Ask Me Anything: March 2013
In this second post of the “Ask Me Anything” series, I answer your questions about how to earn money while travelling, how to pack for long trips, how to pitch travel stories to publications, and destination-related questions about Bahrain, Singapore and Thailand.
1. HOW TO EARN MONEY WHILE TRAVELLING?
I run into money problems sometimes while backpacking; can you recommend a good way to earn money while on your travels?
India doesn’t currently hold a working holiday agreement with any country in the world, so the best way to earn money while travelling with an Indian passport is to work online. The options are aplenty: writing, copy editing, research, web designing, coding, teaching languages, social media marketing – really anything that you don’t have to be physically present in an office for. Becoming a freelancer and diversifying your income sources (like I try to do) ensures that you stay motivated and are not too reliant on a single piece of work.
2. WHAT ARE THE IDEAL NUMBER OF DAYS AND COSTS FOR A SOLO TRIP TO BAHRAIN?
I would like to know about a trip to Bahrain as a solo traveller – the ideal number of days and the approximate cost.
I visited Bahrain as a Discover Bahrain delegate, a cultural exchange program that spans 20+ countries, after which, I extended my stay and explored on my own. Depending on whether you’re culturally or historically inclined, or want to spend some time by the coast, I would recommend atleast 5 days to a week in the country. Bahrain isn’t exactly geared up for backpackers, but I managed to keep costs low by sharing an apartment-style room with four other people and hitchhiking my way around (public transport is almost non-existent). Unfortunately our exchange rate sucks, and for a budget trip, the minimum you could possibly work with will be around 40 Bahraini Dinar (INR 6,000) a day, inclusive of stay and meals.
3. WHAT BUDGET HOTELS WOULD I RECOMMEND IN SINGAPORE AND BANGKOK?
Could you suggest a budget hotel for a family stay in Singapore, Bangkok and Pattaya for a couple of days?
On my recent trip to Singapore, I absolutely loved staying at Naumi Liora, which is a charming boutique hotel located on Keok Siak Street, near Chinatown. The rooms are small but very cozy, the interiors are tastefully designed, and they have a 24-hour complimentary snack bar (got to love that, right?). The location is central, with a short walk to Outram Park MRT station, and a ten minute cab ride to Orchard Road.
In Bangkok, I stayed at Chang Siam Inn, on the direct train line from Bangkok airport. It is done in ethnic Thai style, with wooden interiors. The rooms are modern and really nice considering it’s a budget hotel. They offer free Wifi, and there’s a 24-hour food court right across. Highly recommended for a budget stay.
I haven’t been to Pattaya yet, but a good idea would be to look on TripAdvisor, under the Specialty Lodgings tab.
4. HOW BIG A BACKPACK TO CARRY, AND HOW TO KEEP YOUR BELONGINGS SAFE?
How big a backpack do you use, and what brand? Do you check in your backpack when you take a flight? How do you take care of safety, like making sure that someone doesn’t put any stuff in the backpack, specifically on international travels? How do you keep your Macbook safe from breaking?
For up to a week-long trip, I use a school bag-sized backpack, with double compartments, one for my laptop, the second for all the other stuff. Longer than a week, I use a a regular rucksack (not sure of the dimensions) if I’m going to be hopping from one town to another and using public transport. On sponsored trips where things are well taken care of, I’ve started carrying a cabin suitcase, since it’s much easier to drag around.
When you travel (alone or with someone), you have to keep your wits about you and be conscious of your surroundings. Don’t leave your bags unattended, keep a close watch on them, and in general, trust your gut in any sticky situation.
Never check in your laptop or other precious electronic items like a tablet or a camera! When I carry a rucksack, I usually also carry a small day bag (which can otherwise fit into my backpack) to put my laptop and camera in, to carry on in the flight, as well as for day trips or overnight trips while using a place as a base. However, unless you really intend to work on the go, I recommend travelling without a laptop. You can be much more carefree, and cyber cafes can be found (and are affordable) in all bigger towns for email and Facebook. You can use your phone for Twitter.
