My journey as a freelance travel writer-Avantika Chaturvedi


  I primarily see myself as a freelance writer and a travel blogger. I started travelling and writing back in 2017 when I was in my 2nd year of college. For me, travelling was a very organic thing. When I look back at it I always feel like this was supposed to happen. There were a bunch of things that aligned very well one after the other. The first factor being that my dad is in the army, so we have always lived a nomadic lifestyle. Not necessarily a minimalistic lifestyle but whenever we moved we always took the stuff that we actually needed and we left behind what no longer served our purpose. So, all of that really translated into the kind of lifestyle I am living today. Through my father, we went to very, very remote places across the country that are now booming up but back then nobody had even heard of these spaces. We have done road trips on terrible roads and my dad has taken me on hikes, which has played a very important role. And as far as writing is concerned, it was just always there with me. Even the earliest gifts that I received from my father were books. Books were always around me, I was always writing, I always had a diary and I was also writing poetry. It started with silly rhymes that gradually became angsty teenage poetry.

So, when I look back I am not very surprised that I make a living out of travelling and writing.    When I started travelling, I was in college and I would only get so much pocket money, right? Sometimes it wasn’t enough and whenever I would ask my father for more money he would refuse and tell me that he has given me enough money and I have got to fend for myself now. And I was like, “You know? Fine. I will show you that I can earn money.” And writing was the only thing I knew so I started googling writing internships. Because of my search results I started getting targeted ads. And there I saw this ad by this Australian magazine that doesn’t exist anymore. They were paying 40 dollars for an article, and you had to pitch your idea to them. So, that is where it began. But the problem was that if you wanted to be published with them you had to have your own blog. So I started looking into how to start your own blog. And I found out that it only cost about 1-1.2k to buy a domain and build a blog. So, I proceeded to do that and then I did that article with that magazine. Onced that wrapped up, I thought that okay I have this blog for the next one year, why don’t I start writing on it. This was somewhere around the end of 2017 which was when I had 3 trips lined up for the next three months. So, I thought of challenging myself and I decided to make it into a 12 months 12 destinations kind of a thing where I go to a new destination every month. So that's what I did in 2018 and that is when my blog also picked up. And just as I progressed, opportunities lined up, I found out about Tripoto, Thrillophilia etc. hiring freelance writers. They didn’t pay a lot back then but it was fine for me since I was in college and I used to get pocket money. I just needed a little extra cash. So yeah, that’s how it all started.

You have been travelling since 2018, right?

Yes, but I was still in college back then. As I was travelling more and more, I realised that this is what I want to do. I want to travel slower and I want to travel slower. I also realised that 3-day trips or 5-day trips were not my scene. It doesn’t feel fulfilling to me. I don’t want to rush from one place to another hurriedly to just tick things off my list. I really want to go around and get lost and find places that the internet doesn’t know off. But with college that wasn’t possible. After 2018, I took my first slow travel trip. I went to Bhutan and I spent 16 days there. It was a cry challenging trip and it taught me a lot about myself. After that I vowed to slow down. Now I don’t care about how many places I’ve been to but what matters to miss is how well I travel, if my travels are sustainable and if I’m giving anything back to the community. So, once college ended for me in 2019, I decided that I wanted to travel far and wide and I did a little bit. In September I spent two weeks in Ladakh. In December, I spent a month backpacking through Nagaland. And after that the pandemic hit and everything was paused. It got very difficult and the bug of travelling slowly was still not satisfied. It was still very much alive and thriving and I was just waiting for the restrictions to ease up and I can travel again. After the lockdown, I feel like my slow travel really started thriving. The first place that I went to was Tirthan Valley in Himachal Pradesh and I spent a month and a half living there by myself in a remote village with a small local family. Then I spent two months in Gokarna in Karnataka. After that I spent 6 months in Bir in Himachal and now I have recently come back from the Andamans. I spent another six months there. And when I am there, I just don’t stay at one place. I do explore, I do go on short trips, I go around but there is no rush of returning. I am at my own pace and I can go about as slow or as fast as I want to. And if things don’t go right I can always ditch them and go to the next place. So yeah, that is how I like to do it

What type of travel content and niche are you an expert in?

