would like to go to Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in the near future. I want to travel to beautiful destinations in Kerala. Whether it is a boat ride on the backwaters of Alappuzha, Kollam, or nature’s paradise Wayanad, all are on my list. But yes, I have to take breaks after every trip to save money.

 IC: You must have made friends during your trips. How does it feel to be part of an extended world?

MR: Before these trips, my life was limited to only the shop and buying things to fullfil the demands of my customers. Now I have friends from both foreign and Indian lands. We keep in touch through WhatsApp groups and share photographs and experiences. Whenever I return from a trip, instead of feeling tired, I feel energetic and liberated.

Images: Suman Bajpai

Suman Bajpai

 Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 17 books on different subjects and translated around 160 books...