Travelling is all about finding yourself and overcoming your fears: A conversation with Preethi Parthasarathy

Preethi, an introvert who had never been one to take risks, had a pretty traditional career path until she went on a trip that transformed her life forever. She discovered herself in the adventures and new experiences of foreign lands, and from there she began her quest of discovering her passion of scuba driving and overcoming her fears. Here is our conversation with Preethi Parthasarathy, in which we get a short overview of her journey as a travel blogger and how travel has molded her as a person.

Why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself?

Alright, I am a travel content creator, but I wasn’t always a creator. I had a very traditional career path - I did my MBA and I had joined a bank straight from college and that's where I was working for 3.5 years before I decided to give the creative side of me a little bit of a chance. Becoming a creator wasn’t always the end goal. It kind of happened because of my interests and alignments and the opportunities that presented themselves. So, for the last 4.5 years, I have been creating content for my blog and instagram, I have worked with a travel channel, I have a podcast and now, given that the world is opening up after the pandemic, I am working on building my Youtube channel. I am also a freelance writer. I have a writing business that also helps me support the digital lifestyle that I have built for myself. 


How long have you been travelling for and what inspired you to do that?

I started travelling in 2015 when I was fully employed with Citibank. They had actually sent us out for this corporate training to Singapore for a couple of weeks and so we took a buffer period before and after the training and explored a little bit. Because we were in South-East Asia, the obvious options that presented themselves were Cambodia, Vietnam and Bali. So, me and my friends spent a little bit of time exploring these places, and that was the first time that I had explored places on my own with my friend circle, not family. It was a different experience and felt great, planning from scratch to figuring out what I wanted to do and investing in those experiences. I remember I had my first dive in Bali and that is where the whole ocean bug really hit me, and that's where it actually began for me. And when I came back I was like, “Oh my god, this  is a hangover that I didn’t expect.” and I wondered if I just liked holidaying or is it something that I am really interested in? And it was that question that sent me planning my first solo trip and in October of 2015, I went on my first solo trip to Europe which I planned from end to end. So, it wasn’t something that someone would have expected from someone like me because I was a complete introvert at that time. That's what actually changed the whole game for me and I continued to travel solo even while I was employed. Towards 2017, I started realising that I was spending more time doing this and I really enjoyed writing about my travels. People were approaching me to help them out with their trips and then brands would reach out on these trips as well. So, I thought maybe there was something here and I also didn’t see myself spending 35 years doing the same kind of work that I was doing at the bank. It just felt like the right time to take a risk and I am so glad I did it. 

Do you have another job right now or are you travelling full-time?

I am a digital nomad and I am creating content full-time, but I also have another in the sense that I have my own business. It's a freelance writing business where I work with clients around the world. I help them build websites, I write for their newsletters and so on. Its two folds and they both basically help each other. I can be wherever I want when I work so I get to create content as well while I am doing it so it just kind of ties together. 


What is your outlook on the Indian Travel Industry?

So, before the pandemic, travel had already become something that, especially our generation, is more keen to invest in - the whole “investing in experiences” aspect of it. And I feel like it has become even more paramount now because people have begun to value it far more now. The ability to be able to go somewhere else and experience something that's not the usual. I feel like there is definitely a market that is becoming more and more involved in experiences. So, as of this point, I know for a fact that there are people out there who are itching to travel and this is across budgets and lifestyles. It's a bug, you can say, that everybody has,and especially now after the pandemic and with international travel opening up, I think that's a trend that will definitely be picking up this year. We had to stick to local travel a lot the last couple of years, which has been more because of compulsions, right? We haven’t been able to go outside. But, this year on, the countries are opening up, restrictions are easing out a little bit, there are more and more people who are open to travelling outside, spending a little more money because if you have seen the prices and packages now, it's all reality expensive, but that is still not going to stop people from going out because the option is now there. I think psychologically also there are a lot of us who think, “oh my god, what if there is another pandemic. I wanna use this time because I have it now.” So, it's definitely picking up.

