Reflections
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Four Years of Travelling Without a Home.

I began reminiscing about my four years as a nomad on the treacherous yet breathtaking drive to Spiti. Although Bolivia holds the title for the world’s most dangerous road, the route to Spiti in the Trans Himalayas must rank pretty close. As the Chandra River gushed along and sometimes across the “road”, it struck me just how magnificent and fragile life is. One moment, I was awestruck by the rugged beauty of the snow-peaked Himalayas; the next, I was clutching my seat, hearing the tyres screech, watching the gearbox fly uncontrollably in all directions, holding on to dear life as the driver braked just in time for our shared taxi to stop right on the edge of the fierce Chandra River.

I suppose that journey from Manali to Spiti kind of sums up the last four years for me. Breathtaking on most days, treacherous on some. On the road, and within.

I still remember, with some clarity, that dull, starless night on the roof of my rented Delhi apartment, when my soul craved more adventure. That night, I decided to give up living at a permanent address, sold most of my belongings and made the road my only home.

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Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: Plunging into the unknown!

Four years later, at twenty-nine, the road is still my home. And my only belongings weigh around twenty kilograms, snugly packed into the two bags I always carry. These are some musings over four homeless years of life as a digital nomad:

Nomadism is a state of mind

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Fall colors, New York: Tempted to go everywhere, experience everything.

When I first went location independent, I used to tell people with some pride that I don’t live anywhere in particular. I secretly loved the surprise and awe when they tried to imagine what my life must be like. But over the years, nomadism became my normal; it was my turn to feel surprised and awe when I imagined what it must be like for someone to live in the same place all their lives.

These days, I think the feeling of belonging nowhere, and by virtue of that, belonging everywhere, is just a mindset. We are conditioned to think – by society and by the false security of our comfort zone – that the familiar place where we lay our feet and rest our heads is home. But the more I’ve travelled, the more I’ve realized that home is the feeling of becoming familiar with the unfamiliar, just like friendship is the feeling of getting to know someone unknown. And when national borders become meaningless, you feel as much at home in the rugged mountains of Spiti as you do in the home of a Mayan family in Guatemala as you do in the vast desert under the vast night sky in Jordan… and that’s how home stops becoming a place and becomes a feeling.

Read: Unexpected Ways Long Term Travel Has Changed Me

The 80-20 rule still holds true

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Slovenian Alps: Everything I love captured in one photo.

I first devised my 80-20 rule in my early twenties. I had just started working full-time at the Singapore Tourism Board, and was struggling to maintain the work – life – travel balance. I have to confess that now that I work for myself, the struggle to find that balance is even more real: travelling is my work, my life and my “me time”… and vice-versa.

Over the years, I’ve heard of and witnessed enough untimely deaths and unfulfilled lives, to remind me to follow my 80-20 rule(s) more now than ever. The idea is to spend 80% of my time with 20% of the people – and on 20% of the work – that matter to me most. Even if that makes my life seem self-centred and irresponsible to some, I know it’s the only one I’ve got.

Read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

Using influence to drive positive change

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Sarmoli, Uttarakhand: Aiming to spend 80% of my time in the mountains.

There came a time last year when I felt like my hedonistic travel chase was leaving me feeling empty and unfulfilled. Even with my continued focus on writing about sustainable travel in an experiential and nearly disguised way, it seemed to me that the road had given me far more than I had given back. So I found myself a blank slate notebook, and started plotting the confluence of what I loved doing, what I believe I’m good at and the causes I truly care about.

From that confluence emerged @voicesofMunsiari in 2015/16 – India’s first Instagram channel run entirely by the rural village communities of Munsiari (Uttarakhand) – empowering storytellers in remote Himalayan villages to share their life stories directly with the world, despite language and connectivity barriers.

And this year, I made my way back to Spiti, to work on a menace that is plaguing our society: plastic bottles. We began conversations with local businesses on the harmful effects of plastic and safe, eco-friendly alternatives, and built a lifesize art installation of discarded plastic bottles to encourage travellers to pledge against them. We will continue working to spread awareness online, hoping to see a sizeable reduction in the use of plastic bottles in Spiti in 2018, and ultimately aspire to make Spiti and the high Himalayas a plastic bottle-free zone.

In my keynote speech at the SoDelhi Confluence, I used the stage to urge budding bloggers – travel, fashion, food and everything in between – to think beyond just commercial success, and ask what else we can use our “influence” for. That’s something I see becoming my mantra in the days to come.

