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Why I Quit My Job To Travel

Smiling faces

Last week, I took a wee trip to Rishikesh – the land of sadhus and of many people’s spiritual rebirth. I have a personal affection, some attachment to this place. This is where I once spent two months, practicing meditation and taking spiritual lessons.

But this time, my arrival was accompanied by a sense of unexpected realization. I wondered, as I grabbed myself walking along its frenzied, confused walkways, that how lucky I am to experience places like Rishikesh again and again. And yet, it is never the climax of my trip. It is always the beginning.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls” Anais Nin

It has been more than two years now, since I quit my job and started travelling, yet I never shared here why and how it all happened. It would be nice to say that I wanted to understand myself, and find my inner consciousness, but frankly speaking, it’s not true. The only part which is true is that I’ve had enough living the same boring 9 to 5 corporate life every day. I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to see the world. Meet new people. Learn better ideas. Find out what’s wrong with this system of corporate culture, that it never made anyone happy – no matter what they achieved in their life. Simply put, I wanted to educate myself in a way that no school, no job ever did before.

traveller

But one thing is saying that I want to do this and the other thing is realizing I am actually doing it.

Traveling is no less than a pursuit of happiness for me. Yet, throughout this time, I’ve often stumbled upon questions like “Why I quit my job to travel” or “How did I manage to make such a decision” or “What’s next” – with all this, what others actually wanted to ask me was why did I not go for a two-week calculated holiday (or a couple of month’s sabbatical, if I am being pretentiously brazen about it) to quench my thirst of travel, as an averagely sane person would otherwise do.

The truth is, there is no fun in that. I have taken enough of these recreational holidays – as people often term them – in my life. When I was working I found myself claiming the boundaries of my city almost every weekend, with a couple of friends, drinking a bunch of beers and coming back, but that was no solution. The minute you enter the premises of your office, the next day, it feels as if that sweet, sally trip, that in fact, went past in the blink of an eye, actually never happened. I wanted something more than that. Something bigger. Something permanent.

Discontentment Is Good

Discontentment is the very first step to a new beginning. My discontentment towards my job brought me into this. I’d always loved India, but I never loved my life in India. I loved my profession (of writing), but I never loved my job. It seemed I was just accepting things as they came, and as everyone says “this is life and you got to learn to deal with it.”

But I think I never managed to master that art. Though I tried to suppress my unsatisfied soul the traditional way, by changing jobs and running after money. But it was just not enough. My audacious, fertile mind – discontented and grumbling – kept pushing me until I shifted focus.

writing

The Journey That Changed It All

I took my first solo trip back in 2014 (you can read about it all here), while I was still working, to trek for a few days under the colossal Himalayas. It was a life changing experience. Though there was nothing extraordinarily great about the journey, the freedom in travelling solo was, in fact, quite addictive. And that was it. I spent the next few months, saving as much money possible from the job I was doing, having a very clear focus in my mind – to leave this lifestyle behind and travel the world.

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world” Mary Anne Radmacher

Though it may sound cool and easy how I managed to quit my job and get ahead with the mission See-The-World. But trust me, it wasn’t.

Two years Later

Though my journey as a solo traveller and as someone on a perpetually limited budget – particularly during the first year of travel-blogging – has had many highs and lows, when I look back and think of what travelling has given me during all this time, if there’s one thing that comes to my mind, it is: a mileage of a different kind.

I mean forget about the money I’ve made and the number of sponsored trips I’ve scored during all this period, the kind of self-transformation travelling have provided me with, compensates everything.

And speaking of what’s next, I think I’ll continue travelling for as long as my heart will desire, and if I ever wanted some stillness, or a periodic absence-of-movement in life, I can always go back and resume what I was (before 2016) doing. But this time, to only do it much better!

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How To Approach Tourism Boards For Travel Blogging Sponsorships

Of late I’ve been fielding questions from bloggers and non-bloggers alike about how to score travel blogging sponsorships from tourism boards. So speaking of my experiences, of working with over 20 tourism boards so far, this is what I suggest.

But before anything, let’s understand a couple of things:

  1. Tourism boards are the government organisations responsible for the tourism of a particular town, or a country. A city may have its own tourism board, eg. Zurich city has Zurich Tourism Board, despite the country, Switzerland, having one — Switzerland Tourism Board.
  2. For a travel-blogger, working with a Tourism Board is as much an achievement as playing in the national team for a sportsman. The more you have worked with tourism boards, the more successful you will be considered as a travel blogger.
  3. Media Trips organised by Tourism Boards are called FAM trips, or the Familiarization trips.

Now, if you’ve just started blogging and are struggling with increasing your readership and social media followers, remember that there’s no “magic number” when it comes to knowing when it’s the right time to start pitching tourism boards. As long as you send the right pitch to the right tourism board, at the right time, you should be fine.

However, one parameter to find out whether or not you’re worthy of getting travel sponsorships is an honest review of your channel. As a travel blogger, you’re the advertising channel for anyone sponsoring you — so ask yourself what is it that you can offer. Do you have enough followers for someone to be interested in your proposal? Do people engage on your Facebook and Instagram posts saying they want to experience what you’re experiencing? Do you get comments on your blog posts?

In general, you should be able to show that you have an engaging audience — regardless of how big it is. And speaking of the best practices, for increasing your chances of getting sponsorships, this is what I’ll advise:

Start With Creating A Media Kit

Just like a Resume helps an employer quickly know about the job-seeker, a Media Kit helps a sponsor understand a blog better. A Media Kit talks about your blog in detail — right from what kind of stories it covers to the total readership it entertains to all its previous sponsors.

