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The Truth Behind My Travels

Travel has been a core part of my life for as long as I can remember. During school and college days, I would do a few trips a year with family and friends. Once I started working, travel and fieldwork allowed me to explore places – especially in rural India – that I otherwise may not have visited. However, it’s only since 2017 when I took 12 trips in 12 months with a full-time job, that most of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances started identifying me as a “traveller.” Now, every time I take to social media to share photographs from my trips, I invariably get messages from friends and strangers asking me how I fund my travels, do I travel full-time, how do I pick my destinations, yada yada. So I decided this would make for a good blog post and also save me the trouble of replying to the same questions again and again 😉

Here are a few lesser-known truths behind my travels

A moment of solitude on the trek back up from the living roots bridges in Nongriat, Meghalaya. (Photo credit: Sharky)

1) I fund my own travel.

As wonderful as it would be to have unending savings, a huge inheritance, or undemanding sponsors, I have neither, and I gotta earn my bread and butter in order to fund my travels.

I save up for my trips — which means I have to be disciplined about my expenditure so that I have enough savings left for travel. I do splurge sometimes — I have a weakness for food and eat-out/order-in quite often (something I’m trying to cut down!). However, I try and stick to restaurants I can afford. I don’t shop very often, except for books, which I’m trying to regulate as well, as I have enough unread books on my shelf!

Travel doesn’t have to be an expensive affair. A lot depends on what you enjoy doing and seek out of travel. Plan your budget and choose your destination, transport, and accommodation accordingly.

There are plenty of ways to cut down expenditure on a trip, some of which include buying snacks/breakfast from local grocery shops or cafes and going to the more expensive restaurants only for main meals; using local transport (buses, auto/tuk-tuk or walking instead of a private taxi); staying at homestays, B&Bs and hostels instead of fancy hotels (they might have gorgeous views, but it’s often a choice about one night at a place like that vs. five nights at a more basic yet comfortable place). It all boils down to personal preferences and priorities.

Also read: Of Silk, Sand & Skeletons: A Week in the Kingdom of Cambodia

Experimenting with sound at Sound Garden in Auroville, Pondicherry. (Photo credit: Sharky)

2) I don’t travel full-time.

I often get asked how I can afford full-time travel, but the fact is that I can’t, and so I don’t travel full-time. Until recently, I have worked in full-time roles in the non-profit sector in India, often about 50-60 hours a week. In the last few months, I’ve been trying to establish a remote, freelance career that allows me the freedom to work on the go, from anywhere, and experience slow travel. However, this also means that I can only be based out of locations with steady internet access, which is typically not the kind of places I choose to travel to 😛

The way I currently travel is to do short trips (3-5 days) whenever I get the chance and a few longer trips (8-10 days) about twice a year (primarily to explore more remote locations or a different country). This is manageable even with a full-time job — it just requires prior planning and prioritization!

Read about how I took 12 trips in 12 months with a full-time job.

Morning chai at Mawphanlur, Meghalaya. (Photo credit: Sharky)

3) I seek meaningful journeys.

Travel for me has never been about checking off places on the map or chasing a photo op. Yes, there are times when I seek a vacation (read staycation) where all I want to do is plonk myself on a beach or a mountain top, surrounded by natural beauty, and do nothing. However, I believe travel is a journey as much to look out and discover the world, as it is to look within and get to know yourself better.

Not every place needs to be spectacular or offbeat. Deeper meaning is sometimes found in the ordinary, and I believe meaningful travel stems from what you wish to get out of it, no matter where you are.

I personally like to travel with purpose and pick my destination, activities, and company, accordingly. Meaning can be found simply walking through the streets, interacting with the locals, and getting a taste of the local way of life in pretty much any part of the world! It can also be sought by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone by doing something you haven’t done before, such as scuba diving for the first time, embarking on a difficult trek, or visiting a very remote village in the middle of nowhere.

The main idea behind picking a destination is to be conscious of the “why” behind it and being open and receptive to whatever the experience brings my way! 🙂

Read about how I experienced the magic of the night-time in Kaziranga.

Introspecting in Tso Moriri, Ladakh. (Photo credit: Tashi Gyal)

4) My trips involve bad roads…

And sometimes hard beds and dirty toilets. The upside of having lived and worked in remote parts of Uttar Pradesh for a couple of years is that I’ve probably already experienced the worst hotel beds, bumpy roads, and dirty toilets (or lack of any toilets) that you can possibly come across in India. These experiences have increased my resilience and ability to live with minimal facilities (while also making me fastidious about cleanliness!). The good part is that I’ve never come across as bad conditions in any of my travels since then (or perhaps I just know what to go for, and not, much better now).

