The latest in my World Travellers series is Priyanka Gupta from the On My Canvas.
Who are you?
I’m Priyanka Gupta. A software engineer by education, and once an investment banker, now I’m a writer, solo traveler, and art lover.
About a decade ago, I graduated with a B.Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IITD).
In 2016, five years into an evolving investment banking career, I decided that I had had enough of the corporate world. So, I quit my job. Writing, traveling, and living a meaningful life was on my mind. I spent the next year exploring South America and Southeast Asia, solo.
Then in 2017, I launched my personal growth and travel blog — On My Canvas. Now I write and work remotely while traveling the world. Currently, I am residing in Bengaluru to pass the pandemic.
Where are you from?
I’m from the small town of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, North India. But I only lived there until I was 15. Then I studied in Rajasthan and completed my Bachelors in Delhi. Upon graduation, I worked software and investment banking jobs living around India in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, and Bangalore.
Where have you been?
I have traveled long-term in South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the UK. I also travel extensively around India.
I travel slowly so even though I was in South America for nine months, I only saw three countries: Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. In those few countries, I gathered a lot of experiences and memories.
Where are you now?
I am right now in Bengaluru in the Karnataka State of South India. Though I travel almost six months every year, this year I have stayed put at one place taking all the safety measures that I can to protect myself and others.
In September, I went to Chikmagalur, a green coffee district on the Western Ghats, for a month. We all had been locked up for a long time, and I wanted to be in nature badly. So my partner and I packed our bags, took a car on rental, and drove in complete isolation.
We had booked an isolated homestay in a coffee estate. There we lived for a month, strolled in the estate, ordered food from the restaurants in the town 15-minute drive away, hiked in the Western Ghats, and visited so many lakes that I can’t even count.
All the time we had our masks on, we didn’t touch anybody and maintained our distance, we didn’t do any sightseeing, and all our nature adventures were isolated as the hills were huge and people were only a few or none.
Now I am back to my rooftop house that opens up to a forest in the middle of Bengaluru.
What are the top 3 places you’ve visited?
What is the best travel experience you’ve had?
Without acknowledging what solo traveling entails or giving any thought to the idea of being alone for a long time, I went on my first venture to the other end of the world (from India to Chile). I had gone to teach English to Chilean students as part of a volunteer program.
I had to live for four months in a Chilean destination decided for me by the program. I was assigned the Southern island of Chile called Chiloé popular for its rainbow of stilt houses, deep-blue shores, rolling hills, rich seafood specialties, and friendly people.
At the beginning of the program I struggled a lot as I didn’t know any Spanish. Most people around me, including my host mother and an English teacher (with whom I had to work in the school assigned by the program), didn’t speak any English or understood what I said.
In those cold days of August, Chiloé was dark and rain fell as if it would smash the roof down. I remember feeling unheard and lonely during that early time of my stay on the island as no one understood me and I couldn’t join any conversation. But then I started learning Spanish slowly, uttered half-broken Spanish sentences without shame, and started getting to know the people better.
While I taught English during the day, explored the island, and lived with a Chilean family and other foreign volunteers, I was totally immersed in local island life and felt more alive than ever.
Venturing to South America and living with locals without knowing their language was one of my most challenging and that’s why one of my best travel journeys.
What is the worst travel experience you’ve had?
I once thought that getting robbed in a moving bus of Chile by some young boys who snatched my phone was my worst travel experience. But I was wrong.
After having traveled a lot more now, I understand that a couple of bad instances of materialistic kinds are bound to happen in unknown places. All we can do is to be careful.
My worst travel experience was when some locals of Thailand made racist comments about me being an Indian in the Bangkok ChinaTown market. They shouted at me contemptuously that I must not eat any pork or beef and then laughed. Some of the locals ignored me even when I stood at their food stalls for minutes and tried to get noticed. There were more such incidents.
That was my first solo and long trip and I didn’t know any better apart from feeling bad. Now I know how to handle such situations and move on without feeling bad. It is their loss, not mine.
What is the funniest travel experience you’ve had?
