What’s it like to chain myself to one place after 7 years on the road?
It feels like yesterday when I was hiking up the moonscapes of Qeshm Island in Iran at sunset. Or falling off the map on a motorcycle adventure in the remote tribal Chin state of Myanmar. Or feeling awe-inspired at the electric ‘ghetto sessions’ in Khayelitsha, one of South Africa‘s largest townships.
When I look back at my life of long term travel, there is one thing in common. It all feels surreal.
And in a very different way, that’s my dominant feeling during this pandemic too!
Also read: Four Years of Travelling Without a Home
Since this strange period of our lives began, many of you have reached out to me, curious about what it’s been like to hang up my travel boots indefinitely. After nearly seven years of long term travel and living out of two bags, what’s it like to chain myself to one place for the foreseeable future?
In this post, I try to lay bare my heart, reflecting on this time of shock, struggle, acceptance, disappointment, anger, gratitude and hope.
With a home nowhere, I suddenly had nowhere to go!
Back in 2013, I gave up my rented apartment and sold most of my belongings. In the years since, I’ve felt at home in many places around the world but not put down roots anywhere.
Having no possessions and no commitment to a single place felt liberating on many levels… until I found myself in lockdown!
As luck would have it, an unexpected turn of events made me abandon a multi-day trek from tribal Chhattisgarh to Madhya Pradesh. I ended up taking a flight to Dehradun to see my folks for a few days, and figure out where I could slow travel next to hide out the brewing coronavirus fears.
In those few days, my universe, like that of many others, overturned. WHO declared it a pandemic, India went into a stringent lockdown, state and international borders shut down indefinitely. Suddenly, I had nowhere to go.
That few days visit turned into 3 months. And in retrospect, I’m so glad I got to spend that quality time with my folks – something I haven’t done since I moved out for college at seventeen! Unfortunately though, my partner was stranded in a different part of the world during the lockdown. Perhaps because the geographical separation wasn’t out of choice this time, it stung pretty bad.
When domestic movement gradually resumed, we went through a ton of passes and paperwork, Covid tests and institutional quarantine. And took a leap of faith to move to a small Goan village for the foreseeable future.
We now call an old trading shop turned studio “home”, own a kayak and a small oven, and wake up to hornbill and peacock cries!
Roots or wings – aka is long term travel still for me?
To tell you the truth, I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to stay in one place again. To have a small backyard when I can grow my greens, to own more than what fits in two bags. Have constant access to a kitchen and experiment with vegan recipes. Build a consistent supply chain of organic, seasonal, zero waste produce. And not have to decide every couple of months, where next?
After the initial shock of the lockdown, I realized that I had no choice now but to experience “the other side” of life.
So I threw myself right into it. Started growing my own herbs and microgreens. Experimented with vegan baking. Got connected with a group of local organic farmers. Tried to throw myself into writing, books and music. Binge-watched movies and shows.
At first, it felt nice to have a schedule and all this time on my hand. But the days quickly started merging into one another. They felt familiar, comfortable and predictable.
Waking up to the same horizon every day eventually became monotonous. I began to miss the rush of long land journeys, the magic of fleeting encounters on the road and the anonymity of being a new “me” in a new place.
Turns out, the reason I never found a place ‘perfect’ enough to lay down roots was because I was never actually looking for one.
Ironically, long term travelling prepared me for a time of no travel
It seems like those challenging times on the road – the border interrogation in Nicaragua, getting mugged in Costa Rica, getting stalked in Ethiopia, breaking my phone on the first day of my solo adventures in Ecuador – unexpectedly prepared me to adapt, no matter what life throws along the way.
The pandemic is definitely one such curve ball.
At first, I was naive enough to think it’ll be behind us soon. But now, I don’t see myself travelling far before a vaccine is available, which could be several months or even a year from now.
