We are finally back (after a break that went on for months – for which I owe my apologies) with our #WriterRaccoon series and we plan to continue doing this every month from now on. We shall be choosing one author every month (I will try to announce the author in the comments beforehand, if possible), and take it from there. If there is a month where we feel we have more time on hand and more authors who can give their time, then that month will see some more of the #WriterRaccoon series. So basically, we will keep this flexible, but ensure at least one author is showcased every month.
In this edition of the #WriterRaccoon series, we asked Shivya Nath if she would like to give her time to our community, and she very graciously accepted despite being in a no-network zone most of the time. You will find out more about why the no-network zone all the time as you read more about her below. Senior Reading Raccoons’ community, therefore, thanks Shivya for being so generous and accommodating.
Shivya Nath grew up in Dehradun and graduated from SJA in 2005. She quit her corporate job at age twenty-three to travel the world. She gave up her home and the need for a permanent address, sold most of her possessions and embarked on a nomadic journey that has taken her everywhere from remote Himalayan villages to the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador. Along the way, she lived with an indigenous Mayan community in Guatemala, hiked alone in the Ecuadorian Andes, got mugged in Costa Rica, swam across the border from Costa Rica to Panama, slept under a meteor shower in the cracked salt desert of Gujarat and learnt to conquer her deepest fears.
Shivya has travelled to over fifty countries, and is the author of one of India’s leading travel blogs, The Shooting Star. She appeared on the cover of the National Geographic Traveller India magazine in 2017, and her intrepid journey has been featured on BBC Travel, NDTV, TEDx and several national and international publications.
It has already sold 10,000+ copies in just over a month of release – acquiring the status of a “National Bestseller” in India.
Her first book, The Shooting Star, was published by Penguin in September 2018.
Shivya Nath With its vivid descriptions, cinematic landscapes, moving encounters and uplifting adventures, The Shooting Star is a travel memoir that maps not just the world but the human spirit.
We asked Shivya, our most curious questions and she with her vivacious answers bowled us over. Read on the interview below –
- What was your family’s first reaction when you told them that you would like to quit your job and go travelling around? Considering how conservative Indian Families can be, did they pose a major problem when you later expressed your desire to embark on a nomadic lifestyle?
Shivya – I slowly grew my family into the idea of why I wanted to quit the unfulfilling 9-to-5 routine and experiment with other things. The initial months of full-time freelancing and blogging were a struggle, but I, sort of, built an illusion for those around me – for I was working hard towards making this new, unconventional life of travel financially sustainable, and I could not bear the negativity or pressure of not succeeding. I had to keep trying, at least until I hit rock bottom.
When I gave up my apartment and the need to call one place home, sold most of my belongings and decided to travel indefinitely (working from wherever in the world I was), I never announced it to my family in as many words. 5 years ago, it was merely an experiment for me. I could not be sure, if such a life was for me, and if I could make it work financially and emotionally.
Despite being raised in a conservative Indian family, I have chosen the battles I need to fight to chase my own freedom, because – as a chance encounter in the Dominican Republic would be make me realise – we have one life, “una vida”.
- Tell us something about how you were inspired to do this. It needs a lot of courage and what were your initial thoughts about what you were about to do – any apprehensions?
Shivya – If you look at my journey altogether now, it may seem like a lot of courage. But I was only taking little steps at a time. Like anyone else, I was afraid of failing, of running out of money, of finding myself desperate for a job or shelter, of crumbling under societal pressures. But I also knew that if I didn’t try building a different life for myself, I would always regret it.
Ultimately, the fear of accepting an average life that did not inspire or fulfil me is what drove me. Ironically, fear drove me instead of holding me back.
- As an Indian woman, tell us about some of the challenges that you faced in India and abroad. Was the nature of these challenges different as you travelled several locations? Were there any common concerns that you had to go through?
Shivya – I had to unlearn many things I’ve grown up with, like the concept of “home” and it being the most integral part of an Indian woman’s life. Challenging conventions – like patriarchy, solo travel, even getting married and “settling down” – is not easy. Fighting peer and familial pressure can be a lonely journey. When the going gets tough, I tend to surround myself with other inspirational women and travelers, virtually if not in person. Blocking out the pressure and knowing that I’m not the only one keeps me going.
I don’t think the challenges are location specific. In many developing countries around the world, women are expected to maneuver the same expectations.
- How do you manage to ensure that the finances of the trips are covered? It must be very daunting and stressful sometimes.