I was crossing into the Atacama, Chile from Uyuni, Bolivia. But my Chilean visa had expired and I didn’t realize that I would need a new one. I thought that like most other travelers I would also get a 90-day tourist pass to Chile at the border. But to my dismay (and of the immigration officers at the Atacama), Indians do not get a free pass to Chile. The officers said they wouldn’t be able to allow me inside the country. And I only had one single-visit visa to Bolivia, I had already left Bolivia, and even that single-visit visa was going to expire soon.
Somehow I managed to get inside Bolivia, raced to La Paz, convinced the Chilean embassy there(through a long email process that went through the Santiago office, the Indian embassy in Santiago, Peru Indian embassy, etc) to get me a visa quickly even though they first said no, and then made my way to Chile again.
At that time I was slightly upset by the mishap, my carelessness, and Indian passport complications, but now I look back at that expensive and time-consuming process as a hilarious time of my life.
What is the scariest travel experience you’ve had?
I get scared sometimes when I rent a scooter in a new country and drive on unknown roads or maze-like highways. But I am getting over that fear, and I don’t opt out of driving. I drive cautiously and make sure that I enjoy the experience.
Apart from that, I don’t get scared so easily. I was also terrified of diving in Bali because I have still not perfected swimming. But I enjoyed diving so much that I plan to learn swimming properly, most likely in Goa or Southeast Asia, and then do a free-diving course. The world under the water is so damn beautiful.
What is the most random job you have had on your travels?
I didn’t take up many jobs on my travels as I do freelance work online.
Having said that, I was writing super technical articles on e-commerce algorithms and such while hiking in the oldest rainforest of the world that is the Taman Negara in Malaysia. In the morning I would take a ferry, cross over to the jungle, and hike. Then in the afternoon, I would return to this beautiful homely restaurant to eat my favorite mango fish curry with rice. There I would take client calls and write for a while and then return to my camp in the wilderness.
How do you fund your travels?
I saved a lot of money for my initial travels. After quitting my job in 2016, I traveled to Southeast Asia and South America. I definitely reduced the costs of a few months by volunteering in Chile where I got the board and food but all personal expenses were mine. I also got a tiny allowance from the program.
Now I earn from my blog that is still in its nascent stages so it does not provide me with a stable income but it is growing. I do a lot of freelance writing, and I get some of my clients through my blog which has served as a great portfolio.
I love staying in homestays, eating street food, not a big fan of shopping, enjoy public transport, and again, not a big fan of flights so my travel costs are not that high, mostly. But I do not budget and calculate my travel expenses ever. I earn, travel as I like, and spend economically wherever I can and splurge where I want to(which is mostly national parks and jungles).
What 3 tips would you give a new traveller before they set off on their adventure?
- Do what you have to do — Don’t hike in deserts or ride a motorbike because an Instagram influencer with 50,000 followers is roughing it. Do what brings you joy.
- Do what challenges you or scares you — Often our fears are hallucinations of our mind. Traveling is a great way to get uncomfortable and try what we wouldn’t otherwise. Getting over fear is the only way forward.
- Always have insurance and some savings.
Above all: Travel sustainably and respect the local community. When you understand the ways of people rather than judging them, you would get accepted as one of their own.
What are your future travel plans?
I plan to travel responsibly around the world. I am a slow traveler and I prefer to spend good enough time in one place rather than ticking off many destinations.
I am not sure of the destinations yet but I will most probably be spending the coming years exploring Southeast Asia, India, and then moving from India to the countries in the West such as Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey, Africa, and East Europe. The idea is to stay in the greener and rural parts of the world, drive in a car or use public transport, get a camper van in some countries, go offbeat, stay close to nature while avoiding big cities, eat local, and be with the people.
I plan to learn along the way and share my experiences through my writing.
Author’s Bio: Priyanka Gupta is an itinerant writer from India who left her investment banking career to travel the world and write. Having traveled extensively through South America, solo, Priyanka is now based out of India. She focuses on culturally immersive travel while relishing local delicacies and never misses a chance to see wildlife. Priyanka blogs full-time and claims to know the art of blogging from even the camps in the wild.
Thanks to Priyanka for being the latest in my series of World Travellers! If you travel the world and run a travel blog or are a travel writer, please get in touch, you can be featured, either e-mail jonny (at) dontstopliving (dot) net or head to my contacts page and get connected! You can also subscribe to Don’t Stop Living by filling in the form below! Safe travels!