Creating a media kit moreover looks practical and professional, thus increasing your chances of getting a reply from the sponsors you’re writing to. So while writing to tourism boards, always attach a Media Kit. Another reason for providing them with a Media Kit is that if there’re no FAM trips happening at the moment, Tourism boards can keep your Media Kit handy for any future possibility. Read: How To Create A Media Kit For Your Blog

Finding Relevant Email Address

Most countries, or prominent cities in the world (like Paris or Amsterdam or Goa) where tourism is big, have a dedicated tourism board. The only problem is, however, getting the relevant email address of the person responsible for handling PR or looking after media queries.

Most countries in Europe and other developed nations, including Australia, USA and Japan, among others, have a dedicated website with relevant email addresses you can write to. The problem persists, however, while searching for contacts in Asian markets or other developing nations where the confusion is often expected — India, Philippines, Cambodia etc.

Speaking of my experiences of finding relevant tourism board contacts in India, we don’t have a dedicated website for the country tourism. Moreover, only a handful of states have a tourism board (and a dedicated website where you can find contact details of the working officials) including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, among a few others.

Tips for finding relevant contact details if you can’t find it online:

  • Use Twitter & Facebook handles of the tourism boards
  • Ask other travel bloggers

Writing An Effective Email

Now that you have a prepared a Media Kit and have found a few correct email addresses to be contacted, what next? Writing an effective email.

  • Introduce yourself in brief: Write a bit about you and your blog (no more than a paragraph). Include statistics on your blog or any other magazine you write for. Leave it to the Media Kit to talk about it all in detail.
  • Be clear with your request: Now that you’ve introduced yourself in the first couple of paragraphs, tell them what you’re looking for. Are you looking for a full-board FAM trip with an entire itinerary set for you in addition to flight tickets from your home country? Or are you already travelling to the destination and are open to any opportunities — free accommodation, free city tours etc (Tip: During your initial few sponsorships, it’s always a good idea to ask for ‘anything possible’. Be choosy once you’ve worked with a few sponsors)
  • Be clear about what you can offer: How many blog posts you will be writing about the trip? What kind of engagement on social media can you offer? Will you be helping your sponsors promote a hashtag too? Can you promise any rough figure of the total reach they can expect?

Having Faith In You

As I said earlier, Tourism Boards are always in search of travel-bloggers, and it doesn’t matter how immature your blog is, there is always a Tourism Board, out there, waiting for you. The only difference is — with increasing popularity and reach, you’re going to get more.

When I’d initially started blogging, every time I found other bloggers posting on Facebook about their sponsored trips with a state/country Tourism Board, I always thought that it would take at least two to three years, and a few dozen thousand Facebook likes, to persuade a Tourism Board for sponsoring my trip. But I was wrong!

Though it’s true that you need to build a good presence as a travel blogger, gain a few thousand social media followers, before you start scoring FAM trips but it’s still not impossible to get one during your initial months of blogging — just be prepared not to get privileges as an experienced blogger may otherwise do for the same trip. And one of the privileges may mean that the experienced blogger is perhaps getting paid as well, while you are not! But that doesn’t matter because as you slowly gain experience, you slowly become that (privileged) blogger too!

And as I say always, blogging isn’t as easy as many think. It requires long working hours, enough dedication and a lot of time to slowly get there!

Further Reading: Finding Travel Blogging Sponsorships | Different Ways Of Making Money Travel Blogging

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Different Ways Of Making Money Travel Blogging

One of the frequently asked questions that travel bloggers come across is how do they make money travel blogging, and it is only natural for someone to ask so. I mean travelling is an expensive hobby. You have a week-long holiday inGoa and you end up spending a couple of thousand Rupees — at the very least.

But if you dedicatedly work on your blog, you eventually start reaping the benefits. Most bloggers who quit their job to travel and blog full-time start making money during the first year of their blogging-stint. Though of course, the money generated is often not enough, and bloggers always have to rely on other sources of income (for example, I rely on freelance writing heavily — Read: How I Make Money Travel Blogging) there are still enough ways of generating revenues from your blog.

Different bloggers moreover use different ways of making money. But before I disclose all the ways I know of (or have tried in the past) let me put a word of warning first. If your goal of starting a travel blog is making money — don’t even bother starting! Because there are far easier ways of making money online than blogging. I would only recommend travel blogging if your goal is to travel, write about your journeys, photography or social media (or preferably all of the above) — and you only want to live that goal.

Tip: Because of low payouts, for Indian travel bloggers, full-time blogging is often only possible by combining two things: 1)  finding sponsors for their blog and thus not investing personal money in travelling, and 2) making (whatever possible) money from blogging and thus sustaining the lifestyle. Read: How To Find Sponsors & Travel The World For Free.

So if you still want to be a full-time travel blogger, these are the different ways to cash in on your hobby.

Banner Advertisements

Placing banner ads on your blog is perhaps the most traditional and ineffective way of monetizing. Ineffective because you need the website traffic of at least a few thousand readers every day to be making any money at all.

There are quite a few ad-networks that pay on Cost Per Click & Cost Per Impression basis (meaning everytime someone clicks or sees an ad on your website you earn money) but I’ve personally been using Google Adsense and recommend it — if you still decided to go for banner ads.  But as I said earlier, if the daily traffic on your website is less than 1000 visitors don’t even bother, because, you’re not going to make much money and only end up spoiling the user experience.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is wherein you place a special affiliate tracking link on your website to a merchant’s website, and when someone buys a product after getting redirected from your website, you receive a commission. Again, the success of affiliate marketing depends on the traffic you’re getting on articles including affiliate link. But how smartly have you embedded the link is also likely to play a role.