Further, I believe that when you are truly in love with the destination or outcome, you also garner the strength and resolve to live through whatever it takes to get there. Since I enjoy travel and everything it offers as much as I do, I don’t mind bumpy roads, intermittent access to clean toilets, and hard beds. It’s all a part of experiencing a life we are not used to, getting out of our comfort zone, and most importantly, developing humility and gratitude for our privilege.

Read about my journey to a remote village in Arunachal Pradesh.

In search of a nomadic village in the highlands of Ladakh. (Photo credit: Tashi Gyal)

5) I balance exploratory travel with staycations.

While I love exploratory travel, I’ve also often felt the need and urge to simply get to a picturesque place and relax. There have been times I’ve not even stepped out of the house because I didn’t feel the need to, and loved being in bed or in the verandah, surrounded by nature, calm and solitude, to read, think, write, and unwind. However, this is not all that I seek from travel, every time.

I differentiate a vacation from deeper travel because I feel the purpose and process of both are different. Exploratory travel pushes me out of my comfort zone, helping me evolve as a person, experience different cultures and places, and exposes me to unfamiliar worlds and people. Staycations, on the other hand, allow me to introspect, process what’s on my mind, ideate, or simply unwind by losing myself in a book or journal, helping me detach myself from routine thoughts and tasks, albeit for just a few days. Both are important and essential in their own ways.

I choose my destinations and plan my itinerary based on where I am mentally, what I need or want the most at that time, and sometimes it’s a mix of the two.

Read about my tryst with the last of the tattooed headhunters of Nagaland.

Morning safari at Kaziranga, Assam. (Photo credit: Nishant Sinha)

6) My social media content reflects only part of the story.

Every photograph has a backstory. Every. Single. One. And not all journeys are picturesque. There’s always a backstory there too.

In today’s digital age, it’s easy to be caught in “documenting” and sharing one’s life on social media, that we often forget to truly soak in and enjoy our surroundings for what it is, without bothering about what the world thinks, has to say, or feeling the need to give the world a sneak peek into one’s life.

The moments that I have personally cherished the most on my travels have been when all my electronic devices were off (either by choice or by compulsion). No notifications, no temptation to pull out the camera and try to capture the moment. Allow myself to actually miss the people with whom I’d have liked to share that moment. Enjoy the present moment as deeply and mindfully as possible.

Further, I think beauty- the kind that moves and changes you, cannot always be adequately expressed or captured in words or photographs. And sometimes, beautiful journeys are made by the company one has, or the relationships one builds through the process, some of which are best left private and savoured by those involved. Not everything requires the public gaze, nor does everything need to be shared. Some things are best left unsaid, left for people to discover, experience, learn and cherish for themselves.

And so, my photographs and posts only reflect a part of the journey. Reality is sometimes more beautiful, and sometimes more challenging. So please consume with a pinch of salt 🙂

Read more about my exploration of Vietnam- a journey filled with colour and chaos.

Capturing Tso Moriri Lake at tea-time. (Photo credit: Sanchita)

Also read:
A Taste of Thailand: First Timer’s Guide to Ten Days in the Land of Smiles
Breathe Like the Buddha: Experiencing the Interaction of Mind & Matter to Overcome Suffering
Witnessing the Fragility of Life at Majuli- the Largest River Island in the World 

13 comments on “The Truth Behind My Travels

  1. This is a beautiful write up, ila. Travel is an essential part of growing up from within, I believe. I hope to join you one day again!

    • Indeed 🙂 And I hope so too!

    • I won’t go into the round about way I stumbled to your post ILA but I am glad I did and thoroughly enjoyed your writing. Reminded of Chesterton’s quote
      “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
      It is also the reason I sent my boys far from home.

  2. ILA,It’s a very good write up. I’m
    Sharing this as it resonates with a whole lot of us who think alike and may end up taking notes / ideas on traveling to discover both the outside and the inside.

  3. Great post, really interesting to think about reasons behind travel and the destinations we choose!

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  8. Such an insightful blog❣️ I really loved your idea of exploring the unknown rather than just running after those picturesque locations popular all over the Internet

    • Thank you Tanzin! Glad you resonated with the post. It’s always nice to come across people who seek more from travel than just Instagram photos 😉

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