Travelling for a living: Meet those who are living their dream

  • Anubhuti Matta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 24, 2016 12:56 IST
A mountainscape in ladakh, courtesy photographer Abhinav Chandel.

What do a hospitality consultant, an angel investor and an artist have in common? In this case, they’re all living the ultimate dream, travelling for a living and living on the road.

These are people who have quit their full-time jobs and settled lives and instead identify ways in which they can leverage their core skills to earn as they move about, making at least enough to keep travelling. Gurgaon-based angel investor Prasad NP, for instance, helps startups identify new markets and scout for locations for new offices.

Mumbaiite and design strategist Anuja Joshi, meanwhile, compiles consumer reports in every city she and her husband visit, and gets paid for each report by a New York-based company. “We both work on the move and we don’t make what we were making, obviously, but we earn enough to fund our trips without dipping into our savings,” she says.

A thank-you note is written to a Pikkabox customer in Ljubljana.

New technology has been a key driver to living this dream.

“Having the internet almost everywhere makes it possible for me to function smoothly,” says Rutavi Mehta, 29, who offers marketing, sales and branding consultancy services as she makes her way around the world. “It also helps me promote myself.”

Delhiites Neha Chawla, a marketing consultant, and her husband Nikhil, a corporate communications specialist, like to think of it as sponsorships. “We realised that, essentially, we have people who will pay for our travel,” says the marketing consultant. “We quit our jobs a year ago and have travelled to over 20 destinations and worked for as many brands in that time.”

For many, the core skills fetches them the bulk of their earnings — about 60% to 70%. The rest comes from blogging and writing about their travels. It’s not all sunlit beaches and bottomless Margarita pitchers, though.

“It’s important not to go into this kind of lifestyle with too many unrealistic expectations,” says Vardhan Kondvikar, editor of the Indian edition of Lonely Planet magazine. “Travelling non-stop can be exhausting. You’re essentially fending for yourself, in one unfamiliar territory after another. You have to also be planning your next step all the time. It’s not easy at all.”

Selling stories in a box

If not now, when?’ That was the question that drove Gaurabh Mathure and Anuja Joshi to give up their 9-to-5 jobs and orderly lives in favour of a life on the road.

“We felt it would only get more difficult later,” says Mathure, 33, a user experience consultant. “We wanted to do this before we started a family. Plus, having worked for more than 10 years, we were both confident about getting back into our careers.”

Mathure and Joshi, 33, a design strategist, have been married three years. Originally from Bangalore and Mumbai respectively, they met in New York in 2010, and decided to hit the road eight months ago.

To help get them started, the couple signed up with Remote Year Programme — a US-based community set up in 2015 that helps professionals travel while they earn.

Snapshots from Ladakh, courtesy Rutavi Mehta.

For a fee of $2,000 a month (about Rs 1.35 lakh) per person, members are guaranteed accommodation, airfare and co-working space in a different country every month for one year.

Members must find their own long-distance or local work to sustain themselves through the year.

Mathure, for instance, consults with three companies based across two continents, charging an hourly fee; Anuja writes reports on consumer trends in every city she travels to, for a New York-based company.

“We don’t make what we were making, obviously, but we earn enough to fund our trips without dipping into our savings,” she says.

As they juggled deadlines, finances and adjusting to a new place every month, Mathure thought it might be a good idea to send their families a box of souvenirs from each city they visited. And that’s how they started Pikkabox, a curated mystery box that combines artifacts, stationery, toys, postcards, edibles, home décor products and stories from each place they visit, sold via a website. The couple has so far sent out boxes from cities in Vietnam, Malaysia, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Coming soon are Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru.

The downside, Joshi says, is she misses her bed and having a fixed routine. On the upside, the couple says they have had the best year relationship-wise. “Our time is our own,” says Mathure, “and we have bonded on a completely different level as a result.”

A roadie, a marketing whiz

Rutavi Mehta, 29, a Mumbai-based marketing and sales professional specialising in the hospitality industry, quit her full-time job and settled life seven years ago, in favour of travelling, earning and living on the go.

While she made some money by blogging about her travels, it was while visiting her sister in Qatar in 2013 that she took up her first overseas marketing assignment, for a local tourism portal, finally giving her a sustainable revenue model.

“I thought my marketing skills were restricted to cubicles, but with the success of my first pitch I knew there was a big market for consultation services too,” she says.

Since then, she has consulted for tourism boards in Thailand, Malaysia and Italy, among others. “I handle Twitter accounts and newsletters, coordinate events. This work now makes up 40% of my income — the rest comes from travel writing — and I consider these earnings my travel budget, and use them to fund further trips,” she says. On average, then, she spends 10 months of the year on the road.

“Good internet connectivity almost everywhere makes it possible for me to function smoothly,” she says. “And helps me promote myself.” One speedbump for her has been resistance from her parents. “They have only now warmed up to the idea of me travelling solo and working on the go,” she says, laughing. “And I do miss home food.”

Her advice to those who’d like to follow in her footsteps: “Develop a niche and always, always, charge for every service.”

Pictures on a postcard

Abhinav Chandel always had a yearning to travel. While working as a content writer in Delhi, he took breaks to go hiking in Meghalaya, visit Mussoorie and live in Ladakh for two months.

In 2014, he decided he couldn’t bear a full-time job any more and quit.

Originally from Kashipur in Uttarakhand, the 26-year-old went backpacking to McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh, fell in love with the place and moved there. He then decided to combine his two great loves — travel and photography — to help fund his roadie lifestyle.

Tourists pose with one of Abhinav Chandel’s prints in Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh

As he travelled through Himachal Pradesh and then beyond, to states such as Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Karnataka, he began to sell his photos as postcards and prints.

His first series of 100 images of McLeodGanj sold out within a week. “I prefer to sell them in person or at self-organised exhibitions because each postcard is accompanied by the story behind it,” he says. “For two months last year, I survived only on the money I earned from them.”

The rest of his income comes from freelance photography gigs for resorts, the odd singing gig at local cafés and paid blogs.

“A lot of fellow tourists buy my pictures as souvenirs,” he says. “Next, I am planning an ebook featuring poems and short stories on my travels.”

In an interesting aside, Chandel says he sometimes barters stories for food or homestay accommodation, telling his hosts tales of adventures he has had and friends he has made across the country.

Finding the best locations

Prasad NP, 45, quit his job as India head for a US-based mortgage company in 2013. An IIM-Calcutta graduate, his job had demanded a lot of travel, which he supplemented with personal trips.

But by his early 40s, he had saved up enough to begin envisioning a different life. “I decided to craft my own itinerary,” says the Gurgaon-based father of two.

Snapshots of Ladakh, courtesy Rutavi Mehta.

He now offers consultancy services to startups looking to scale up. “I also scout out locations for new offices and help identify new markets,” he says. Sometimes, if the start-up is a fledgling one, they will only pay for the travel; other times they also pay him a fee for his services.

“It’s still worth it,” he says, grinning. These consultations make up about 60% of his travel expenses and livelihood; the rest comes from investments; Prasad also acts as an angel investor. Additional income flows in from travel blogs and social media consultancy work for hotels and tourism boards.

“The downside is being away from my family,” he says. “Also, you work 10 times harder for lower financial rewards.”

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