Travel

Journey to freedom

Illustration by Sreejith R Kumar  

Neelima Vallangi walked over thin ice for 11 days. The winter trek through Zanskar lake in Ladakh gifted her visuals and memories of stark beauty to warm her heart for a lifetime. Her blog displays what her camera absorbed — the waterfalls of Nerak which froze midway into ice to be a work of art.

Shivya Nath’s blog capture her travels through Romanian countryside when she hitch-hiked with locals in “ancient cars, trucks, even tractors” and realised their unsmiling faces never came in the way of their wonderful kindness.

For Ankita Sinha, the colours of Spain and the cuisine of Thailand are now a bank of engaging pictures, videos and wholesome experiences on her blog.

World through their eyes

These young women represent a small, daring group of people who quit “steady,” corporate jobs for the unpredictability of travel. Giving up the comforts of a job that assured a monthly salary may not have been easy. But they desired to plug the divide between job and passion. The decision gifted them ups and downs, but they stuck it out to slowly evolve a career out of their passion. For an income, they freelance for publications, sell photographs they clicked, collaborate with tourism boards and travel brands, and for their passion, pack bags and set off to quaint corners looking for quainter stories.

Shivya quit her job at the Singapore Tourism Board in 2011, when she was 21, to travel.

She is now on a five-month tour of North and South America and sums up her life in the past three years over e-mail, “It has been a roller-coaster ride — thrilling and satisfying, though not without challenges.”

Twenty nine-year-old Neelima worked at SAP Labs Pvt. Ltd. in Bangalore for seven years before quitting this June. Rushed weekend travel and truncated experiences were not what she sought anymore. “I was tired of planning vacations around holidays at work and asking for permissions,” says Neelima.

“After a few years of travelling at a fast pace, I wanted to take to slow travel where I could spend weeks in a place instead of the usual 10-12 days.”

Smitten by travel

It took Ankita a road trip across the country with her brother to convince her that travelling kept her happy. A software engineer at BirlaSoft for five years, she learnt her travel experiences could never be replicated in a cubicle. “The road trip gave me experiences I never had till then — staying in villages, handling a broken bike in the middle of no-where and so on,” explains Ankita.

A starting point for these women as they debated a career change was beginning a blog. They travelled, wrote, awaited feedback, worked on their writing skills, posted pictures, added videos and soon attention came their way.

Ankita had no idea about a blog until she started one. “My husband would spent hours in front of the computer and when I asked him why he said he had a blog,” says Ankita who blogs at www.ankionthemove.com.

To Shivya, her blog the-shooting-star.com, is the real star. “It is the epicentre of everything I do. It helps me showcase myself, my writing and my work to the world.” Neelima in her blog www.travelwithneelima.com declares her interest in travelling within the country, particularly the mountains. A trip to the Himalayas in 2008 and more to the Western Ghats proved turning points.

“What started as curiosity turned into an obsession. The response from my readers was mind blowing too. Every one was eager to learn more about this country and slowly it worked out well,” says Neelima. She tested her photography and writing skills on the blog. “But I will have to say, travelling would have continued, irrespective of having a blog or not. The blog helped me travel more because of all the brand partnerships and gave me a chance to hone my writing and photography skills.”

Once their blogs were in place, the three women tried different routes to get round to travel. Ankita joined an adventure firm but quit six months later when she realised though she facilitated travel, she herself was not travelling much. Now she is part of a skydiving firm where assignments are not cluttered — one or two a year — and which gives her a semblance of steadiness and enough time to travel. “I travel every month,” she says. She is about to travel to Turkey, Greece, Italy and France and she won the ticket to Turkey on a contest.

For the women, travelling is never about luxury. Instead it is about scouting for cheap travel deals, earning a sponsored trip, experiencing home stays instead of hotels, taking public transport rather than taxis and working while on trips. Shivya says when she landed at New York City three weeks ago she had no concrete plans. “When I found an irresistible flight deal to Central America, I jumped on it. I leave for Guatemala in 24 hours!”

In the three years she had been on her own, Shivya says raising travel funds have worked out through trial and error. “It was about experimenting with different options, finding a balance between what I was good at (and love doing) and what makes me money. Collaborating with tourism boards and travel companies through blogging trips and social media campaigns are the main source of my income,” explains Shivya.

Neelima has banked on writing and photography for an income. “I do partner with brands, tourism boards and travel companies but at the moment that is not my source of income. I use these partnerships​ ​to get around, get sponsored gear and to travel but my source of income remains travel writing and photography,” says Neelima who writes for national and international publications.

What the love of travelling has taught these women is to find happiness in minimum material pleasures. “I figured there was enough work to sustain a decent living if not extravagant​,” says Neelima. Shivya gave up her apartment in Delhi last year and went location independent. “I have been working on the go. If I have internet connectivity, I can stay anywhere as long as I like, continue to earn my living on the go — that’s the flexibility afforded by virtual freelance work and social media,” she says.

Ankita’s six-day trip to Bhutan for only Rs. 6,000 has been the cheapest she has done so far. “I took a taxi instead of a flight,” she says.

Giving up regular jobs has given the women time to really get to know the places they visit. The impressions they build are vastly different from that of the regular tourists. Shivya’s stays now extend from two weeks to a month. “I appreciate the way locals live, unearth a place’s best kept secrets on a bicycle or two wheeler, adapt my taste buds to the local cuisine and give myself plenty of time to while away, work and slowly but deeply fall in love.”

Travellers like these women, who journey solo and in company, say long journeys are also about being responsible for themselves. “Every country can be an unsafe one. One should know how to be on your own,” says Ankita.

Those like Ankita and Shivya had to spend time convincing families to let them travel. The going, they say, is never easy, but about perseverance. “My family has definitely become more comfortable with me travelling often and solo. We still have our battles, but it is never as hard as getting their support for the very first time,” says Shivya.

Ankita jokes how her parents for a long time told everyone that she worked in IT, though she had quit. “It has changed slowly after my blog won couple of awards.”

As they walk past new horizons, Shivya who says she has relied on her gut instinct and been touched by the kindness of strangers says, “I have been travelling without a home for more than a year now and have never had second thoughts about quitting my job.” Quitting, says Neelima, “Was an easy decision once I figured out a source of income to fund my living and travels.”

 

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Printable version | Apr 30, 2021 1:20:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/journey-to-freedom/article6469037.ece

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