The monitor in front of me at my workplace went into auto-shut off and my laptop decided to take a nap, while I continued to scroll through the comments pouring in on an Instagram post of one of the popular travel accounts I follow. Once more, I could not help but notice a lot of young, impressionable individuals blinded by the apparent charm and glitter of the travel snapshot our protagonist had so meticulously presented on her page (which was absolutely stunning indeed, to be honest). Amidst an occasional voice of
“Even I could do that if I had daddy’s money to blow up, like you do”
“You are so lucky…..I wish I could travel full time like you!!“
(which I’ll touch upon on a different post), there were a lot of young aspiring travelers hooked onto the dreamland painted on their mobile screens by these social media influencers. Make no doubt, these influencers are powerful because they really have the power to capture people’s imagination and influence their life choices through their well designed content and personalities – a valuable skill-set indeed. But, the onus lies on you, as general consumers of the content, to eventually decide if it’s meant for your consumption or not; more importantly, the extent of influence they should have on your lives and realities surrounding you!!
I come across a lot of energetic and passionate travel enthusiasts during travel meetups and backpacking trips on a regular basis, and the more I talk to them the more clear an underlying current of questions, fear and doubts in their apparent smiles becomes observable in many among them. As an avid backpacker myself with a full-time job, who continuously strive to walk the thin line between following my passions and contributing to the non-Utopian society around me through my acquired skill sets, I sometimes have some understanding of where these emotions come from.
So, today I’ll touch upon some points to ponder upon before you take that plunge into the advertised travel lifestyle on Instagram; things which will need honest introspection from your end.
Appearances are often deceptive:
It’s time to let you in on a typical Instagrammer’s secret today – more than the backpacks or professional camera equipment, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are probably the best travel buddies of most people online; including myself. There’s nothing wrong in it, honestly speaking, for everybody has a unique perspective and narrative approach towards a page plucked out from a spiral of memories. Everybody is reciting their own story in their own amazing ways, while hoping to connect with people and making others relive their version of a landscape, city or an experience.
However, drooling over the picture-perfect canals of Venice, historic piazze of Italy, expansive gardens of Japan or breathtaking views over Swiss Alps should not obscure the reality that there will be a million people rushing for the same thrill and trying to relive the same excitement that you have set to seek. The streets might be a lot more touristy, experiences might be a lot more commercial and you might find yourself trying to subconsciously force-fit your view of the place to that awesome photograph you saw on your favorite traveler’s feed!! Most would never know the hours a photographer spent in knee-deep snow, patiently waiting for the sun to go further down the horizon so as to capture that perfect shade of red over the snow-clad mountains. The hours of strenuous trek the traveler embarked on, the struggles of finding local transports, making difficult food choices everyday and the bugs they went down with during their travels – almost all these details will be mostly hidden behind the beautiful photographs.
It’s important to keep things in perspective, be objective about your experiences, research about the ground realities and be prepared to find a unique version of an experience for yourself. Expecting to see the world through the lens of somebody else, exactly the way they see it, defeats the whole essence and philosophy of traveling!!
Why why, o’ why?
What everybody tells you about traveling aiding in rediscovering your inner strengths, re-calibrating your preferences in life and helping you break the monotony from regular life is generally true; speaking from personal experience, of course. The thrill of the unknown is always a strong inhibitor for many but brings a rush of adrenaline for few. Since nobody else knows you better than you do, step back and introspect all aspects of this lifestyle, read through personal travel logs of many travelers who have generously made them available to public, understand the pros and struggles – and then have a general idea about what you are looking for in this lifestyle.
I can debate at length regarding the merits and demerits of taking a leap of faith and experience whatever traveling brings along, some of which I have touched upon below, but one needs to have clarity regarding consequences of every decision as well. Ask yourself – whether it’s the heat of the moment that’s making this call for you; what state of the mind do you expect to achieve at the end of this pursuit, whenever you decide to end it? What is making a certain type of travel content on social media appeal to you so much? What kind of travel do you imagine yourself enjoying? What makes leaving your 9-5 and switch to long-term backpacking so appealing to you? Do you want to do it just because everybody online seems to be doing it; and having such a great time while at it?
They are relevant questions that you should have some answers to, before you take the plunge. More than anything else, these will provide clarity to your explorations and make your travel experiences unique, personalized and deeply satisfying. They will help you identify alternatives that may be more convenient and readily available to you, than blindly following the path social media paved for you.
Everybody aspires to weave a happy, non-chaotic and perfect world for themselves – Social Media just gives you all the tools to build one; especially for anybody who’s looking from the outside.
Non-existent social security support :
Time does fly by really quickly, and the perceived challenges or inhibitions manifest differently in every passing generation. Having lived all my life in India, this is the most relevant example of a social transition I have lived through and seen from such close quarters. While 30 years ago the struggle to land a stable job in one of the few established fields was paramount for the stability of a family unit, the options are more diverse, exciting and non-conventional. However, a few parameters haven’t changed till date, and it’s alarming to see that they might not improve in near future, as well.
Social security as a concept does not necessarily hold effective ground in Indian context, as in many other countries around the world. Concept of minimum wages in India continues to remain a Utopian dream for us. Therefore, traveling full time or making any sacrifice in short term should be evaluated against the mid-to-long term effects. I come across so many experienced backpackers, with beautiful stories of adventure and horrors of their extended time on road, but they always have some sort of contingency to fall back on – at least most of them do:
“Once I run out of money, I plan to head back home/to XYZ country, do some farm work/other work, save up money and hopefully continue my adventures when I have saved enough!!
