Last week, I asked all you awesome people who read The Shooting Star, to ask me anything! Here comes my first set of answers:
1. DOES TRAVEL WRITING TAKE THE FUN OUT OF TRAVELLING?
Does being a travel writer take some fun out of travelling? Is it always at the back your mind that you need to do something that makes a great story or gives you a ‘wow’ photograph?
You’ve really hit a nerve there! When I first started travel writing, stories seemed to find me, rather than the other way round. I do sometimes go looking for stories now rather than leaving it to chance, and so far, I’ve almost always ended up finding, or being found by, adventure. That is all well. But what has started bothering me about my lifestyle is being connected online all the time, to be able to meet my virtual work commitments. I remember travelling in the interiors of Vietnam and Indonesia for days without connectivity, and deciding where to go next, where to stay, what to eat; everything was unpredictable. I think that was the privilege of a corporate job; the time you took off from work was entirely yours. As a freelancer, that’s not true anymore; even though I love the work I do, I can’t remember the last time I took an entire day off. Having access to an iPhone or laptop all the time while travelling means that Google, Twitter and TripAdvisor set expectations for almost everything, which is not always a good thing. In the few days that I’ve been back from Spain, I’ve been craving a trip without any kind of connectivity, like the good old days. I think I might be able to take one after early next year!
2. WHAT TO PACK FOR SPAIN?
Freedman, who blogs at Freedman’s travels:
I’m always curious what travelers are packing with them. What are some of the most important things in your backpack? What could you not travel without and what would you recommend for this trip [Spain] in particular?
Since the time I transitioned to a digital nomad and started working on the go, my Macbook Pro and my iPhone are the most important things in my backpack; they let me stay connected to “work” and a source of income as I travel. Depending on where I’m travelling to and whether I’m travelling solo, I like to keep my pepper spray closer than anything else.
I can’t think of anything I can’t travel without; in fact, I’ve been fantasizing taking a trip without absolutely anything. I don’t know if or for how long I’ll be able to pull it off, but maybe I’ll give it a shot next year. Thanks for the inspiration!
I must admit I was pretty badly packed for my Spain trip. I’ve always associated Spain with the sun; it is, after all, supposed to be the warmest country in Europe. I realized after my first week there that all the warmth is relative. It is nowhere as cold as the rest of Europe in November, but it sure is colder than most of the winter months in India! I carried more summer clothes than warm ones in my backpack, had to shell out money for warmer boots,and had to ditch plans to visit the north of Spain, which is much colder than the south. I would highly recommend checking the weather forecast before heading to Spain, particularly in the regions you intend to visit. If you’re visiting in October or after, it is advisable to be well prepared for the chilly breeze; carry a warm coat, a pair of good boots and woolen socks. November wasn’t cold enough to need winter beanies or gloves, but December could be!
3. WHAT ARE THE BEST COUNTRIES FOR VEGETARIANS?
Gayatri Soni, who blogs at Exploring Innerself:
Please tell me some good avenues where a vegetarian foody could not only survive, but enjoy too.
I love the question. Lately, I’ve been on sort of a mission to convince fellow vegetarians that the world has so much more to offer vegetarians than salad and soup! In fact, I hate walking into a restaurant and being recommended “fantastic salads” in the name of vegetarian food; does such a thing even exist?
I’ve had the best vegetarian food ever, in Italy. The best part is that menus in Italy are half vegetarian by default; you need to be able to decode the ingredient names in Italian to figure that out, and Google Translate was my best friend. I equally loved the food in France, Germany, Austria and Netherlands; the breads, vegetables, cheeses and herbs they use are so fresh, that even a simple sandwich can taste heavenly. Singapore has plenty of international restaurants that offer delicious vegetarian options, as does Mauritius. Thailand is delicious for a vegetarian with Indian taste buds, by virtue of offering spicy curries, noodles and rice. Turkey surprised me with the variety of local vegetarian food, though the locals don’t consciously think of these dishes when you ask directly for vegetarian food; again, translating the names of dishes and ingredients helps, and I’ll be writing a post on vegetarian food in Turkey soon. Spain was relatively tough for me as a vegetarian, because neither rice nor breads are a big part of the staple; I was literally eating boiled potatoes and eggs in the smaller towns and villages! The interiors of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and most other Southeast Asian countries are not hard to survive in on vegetables, rice and eggs, but not what I would call too enjoyable. Of course, India has to be the most vegetarian friendly country in the world, but we all know that.
4. HOW DID MY DOVE AD COME ABOUT?
Ann Woodward, from NYC; she’s been on the road for 13 months, including 4 in India:
I have seen the Dove advertisements on bus shelters in Mumbai, and I just saw the video you posted on Facebook. Who was the ad agency you worked through for this? It seems that there are many Indian/south Asian bloggers who also did videos, so I am assuming an agency reached out to you as an influencer?