Another thing that I have noticed this year at least is that the concept of “season time” has almost vanished. Earlier there used to be a few months when people would go visit the mountains or the ocean but now people are going where they can when they can. There is no concept of season. If you go now to a beach, which is not the best time since it's blistering hot, you will still find it packed. At this time, iof you go to the Andamans where it's raining and you can't really get into the water, there are still people there. Seasons have shifted people's behaviour, spending behaviour, travel behaviour has definitely changed and there is gonna be more and more of this happening the way I am looking at it.  

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

I do  that on occasion when someone approaches for help planning a trip or suggesting destinations or helping with a customised itinerary. I have taken up a couple of those. 


What are your three favourite places or experiences that you cherish the most?

I think one that I would definitely put right up there for me is Scuba diving in the Andamans. I went to the Andamans for three weeks and I think the biggest mistake I made was booking the return tickets. But it was also a good thing because I may not have come back if I had not done that. But I ended up extending my stay by two weeks because I just wanted to spend more time dining and exploring the underwater world there. It is spectacular. I mean India has such a magical gem located right here. It is accessible, you don't need a visa and all of that paperwork to go somewhere this beautiful. I think that is definitely one of my top experiences. There is great diving all around the world but I would definitely recommend the Andamans to any and everybody. 

Another unforgettable visit for me would be Cinque Terre in Italy. People go to Italy to eat pizza, we go to Rome, Florence, but Cinque terre is still one of those absolute gems that has to be experienced. It's rugged, it's got these hiking trails along these five villages. Cinque terre basically translates to five villages. And they are all either connected by trains or a hiking trail. And, when you're hiking  along that trail, you just see the sea glistening up at you and every little village is so quaint with those cobbled streets and colourful huts. You can pick up a gelato or something and the local interactions I had over there, it just felt like a magical fairytale. All of Italy, but especially Cinque terre. 

And for my third, I am gonna give you two. One is the starry skies in Spiti. I have never seen anything like it. You can see the milky way with your naked eyes, you see shooting stars, it's something else. And I haven't seen that anywhere else. I haven't seen that in Ladakh or Australia. Spiti skies are just something else. So that and tying with that would be renting out a tuktuk and driving through Sri Lanka. Tuktuk is an auto. You can rent out your own tuktuk and you can drive it around the whole country for as long as you want. I did that solo earlier this year and it gives you an unparalleled level of freedom. It's a very local way to travel and it also supports the local community because the company that I worked with over there ties up with the locals and this helps them make a little extra income on the side. So, that was a very unique experience and one that I am definitely going to remember for a very long time. 

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

The three tools that I can't do without -  one is obviously shooting equipment. It can be anything, it can be your phone, your GoPro, your basic camera, absolutely anything but something to shoot with. The thing is even if you’re just writing for a website and you don’t think you need a lot of content, the way I look at it when I shoot videos especially is that it gives me a chance to relocate things and remember things differently. It's so easy to find stories where I have shot already - maybe I missed something the first time and when I am looking at the footage again I find something different. So, that's why I feel like having an electronic mode of recording is really important even if you are a traditional notes taker, which by the way is my second recommendation. 

A journal or a notes app because there are a lot of things that you tend to forget in terms of details. So, just being able to jot down something about a place. You met someone interesting and you wanna kind of record a conversation with them, it's just nice to have a reference so you jot these things down. 

Now the third one. So, I absolutely cannot stress enough on the necessity of backups. Any and every backup device, whether it is an HDD, SSD, USB or cloud storage- take your pick but it is so important to backup your data twice over and I have learnt this the hard way. So this is a non-negotiable for me. 


What are the top 3 places on your bucket list that you are yet to visit? 

This is a really long list but for me, Iceland has been at the top of my bucket list for 20 years now. I read about Iceland and the Northern lights when I was reading Philip Pullman's Dark Materials Trilogy. That's where I read about the Aurora Borealis for the first time and then I googled it because I thought it was a made up thing. This has been beyond number one on my bucket list for a very very long time. 