Although this is a perfectly viable option for people living in some of the more developed countries, we in India unfortunately don’t have the luxury of calling it quits and returning home with a guaranteed minimum lifestyle at the end of it. There is no concept of basic minimum wage, besides excessive competition, for the limited high-skilled/skilled jobs in the country. We don’t have a state-sponsored healthcare system guaranteeing affordable and state-of -the-art treatments, nor do we have any credible establishment to fall back on for guaranteed financial support.
Therefore, irrespective of how low one may set the bar for survival necessities for oneself, or whichever short-term gains one may strive for through traveling, it is always a good idea to at least keep an eye out on the future. Your formal education and technical/creative/linguistic skills will always help you down the line, so don’t give up on them. Be clear about your mid to long term expectations regarding family and relationships and put bit of planning in place to support that lifestyle, while you explore the world and create valuable memories for a lifetime.
It’s all about the money, money, money :
Nothing comes for free, except advice, they say. Well, traveling definitely does not!! From spending nights sleeping on railway platforms and taking night buses in order to save accommodation expenses, going entire day without food and drinking only water to avoid digging deep into my pockets for cash, exploring the cities for hours on foot to save on commuting costs to hitch-hiking; I have tried it all just to get a taste of what budget backpacking is really all about. But even with all possible frugal measures you may adopt, every traveler needs a source of money to support their adventures.
Unless you want to resort to begpacking, you need to figure out a potential source of income down the line to support your travels. It may require figuring out a skill that you are really confident about, thus sponsoring your travels along the way – writing, blogging, vlogging, creating professional travel videos and itineraries and any additional skills which can be monetized. You now have ample opportunities to become a digital nomad; all you need is a stable internet connection and you could be chilling on a beach, sipping that cocktail while doing online business consultancy, coding a website, writing a book or taking online classes.
Point is, figure out what you’re really good at, skills which you can monetize down the line and put in your best efforts to hone those skills, while you experience the travel lifestyle.
Add to this the fact that Indian passport is quite weak on a global scale. This essentially means that obtaining Visas and permits to travel to most countries involve money upfront, lot of paperwork and quite a bit of prior planning. This may include obtaining visas prior to travels, subsequent agent fees if embassy is not conveniently located at your current location, prior bus/train/accommodation bookings so as to get the travel visa – and some additional funds, given most countries require proof of some minimum balance in your account in order to issues a travel Visa on an Indian passport!!
Couch-surf all you want, but the engine of traveling still needs money to move along.
Great endeavors demand great sacrifices :
Very rarely will you find grim realities of traveling being portrayed accurately, but ask any traveler and they’ll tell you that it does not come without its share of hardships and sacrifices. It’s an outright misconception that people who successfully find the balance in their travel lifestyles are simply lucky to be living this seemingly rosy lifestyle.
Fun fact – there’s a lot that goes behind the scenes !!
Most of these so-called lucky travel influencers have put in years of sweat and perseverance, honing their remarkable skills, to be at the stage where they are today. Difficult personal choices and sacrifices have had to be made to support this dream. That time spent on road is probably at the expense of personal time with your loved ones; vacations that otherwise should have been spent with family and friends, important family functions, etc. I know people who did not go home for 3-4 years at a stretch, missing out on every festival, every wedding and happy moments in the lives of their loved ones; saving up every day of vacation they could in order to make those few months of backpacking happen. Many have faced strong criticisms from friends, family, neighbors and society in general about their lifestyle choices, successfully overcoming the by riding on their convictions and proving everybody wrong. They have gone though prudent and prolonged financial planning to start off on their journeys, saving every penny along the way, sacrificing basic luxuries of life during that process – to make it to that mountain top across the world just in time for that sunrise!!
Any aspiring backpacker who really wants to follow in their footsteps and step into their shoes really need to begin by carefully analyzing they footsteps they have left behind along their journeys!!
Choose your Pied Piper carefully :
Finally, there is a reason for the term influencer to exist. They really do have the skills to influence your life choices by well structured content, made highly effective through their years of experience. Therefore, like in all walks of life, as an aspiring traveler you need to choose the right leaders leading you on this journey. They will deeply influence your initial travel experiences, leading to your long-term affinity towards this lifestyle.
Study their content carefully. Know your strengths and weakness, and analyze which influencer’s approach towards traveling is better aligned to your personality and interests. Assess who are busy in the game of just garnering followers and likes, and find out those who are genuinely connecting with you through their perspectives, anecdotes, travel experiences and personality traits reflected in their content.
Having been closely and actively associated with the travel lifestyle for around 6 years now, experiencing both the thrills and downside of everything ranging from long budget backpacking trips to short luxury getaways, I would not have it any other way. It’s true when they say traveling transforms you as a person – I barely recognize the person I was before I started on this journey. I might never be able to muster the courage to leave it all behind and pick up my backpack – I just love driving cars, playing FIFA at home, writing computer code and enjoying a sip of expensive whisky every once in a while way too much to give up on them so easily, after all!!
But you very well might. Just keep your eyes and mind open, your dreams and aspirations close – and take that leap of faith, will you!!