So, the answer to this is also the tagline of my blog as well as my Insta bio. Slow, solo and sustainable travel is what I do best. Slow as in everything that I mentioned in the last question. Solo, again, very self-explanatory. I feel when you're by yourself facing all these challenges, you learn a lot about yourself. When you don’t have anybody else to rely on; because things go wrong very quickly when you are travelling and yet to be able to power through all of this and see how far you can push yourself is amazing. I have fallen sick, I have been harassed, I have missed my flight; anything wrong that you could think of while travelling solo has happened to me and I have just learnt so much about myself, I have learnt to stay patient, I have learnt to stay calm because if you’re not calm in a critical situation, it is only gonna get worse. So, you need to calm down and figure out alternatives of how you can manage the situation better. You also learn how to ask for help which is something I have struggled a lot. Just asking for very small things like asking for a phone so you can make a call because your phone’s battery died are things that I have always had trouble with but now I am sort of learning to be better at asking for help. But, that is not to say that I don’t like being around people. I have always been an extrovert even though the pandemic has put me in a bit of a shell that I am still trying to break out of. But yeah, I do miss people back home for sure. But these are the kind of things that I have told myself that this is a sacrifice I must make because I see the growth in me, I see how I grow as a person when I travel by myself and I learn so much more about myself, I am more conscious and self aware and I love that about myself.And it's a journey, I might want to settle after a few years but right now I am on this path that I find very fulfilling so I am most definitely ready to make sacrifices for it. Now coming to the sustainability bit of it- so this is a new trend these days that people are trying to promote sustainable luxury but I have always believed that luxury and sustainability almost never go hand in hand. Because luxury comes from exploiting resources. Even the house that I am sitting in is made of concrete, the wood of my bed is mass produced through felling of trees in the forest. I could be wrong but I believe that luxury does not go with sustainability and sustainability is very important to me.So, whenever I am travelling, I try to keep my carbon footprint in check. I prefer buses and trains over flights. And this, I feel, also intermingles with my travels because to achieve sustainability, you have to travel slow because if you don't have the time and you have to hurry from point A to point B that means you are generating more carbon footprint by taking flights or self driving. But I also understand that slow travel is not something that everybody can do. So, yeah, I always try using the most sustainable way of travelling, I always prefer homestays over hotels. I find hotels more impersonal whereas when you are living in a homestay, you get to learn so much about the family and how their lives are intertwined with the environment. You also learn so much about the place through them. And I only prefer locally run homestays. This is another problem that I have been encountering so much. So many folks have left the city or not even left the city but just have built a homestay in these places, gone back to their cities, living a comfortable city life but running a homestay back there which is managed by someone else. I really don’t see the charm in that. It’s not how I like to do it. Unless the person who has built the space is living there themselves, then I would choose to live there but when people just build properties, I think that's just mindless commercialization. Then you are only in it for the money. You just see an opportunity, you tap in it and again, that's not sustainable.  No matter how much you market your place as sustainable, you can tell when their heart and soul is in it and when you’re on it. So, these are choices that I like to make very, very mindfully.

In general also, I live a very minimalist lifestyle. I’d be gone for months and I would only come back home when the season is changing and I need to get apt clothes for it. And yet I always just have one backpack and a small fanny pack for my wallet, phone and everything. And that is my goal to go on for months without carrying too much because the more I travel the more I realise that I don’t need so many things because you run out of shampoo, shampoo is available. If there is something specific that I need so I get it posted from my home to wherever I am at. Apart from that, you don’t need to get ten pairs of clothes if you are travelling for ten days. You can always wash your clothes. So, these are small choices that I use to make sure I am as sustainable as possible. I don't know if it is making a huge effect but it makes me feel better about myself.

What is the outlook of the Indian travel Industry according to you?

