iReview | What I've Learnt In Six Months From Two Backpacks and A Suitcase

It was somewhere in June 2014 (a year before this post was written) when the keeda (Hindi for bug) to consider quitting my desk job to travel took seed in my heart, head and feet! It was not just a whim that I was acting out of. It was more.
I had spent a week solo travelling in Kutch after which I’d taken an overnight train back to Mumbai to catch a bus that night to Velas to witness the hatching of the Olive Ridley Turtles. Less than 8 weeks after that I was going to Bhutan. And the weekend I returned from Bhutan was spent chasing fireflies in the interiors of Maharashtra.
(Read: How Travel Made Me Quit My Job)


Cut the chase to the moment when I heard myself say, ‘If I never try, I’ll never know’. So I took that leap of faith.
That’s what 2015 has been all about – keep trying.
The first six months seem to have paid off rather well. I’ve been on the move – Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana - thanks to my application for a fellowship program coming through. The fellowship has been an opportunity to travel with the end of taking technology to the grassroots. I’ve been the first candidate so far.
(Read: Making Travel Count - HuffPost India)

Those six months drew to a close in June 2015! Looking back it’s been more than the external journey. Because the internal journey has been one of many firsts – from living outside Mumbai, long-term travel to places I’d never been to before.

The packing dilemma:
For one, everything I owned and needed eventually came to reside in two backpacks and a trolley bag. All that was known to me then was the duration – nothing more, nothing less.

Would there be need for formal wear for my meetings?
What about that LBD?
Can I pull six months off in my sneakers? Oh wait! Is the LBD coming along?
What about my friend’s wedding in Jaipur? I can’t be a hobo there.
Oh my god and winter wear! May be I’ll just layer up. No! That means more clothes
And my external HDDs? And books, good old paperbacks
Why? Why won’t everything fit in one bag? Okay two…

I spent three days trying to pack my stuff. To pack or not to pack was (and will be) the worst dilemma ever.
What if I don’t pack <insert item> then need it when I’m in <insert location> and have to purchase it again? Such a waste!
The internal monologue continued. With everything from towels to bedsheets and clothes including winter and wedding wear rolled up – not folded – all I thought I’d need wound up in two backpacks and a trolley!
Today I’m wiser than that. Four to six pairs would be more than sufficient – duration of travel notwithstanding. LBD or no LBD ain’t matter.
If you can’t carry what you bring, you should bring only what you can carry. Yeah, I could carry two backpacks and lug the third. But in hindsight I didn’t need to.

And then some more…
I had to travel light. And travel light I did. Just one backpack (the smallest one I had at that) and nothing else – leaving most of the other stuff back in Delhi whenever I was on the go.
Travel light had other connotations too.
To travel light meant knowing how to be in the moment and purge the mind of any preconceived notions about the Self, the places and its people. This meant more internal monologues than packing for six months ever required!
I was moving about to fulfil the purpose of the fellowship – i.e., meet the NGOs wherever they were located. The role was new and unlike anything I had essayed in the past – Business Development. Mind you I’m not the quintessential gregarious kind and yet here I was shaking hands and engaging in conversations with strangers who were CEOs of non-profits spread and strewn all over the country Read: Investing Their Lifetime To Change One Life At A Time - SocialCops Blog)

Lessons from the road: From A to F
Each month has seen me through a different phase
Lesson #1: Adaptation – I’d barely spent 10 days in Delhi when I’ first arrived and soon it was time for me to head to Patna. And just when I had gotten used to Patna I was travelling to other parts of Bihar. There would be no time for recovery. The more I did this, the easier it became for me to ease into my environments. And gradually the state of constantly being in an unfamiliar terrain wasn’t bothering me anymore.
(Read: Bihar Belies ...And How!)
Adapting ...and not just to the winters of Bihar

Lesson #2: Belonging – All this travelling was not without the struggles of staying in touch with family and friends – this in spite of the fact that there were no time-zones involved. It wasn’t about being accessible to people back home but about knowing how to access them in trying times; especially when my nerves were getting the better of me.
I was used to a life where I could reach out and be reached out to in person. This had been turned on its head and I had days where I was struggling to hold on. But that was only until I began to actively reach out and ask for time sometimes to just hash out ideas or just listen in – suddenly I could belong anywhere.

Lesson #3: Calm and collected – I’d moved to West Bengal by this time and wasn’t struggling to adapt nor questioning where I belonged. I had come into my own. The newness of both, full time travel as well as my role through the fellowship had faded away. Period.
(Read: Walking Through Calcutta

Calm and collected ...up for a ride on the local train in Calcutta

 Lesson #4: Disconnected – And then I was caught unawares again.  I suddenly seemed to have misplaced my travel pulse. I was in Chhattisgarh – a state I was intrigued by. But something didn’t feel alright.
In a Rorschach Inkblot meets Maslow’s Pyramid (because I went from being absolutely clueless to compartmentalising it right down to the last bit) I realised that the disconnect was linked with the need to strike and find that balance between work and travel – because prior to the Fellowship the line between work and travel were well defined. But now it was all at once, together.
With it deconstructed I was back on my feet – figuratively of course. Anxiety can catch you off guard and how!
(Read: Unlearning Fear In Chhattisgarh)
Disconnected ...Seeking my travel pulse in Chhattisgarh

Lesson #5: Easing in – It was two-third mark; my fifth month into the fellowship. I realised that in ways more than one I had within me the resourcefulness to stick it out on the road even when there a niggling sense that maybe I should call it quits. But that I didn’t and had in turn gained a couple of insights into the kind of person I was, was what the difference.
This was not about targets or appraisals and yet it was more rewarding than any promotion or salary hike I’d seen in the past.
(Read: A Month In The Life Of A Himsagar Fellow - SocialCops Blog)
Easing In ...Sitting back to take in the view

 Lesson #6: Figuring the road ahead – To say that I haven’t been plagued by thoughts of what I’ll do next would be plain denial. But if travel – from the days before I’d quit my job – had taught me anything, it was about being present in the moment. Zen. I can make an effort in a certain direction but I couldn’t control what comes (or doesn’t come) from it.
So over the past few weeks on my last month on the fellowship, I’ve been channelizing my energies in clarifying for myself what it is I’d like to do. And I think I’ve made my first breakthrough.

I don’t know what lies ahead of me for certain. It’s a lot like what it was when I quit my job and left behind everything certain that came with it. But I’ve made it this far. I’ve solo travelled my way through 6 states in 5 months – one which required me to take 17 trains and some innumerable bus rides.
It’s been a validation – of not just my ability to travel but also to write about my experiences. Not because I had to but because I wanted to. To have been able to write posts not just on my own blog but on other platforms too is something that gives me great satisfaction.

I know the stuff that I’m made of – I am made of stuff to take the road less travelled.

And it’s been proved.

Figuring The Road Ahead... 
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