5. HOW TO PITCH TRAVEL STORIES, AND USE TWITTER PROFESSIONALLY?
When you pitched your first ever travel feature, did you already have a successful travel blog? What’s an example of a successful pitch/proposal that leads to publication of the idea? How did you wield Twitter such that it works for you?
I had a blog alright, but it was still in its nascent stages. What helped while pitching my first travel feature (back in early 2011), was that my blog served as a sample of my writing. Most editors don’t seem to care much about how many people are reading or engaging with your blog; it all boils down to whether they see potential in your writing.
While pitching a travel story, it helps to have read a past issue of the publication to see what kind of stories it carries. If you can offer something unique, that is relevant to the publication and hasn’t been done before, you’ve struck gold. I’ve found that more important than how I curate my pitch is to be persistent about it by following up. Even if an editor rejects a pitch, at least there is a possibility of going back to the drawing board to pitch again.
I never started using Twitter with the intention of getting something out of it on the professional front. It was, and continues to be, a great source to connect with people across the world and find interesting resources for just about anything. It’s gradually become the place where I hang out and socialize; if it were a physical place, I imagine it would be a quaint little cafe where people from everywhere stop by for coffee and conversation. You can think of me as a regular at this cafe, and if someone from the travel industry comes looking for a travel blogger, some of the other regulars are kind enough to refer me – and that’s where it takes a professional turn.
6. WOULD I STILL WRITE IF I MADE NO MONEY FROM IT?
I find reading through your blogposts effortless and grabbing. I’m curious about how much effort do those posts require on your end? Does what you publish come that way in the first draft or do you have to go back and edit?
Second and more important: If you didn’t have to write (for your blog, for magazines) as a means for income, would you still write and share your travellogues? If yes, why (considering your answer to the first question of your last ‘Ask me anything’ post)?
When I first started blogging, I would read and re-read a post till I could do it no more justice. That has changed since I’ve started writing much more often, and for other publications. My blog is now my breathing space, and most of what I’ve written here exclusively in the last six months or so is an expression of freely flowing thoughts, with little editing.
First things first, I don’t make much money at all from my blog, which makes the answer to the latter half of the second question, affirmative. I still continue to write here because I love to write, because it lets me relive my adventures, and because I hope that through my experiences, I can inspire just one more person to go out there and discover the world. Travelling can be so liberating and empowering, and if my writing can convince just one of my readers to embrace it, all the effort is worth it. Would I still write for magazines and other publications if it didn’t pay? I’m not sure. There’s a kick you get from seeing your work in print, and seeing your work published in major travel publications. I don’t think I’d give that up even if didn’t pay.
7. IS PONDICHERRY REALLY FRENCH?
Can I really get a French touch in Pudducherry?
Pondicherry is nothing like the quaint old towns and charming countryside of France. It’s architecture however, does have a distinct French character – many villas, hotels, restaurants and cafes on certain streets in Pondicherry are run by French owners, styled around typical French courtyards, and offer a flavor of France – and that’s what I loved about the town, though I did find it too crowded for my liking. Pondicherry also has a handful of French bakeries and cafes, and the food is almost as delicious as in France!
8. WHAT SHOULD WOMEN TRAVELLERS PACK FOR A LONG TRIP?
@FatimaJAX via Twitter:
Can you help us in preparing a checklist for a long trip, especially for women travellers?
That would warrant an entire post! I think the most important part of packing for a long trip is travelling light. I lay out everything I think I’d need when I start packing, and then get rid of atleast half of it, remembering that I’ll have to lug it all on my shoulders. To travel light, pack layers so you can mix and match clothes, stick to a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and pack dresses that could pass on the beach as well as for a nice dinner. You can see more tips in a story I wrote for Women’s Web, on the art of packing light. I will share a detailed packing list on my blog soon too.