For travel bloggers, websites including Amazon.com, Booking.com, WorldNomads.com, Skyscanner.com, are most useful, but please read the terms and conditions before you apply for their affiliate program. I’ve been currently using and getting most of my affiliate revenue from Amazon and Booking.com. Here’s a good example of one of my pages full of affiliate links: Travel Gear I Use.

Link Selling

Also known as text-link advertising, link selling is when companies would pay just for giving a do-follow backlink to their website in one of your already published posts, or provide a full pre-written “guest post” with one or two do-follow backlinks. Why? Because it helps their website increase its search engine results, sending more people to their website from search engines and thus growing their business. (Tip: Google to know more about a no-follow and a do-follow backlink).

The practice is however frowned upon and is strictly against Google’s guidelines. And if you’re caught by Google, it can backfire, so I don’t recommend it. Yet many bloggers still make money this way — so I thought I’d mention it.

Product Reviews

Because you can influence your audience’s behaviour and buying habits, whether you’re a beauty blogger, food blogger, or travel blogger, product companies are actively looking for you to review their products on your blog — with some companies wanting to compensate you monetarily, with others, compensate by offering free products.

Once you have an established blog, you do not need to hunt for such activities because companies start contacting you directly, however, during the initial days of blogging, influencer platforms like Blogmint, Socialbeat and influencer.in are a few good ones to find product reviewing campaigns.

Getting Commissions From Hotels & Tour Operators

Some bloggers also work as an intermediator for connecting travellers with hotels and tour operators and earn a commission in between. The idea is simple — you write an article about an offbeat destination or a property that isn’t listed on any hotel booking site. Now people read your article and write to you asking for contact details about the property. You connect the two parties and earn a commission.

I tried making money this way during the initial six months of blogging, but the problem is it takes a lot of time converting leads and you only end up making a little money — usually less than 20% of the total sellout.

Selling Pictures On Stock-Image Websites

If you’re good at photography, consider investing some time and building a portfolio on various stock-image websites. Websites like 500px, Shutterstock, Alamy and Getty Images (there are over a dozen others) allow photographers to list their pictures, place a bid and monetize per sale.

Paid Media/Fam Trips

Though most of the FAM trip (or familiarization/media trips) only bear your cost of travelling, experiences and stay, some of them pay as well — depending upon your market credibility as a travel journalist, or of the publications, you write for.

I’ve attended nearly 20 FAM trips so far since I’ve started travel blogging and was paid only twice, and it happened recently after my blog was featured in two leading national newspapers in India The Economic Times & The Statesman in August 2017. Moreover, other than increasing page views on my blog, I now offer 70,000+ fan base on my different social media networks — which certainly act as another driving factor for sponsors taking me on a free media tour to pay me as well.

FAM trips are mostly organised by the tourism boards.

Running Group Tours

One of the benefits of working as an independent blogger and not just a travel-writer with any travel publication is that over time it helps you build your reader base and position yourself as a travel influencer. Now, you can use this reader base (or the people following you as their choice of travel influencer) for selling group tours and monetize.

This is one of the ways I’ve recently started monetizing — using Footloosedev Facebook page, create events and run group tours in the Himalayas.

Blogging Workshops or Online Courses

Teaching your fans about the art of travel blog and charging for it is another way of monetizing — and almost all successful travel bloggers do it, though some do it by organising events and in person (as I do) whereas others create online courses and sell them.

Freelancing

Last but not the least, freelancing is another (common) way many bloggers rely on for an additional source of income — including me. And I believe this is because of the fact that once you start blogging and gain a bit of experience in writing, it becomes fairly easier to write for other publications, and moreover gain their trust as a freelance writer at first place.

During my initial days of blogging, I relied on freelancing platforms like Upwork and Freelancer for finding any travel writing or photography related work. With increasing credibility as a travel blogger, I now write for a couple of print magazines and an in-flight magazine.

Related Read: How To Start A Travel Blog | Creating A Media Kit For Your Blog

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How To Create A Media Kit For Your Travel Blog

When I started blogging in 2015, I had no idea what a media kit is, and how crucial it is to have one for my travel blog, particularly if I wanted to travel the world scoring sponsorships.

I remember for the initial 4 months of blogging, I contacted about a hundred travel companies, and wrote them emails without my media kit — resulting in no positive response, and often, no response at all. Though initially, I thought it was because of the fact that I was new at blogging and my readership wasn’t impressive enough, I think now that I  look back at it, I can assure myself that it was because my email spoke highly of my inexperienced blogger-self. A 500-word long email with no media kit attached was, in fact, the reason (consider sending a 500-word email to an employer with no attached resume).

So, having a media kit is important — particularly if you’re looking at blogging as a long-term plan and want to gain travel sponsorships and make money from blogging.

How To Create A Media Kit For Your Blog

If you aren’t sure what a media kit is, imagine it as your blog’s resume, or a portfolio. A brief document speaking about you and your blog’s market-value.

It talks about your skills, interests, your blog’s statistics and the value you can add to a sponsor. Mention what all topics you write about, and the focus area of your blog — is it backpacking or offbeat travelling or something else. Other than this you talk about your social media and any other marketing channels you have. If you write for any other publications, mention that as well. All in all, a media kit is a 1-2 page of text and images and links (honestly) bragging about your blogging career.

