After spending large chunks of 2017 and 2018 writing and publishing my first book, 2019 was all about rediscovering my travel mojo. And luckily for me, this year gave me many chances to push my boundaries.
Epic cross-border land journeys, under-the-radar top-of-the-wishlist destinations, taking on sustainable living challenges, getting featured by one of the world’s leading publications and launching a travel-inspired sustainable clothing collection… 2019 was all sorts of awesome and unexpected.
Like any year though, it had its lows too. I stumbled into vystopia (vegan dystopia; I’ll explain later in this post) and felt like life went a bit out of focus.
Exploring countries I’ve dreamt about for a long time
Just like plans and visas kept falling apart in 2018, they somehow kept coming together in 2019. I ended up with some epic adventures, of which a small sample is below:
- A solo land journey from Thailand to Northeast India via Myanmar – kayaking, canoeing, motorbiking and almost finding a lost family member along the way!
- A motorbike adventure to discover unmapped villages in the tribal Chin State of Myanmar.
- Overlanding (with my partner) from the Persian Gulf via the south of Iran to Armenia, reaching Yerevan after a 36 hour bus ride complete with Bollywood-loving border guards who ransacked our luggage.
- Delving deeper into the Caucasus as a digital nomad in Armenia.
- Turning an invitation to speak at the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival in Bhutan into a slow travel adventure through the country, hoping to understand the secret to happiness.
- Venturing into Central Asia for the first time, on assignment for USAID, to explore parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
- A three-day walking safari in Gondwana Game Reserve in South Africa, that brought me face-to-face with giraffes and zebras!
It was hard to break my end-of-the-year Thailand ritual, but I’m typing this from South Africa with zero regrets. This life does feel surreal sometimes!
Getting featured in the Washington Post
While in Uzbekistan, I woke up to news that I’d been featured in the prestigious Washington Post among “Globe-trotting Instagram influencers changing the way we think about the world”. SUCH AN HONOR.
Slow land journeys
It hasn’t been easy cutting flying out of my travelling and blogging life (in an attempt to further lower my carbon footprint) but I swear I’m trying. Infact after overlanding from Thailand to India, I’m hooked to the idea of more such adventures.
I tried to put together some crazy plans to travel over land from India to Uzbekistan, but when I heard that one could travel through Tibet only with a private car and driver which would cost thousands of dollars, I had to drop the idea. The India-Bhutan and Uzbekistan-Tajikistan land border crossings were relatively less adventurous but I love (and hate) the feeling of walking across imaginary lines nonetheless.
Fourth reprint of my book, The Shooting Star
The cover now officially says “National Bestseller”!
It’s been over a year since my book was published, and I imagined it’d be done and dusted by now. But I’m lucky enough to still wake up to messages on how the book found you at a certain time in life, affected you, changed your perspective, gave you the courage to take a bold step… and that means the world to me <3
Embracing sustainable menstruation
I never thought I’d be that girl raving about the menstrual cup – but here I am. After fighting through all the fear and apprehension and finding courage in friends who’ve been using it for a while, I finally figured out how to use it. No more pads, no more waste. I can’t recommend this little miracle cup enough!
Winning Runners-up for “best writing in a blog” at TBC Asia Awards
It breaks my heart when people tell me they hate reading… and ask me to create videos instead. Of all the labels I carry, “writer” is the one I most identify with.
So it was both thrilling and humbling to be recognised for my writing on this blog at the TBC Asia Awards held annually in Sri Lanka (and to have a member of the The Shooting Star team collect it on my behalf).
The Shooting Star Collection
I never thought I’d start my fashion line of anything (confession: I currently own four t-shirts), but sometimes the universe just nudges you in unexpected directions! In partnership with a young Indian startup Hoomanwear, I recently launched a travel-inspired clothing collection.
It’s designed with dreamers, explorers and rebels in mind, comes in customisable “vibes” (minimal, bold, cool), is environmentally-friendly and ships worldwide in recycled / reusable / biodegradable packaging!
Spiraling into vystopia (vegan dystopia)
At the beginning of 2019, I found myself over-consumed by the depression of living in a non-vegan world. A world where even as I type this, billions of animals are being tortured, abused and killed to satisfy our cravings for meat, seafood, cheese, eggs, leather, silk and other animal products.
When that depression began to overpower my day-to-day life, I hesitatingly began to research and learnt that many vegans and animal lovers have also lived through this. Australian psychologist Claire Mann has even coined a term for it: “vystopia” – the anguish of being vegan in a non-vegan world.
Just when I was on the verge of scheduling a consultation session with her, a vegan friend in Iran convinced me to use my influence to create more awareness about veganism. I decided to return to freelance writing and ended up writing stories for National Geographic Traveller, First Post and Travel & Leisure, and using social media to raise funds for a sanctuary for bruised and battered cows in Goa.
The state of affairs in India
As much as I consider myself a global citizen, it pinches the hardest when I read about recent developments in India. The obvious Islamophobia in the country, even among people close to me, really boils my blood. Many of my readers and family members have advised me to stick to travel blogging, but having witnessed the incredible beauty of this world and its people, how can I stay silent? I keep going back to Nelson Mandela’s words on Apartheid in South Africa in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Life out of focus
While 2019 was an indulgent year on the professional and travel front, I couldn’t help but feel a void that was once filled by working on my book. I tried to channel this emptiness towards promoting responsible tourism, veganism and sustainability. And initiated a couple of passion projects but each fell through for different reasons. All in all, life just a felt a little more meaningless than usual – and I sure hope to fix that in 2020.
Looking ahead: 2020
The travel blogging community unexpectedly lost some beautiful souls in 2019 – and thinking about them always reminds me to be grateful for the things we take for granted. Good health, the privilege to travel and relationships that sail us through thick and thin.
In 2020, I aim to spend larger chunks of time digital nomading wherever I go. The three months I’m spending now in South Africa feel like the new sweet spot. I also have a couple of new passion projects up my sleeve, and hope to finally work towards my dream of contributing towards reforestation in India.
Contribute to my fundraiser to grow forests in Uttarakhand
In September this year, I travelled to Uttarakhand to learn about the work of Alaap – an innovative non-profit growing mixed native forests (not just planting trees) using the revolutionary Miyawaki Method. These forests have a high carbon sequestration potential and create seasonal employment for 15-17 locals. I’ve started a fundraiser to support Alaap to grow two forests in Uttarakhand in February 2020 – and would love to have your support. Whatever you are able to contribute will go a long way!
Reader Survey 2019
Every year, I ask for your valuable feedback to work out what you love / hate about this blog and the kind of content you want to see here. I’d love for you to spare a few minutes to answer my 2019 Reader Survey. As a thank you, I’ll be sending out a signed copy of my book to two randomly picked participants (remember to enter the giveaway after you finish the survey)!
Love creating videos? Join The Shooting Star team
I feel like I’m finally ready to create travel-inspired videos on topics close to my heart – and am looking for someone to join my team part-time to get this going. If you love to brainstorm, curate, shoot and edit videos, check out details of this position and apply.
Digital marketing consultation for vegan entrepreneurs
From Dec 2019 to March 2020, I’m offering “pay what you like” consultation again for entrepreneurs who run entirely vegan businesses. See more details.
A huge thank you for reading my blog and book, and supporting my work through the years. I hope 2020 is filled with the courage to dream, a thirst for adventure, compassion for all living beings and an ever-growing love for the wonders of our planet. See you on the other side!
Your turn, what were your highs and lows in 2019, and what are your hopes from 2020?
Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star.