Read: How Responsible Travel Can Challenge Patriarchy in India

I love not man the less…

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Satpura, Madhya Pradesh: “I love not man the less, but nature more.” (~Byron)

The longer I stay on the road, the clearer I become about the kind of people I want to interact with. Things like hypocrisy, petty jealousies, lack of respect for someone from a lower socio-economic background, even meaningless small talk, turn me off. Sometimes I worry I’ve become quite incapable of forging real relationships – and even more, that I’m okay with it.

On my part, I’ve pissed off enough people, friends and family included, who can’t stop questioning my way of life. My choice not to stay in one place. My choice never to get married (I do say never like I mean it). My choice never to have children.

To quote Meryl Streep Portuguese author José Micard Teixeira, “I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretence, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise.”

Read: An Open Letter to Parents: Let Your “Kids” Travel

Getting off the emotional rollercoaster

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Zanzibar, Tanzania: Some places are more beautiful than our dreams.

I can’t say when I started transitioning from my emotional rollercoaster towards stoicism, but I did notice it recently – and with some pride. I travelled 25 hours non-stop from Spiti, 12 in a shared taxi on the treacherous “road” to Manali, then 13 in an overnight bus to Delhi – to make it in time for a flight to the Maldives where I was to relax for a week, then speak at a travel conference. I saw myself lying under a palm tree on an empty beach, the sound of the crashing waves in my ears, the gentle blue color of the water stretching into the horizon… and somehow survived that arduous journey.

But just as the bus pulled into Delhi, I got an email saying my flight couldn’t be arranged as planned. A year or two ago, I would’ve pulled out my hair, bawled my guts out and yelled angrily at the organisers. But even in my exhausted state, I just sighed, decided to treat myself to an indulgent night’s stay in Delhi, and figure things out. Ultimately, I spent 24 hours in the Maldives speaking at a panel on storytelling at the World Travel Writers Conference – and perhaps set the record for the shortest stay ever on these gorgeous islands!

The point is, I didn’t pull my hair or bawl my guts out. Because I’m slowly but surely coming to accept that shit happens. On the road, at home, in life. We’ve got to take it in our stride and move on… because the road, home and life would be so darn boring if shit didn’t happen.

Read: How I’m Funding My Adventures Around the World Through Travel Blogging

My (secret) life goal was to survive till 30, but…

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Northern Thailand: Feeling greedy to live more ❤

Now that I’m circling thirty, I feel greedy about living life. In retrospect, I feel like I spent much of my teens bordering depression, plagued by an inexplicable meaninglessness no matter how normal my life seemed to outsiders. I gave myself time till 30… that notorious age that seems so out of reach when you’re in your teens and twenties. I’m glad I did, because I can’t imagine leaving this planet without having hiked solo in the breathtaking Ecuadorian Andes, or finding my paradise halfway across the globe in Guatemala, or feeling wild and free in the wild Caucasus.

Besides, as my friend often says, we’ll be dead for so long…

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Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: The journey continues…

A big hug and thanks to each of you for joining my adventures virtually! What’s life looking like for you these days?

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68 Comments

  1. Love your writing! The points that you bring out are something that we all need to apply to our daily lives – nomadic or not 🙂

    Thank you for the inspiration.

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  2. I would love to know, when You end up in a place, where nomadic and settlers, somehow find a truce. I don’t know if this makes sense.

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    • You mean when I find my perfect place and think this is it, I don’t want to “move” anymore? You know I’ll be writing all it here if and when that happens 🙂

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  3. Detailed and important message Shivya. I remember the item on travel and patriarchy in India and remember mentioning that I am from Kerala where matriarchy is/was practiced. But men still eats first here also where there are 1034 or so girls to 1000 guys.

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  4. It is probably time you start writing a book. You have been around the world in the literal sense, more than the majority of the world has or ever will. Given your wonderful way of interacting with the locals wherever you go, you could work with so much you have learnt on the way. Just a thought; but if you did write it, would be one hell of a book!

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  5. What a beautiful post. I have been following you since the day you left your ‘stable’ life for a nomadic one. I don’t think I can agree more with you when you have certain choices in life and you decide to stick through them. More power to you.
    I am glad that you are using your influence positively all over and I hope you continue to do that but not at the cost of having fun along the way.

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    • Thanks for joining my adventures so far virtually, Lalitha! If I’m totally honest, working on some of those “positive” projects has been really fun for me. Hope to do much of more that in the months to come 🙂

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  6. You are living a dream life..many like myself can only aspire to live such life. You are an inspiration. Keep it up.

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  7. To be a nomad is to be rich with experiences, a multifaceted life that keeps unfolding. After a life of many schools and cultures I was in awe to discover Home, it’s like falling in love, completely unexpected. Best wishes to your journey.