Media Kit Format

  • Your name | Your bio
  • A photo of you 
  • Your blog name | About your blog
  • Your blog’s statistics – Page views, monthly unique traffic, social media followers, and your blog’s demographics.
  • About any other major publications, you regularly write for
  • Details about any media coverage, awards, honours
  • Services you offer – such as sponsored posts, product reviews, travel-photographs, organising travel-events etc
  • Your previous sponsors/clients – add details of any previous campaigns and the kind of engagement you provided. Link back to any pages having more information
  • Testimonials from previous client/sponsors

Click here to download My Media Kit As A Sample

Other Things To Keep In Mind

  • Never have more than 2 pages of your media kit — no one’s going to read it.
  • Try having a pdf format (if you have more than one page). For one page, however, either a pdf or a jpeg works. Avoid a word doc, as they don’t look impressive.
  • I used photoshop for creating my media kit as it allows easy designing options.
  • Always save your media kit in the original form so you can go back and easily change and update your numbers, stats etc. For example, I edit my media kit in Photoshop, so I save everything in a psd format so that I can go back and make changes as needed.

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5 Must See Holiday Destinations In Kerala

Kerala holds enough charisma with its stunning beaches on the Malabar Coast, green patches of coffee and tea plantations in the east, and the many intertwining backwater canals that can be found all across the state. Rich in heritage, abundant in wildlife and tropical charm, Kerala will give you that relaxing, laid-back vacation, that you are looking forward to. And for some quick assurance, here are my top five hand-picked destinations in Kerala:

Bekal: Located in the Kasargod district on the west coast of Kerala (about one and a half hour drive from Mangalore) Bekal boasts of many scenic attractions and an offbeat holiday experience. Attractions like the Bekal Fort, a feisty beach and calm backwaters moreover always add to the experience. Enjoy the sun-kissed beaches from Bekkal Cliff and coconut palms that sway in the breeze with a view of the emerald ocean on the horizon. And if you’re planning a short visit only, look no further than staying at Taj Bekal. Spread across 26 acres of beautiful open space, with an amazing view of the sea & backwaters, Taj Bekal is a visual delight.

Periyar Tiger Reserve: Thekkady is home to Kerala’s largest tiger reserve. The Periyar Tiger Reserve is also home to the Indian elephant, deer, wild boars and lion tailed macaques. Enjoy the popular boat rides in this park and stock up on spices and herbs when you pass by the spice town of Kumily. The reserve is known for its treks and walks as it encompasses most of Thekkady.

Anamudi: In Kerala’s Idukki district lies the Anamudi Hills which stands at 2,695 metres and is the highest peak in South India. The hillside is filled with several flowers, shrubs and wildlife that are unique to the region. The view at the top is breath-taking with large amounts of tropical forests that deck the landscape. Tigers, leopards, macaques and the langur are found in this region.

Alappuzha Backwaters: A stop-over at the backwaters at Alappuzha will take you through a large expanse of paddy fields and beaches. Travel by a typical Kerala houseboat through the maze of canals and lakes. In Alappuzha, you can also enjoy beaches and riverlets that dot the region. The district is famous for boat races, coir products and its thriving marine industry.

Wayanad: Wayanad which translates to the ‘land of paddy fields’ is known for its waterfalls, plantations and wildlife. The district lies in the Western Ghats at a height of 2100 metres. It is home to indigenous tribes. There are several Wayanad Resortsin the region that would spoil you for choice and help you experience local cuisine, music and dance. Savour Chemeen Biriyani, appams and stew, Puttu with Kadala curry and Pattri with vadas and gravy, and sweets like Halwa.

Kerala never fails to surprise you with its white sandy beaches, tropical paradises, rich historical treasures, green scapes and spice plantations. Here’sś our list of the 5 must see places in God’s Own Country which will give you a glimpse of the best of Kerala on your next trip!

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How To Find Travel Blogging Sponsorships And Travel The World For Free

Finding sponsorships for your travel blog and thus travel the world for free isn’t a tough thing to do. You just need to work for it!

When people come across my blog and find out that I’ve been travelling the world for years without having any permanent source of income (no, my dad isn’t supporting my travels anymore!) first thing they ask me is how I fund myself. Those familiar with the business of travel blogging, more closely, rather ask: how I find sponsors for my travels.

So first things first: unlike as a fashion or a tech-blogger, surviving as a travel blogger requires a combination of two things: one, making money from blogging, and two, finding sponsors and travelling the world for free. Because unlike with other forms of blogging (take tech-blogging, again, for instance) in travel blogging, every story requires a bit of money invested. For example, a blog post on the latest Android version may not require you to pay for anything to get the content but just an update in your phone, whereas a blog post on travelling requires you to travel to a destination (and thus, buying flight or train tickets) book a hotel, and pay for food and other activities you wanted to try — bringing the cost of investment per blog much higher to that of blogging on any other subject.

Now you either need to be one of the top bloggers in the world and earn more than what an average person around you does in a full-time job (which is definitely not happening during your initial years of blogging) in order to survive, or you need to find sponsors and travel for free, and at the same time, make money different ways and sustain — which you do by selling pictures, working as a freelance writer, placing ads on your blog, generating affiliate leads etc. (Read: How I Make Money Travel Blogging)

Finding Sponsors For Your Blog And Travelling For Free

Tourism boards and independent travel companies constantly look for influencers that are capable of influencing people for travelling to a particular destination. And travel bloggers are just a perfect (and moreover a very economical) way for them to reaching out to their targeted audience.

During my 2+ year of travel blogging stint so far, I’ve worked with over 50+ travel companies and nearly 20 tourism boards — with at least one invitation from a country or a state tourism board (outside of India) every month, since March 2017. This helped me travel more than 10 countries (since March) without having to pay for a penny — not even for the flight tickets.

So sponsored trips help me travel for free and continue exploring places and writing about them, whereas different ways of monetizing from my blog (as well as working as a freelance writer) help maintain the cash flow. Though finding sponsors isn’t as easy as it may sound, it at least isn’t unread. So read ahead if you still want to work hard, and learn the art of finding sponsors for travel-blogging.