Shivya – After I quit my full-time job in Singapore, I took to freelancing and had a brief tryst with entrepreneurship in the travel space. But for the past 3 or so years, I’ve made the majority of my living directly or indirectly through my travel blog. The unsteady inflow of income used to lead to plenty of sleepless nights in the beginning, but I almost embrace the uncertainty now; it keeps life interesting. It may suffice to say that the life of a travel blogger (or freelancer) is just as adventurous financially as it is in other, more envy-evoking, ways!
I’ve written about how I fund my digital nomad lifestyle here: https://the-shooting-star.com/2018/06/16/digital-nomad-lifestyle/
- For the book – Do you keep making notes as you travel? Or do you write in one go solely on the basis the memories and experiences?
Shivya – I had never intended to write a book about my journey and travels. But when the inner calling was too strong to ignore, I was lucky enough to have plenty of notes and memories to refer back to – my personal diary in which I’m forever scribbling notes, my Instagram channel (@shivya) which is a journal of sorts and my travel blog (the-shooting-star.com) where I’ve been sharing snippets of my travels.
Ultimately, the book has been a form of introspection for me. A way to look back at my upbringing, fears, battles and triumphs, and understand what drove me to embrace the life of a digital nomad. To relive the most unlikely encounters on the road over the past 7 years that have changed me in profound ways.
Through the book, I hope to ask my readers the same questions that plagued me, that drove me to make these rebellious choices.
- Tell us how your favorite places have changed you and if they have changed the way you look at things and ultimately write about them.
Shivya – There are so many stories, but Croatia for one, changed the way I think about travel blogging.
I was delighted that first evening, for I spent the first three hours in a hilltop village in inland Istria, chatting with my hosts over tea and wine. Their home was over 300 years old, traditional stonewalls and a rustic slate roof on the outside, beautifully refurbished from within. That night, I walked along the cobblestoned streets to the top of the town, past old stone homes adorned with colorful flowers. Under the moonlit sky, in the silence of the night, breathing air that smelt like jasmine, I indeed fell in love with Istrian Croatia.
Unfortunately, its reality hit me the next morning. I slept past the chirping of birds, but was woken up by loud voices crossing my window every now and then. When I went to the kitchen to make myself some tea, a couple of tourists were peeping in through the glass door. Day trippers!
The old-world charm of this village, with only 305 residents, was drowned by the callousness of visitors who only seemed to care about their photos and getting drunk, almost running over the locals in their rental cars, never realizing that they were intruding into someone’s sleepy neighborhood and life. My hosts assured me that the number of daytrippers now was not nearly as bad as in the peak summer season, and joked about how the village residents, their homes and their kitchens must be curious, unfamiliar sights for tourists.
My time in Istria – one of the more “offbeat” parts of Croatia – changed the way I write about places. I now see my primary role as a blogger and travel writer to inspire people to travel and think about how their travels impact places – as opposed to sharing precise details of pristine, offbeat, under the radar destinations, because I sure don’t want to play a role in ruining them.
- Have you decided anything about how your future should look like? Is there another book in the offing?
Shivya – I have utmost respect and admiration for writers who create one beautiful work after the next, because personally, writing a book has been as emotionally draining as rewarding!
I’ve sworn many times in the past few weeks that I’ll never write a book again. That I’ve invested too much of myself (and my time) in The Shooting Star and I could never do it again.
But then I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for my second and third books! I subconsciously find myself searching for a quiet place to park myself to work on the next one. I try to visualise how it’ll feel in my hands. Turns out, writing a book is a bit of an addiction; I don’t know if I’ll fight it or succumb.
- Would you like to share a piece of advice with our readers, many of whom are also budding writers?
Shivya – The best advice I read while working on my book was from author Karan Bajaj, who said: Write a book that matters, at least to you. People seldom talk about the less glamorous side of writing a book – poor royalties, low marketing budgets, intense competition, few avenues for new authors who aren’t celebrities. So the only way to draw satisfaction out of writing a book is writing one that matters – at least to you. Do it for the love of writing and telling stories, for your personal satisfaction. Anything else that comes out of it is a bonus.
I recently wrote a detailed blog post on what no one tells you about writing and publishing a book in India: https://the-shooting-star.com/2018/11/01/publishing-a-book-in-india/
If you loved this interview and Shivya’s journey, or if you’ve read her book, please do leave a comment.
If you are planning to read it, do make sure you leave an honest review both on Amazon and Goodreads. This benefits the authors in a lot of ways and is the sole way of ensuring Indian authors get their due.