I think the general Indian tourist is not really ready to look beyond what has already been done and dusted and that is what I am trying to change, even if it's on a very small level. I explore offbeat places and even when I am in a popular destination, I like to go see what's beyond the top five things you can do in a place because I am sure there is so much. There is a general mindset that if I am paying this much money, I must receive the world in return which, I feel, is terrible. You have to see where you’re going. For example, Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh is a part of the Tibetan plateau and really high in altitude. It is a cold desert, no trees grow there, water is scarce, and when I first went there in 2018, there weren't a lot of people coming there but i by 2019< i think, Spiti really had a boom and people started going there and now there’s just so many companies that take group trips to Spiti Valley multiple times a month. And I have been a part of these group trips as well. I was writing content for this Himachal based company and they used to take Spiti trips. So, I have been on these trips with them twice and both times my experience has been the exact same. So, if they are paying, say, 18k for 10 days, they feel that they would name one thing and wave a magic wand and it must appear somehow But they often fail to understand that Spiti is such an ecologically fragile place. The wood that they are using for fire does not go there. The government is giving them ration. In Spiti, locals go and get wood against their ration  Ration card every month.  That is how they get wood. And that is the resource over there. That is how they heat your water when there’s no electricity because it is such a remote place and with commercialization, there is so much load on the power grid that a lot of times it fails to take on the load. And people are not respectful of these things. They don’t care. All they care about is that if they were promised something, they must get it. They don’t care how, they don’t care if it is affecting the place at a very, very inherent level but they must receive it. I think this is a huge problem with the Indian tourist which definitely needs to change. We need to start looking at a place as more than just a beautiful place where you just click a few pictures for Instagram and it’s over. There is so much more to a place than that. There are people, there is environment and just so many things in play in order to make your trip even happen. You should be feeling grateful because just a few years ago, even travelling to such places wasn’t possible. So, I think the onus is not only on the tourists themselves, but even the agents and the tour company who host these trips, they also need to set realistic expectations for their customers. A lot of these companies just want money and they don’t tell the customers beforehand and the customers just demand the moon and the stars when they reach there.So, I think the onus is not only on the tourists themselves, but even the agents and the tour company who host these trips, they also need to set realistic expectations for their customers. A lot of these companies just want money and they don’t tell the customers beforehand and the customers just demand the moon and the stars when they reach there. So, I think it's the balance of both. Another thing that I wanna add here is that I get a lot of sh*t for writing and talking about offbeat places because the latest trend right now is that when you stumble upon a beautiful place, don’t disclose its name, and I think that is counter-productive because I inherently believe that places are getting ruined because of mass tourism and mass tourism is happening because do not know that there are other places that they can go to as well. So, what I believe is that people need to be given these options. They need to be told that if this is too crowded, you can go there as well. Because everybody keeps going to the same spot again and again, then of course it's gonna get ruined. So, I genuinely believe that offbeat tourism needs to come out and people need to start looking for alternatives. Because these places are offbeat and infrastructure does not exist there, the people who end up making the effort to go to these offbeat places are the ones that actually want to go there. I absolutely do not believe in this. I find it such an elitist thing to do that if you didn’t wanna share the location of a place then why did you put it on social media in the first place? I will never understand the ego behind such a behaviour and mindset. So, this is something that I absolutely do not support. 

Have you ever done any travel planning or consultation for your followers

Yes, even on my website, I have customised itineraries listed as well as the services that I provide but it's been more than a year since I started providing this service and I get a lot of queries but nobody converts to that. I think they don’t understand the value and maybe that is my fault as well that I am not able to make people understand the value of making an itinerary with me because I go above and beyond in finding the most charming places. Maybe I am not able to market that efficiently but yeah, I do provide these services. It’s a part and parcel of the experience.

What is one place that you don’t mind visiting repeatedly and why?

Okay, there are two. One is Bir in Himachal. When I went there for the first time ever back in 2019, it was off season - in the middle of monsoon. When I reached there I just felt like this is a place where I can live. It has such a beautiful community of people from all over the country, who have left their city life and want to slow down and are not into the hustle bustle of things. They just want to have a quiet lifestyle. I met so many creative people there- I met artists, chefs, people who  like gardening and so many different kinds of creative folks over there. I just felt like this place has connectivity, it is connected to Delhi and Chadigarh via bus. It has an airport very close to it, it has so many beautiful cafes, a great network and brilliant people. And that is why I made the decision of going back there last year and I did not know I was going to spend 6 months there. I went there when the second lockdown was going to be announced and I had already spent one lockdown in Delhi and it did not go well for me. There was no way that I could stay there. I hurriedly packed my bags and left for Bir. I thought I would just stay there for a month or two until things calmed down a little but just like that, I kept meeting new people and making new friends. There is so much that you can do in Bir. There are so many hikes and waterfalls. It is such a breathtaking place. Plus, I loved my life and my routine there. And after those six months, I don’t think I want to go back and stay there again but I have so many beautiful friends over there that I am definitely  gonna go and spend a few days with them and then go wherever I want. So yeah, Bir is definitely a place that keeps calling me back again and again. 

And another place is Parashar Lake in Himachal. I have been there thrice and each time I have had such an incredible experience. The first time I went, I did a 5km trek by myself, carrying my own tent, sleeping bag and other gear. Even though a road goes all the way, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I got off the bus and trekked. I pitched my own tent and woke up to a beautiful sunrise. When you reach that place, it just doesnt feel real because it has got very strong energy and the silence is just something that I have never experienced. There is a mandir nearby so the bell kept ringing. And it also has meadows after meadows after meadows. All you can hear are the horses and the cows going. And then there is just you and you can hear your breathing and your thoughts and that is it. It is beautiful!