First Step: Building Your Portfolio By Finding Independent Sponsors

Blogging takes time to gain followers. And lesser followers in the initial phase of blogging means no sponsors, at least no big sponsors. So rather look for small sponsors — a hotel located in the city you’re next visiting, or a tour company locally operating there.

During my first six to eight months of full-time travel blogging, I didn’t get an opportunity to work with a tourism board (tourism boards are the government boards representing a city, state or a country at large). Searching for emails from people working with tourism boards and writing them emails was moreover only wasting time. So I changed focus, as a few other travel bloggers suggested, and tried partnering with local businesses instead.

Get a list of hotels in the city you’re next visiting on booking.com, and shoot them an email. Or look for a tour company on Tripadvisor and see if they can offer you a free tour.

Next, Contacting Tourism Boards

Once you reach a minimum traction and have built some portfolio to show-off, start pitching emails to tourism boards. Start with local tourism boards. Eg Ahmedabad tourism board (if we have one) rather than Gujarat tourism board, and it’s for simple reason — country tourism boards are hard to impress initially. The first three tourism boards that sponsored me were all local too — Goa, Zurich (in Switzerland) and Stuttgart (in Germany).

The best thing about working with tourism boards is that they look after everything you may think of — from flight tickets to your morning bed-tea. For example, my previous press trip (also known as FAM trip or a Familiarization trip) with Germany tourism board that happened last month in October 2017 not only included a 5-day all-inclusive itinerary in Germany but transfer from the airport, flight tickets from India as well as the Schengen Visa. All that was needed from my side was my availability.

But that doesn’t mean you need to wait for too long to even start approaching tourism boards. Having a 6-month-old travel blog with good traffic inflow and a decent presence on social media networks is enough. [Read: How To Approach Tourism Boards For Travel Blogging Sponsorships]

Getting In Touch With Other Bloggers

Getting sponsorships in the digital industry is as much a game of having good content as it is of having relevant email addresses. And fellow bloggers are a great source of correct emails addresses of people working with various tourism boards. They may moreover have an idea (based out of their experiences) about which tourism boards are currently working with bloggers in your country, and which are not. So talk to other bloggers and get some useful tips.

A Useful Tip — Increase your chances of getting sponsored trip by increasing your reach

An ideal way of improving your chances of getting sponsors for travel is by believing in the expression of ‘the power of unity’. How? Imagine it this way…

If 1000 people read your blog every month you have a readership of 1000 people in a month. Now if you start writing for a travel magazine from tomorrow that has a readership of 100,000 a month, what do you become? A travel blogger and a freelance writer (let’s call you a travel influencer) who can offer a possible readership of 100,000+1000 people a month. Now that’s a good looking figure for motivating a travel company for sponsoring your trip.

Remember… Professional travel blogging isn’t only about having an impressive blog, but about having an impressive personal portfolio.

Further Reading: How To Get Your First Few Sponsors | Different Ways Of Making Money Travel Blogging | How To Create A Media Kit For Your Travel Blog

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My Biggest Solo Travelling Lessons

When you’ve been travelling for long enough, you start calculating the benefits. You wonder whether your solo travels have made you a better and stronger person and whether all these journeys, that you’ve so far taken, have given you a deeper understanding of yourself – from within, and without. You wonder if you want to keep continue travelling, or is it about time to find some stillness in life and look for a purpose in another direction.

I’ve been wondering the same thing, repeatedly asking myself the same question – what is it that I’ve gained through all these years of solo travelling. Has it made me a better person and perhaps a bit stronger too from within. Do I want to keep continue doing it? And the answer that came to me was a sure “Yes!”

Solo Travelling Has Made Me A Decision Maker

Before I started travelling solo I was a team player and not a leader. My decisions would wait for others. But when you’ve travelled for long, having no one but yourself to rely on, you learn the art of decision making. You learn to resolve.

Though solitude and making all the decisions by yourself — with no one to get an assurance from — can be struggling at times, particularly if you’re new at it. But time spent with your inner self eventually makes you reflect on your life and become a better decision maker.

I’ve Learned The Art Of Small Talk

Ask anyone who knew me before I started travelling, they will tell you how much I hated — and I mean just hated — small talk. Growing up in New Delhi I became like a majority of people in a big city — cold and busy. I would stick to the idea of ‘Few Friends. Good Friends’ forgetting how amazing it feels engaging with a stranger waiting for a bus alongside you, or with someone in the long queue for the ATM cash-machine. I’d almost forgotten how disconnected our little lives have actually become, despite living in the world of ever-connected devices.

With solo travelling, and small talks being my only way of making friends, I’ve become a bit more friendly. While I am still shy sometimes, I no longer find myself wondering why this stranger asked me how I am doing today. As if they really, truly care. Instead, I entertain their questions and shoot a smile on my good days. I’ve learned that you never know what kind of impact you will have on a person.

Mishaps Are Just A Part Of The Journey 

I remember the first time I was planning a solo journey, after quitting the job to travel, I planned everything. I knew where I was going, for how long, and how I would get there. I was scared of uncertain mishaps.

But over the years, how I plan my travel, has totally changed. Now I’m a last-minute planner and rarely travel with any set itinerary. When plans change or things go wrong, I just roll with it. Life on the road works out in the end and mishaps are just a part of the journey.

For example, while backpacking in Europe earlier this year, I had my camera stolen in Bratislava, Slovakia —  with almost half of my press trip still left unattended. Now I could remorse over what happened and spoil the rest of my trip or accept it all courageously. Accepting it all courageously, I reported the incident to the police and had the story (of what happened) published in a couple of local Slovakian-newspapers, in addition to writing about it on my blog. In the end, hundreds of Slovaks came forward conveying their deepest condolences and asking if they can help me in any way. A kind guy from Bratislava moreover donated a camera he wasn’t in need of, anymore. Not only did I gain a lifelong lesson from what happened, I also explored a bright side of Slovakia, and its people, who come out as a force, not wanting to have crime walking freely on their streets.