Incase some of you didn’t know, I recently did an online campaign for Dove. Ogilvy, which handles Dove’s account in their Bombay office, approached a few bloggers (mostly those who write about fashion and beauty, I was the only travel blogger) and sent us samples of their new hair-fall product. I use Dove products pretty often, and when they asked me if I’d like to be part of this campaign, I was quite excited! I hadn’t seen a filming set in the making before, nor had I had the chance to personally meet styling or make-up artists. I hadn’t read a script for the camera before, and I hadn’t been filmed so consciously before. I must admit it was a little embarassing to see myself in the final video, mostly because my voice was dubbed, but I thought parts of the script were still fun, as was watching the videos of the other bloggers. A similar campaign was also done by Dove in Singapore, though I’m not sure if Ogilvy was the agency handling it.
5. DO I ATTACH SENTIMENTS TO WHAT I CARRY ON MY TRAVELS?
Sangeetha K B:Do you attach sentiments to the stuff you carry on your trips like your luggage / backpack, a good old pouch or something that you carry everywhere? I do, just want to know if it is normal!
I don’t, but I’m sure that doesn’t make it abnormal! I had hoarded a lot of stuff while living in Singapore, and reading Into The Wild and watching Up in the Air, really struck a chord with me. I stopped thinking of possessions as something I needed to live with. Two years ago, when I was moving houses for the last time in Singapore, I got rid of almost a cupboard full of stuff. It felt awful for a minute, but pretty relieving right after knowing that I didn’t have to pack and unpack all that. Similarly, when I travel, I always reconsider the things I’ve packed and take out a few, because surely, I can do without them. I’ve also gotten rid of things I’ve carried on my trips, after realizing that they only add weight to my backpack and serve no purpose.
Watch this empty backpack video from Up in the Air and you’ll know what I mean. I initially named my blog, An Empty Backpack, inspired by this; the name didn’t stick but the idea sure did.
6. WHERE IN EUROPE ARE PEOPLE MOST CURIOUS ABOUT INDIA?
Sandy, who tweets @sandywentsouth:
Among all the places you’ve visited, where were you most surprised about how curious Europeans were in general about India? I can tell from my own experiences in Spain and France that people loved to chat with Indians (although they teased me for being part American!)
I’ve only been to eight countries in Europe, and among those, I would say people in Turkey (considering it’s half in Europe) were the most curious about Indians. Even in small towns and villages on the countryside, the Turkish people gave me a queen’s welcome after hearing that I was from Hindistan. Bollywood was a most loved topic of discussion. On the countryside of Spain, most people only seemed to know Gandhi in relation to India; I even spotted a school in a remote village that bore Gandhi’s name on it!
7. IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO TURKEY?
Anonymous from Kolkata:
I recently came across your blog after reading a story related to your recent visit to Turkey. I am also planning to visit Turkey very soon. It would be nice if you can share your thoughts and suggestions regarding the security and the safety in the country. I am hearing a lot about problems in the middle east, especially in Turkey’s neighboring countries.
First of all, I’m very jealous that you’re visiting what is currently my favorite country in the world! While I was travelling in north Turkey, conflict broke out between Syria and southeastern Turkey, and I only heard about it because my parents worriedly called me. My point is, Turkey is a big country, more than three times the size of the UK, and what happens in one part of the country hardly affects another. It is similar to saying that when there are disturbances in one of the northeastern states of India, you can still travel safely within the rest of the country. I would recommend that you do some research on the parts of Turkey you intend to travel in, and base your decision on whether they’ve been stable in the last few months. I faced no safety issues on my month-long trip to Turkey, and besides Istanbul and Cappadocia, I would highly recommend travelling along the Black Sea Coast in northern Turkey. You can also read my tips for a first time visit to Turkey.
8. HOW DO I AFFORD MY TRAVELS?
Amit, who blogs at Ghummakkad.
I have been following your blog for a while now and your experiences in Turkey and Spain, and have read your post about quitting your job to follow this dream. I did the same thing two years ago but only for 6 months. I am very inquisitive to know how you mange to travel with limited budgets. I have read that your stay in Mauritius was complimentary, while Turkish Airlines sponsored your tickets (to) Spain.
This is a question I get very often, and I’ve shared all my secrets in this post on how I afford my travels. The gist is that I work as a freelance social media strategist and write for various travel publications, take part in as many travel contests as possible, and literally spend everything I earn, a risk that I choose to take. It is only lately that my blogging, social networking and freelancing efforts have started paying off, and I’ve received complimentary invites from tourism boards, airlines and hotels.