9. HOW DID THE IDEA OF INDIA UNTRAVELLED COME ABOUT?
@MunjalDesai via Twitter:
How did the idea of @IndiaUntraveled spark in your mind, given that starting your own venture after leaving a job is risky business?
That was the best part of quitting my job without a very concrete plan – nothing else I did seemed too risky! I did have a fall back fund when I quit, but I wasn’t going to touch that unless everything looked completely hopeless and I needed to find another job. The idea of India Untravelled came about when I travelling in Punjab, and found myself overwhelmed by the hospitality of a family from the pind that I was staying in. With our business model primarily online, the initial investment was low, and as someone who had worked in digital marketing for almost 3 years, I had the conviction that we were setting out to fill a large gap in the market.
10. HOW WAS THE TRANSITION FROM HAVING A JOB TO TRAVELLING?
What difficulties have you faced in the transition from leaving your job and getting into travel fulltime?
You mean how I adapted to the awesomeness of it? ;) I think the biggest challenge, as you can imagine, was getting used to an unstable income flow. There are still days when I wake up wondering how I can find a few more hours in the day to take on another project to fund another trip (or more importantly, pay my rent). I’ve loved my nomadic lifestyle from day one, so whenever I feel like I’m working too hard just to make a little money, I think of all the adventures that await me, and the hard work is justified. I’d be lying if I said that dealing with my parents during this transition (or even now) has been a breeze; I can imagine why they think I’m “wasting” the little money I make on travelling. Wait, scrap that. I can’t imagine why.
11. WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU QUIT AND TRAVEL, THEN RUN OUT OF MONEY?
I have been day dreaming about leaving my job and traveling for a while now. The only fear/uncertainty that stops me from putting in my papers and booking a one-way ticket to Africa is what happens after I return, with no income, no job, and most importantly, no money. I know the moment I get a satisfactory answer to this question, I will be ready! Please give me that satisfactory answer.
I doubt that after returning home from Africa, or wherever else your adventures take you, you’d want to go back to a job you day dream about quitting in the first place. I think the more important thing is to not to use up all your savings and land in a situation where you have no income and no money! Start thinking of things you enjoy doing, have a talent for, and that can be done while you travel. Answer #1 should give you some ideas to start with. Once you’ve nailed this, I’m sure there’ll be no stopping you!
12. HOW DO I AFFORD MY TRAVELS, AND WHAT’S IT LIKE TO TRAVEL ALONE?
What’s your source of revenue if you are not working, to travel worldwide? How does it feel to travel alone?
I am working (sometimes much harder than I did when I had a full time job!), but on the go, and primarily online. I write for travel publications, freelance as a social media strategist and community manager, and run India Untravelled. In this post, I explain in detail how I earn from these sources, and whatever I do earn, I use it to travel till the last rupee. (Read my tips on how to save money to travel). Lately, I’ve started partnering with tourism boards and travel organizations, who fund my travels in exchange for me sharing my travel experiences on my social networks and through my writing.
I remember feeling nervous on my first solo trip, but travelling alone doesn’t feel half as lonely as it can sound. To me, it is more like an adventure. You don’t know who you’re going to meet next and swap life stories with. You could be midway somewhere, and you can change your mind and do something completely different without consulting with anyone. You can land in an unexpected situation, and react completely differently than you expected yourself to. Of course, it can be a little scary sometimes too, but in knowing that you can fight your fears and experience the world on your own terms is a liberating feeling.
Hope that gave you some perspective about travelling and writing.
You can continue to Ask Me Anything in the comments to this post, via Facebook or Twitter, or in an email to email@example.com, with the subject, Ask me anything. I’ll aim to answer the next set of questions next month!
Ask Me Anything: November 2012, where I answer questions about whether travel writing takes the fun out of travelling, the best countries for vegetarians, how you can take the plunge to travel, and destination questions about Spain, Turkey and Southeast Asia.