Facing Your Fears Isn’t As Scary As It Seems

When you’ve got to figure everything yourself you may feel anxious. Maybe a bit overwhelming too in the beginning. You may feel nervous talking to strangers or feel awkward being in a restaurant or a museum all alone. But over time, you learn to win-over your fears — no matter how big or small. Things quickly become less frightening once you step up to face them.

When I Started travelling solo, my biggest fear — being an introvert, and having an irrationally anxious mind about everything — was of being alone in public spaces. I would feel so uncomfortable everytime someone shared a look while laughing with their friends as I sat alone with an expressionless face. But slowly I found my comfort zone in solitude and yet staying totally absorbed in whatever I was doing. From reading a book in a train with a dozen eyes set upon me to walking in an open market as I carefully gulp an ice cream, I’m now more capable of handling my fear of solitude than I ever imagined.

Gratitude & Compassion Is The Greatest Lesson In Cultivating Happiness

Traveling solo instils the character traits of empathy and gratitude more creatively than you can imagine. When you travel places and travel alone, you get an eye for understanding world-realities from someone else’s perspective. A middle-aged mother in Cambodia working hard to send her kids for schooling. Farmers investing long, arduous hours of growing the rice and coffee that fill our tables in the cities. All these realities may otherwise seem customary and normal in day-to-day life, but while travelling with a broader mind, you start respecting what you have and develop gratitude towards others.

For example, while travelling in South India and the Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe, I found how despite being kicked out and fleeing from their own hoses, Tibetan Buddhist immigrants — that are now living in India — are still much happier than many of us living in big cities, chasing hedonism, are. Practicing gratitude and compassion is not exclusive to travel, but long-term travel cultivates them much closer and instils the practice deep into our life.

Also Read: Impermanance & Change Are A Part Of Life | Why Are We Always So Uninterested To See Our Own Country?

How To Travel From Kuala Lumpur To Penang

Penang is one of those rare frozen-in-time places which connects centuries-old history with today’s modern lifestyle. It caters for the history buff and travel photographer but also nature-lovers. It’s one of those offbeat, yet popular places in southeast Asia, and Malaysia in particular, that has still maintained its laid-back vibe and an old town charm. In short… Penang is Amazing.

And with that fact, comes the hard reality — soaring popularity and increasing tourist inflow. More and more tourists are travelling to Penang every day. The good thing is, however, getting to Penang is easier than one can imagine. You have options to choose from.

The basis of time it takes to how much it costs, here’s my way of understanding how to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.

If You Want To Travel Superquick, Pay Not So Much But Miss The Journey — FLY 

  • Costs around 700 Indian Rupees (nearly 10 USD) — somewhere between what a bus and train costs.
  • Quicker than both bus and train — total three hour travel time, with one hours flight journey and two hours for check-in and check-out.
  • Unlike the bus and train (that gives the best views) you’re going to miss the entire journey, locked in a tiny air-bus.
  • Tip: For cheapest tickets fly with AirAsia.

If You Want To Travel Quick, Enjoy The Journey The Most But Pay Too Much — Travel In TRAIN

  • Costs around 1200 Indian Rupees (nearly 18 USD) — expensive than both bus and a flight.
  • Quicker than a bus, but less quicker than a flight — takes nearly 4 hours plus one hour ferry. (Please note that the train station is located in Butterworth in mainland Malaysia, and not Penang Island. Whereas the airport and bus station(s) are both located on Penang Island)
  • Train journey gives the best views of countryside Malaysia.

If You Want To Travel Cheapest, Despite A Long Journey — Take A BUS

  • Costs around 350 Indian Rupees (nearly 6 USD) — cheaper than both train and a flight.
  • Takes more than 8 hours. Most buses often run late and end up taking more travel time than what they promise.
  • Driving on highways isn’t an enjoyable experience, even if you’re in Malaysia for the first time. A few cities you explore on the way, is, however, a bit interesting.
  • Tip: Take the bus service called Billion Stars. They are the cheapest and have massive seats — no smaller than a business class seat on a flight.

Conclusion: Travel by bus if saving money is your priority, fly if you want to travel quicker and take the train if nothing matters and you only want to enjoy the journey.

Also Read: How To Travel Penang | Street Art In Penang | Clan Jetties In Penang

Offbeat Destinations Near Manali For A Peaceful Holiday

The town of Manali, in Himachal Pradesh, is one of the top tourist destinations in Indian Himalayas. Its close proximity to New Delhi and Chandigarh is moreover continuously making it easier for the crowds to break away from the usual city-madness and experience the peaceful Himalayas. And with the upcoming 4-way highway, all the way from Chandigarh to Manali (with New Delhi to Chandigarh already having one) it is going to be easier than ever for people to reach Manali — meaning, Manali is going to get more crowded, more smokey and bustling with life in the coming years.

Recently while travelling to Manali (long story short: I visit Manali and surrounding a few dozen times a year, while staying for a few dozen weeks. I know the place better than my home New Delhi) I realised that Manali isn’t a place I would want to travel to. And it also isn’t a place I would write a Travel Guide for — Things To See And Do In Manali! Not anymore!

The idea of having a tranquil holiday experience is less like a reality in Manali now, and more like a dream. So ward off. Instead, head to these 4 peaceful towns in under 25 km from Manali.

