Journey with travel blogger Shivya Nath through life over the last 10 years. In a recent interview with us, she shared some of her most incredible adventures over the past decade – from quitting her corporate job and traveling the world responsibly (and solo) to collaborating on various sustainable initiatives. Read on to learn her some of her most valuable insights into conscious living, sustainable travel and much more.
I quit my full-time corporate job in Singapore back in 2011.
I’d been working full time for nearly two years. Even though I loved my work and team, I felt a sense of being caged up in having to follow the nine-to-five routine every single day. I confessed to a colleague one day that I was feeling burnt out. He said, “You’ve been here two years, I’ve been here nearly 20—you get used to it”. That was like a wake-up call for me. I didn’t want to just get used to this life. I wanted to feel excited and passionate waking up every day, seeking new adventures, having the freedom to spend the majority of my time doing the things I loved.
So I decided to take a two-month unpaid sabbatical from work, of which I spent the first month exploring Europe with a friend and the second volunteer traveling solo in the Trans-Himalayan desert of Spiti in northern India. For the first time in my life, I hiked and hitch-hiked alone, swapped life stories with complete strangers, slept under millions of stars and the Milky Way, and realized that there were ways to live a purposeful, fulfilling life that could also be financially viable.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, moved back to India and began working with social enterprises, freelancing, consulting, and dabbling in anything that could pay the bills. I began to travel to remote corners of India and started my travel blog to record my adventures.
After a couple of years, I realized that all my work was online and I didn’t really need all the stuff I had accumulated over the years. So, in 2013, I gave up my rented apartment, sold most of what I owned, packed up my life in two bags, and began to live ‘nomadically.’
Until the pandemic hit in 2020, I’d been living out of the same two bags, staying in one place for a month—or as long as it inspired me—and then moving on!
I grew up in a protective family at the foothills of the Himalayas in India and as you can imagine, they couldn’t fathom why I’d leave a well-paying job in Singapore to go on to a nomadic life. So I didn’t really tell them at first.
But gradually, my blog gained an audience. My stories got published on popular publications like BBC Travel and National Geographic. I published my first book, The Shooting Star, and it went on to become a national bestseller. And my family came to understand that travelling and writing could sustain me financially as well as emotionally.
Committing to Conscious Travel
From a traveler’s perspective, responsible travel is about being conscious of our travel choices from the time we begin planning our trip to the time we return home. To think of the environmental and social impact our choices have on the places we visit and, ideally, have a positive impact.
That could mean choosing destinations that are typically under the tourism radar or popular destinations in low season, opting for modes of transport with a low environmental footprint, staying at environmentally conscious and socially inclusive accommodations, supporting low-impact local businesses, and being mindful of what and how we post on social media.
It’s important because irresponsible tourism is ruining the very places we’re travelling to explore, and in the midst of a climate crisis, we can no longer ignore the impact of our collective choices. But most importantly, it’s a more immersive, insightful, and adventurous way to travel! A long land journey, for instance, is infinitely more adventurous than hopping on a boring old plane.
My perspective on travel began to change as I began to prioritize lesser-known destinations and spend time with local communities. It made me realize that traveling is not just about sightseeing and photos, but a deeper change in our world view.
Pandemic aside, since I first began travel writing, traveling has become more accessible. Flights are cheaper than ever before and Instagram has changed the way we see the world.
I’ve gone back to places I’d fallen in love with, only to find them ruined by mass tourism, chaotic construction, the plastic menace, a strain on local resources, and other pitfalls of tourism. That gradually led me down the path of sustainability; first, re-evaluating my own travel footprint, then writing about responsible travel choices as a more immersive way to experience the world.
Along the way, I’ve been collaborating with local organizations to build projects that create awareness and offer travelers a chance to give back to the places they visit:
In Munsiyari, in the high reaches of Uttarakhand, I collaborated with Himalayan Ark to build digital storytelling skills among the local community. We held Instagram and photography workshops in the village, crowdsourced smartphones through my blog, and launched @voicesofmunsiari, India’s first—and perhaps only—Instagram channel to be run entirely by a rural mountain community.
In Spiti, I collaborated with Spiti Ecosphere to address the growing single-use plastic crisis. We built the I Love Spiti art installation from plastic bottles gathered from the streets of Kaza, held discussions with local hotels and restaurants to reduce the sale of plastic bottled water, organized a workshop for the local women’s self-help group on the perils of single-use plastic, and partnered with LifeStraw to install drinking water refill points for travelers.
Through an online fundraiser, I raised funds for a reforestation initiative by the non-profit Alaap People’s Foundation in Satkhol, Uttarakhand, which planted two native forests used during the pandemic using the Miyawaki technique. They’re growing well so far!
During the pandemic, I co-founded Voices of Rural India, a digital platform to host curated stories from rural communities across India. With tourism decimated, rural communities associated with tourism lost their income sources in 2020 and unlike urban dwellers, found it hard to find online opportunities to pivot.
We’ve partnered with community tourism oriented organizations across seven states to help build digital storytelling skills among rural storytellers—and pay for every story published on the platform. Our storytellers include rural guides, homestay hosts, dhaba owners, students, farmers, amchis, and teachers, and the platform is slowly becoming a repository of fast-disappearing rural knowledge and culture, documented in local voices.
When planning my travels, I take a door-to-door approach to sustainability.
During pre-departure travel planning, I identify destinations that are under the radar or will be in their low season when I’m traveling, and pick where I go based on what holds personal interest for me as opposed to what’s trending online. I try to avoid flying as much as possible, opting instead for land journeys using public transport. If I must fly, I try to pick a direct flight and spend at least a few months exploring the region I’m visiting.
At the destination, I ditch regular hotels and opt to stay at family-run homestays, eco lodges and small-scale accommodations that actively try to reduce their environmental footprint and have a positive impact on the local community.
Instead of regular sightseeing, I try to find offbeat experiences with community-oriented organizations, use public transport or a bicycle to explore the place at my own pace, eat at local and vegan-friendly eateries, spend a lot of time in the outdoors, and identify relevant organizations to volunteer my time and skills. My aim is to travel slowly, staying in a place long enough to experience living there, shop at local farmers markets and zero waste stores, and gain a deeper understanding of the local culture.
Finally, I’m quite conscious of what I post on social media, especially Instagram. I avoid geo tagging pristine locales, posting photos of Instagram hotspots, or using a destination merely as a backdrop. I try to share lesser-known stories and build among readers a curiosity for exploring the world rather than encouraging someone to go somewhere just for the photo opportunities!
In a bid to fly less, I’ve traveled over land from Thailand to India via Myanmar, and from the Persian Gulf via southern Iran to Armenia. I’ve stayed with local communities in their homestays across India and Central America as I traversed country and continent.
While visiting Bali, I stayed at an eco-lodge that generates part of its electricity from its own private waterfall. In Sri Lanka, I stayed at a conservation-oriented lodge that hired some of Gal Oya National Park’s most notorious poachers to work in tourism.
I value the freedom that a nomadic life affords. The freedom to seek new horizons, fleeting friendships, connect intimately with nature and journey internally in a way that’s not always possible at ‘home.’
I often feel like responsible travel is just an offshoot of a nomadic life, because when you slow down and realize how conventional tourism can impact a place, you’re compelled to make better choices. Besides, the most incredible adventures happen outside of planned itineraries!
For more on responsible travel, check out How to be a Responsible Traveler in 2021.