My humble advice to you would be to assess which of your skills or experiences could help you make money, doing work that can be done on the go. You could be excellent at photography, writing, coding, web designing, blogging, technical stuff; literally anything that can be done online can let you have a virtual workspace, which means you could be working from a beach in Malaysia one day and living in a mountain village in Spain the next. Alternatively, you could also choose to work while travelling, keeping jobs as a receptionist, a bartender, a cafe manager or the like; that’s still bucket list stuff for me. My point is that the possibilities are endless once you’ve set your mind to it (rather than just your heart)!
9. HOW CAN YOU TAKE THE PLUNGE TO TRAVEL?
I want to travel. All the time. And somehow sustain that as well! And you have done that. And I want to know how. And I am dead serious. So how do I begin? What do I do? How do I start from zero, zilch, nada? Can I be useful to your endeavors (including but not limited to India Untraveled) in any way?
Like I said in my answer #8, you have to figure out the financial aspect of it by figuring out what it is that you are good at doing. I think the next most important thing is setting your priorities right. What would you pick if given a choice between staying in a luxurious house with an active social life, and travelling on a tight budget? That’s the first step, and if you’ve convinced yourself that the one thing you want to do is travel, then saving or working for it won’t be half as hard.
We are looking for an intern at India Untravelled, and if you think the work scope is up your alley, feel free to send in your application with the required details.
10. WHERE TO GO SOLO, HOW TO FIND TRAVEL CONTESTS, AND WHERE TO GO IN SOUTHEAST ASIA?
I would appreciate some tips on solo travel. I have seen lots of people from western countries do solo trips, but very rarely have I seen an Indian doing it. How do you choose your destinations? I’m also interested to know about the air tickets and other contests that you have mentioned in your articles. What’s the best source of information about them apart from Facebook pages?
I discovered the enthusiasm in myself for travel around 2 years back. When I started planning my trips across India, people around me thought I will be wasting my time/money. And when I talk about international travel, the count of people who think I am crazy increases. As I work in the IT industry, people find it stupid to travel on your own money. While the idea of travelling on company expenses is good, I haven’t got an opportunity yet and can’t sit idle to have that. At present, I can’t afford long vacations to Europe or USA, but have started with South East Asia and traveled to Malaysia, and now plan to visit a second country in the region. Which one would be the next best option?
Haha, being crazy is not such a bad thing, is it? 😉
I choose my destinations based on how untouched they are, what kind of natural beauty and cultural experiences they offer, and whether I can afford them. Your reasons for travelling maybe different from mine; a good idea is to think about what you want to experience when you travel and start making a list. Subscribe to Facebook pages of tourism boards of these destinations, as well as of airlines that fly there; seeing them everyday on your Facebook newsfeed will motivate you to save money, alert you of contests or special offers they may have, and slowly help do your research and plan your trip.
I don’t know of any one source that aggregates information on travel contests; my sources are usually my social networks, travel blogs, and platforms like Indiblogger. I often share travel contests I come across, on The Shooting Star’s Facebook page. *hint hint*
I travelled a lot in Southeast Asia too, primarily because it’s more affordable than other countries; you’re off to a good start. I love Malaysia. There is so much to see in the entire country – beaches, rainforests, mountains – that I kept going back. My second favorite country in Southeast Asia is Vietnam. It is extremely beautiful, and the northwest of the country is still so untouched. Indonesia and Thailand are good budget options too.
11. HOW TO PITCH TRAVEL STORIES?
Prachi, who blogs at Deliciously Directionless:
My question is regarding your travel writing assignments, namely, how do you get them published? How do I get my stories across? What are the best ways to approach editors?
I can’t promise that I’ve cracked the entire nut myself, but I’ll share what I do know (though I intend to write an entire post on it later). Before approaching a publication, I try to read travel stories carried in previous editions, to understand what kind of pitches might interest them and what topics / destinations have recently been covered. When people write to me to about partnering with my blog, I find it really frustrating if they haven’t even bothered reading a few posts, so I can only imagine how editors must feel about irrelevant pitches. It also helps to have writing samples and a portfolio of recognized names you’ve written for, so I initially did quite a few unpaid stories. I’ve found that different editors like to be approached differently, so I typically start with an email and follow up with another email or cold calling. Depending on how much I want to write for the publication, sometimes I give up, and sometimes I continue to persevere till I have a story they want. After a year and a half of pitching, I really respect editors who reply to their emails!
Hope that Q&A gave you some food for thought 🙂
I’ll answer the next set of questions on the last Sunday of December; 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. Ciao!