New normal, Reflections, Responsible Travel
Comments 22

How I Lost My Way as a Travel Writer…

Ever since I emerged from my “writing cave” after working on my first book, I’ve felt a deep void within. The publishing journey was challenging, fulfilling and joyful in equal measures – and consumed so much of me. After the initial excitement of the book launch, my soul started to feel inexplicably restless.

I suppose I did try to satiate it with some epic adventures in Myanmar, Iran, Bhutan and South Africa last year. Then the pandemic hit, and left me no choice but to hang up my travel boots.

Also read: What No One Tells You About Publishing a Book in India

Contemplating the beauty and fragility of life in Tajikistan.

A new era of travel blogging

I thought this could be just the pause I needed. I would re-focus my attention on this travel blog that I’ve nurtured over so many years but recently neglected. Unfortunately, travel blogging has changed much over time. It has become much less about experiences, and much more about Google rankings.

Every time I sat down to write about a misadventure in Nicaragua that could’ve been my last, or how solo travel can make or break a relationship, I wondered, would anyone search for this? Does this story have the potential to appear on Google’s first page?

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

The current state of travel blogging has left me distracted and uninspired.

An ethical dilemma

Even if the story did stand a chance of making it to Google’s first page, I felt conflicted about whether to write about “hidden” places in such a public space. I mean, we’ve all seen the downfall of once-pristine places, especially in the Instagram era.

I shudder to think how a remote high altitude desert like Spiti or the sleepy interiors of Goa have changed in the past few years – with trash, traffic and overtourism adversely impacting local people and biodiversity.

Yet I sorely miss the joy of writing about low-key discoveries on my travels, for a smaller group of readers with a stronger bent towards responsible travel.

Also read: Why Long Term Travel is More Like Real Life and Less Like Instagram

The sleepy interiors of Goa.

Drying up income

When India began to open up a few months ago, I took an ethical stance not to travel or promote travelling during the pandemic. I’m taking a cue from rural communities who’ve chosen to keep their borders closed despite the loss of livelihoods, and the growing discontentment among locals in places where the wearing of masks and social distancing rules are largely ignored by tourists.

With borders closed, all my international collaborations are on hold indefinitely. I’m choosing to say no to domestic airline and hotel collaborations that require me to travel. As a passionate advocate of veganism and sustainability, I continue to say no to lifestyle brands that test on animals or represent fast fashion. And I’ve long taken a stance against filling my blog with annoying ads.

That means in the past few months, except for the odd partnership, all my income has dried up.

Also read: How I’m Financially Sustaining My Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The money has dried up but the words are flowing freely (mostly)!

So what now?

Now that I’ve had plenty of time to reflect, I’ve gradually realized that somewhere along the way, I forgot the very reasons why I first pursued travel writing.

I dreamt of bringing stories from the road that had rarely been told before. Stories that inspired unconventional ways of thinking. Stories that offered a glimpse of unfamiliar worlds.

Instead, I’ve been keeping many epic finds, unexpected encounters and life-defining moments on the road, to myself – because they don’t belong on Google, Instagram or any public space.

But I think I’ve finally found a new direction…

In search of a new direction…

Introducing “Journeys” by The Shooting Star

I’ve spent the past few months contemplating how I can continue writing about places, people and finds that’ve deeply impacted me – without the risk of subjecting them to irresponsible travel or constantly worrying about search engine and social media algorithms.

Thus was born the idea of “Journeys” – exclusive, paid stories delivered to your inbox once a week.

My goal is to slowly reach a niche set of readers with a similar bent of mind, who yearn for places that don’t come with Instagram hashtags or google searches, seek to pursue the unconventional in life, and are genuinely curious about the world beyond what can be depicted in a pretty photo.

Sample stories on Journeys:

I’m excited to share that I’ve already penned down the first four “Journeys” – to be delivered to you weekly. These aren’t stories that you’ll find in my book or on this blog.

What it’s like to travel as an unmarried couple in India and elsewhere – Some shocking and amusing episodes. This story is already live; read it here.

Secret hideouts in India to rejuvenate your pandemic-weary soul – I reached out to some of my favorite accommodations naturally set up for social distancing, and included only those who are taking enough safety precautions.

Can you keep a secret in Goa? Actually, can you keep 5 – Places so un-Goa-like, that I often felt like I had arrived in a different state or country.

The little big things that have shaped my writing journey – Practical writing tips and some confessions from a bestselling author (yours truly ;-)).

Travel, life and a lot more lined up on Journeys.

How much does a subscription cost?

To be completely honest, I’ve gone back and forth several times over the idea of introducing paid stories, but focus group interviews with some long-time readers of The Shooting Star convinced me to take the plunge.

I’ve tried to keep subscription rates low, with early bird rates and annual discounts. Monthly subscriptions are equivalent to the cost of a nice coffee or meal. Annual subscriptions give you two months free!

First 100 subscribers: ₹250 / ~3$ per month [Sorry, all gone!]

101 – 1000 subscribers: ₹350 / ~5$ per month

1000+ subscribers: ₹500 / ~7$ per month

Annual subscription: Save 2 months cost!

I know that the internet is full of free travel content. Yet I hope that through “Journeys”, I can continue to add unique value to your life and travel choices.

A new journey for me, and I hope, for you too.

What about this blog and my social media channels?

I’ve been meaning to invite guest writers with inspiring stories to this blog for a long time, and am finally getting around to doing so.