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  8. Dear Shivya, I have been following your amazing posts for quite a while ( probably years) and I must say that you are living an example of what young women can do by following their calling and destination in life. It’s not just that I love your posts, I admire you for you being so brave and curious tapping into unknowing places and adventures. To me you have become a role model for young women and I hope you will point this out at one of your next travelling conferences. Namaste and hugs from a solo travelling woman in her sixties, yet going strong.

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    • Thanks so much for being a virtual part of my adventures, Cornelia! I’m not sure about being a role model, but I’m so glad more and more women are finding the courage to follow their dreams – irrespective of age. Huge admiration for you going solo in your sixties. Really hope our paths cross soon! x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you dear Shivya for your kind response. Well definitely you are encouraging women, for “shooting the stars”, just as your name. My next trip was supposed to be to Myanmar , but at the current situation I have to postpone this trip. Would be wonderful if our paths would cross somewhere in the universe.

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  9. Beautiful sentiments expressed here. So much resonated here… Especially the final chapter. I’m glad you gave yourself time until 30, too. I’m glad you gave the world these thoughts.

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  10. Amazing post, Shivya! I wish all young people struggling with life will find you, find inspiration from you and know that there is a way to live your life the way you want to. They just have to work hard find their way themselves.

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  11. Wow! I loved this post! Your life seems incredible. I am trying to work more long term traveling into my life (I’m not quite sure how to fund it yet) and your post is so inspiring! Great work! Keep it up!

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    • Thanks and wish you many adventures ahead! Funding your long term travels – I have lots of tips on the blog (start with FAQs). I’ve found that it’s only through experimenting that you find what works for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I remember when I turned 30.

    I looked in the mirror to see what was different that day. If anything. Saw only the usual eyes, nostrils, and nose hairs, all in the usual places.

    Thirty-eight years later I don’t feel any older, though I do look scarier, and know more.

    If I get a vote, then I think you have it right, right now. Carry on.

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  13. Can’t agree more with your thoughts. You the living the life which is a dream for most of us. Though I totally agree with all your points, what pulls me (and maybe other people like me) back is the thought that how do we manage if things go wrong..how do we survive a nomadic life as we grow older? Would love you hear your thoughts on this.

    Rakesh

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  14. rrkandula says

    Can’t agree more with your thoughts. You are living the life which is a dream for most of us. Though I totally agree with all your points, what pulls me (and maybe other people like me) back is the thought that how do we manage if things go wrong..how do we survive a nomadic life as we grow older? Would love you hear your thoughts on this.

    Rakesh

    Like

  15. lovely write up, keep inspiring
    I am married and doing travelling and also started blogging now after getting married.My husband respects my travel junkie nature and I do solo travel also.
    Trying to say, it depends on individual choice and whatever work for me may be not work for others.

    wishing you life which many only dream of only

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  16. katjuusa2017 says

    I loved that blog! it is very easy to identify with you. 62 countries behind, 20 kg backpack and on the road all the time. I think too, that it will be easier to travel when you are younger than wait retirement age.

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  17. Wow Shivya, as another traveler who is fulll time nomadic, I have to say your journey is really an inspiring one ad your writing is very insihtful. Thank you for sharing this with the world!

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  18. Shivya, I must say this post is inspirational. It’s realistic about sole traveling and the problems you face along the way. Although I haven’t done much traveling alone, I can relate to the quote from José Micard Teixeira. It is a perfect example of the natural stoicism that develops when you realize what is worth your time and what is not. Thank you so much for the insight into a possibility for my own future, traveling and creation. In the big picture, do you have any further plans to settle down or create content (like a book) or travel with a loved one in the future?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. thebarefootbob says

    I loved every word of this. I especially enjoyed how you brought back the thoughts of being a teen and how you imagined your future self. It brought back important memories myself. Look forward to reading more.
    Thank you for sharing,
    Bob

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  20. hashtag17designs says

    Hello
    It is an inspiring post to those who are too scared to go solo. I felt good reading the experiences that you have had, and how that has changed you as a person. It like having a new self all together. I am want to have that experience too. Thank you for sharing.
    thanks

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  21. Tiyash Paul says

    Last night, I was watching the movie ‘Into the Wild’ with my friend Koustav, discussing how it would be to live life like that. It was during then that he introduced me to your blogs and this site in particular. Truely inspiring!

    As John Lennon had said –
    “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can..”

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  22. Great post with lovely photos Shivya. I too love travel and have seen some interesting places described in my blog Planetbuilding Blues. Also I’ve come across the 80 to 20 rule in that 20% of stuff encountered or one is expected to do is worthwhile. Good luck with the 20%.

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  23. Wow! I must say you are a brave person. I agree with lots of things you said. I feel the same way. The way you described things…its like you took those words out of my mouth. Can’t wait to read more of your findings. Thank you.

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