Starting with least amazing places, this is my list of offbeat destinations near Manali, that guarantee for a peaceful holiday:

Old Manali: The old town of Manali is a hippie oasis located 2 kilometres from the Mall road or the main bus station in Manali. Compared to Manali, Old Manali offers a peaceful and a relaxing experience while offering something for everyone — from booze to yoga centers to a relaxing cafe experience. It is moreover cheaper to stay in Old Manali than in the main town — by at least half the price of what you pay for in Manali — making Old Manali an even better alternative, if the idea is to stay very close to Manali.

To get to Old Manali just take an auto-rickshaw for 50 Rupees (from either side of the Mall Road) or take a 20-minute uphill walk.

The Town Of Sethan: A popular ski-destination in winter and a campsite in summer, Sethan is, without any second thought, my personal favourite destination near Manali — particularly if the idea is of relaxing for a few days. Surrounded by mountains higher than 4,000 metres, Sethan remains an untouched Buddhist town. It is moreover an offbeat town idea for snow activities like Skiing and Snowboarding.

To get to Sethan, you will require to have your own vehicle and drive nearly 15 km south-east of Manali. Or you can take the bus from Manali (towards Kullu) and get off at the next town, called Prini. From Prini your stay plus transportation can be organised. Read: Sethan In Himachal Pradesh

Solang Valley: Though Solang Valley is popular for adventure activities like paragliding, quad-biking and zip-lining, its real charm, at least in my view, is camping on your own. Located at around 14 km further north of Manali (towards Leh), Solang Valley offers easy flat spaces and a number of restaurants at your disposal. Just bring your own tent, a few night-lamps and enjoy the mountains in a bargain. To find an ideal camping space, if you’re confused, ask anyone about the zip-lining site in Solang Valley (there’s only one spot!) and you will find plenty of flat spaces around it. Right next to the ziplining, you can spot an old Shiva temple, guarded by a few feet high wall. You can also camp on the premises of Shiva temple for some assurance.

For the comfort of a hotel, I can recommend Solang Ski Resort located on the foothill of Solang Valley. You may also find many campsites on the way from Manali to Solang Valley.

Hallan ValleyAt under 25 km from Manali (towards Kullu) lies one of the tiniest valleys in Himachal Pradesh called Hallan Valley. Beautifully inhabited by local Himachali with landscapes full of an unspoilt nature, Hallan Valley guarantees an undisturbed holiday. The only disappointing thing is, however, there are no full-time functioning Guest House in the entire valley, but a few homestays.

To reach there, you will need to drive or catch a bus for nearly 17km toward Kullu (from Manali) on old Kullu-Manali highway and then take the Hallan Road.

Also Read About: Charanag In Hallan Valley

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Travel With A Backpack Or A Suitcase?

A die-hard budget backpacker rolling a ‘pretty’ suitcase on the wild-west Kuala Lumpur-ian streets, sounds confusing right? That’s exactly how you’d have found me — struggling between the hard choices of lifting and rolling an 18 kg suitcase — had we met a month ago.

It all happened when I was invited by Selangor Tourism for a 5-day blogging trip in the Selangor region, in Malaysia, back in July, and an idea struck my mind that ‘I don’t want to look the odd one in the group, carrying a backpack.’ A quick phone call to another blogger, who was accompanying me on the trip, and my fear turned into reality. At least everybody else was attending the trip like a behaving gentleman. Reluctantly, I decided to put my hard-earned respect at stake, ditched my backpack behind, for the first time in my previous 2-year travel stint, and carried along a nice-looking suitcase.

An Easy Lesson, Learned The Hard Way

As soon as my FAM trip got finished, and I was left on my own, like a helpless solo traveller, with the choice of calling for a taxi or walking for a kilometer and saving a bit of money, things looked much more simplified, but less exciting. I realised what I was missing. My backpack.

I mean lifting 18 kg with just one arm as you step down an underpass, only to quickly climb the equal number of stairs again, is not an enjoyable experience. It makes you think, and think twice, with every conclusion coming down to… ‘a backpack would have made it so much easier.’

A Suitcase Is Meant For Tourists, And A Backpack For A Complete Traveller

Suitcases are just fine to travel with, if you’re going to follow a routine. In fact, it may just feel much more convenient to carry one. But if figuring out everything — right from airport shuttle to your backpacker hostel in a new city —  is what you’re going to do, consider carrying a backpack, and let your luggage rest on your shoulders. Because worrying about your luggage under such complex circumstances is the last thing you want to do.

This particularly applies to solo travellers who don’t have the luxury of asking their friend to keep an eye on their luggage, because they need to walk 200m to pee, or 400m to find the city-map. With a backpack resting on your shoulders, you don’t need to be worrying about that.

A Backpack Promises Freedom Of Movement

A backpack moreover promises free movement, and if you’re on a few weeks or a month-long travel, you will eventually need it, and need a lot of it. For example, after two weeks in Malaysia, when I finally landed in Western Australia to spend three weeks in the region, I found a major problem coming my way — of a restricted movement. Dragging a suitcase, in most of the world as we know it today, is not convenient, as so was the case with Western Australia. Though in big cities you can always easily manage, as soon as you leave the city and end up in a countryside (forget German countrysides, that country is developed to another level!) pedestrian paths disappear.
It was because of my suitcase that I couldn’t explore many offbeat places in the country, as I had to stick to a routemap where public transport — even if at a low frequency — functioned. With a backpack, such a thought never bothers you, particularly not in a country where hitchhiking is vaguely accepted.
And hitchhiking with a suitcase, well… it would have just made me look stupid to another level.

