For a long time, I’ve wandered the world in search of the perfect place to call home.
But subconsciously, I’ve always waited for places to reveal their imperfections, and push me away. Chiang Mai got too busy, Guatemala was too far, New York was too expensive, Uttarakhand lacked an international flavor, Tbilisi’s visa norms had become too random, and so on.
Deep down, I guess I knew that a perfect place does not exist. But leaving one meant seeking another, and then another.
Even as I felt increasingly guilty of my flying footprint, I tried to continue my life of long term travel by substituting frequent flying with adventurous land journeys. In the years before the pandemic, I travelled overland from the Persian Gulf via the South of Iran to Armenia. Used public transport to cross land borders across Central America, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. And spent weeks travelling from Thailand via Myanmar to India to speak at a responsible tourism summit.
Then of course, the pandemic hit, and left me no choice but to stow away my bags and travel aspirations. Gradually, as the world returned to “normal,” I thought I could seek my old life too. But when I got back on the road, I realized that nothing was the same. I had changed, my professional dreams had changed, my personal aspirations had changed, the road had changed, and travelling itself had changed too.
After seven years of living out of two bags (and whiling away two years of being grounded), I feel ready to pursue a different kind of life. Here’s why I’m no longer travelling full time – and what that means for my professional and personal life:
Contentment in a slower life
My partner and I have been frequenting Goa for many monsoons – but we always let its imperfections gradually push us out.
When we moved to Goa during the pandemic, it was a move of circumstance, not choice. But something shifted between then and now. Goa gradually showed us a slower life we didn’t know we could fall deeply in love with.
We live an earthy life in the midst of nature, close to a beach with some of the world’s most magical sunsets. Weekends are for hiking in the mist-laden ghats, or kayaking in the mangroves, or swimming in remote waterfalls. Our supply chains are all set up – organic produce from farms across Goa and India, deliveries from zero waste stores (we’re spoilt for a choice of not one but three!), and a ton of incredible vegan choices from home chefs, vegan kitchens and eateries. There are beach workouts, hammock mornings, musical nights, yoga classes, working from cozy cafés, and plenty of like-minded souls to socialize with.
While travelling in Europe earlier this year, I constantly dreamt about this life in Goa! Though compounded by many other factors, this has been my biggest impetus to swap my nomadic life for a slower one.
Also read: The Joy of Slow Travel
The environmental footprint of travel
It’s no secret that the world is getting pretty f*cked. 2022 alone has witnessed a record number of extreme weather events – heatwaves across Europe, floods across Southeast Asia, avalanches in Uttarakhand, and so much more.
It has been pretty sobering to go back to school, and learn to calculate the carbon emissions and ecosystem impact of the choices we make – collectively and individually. With the numbers in my head, I can no longer justify a life of long term travel where flying is almost a necessity. Visa ending, fly out. Seasons changing, fly out. No work opportunities, fly out. Difficult land borders, fly out. Nowhere to go back to, fly out.
I’ve justified some of this flying by the potential impact writing about local responsible travel experiences can have – but in all honesty, I’m hardly able to buy my own argument.
I don’t think I can give up flying altogether. My income relies entirely on travelling (though I’m trying to pivot, atleast partially), and I’d still love to travel once in a while for personal fulfillment. But now that I’m no longer pursuing full time travel, I’m already flying a lot less – and hope to cut it down further in the coming years.
Instagram and the purpose of travel
If you know me, you probably know that I’ve long shared a hate-love relationship with Instagram.
On the one hand, it has pushed me to explore meaningful storytelling through short form videos, narrative captions and photography, and allowed me to build a tight-knit community of like-minded travellers, some of who have turned into great friends in real life. It has given me opportunities beyond what I could have imagined, and helped increase my income many-fold in the last few years.
But on the other hand, I hate what it has turned travel into. I cringe every time I see travel reels that objectify places, and photography that merely uses the destination as a backdrop. And we’ve all seen the impact of Instagram play out real time on communities and natural landscapes across the world.
In the last few months, the cringe factor of Instagram has been so high that it has put me off travel in a strange sort of way. I’m constantly asking that if by being somewhere, and writing about it, am I just an equal part of the problem?
A new professional journey with Climate Conscious Travel
In recent weeks, when I’ve mentioned to friends and family that I’m no longer travelling full time, their first question is, but how can you continue to be a travel writer?
Luckily, even before I decided to do away with my digital nomad life, I had already set myself in a new direction.
I’ve been really fortunate for all the travel opportunities that’ve came my way. I’ve stayed at some of the world’s most incredible eco-lodges and spent time at some exemplary community tourism initiatives. But the more I write about sustainable tourism, the more aware I become of the long journey that lies ahead of the tourism industry to become truly sustainable. Besides, in the midst of a climate emergency, climate action, awareness and resilience are the need of the hour – yet far from the agenda of most tourism destinations and businesses.
I realized I could no longer wait around for things to be better, so I could write about them – though there’s value in calling out what needs to change, and some of my colleagues in the travel writing space are doing it brilliantly.
So I went back to school and began to reskill – and realized I could play a role in accelerating the change, atleast in some small capacity. I’ve been consulting a tourism business on calculating and reducing their carbon emissions, and designing community based offsets for carbon neutral trips. I’m co-creating a sustainable tourism storytelling project with a European partner. And there is other exciting work in the pipeline.
I recently decided to formalize some of this work in the form of Climate Conscious Travel – which works with businesses and destinations to develop sustainable tourism solutions that centre communities, conservation and climate action.
I’m still trying to find the balance between travel writing and Climate Conscious Travel, and sometimes feel overwhelmed juggling the two. But I’m looking forward to all the possibilities that are emerging.
An evolved slow travel dream
What does all this mean for my travels – both professionally and personally?
In the short term, I’ll still continue to travel for meaningful assignments and speaking opportunities – and club them with short trips that support responsible tourism businesses and community initiatives. I hope to slow travel once every few months, though the frequency will be a lot less than before.
What I dream of now, is being able to live in a place not for a few months at a time, but a few years. That would give me enough time to build a sense of community, meaningful connections with locals, and supply chains for organic, zero waste, vegan food – while keeping my footprint low, and savoring a slower life.
I know that with an Indian passport, that might just be a far-fetched dream. Either way, I’m excited to see how this journey shapes up.
How are you feeling about travelling these days?
Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, “sustainability influencer,” social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes that travel – if done right – has the power to change us and the world we live in.