Even though I’m young, healthy and outside the vulnerable age group, studies have found long term health implications for those who contract the virus. I also feel an acute responsibility towards rural communities in India with little access to healthcare, and can’t bear the thought of carrying the virus to them.
The initial months were tough, both professionally and personally. I had a few delayed payments trickling in which helped cover my expenses. But all travel assignments were put on hold, leaving the future uncertain.
Surprisingly however, I quickly moved through phases of denial, shock, anger and disappointment, into acceptance.
As an introvert, minimalist and someone who’s been working from home for nearly a decade, the obvious challenges of lockdown living were easy for me.
But I’ve been working towards making this lockdown life more palatable. Moving closer to nature, cycling, kayaking, photographing feathered creatures, researching more about wildlife conservation challenges and learning to cook!
The privilege of travel, and life itself
Hailing from India, privilege is often a tricky subject.
On the one hand, I often compare my lack of privilege to western bloggers / freelancers with powerful passports, social security and financial support during the pandemic.
On the other hand, I feel very aware of my access to good education in India (among other things we take for granted), that ultimately helped carve this digital nomad life for me.
This pandemic though, has given me much more perspective.
It has led me to the harsh acceptance that I’m not an essential worker, my soft skills weren’t of much use in a crisis, and travel – even the responsible kind – isn’t as resilient as once thought. We (me and most people reading this) are lucky enough to work online and shelter ourselves from the pandemic.
But despite the increasing penetration of smartphones, rural communities associated with travel have been hit really hard during this time.
This gaping urban-rural divide led to a new passion project, Voices of Rural India – perhaps India’s first curated platform for rural storytellers!
The goal is to build digital storytelling skills in rural India while creating an alternate source of income. And in this time of no travel, it’s a chance to explore remote corners of India virtually, through the stories of the very people we travel to meet.
We’re looking for passionate volunteers to join us to support Voices of Rural India. If that’s you, please get in touch!
The art of traveling long term vs the growing frustration of a weak passport
Travelling with an Indian passport has always been painful. I hate the heaps of documentation, the long wait to get a visa, stringent application processes, a defined duration of stay etc.
But in the current times, as someone who thinks of herself as a global citizen, I feel even more caged with closed borders and no tourist visas.
Countries like Georgia and Estonia have recently launched a “digital nomad visa” that would be ideal for someone like me who wants to stay longer and work on the go. But unfortunately, India is not one of the 95 countries eligible to apply. SIGH.
“What about the future?”
There was a time when anxiety about the future used to gnaw at me from the inside.
But over many years on the road, with neither a constant income nor a constant home, I’ve gradually learnt to let go.
The future is just that – distant, unpredictable. We need to nurture it, yes. But not at the cost of living fully today.
This life of long term travel has taught me to think of the future as just another adventure. And perhaps that’s what we need most right now. Cherish the little joys that today brings, and not dwell too much on the future. Whatever it brings, it’ll be an adventure for sure.
A life of no regret
Some people say I was too young to quit my corporate job at 23. If I stayed on a few more years, I could’ve amassed more wealth and experience.
Some say this digital nomad lifestyle is unsustainable. I need to own a house, I need to own things.
In a way, this unprecedented crisis has challenged everything about my life philosophy in the past seven years.
I don’t own a house or a car, and until a few months ago, I didn’t even own any cooking equipment. I’ve long believed in the shared economy to find homes and rides around the world. Covid came as a total shock to my existence.
But in the middle of a damn pandemic that has shattered many travel and life plans, I feel so grateful about the choices I’ve made.
I’m glad I didn’t put off my dream of slow travelling the world on my own terms. I’m grateful I didn’t build a bucket list to tick off only once I retired.
In the coming years, in a world wrought by climate change, intensive animal agriculture, single use plastic and irresponsible travel, we will face a whole new set of challenges. I’ll continue to contribute to this planet in whatever ways I can, but…
I can say with confidence, having tried it over the past six months, that living in one place is just not for me. I belong on the road, always moving, wild and free.