Earlier this year, Parita Bhansali wrote an insightful guide to sustainable fashion in India. Coming soon, are recommendations on Auroville’s coolest cafes by Vinita Contractor, and insights on what it’s like to be a vegan Muslim by Nina Ahmedow. I’m excited to move into a largely editorial role on this blog with occasional posts written by me.

I’ll continue to engage with you on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, but perhaps at a reduced frequency than I currently do. I hope Journeys will take away the need to channel an income through constant engagement on social media – and allow me to build deeper connections with long term readers.

A time of reflection – and finally, a new direction.

A word of gratitude

At this time of isolation, the world has felt out of reach and nudged me to examine many of my life choices. My attempts at travel writing, as I can see now, took a direction I never anticipated. Yet you’ve stood by me, continued to read my posts here and on Instagram, and sent many heartfelt messages and emails over the years. For that, I’m forever grateful.

As I embark on what feels like a new chapter of my virtual life, I hope to continue taking you to faraway places, both geographically and within. I hope you’ll join me on these “Journeys”. There’ll be no flowing dresses, I promise 😉

What do you think of the new direction I’m moving towards? What would you most like to read about on “Journeys”?

22 Comments

  1. Your words always strike a chord with me. I feel emotional and hopeful reading this.
    Wishing for ‘Journeys’ to find its tribe.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Thanks Manisha, it’s been a rollercoaster ride so far but one I’m thoroughly enjoying. Grateful for all the subscribers and support so far!

  2. Great Shivya I am in for annual subscriptions. I am interested in all your travel journeys and untold stories about places. Anything relating to climate change, saving the environment, fight against cruelty towards animals etc.

    • Shivya Nath says

      So glad to hear that Usha! Hope you’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve shared so far!

  3. Helena O'Reilly says

    I am all in, Shivya. Especially as I no longer use social media, but have been a long time supporter and follower of you and your journeys.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Thanks so much Helena! I hope this will gradually pave the way for be to no longer be a user (and slave) of social media too.

  4. I love this!. We must constantly examine our motives and why’s because it’s easy to get lost. All the best

    • Shivya Nath says

      Right? I guess I needed this long pause to take many steps back and re-examine everything.

  5. Oh Shivya, this makes me feel emotional! It will be so sad to read less from you online, but I totally understand the conflict in writing for SEO and writing from your own passion. I admire your strong stance against traveling during a pandemic (you seem to be in the absolute minority there among travel writers) and working with unethical companies. As always, you are very inspiring.

    After reading the first few paragraphs I was ready to suggest setting up something like Patreon so you could still make an income. Glad that you have found an even better way to do so. I think the pricing is super fair, and anyone who has a job right now could definitely support you this way (I personally don’t so I’ll have to think about it more seriously).

    As sad I am to see you take a step back from The Shooting Star, I am really happy you’ve found a way to stick to your principles and your passions, and I wish you all the success in the world.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Thank you Nina! I’m still finding the balance between Journeys and blogging, but I already feel like I have so much more mindspace to write and think that I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride. Promise there’ll be amazing stories on the blog from time to time too, including your own! Thanks for your sharing your honest perspective as always, and for all your support along the way.

  6. I feel you, Shivya. SEO is a bane as well as a boon. I was just about to suggest to you to start a restricted entry community which would help with the income generation as well as keeping true to the thoughts that you wanna share. The only issue that I think might occur down the line is the offbeat areas getting diluted via piracy or word of mouth about your paid content. One crazy half-baked solution would be something like the fight club, something with an oath.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Haha, an oath is quite an idea! I’m lucky to say though, that a large part of my readers are already mindful travellers, so I hope the subset who’ve chosen to subscribe will be mindful of their impact on their destinations too.

  7. Sonali says

    Journeys is definitely a step ahead Shivya. Wish you all the love and luck for this new project. I have always admired you for your courage, to stick to your principles even if these tough times and I hope you have an amazing audience for all your stories 🙂 I will definitely miss seeing your frequent your posts on Insta and usually look forward to reading your articles as well.

  8. Best of luck for your new venture! This is new concept. Let’s see how things move from here onwards. Shooting Star will miss your writings for sure.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Thanks Bikram! I know I’m experimenting with something new here, but glad to report that the journey has been very rewarding so far.

  9. I have been leaning more towards paid, quality content that is ad and sponsorship free. It feels more genuine, of better quality, and i worry less about being sold to. I love this idea and hope to subscribe when financially able to 😊

    • Shivya Nath says

      Absolutely leaning towards creating such content too, for a niche audience who value authenticity and honesty above all else. Thanks for your support, Andrea.

  10. Shivya, I had been thinking of you, how you entertain your travel life in this pandemic time. I am so happy to hear that you have found a niche to share your travel stories in a different way. As I would love to sign up for your ” Journey”, but to be honest , as a photographer the pandemic has hit me really hard in my business, so therefore unfortunately I have to restrain/ distance from a subscription, as my little income is so very tight right now. But I wish you all the luck for your new venture. Blessings to you.

    • Shivya Nath says

      As a fellow creator, I completely understand your situation Cornelia. Glad to have your best wishes on this new journey though 🙂

  11. There are many challenges that every one of us is facing right now. I hope that you continue your passion in travel through this new venture in your life. Good luck on facing the new chapter in your life. Thanks

    • Shivya Nath says

      Thanks Christine, grateful to have found this new direction!

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