Other Reasons To Consider

And then there are other situations where a suitcase doesn’t compliments your travels, but a backpack does. Take a hostel dormitory for example, and imagine half a dozen bed stacked right next to each other, double storied. In a situation like this a backpack is easier to deal with because of a shortage of personal space. A backpack moreover promises quick packing and unpacking of your stuff. Opening a suitcase only to get your toothbrush out and then reopen again, to put it back again, however, may feel annoying.

A feel good factor as you walk with a backpack moreover adds up to the entire charm of travelling, forget the fact that it keeps you fitter. Yes, backpack makes you look adventurous, even if you’re not.

Still confused? Get a wheeled-backpack.

Though I’ve personally never used a wheeled-backpack and aren’t sure how useful they are, others people I met on the road, particularly in Europe, have always recommended one. This for example, is a good wheeled backpack, you may consider investing in, should you wanted to enjoy the perks of both— a backpack, as well as a suitcase!


Further Reading: Tips On Choosing A Perfect Backpack

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How To See Berlin In Less Than 6 Hours

Berlin is one of those few European towns that nobody should miss, especially if someone’s visiting Germany. There is art, history, culture, nightlife, an old town charm, fancy pubs — in short, something for everyone. In fact, there is so much to travel for in Berlin that you at least need a few days to explore it all.

During my recent blogging trip with Germany Tourism, I ended up having less than 6 hours in the town, before I had to catch a flight to New Delhi. The good thing was, I had a Germany Tourism official (and I’d thank Mr Jens Becker again for this) travelling with me, who, before leaving, not only helped me locate the lockers in the central train station in Berlin, and buy a day pass for the public transport to save me time, but also created a personalised travel guide to cover the highlights of Berlin on a fast track.

In less than 6 hours, I covered most of the highlights that Berlin had to offer. Though of course I still only skimmed through its skin, and didn’t see any of the landmarks from inside, but only from outside, I can at least say that I now know Berlin, even though not so thoroughly. So if you too are bounded with time and are going to be in Berlin for only a few hours, here’s your quick Berlin travel guide to know Berlin better!

How To See Berlin In Less Than 6 Hours

Visit The Central Train Station (Hauptbahnhof): Unless you’ve already deposited your luggage at the airport, or are visiting the town during a flight layover and have nothing to carry, you’ve every reason to visit the central station in Berlin. And even if you don’t have to use the locker, there are a couple of reasons to visit it anyway. One, it is at the central train station where your airport shuttle service drops/picks you up, from the town; and two, because Berlin central train station is an attraction in itself.

Its huge and thundering building is one of Europe’s mightiest, and perhaps the most elegant too. With several levels of tracks serving over a thousand trains a day, a vast shopping mall of commercial activity, and a creative architectural marvel, a quick stroll on its different levels — particularly the second floor, from where you get decent panoramic views over the city — is a must. And last but not the least, you will need to visit the station to take a train to your next destination, which is The East Side Gallery

Visit the East Side Gallery: From the central train station, take any train going towards Ostreuz (a popular intersection) and get off at Ostbahnhof. From Ostbahnhof, walk towards the East Side Gallery, alongside the Spree river, and back. The 1.2 km stretch of East Side gallery will take you to the most popular highlight in Berlin — The Berlin Wall. It is on this stretch, where among the other graffiti art murals, you will also find the popular painting from the 90’s called “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” — the socialist fraternal kiss.

Slowly walk all the way to the The Wall Museum and back, understanding how things would have looked in the past, before the collapse of the Berlin Wall — with two identical looking parts of the city (having no difference in culture and people either) being hopelessly separated from each other.

Walking along this one mile stretch of the East Side Gallery, moreover let you explore the new-age “industrial” look of Berlin, with massive tech and IT buildings slowly taking over the city.

Walk back to Ostbahnof and take any train going towards the central station.

Exploring Historic Monuments Across The River Spree: Once you’re back at the central station, take the exit towards Washingtonplatz (the opposite exit from where the airport shuttle leaves) and cross the river Spree.

Now, first in the list is the Parliament Building, or Reichstag. 

You will definitely have no enough time to take a guided tour inside the parliament, however, if you think you can spare an extra 30-45 minutes, visit the Reichstag dome for great views of the city. It is free to access but you need to book your place in advance. You can register at the Bundestag website, where you can choose a date and time.

Next in the list is Brandenburg Gate for a quick photo op. A symbol of Berlin and German division during the Cold War, Brandenburg Gate is now a national symbol of peace and unity and a mandatory stop for anyone visiting Berlin.

Click a few good pictures of yourself with Brandenburg Gate in the background, or perhaps add a royal horse-drawn carriage as an additional subject and make your picture exciting to another level.

I concluded my trip visiting only the above-mentioned places in nearly five hours, before making it to the central station, collecting my luggage, and catching the airport shuttle, which takes nearly 15 to 20 minutes to get to the airport, depending upon the time of the day. If it’s busy on the roads, keep another 10-15 minutes of buffer time to avoid any disaster.


And a bonus: If you think you’ve another half-an-hour or so in hand, five minutes walk from Brandenburg Gate is the  powerful Jewish Memorial, which definitely is worth a visit. Try to enter the underground museum here (also free entry), it is well worth your while.

And last but not the least, Berlin is Germany’s capital and the largest city in the country with one of the most turbulent histories of any European capitals. There is a lot of history and art to uncover here. Where the new-age “industrial” look of the city is slowly taking over the historic part of it, Berlin, at least for now, has maintained its old town charm. And among all the other big towns I’ve explored in Germany so far, including Stuttgart and Frankfurt, Berlin remains one of the most fun, coolest and diverse towns. There’s a constant sense of motion here!

My Other City Travel Guides For Germany: Rügen | Kühlungsborn | Rüdesheim