You mentioned you liked engaging with the locals and learning about their lifestyle and culture while visiting all these various locations. How do you do that? Would you like to share any tips?

In all honesty, when I sit down at a dhaba, I generally establish eye contact with the person seated next to me and just say, "Namaste." They are always curious to know, "Where are you coming from?" or something similar, and the discussion generally progresses from there. Due to the locals and their recommendations, I would often end up at a stunning exotic location. I would always share how much I know about the area, in return, they would share their insights. Of course, being aware and gauging these people's energy and intent is essential, but you also learn to do it as you travel.

 What are the three tools that you cannot do without while travelling?

As a travel vlogger, my journal and pen are essential for me to document my travels. I’m very old school that way. I believe my flow of thoughts only make sense when I’m physically writing them down. Secondly, my camera and an internet connection is also imperative but I can only manage to do a digital detox for maximum a week since my work relies so heavily on that. My water bottle is also very important to me. It’s about sustainability as I cringe whenever I find someone buying a plastic water bottle. 

How do you manage your travel expenses and what are your monetization methods?

 I have several means of making money and most of them include writing. As a freelance writer, I take on a bunch of long term writing assignments. Since freelance economies are very uncertain, long term projects keep me assured as a reliable source of income. I write for magazines and National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveller, and Vice have all published my work. These are scattered and unsteady projects whenever I have an idea to pitch. It’s an extremely tedious process and it generally takes around two months for the story to get published followed by another few months to receive the payment. Although these are ideal platforms for writing your own opinion pieces, unfortunately, not a steady source of income.

I also take up social media initiatives whenever I’m on a long vacation like handling social media and creating content for individuals, cafes, leisure activity companies and several other institutions. There are a lot of options out there. To manage my travel expenses I aim to travel on a budget like eating at roadside dhabas and staying at homestays instead of hotels. Additionally, there are several volunteering opportunities available everywhere. You can find these either online or you can ask around at local institutions. Where there is a will there's a way. Opportunities will present themselves to you if you are committed to achieving your goal. You just need to keep an open mind towards the experience you are going to get and what the universe is graciously going to throw your way. You need to think of innovative ideas of adding value to a place with your skills and just reach out. I land most of my projects by sending emails and asking around the neighbourhood businesses when I’m travelling. I also host workshops on creating and building your blogs. Anybody who is interested can always reach out to me.

What are the challenges that you face as a travel vlogger?

Constantly being in a good network coverage region is a big challenge as a digital nomad. Apart from that, as a travel vlogger, writing creative blogs constantly you often run out of ideas. Recently, I went through a three month long writer’s block. I was only able to write forthe clients and do the bare minimum to keep the income coming in. Creative blocks just come unannounced and hamper your work. Recently, there was a brand collaboration where I was supposed to submit a blog by June to the client but I wasn’t able to. Now, I feel like I’m coming out of that situation and thankfully some people understand that these things happen. I decided to wait for that period to end because I did not want to write anything half heartedly.

As a travel blogger, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

 Getting published by NatGeo is my latest accomplishment and I’m incredibly proud of that because I had the worst period of self doubt when my pitches were not being accepted and I could not deliver on time. I dealt with the worst imposter syndrome possible. I felt like the editor made a mistake hiring me to write for NatGeo. I threw up twice out of anxiety in a week’s time. Fortunately, the editor liked my work and appreciated me. Once it was out there, I received positive feedback which really boosted my confidence when I needed it the most.

What is the most frequently asked question to you?

People often have an assumption that travel content creators travel for free. The idea is crazy. I do try my best to get sponsorships for my travels by offering my services in return. It’s similar to a barter system. I pay money to sustain my blog and create content. There is an immense investment to get where I’m at in my career and a lot of creativity and hard work that goes in gathering an audience.

Lastly, what advice would you give to people starting their career in this space?

I believe it is crucial to find your voice. The travel content market is getting saturated day by day. I find so many people accounting their travels on instagram, doing the same thing over and over in the same format. You need to figure out a way to stand out and what value you can provide to your target audience. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, branch out and think of the long term plan. Social media platforms keep coming and going as we saw in the case of Myspace, Orkut and TikTok. If you dedicate yourself entirely to a single platform and one day that platform vanishes, nobody will owe you an answer. I recommend writing for publications or posting vlogs on youtube if you are more of a visual creator. Websites will remain on the internet as long as the internet exists! Furthermore, you can always pull your content and put it on a different platform if your hosting provider wants to shut down. I believe it is a more secure and stable way of monetizing your content.    


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