Number two would be Egypt. I am this person who gets inspired by books. I’d read about a destination in a book and I'd be like, “okay, I have to go visit it in real life.” So, I have read about mythology and stuff in a lot of books and even though it's mostly been from a fictional perspective, it's still connected to reality in some way and I have been wanting to go and experience that. Plus I have been learning belly dance and I know that Egypt is the birthplace of it so I wanna go and experience it for myself over there.

Again, inspired by a book but Uzbekistan would be number three. Central Asia, actually. That was also a trip that I had planned right before the pandemic hit. I had to cancel it because of the first lockdown. 

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

There are quite a few. I mean, when you look at it as a job, every job has its own cons. I feel like the entry barriers are far less now so you will see the whole market itself can get populated very easily with people who are coming in and creating content. So, when it comes to having a specialised niche and being able to maintain that identity can be a little difficult sometimes but when you’ve been here around for long enough, it just becomes a part of you. That would be one. 

Honestly, I love my job, I love what I do so usually, when you do something you just have to take the downsides that come with it. I think stuff that can really impact this, especially in the last two years we have seen enough of it, travel was the first industry to get hit and probably the last to recover, so that level of uncertainty that we're living with now is something that travel creators have to make peace with. You never know what’s gonna change. There was also war so keep thinking about your costs and changing scenarios like travelling within or outside the country and I think dealing with change has been a huge challenge.


What are your monetization methods? 

As a creator, I collaborate with brands that pay me to promote their products on my social channels. That is one. Another, like I said, I have a freelance business that helps me out. It's basically how I earn my money. You create content long enough on YouTube and you can monetize your channel there as well. So, that is the third stream of income. And, you have to be really smart with your investments. I have always been very conservative when it comes to money, especially when you’re a freelancer and you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. Being smart about your investments - this may be the last point that i am mentioning but this is also the most important one. 

Once you start reading and studying and spending enough time on your own finances, you’re able to build a stream of income from there as well. So, the earlier you start, the better. 


What is one achievement that you are extremely proud of and what did it take for you to achieve that?

So, I went on my first scuba dive in Bali in 2015 and since then I have been wanting to get certified but it could never happen because I could never stay at one place for a week or more. But, I managed to get my open water certification and my advance last year in October. For me the whole experience this time in 2021, as compared to 2015 was really different. In the last few years I have developed chronic anxiety disorder which I have been working on but it came out a little more when I was diving. And for me it was just how can something so pure and special as diving get tainted with this. I was not able to enter the water without fearing for my life even though I am equipped to deal with this, I have trained safety measures and I know how to take care of myself under water. The more I dived the easier it got but when I went to Sri Lanka I had to abort some of my dives because I couldn’t even descend underwater. Then I went to the Andamans and my first dive was at a premium dive site with incredible sightings and beautiful reefs and I spent that entire dive panicking. I was so scared and anxious throughout. I just felt pathetic. Imagine loving something so much and not being able to do it. And despite having done things like travelling solo, driving through countries alone, this was something that I was not able to get past. 

So, just recently in Neil Island in the Andamans, I completed my Stress and Rescue course which is a very physically and mentally strenuous course. It can bring out all of your weaknesses and anxiety and you have to deal with it head on. I think completing that course gave me a sense of achievement that I have not felt in a very very long time because for me it wasn’t about adding a new feather to the cap but about facing my fears and anxiety and coming through. For me being able to face something like this was a breakthrough. 

So, do you need to know how to swim in order to do scuba diving?

If you want to get certified then yes, you need to know how to swim because as part of your open water certification you need to be able to swim for 200m unassisted or 300m with snorkel, fins and a mask. But if you wanna go on a discover scuba drive which will let you go 12m with an experienced instructor where you can spend like 30-45 minutes exploring -  for that you don't need to know swimming because you will be assisted. 


What is one common thing that you’re asked most often as a travel blogger?

“Where do you get the money to do it?” That is the question that is asked most often. And its quite understandable because travelling is expensive so for creators to have built a lifestyle around it is a thing of curiosity. 

What is one advice that you would give to all the novice travel bloggers out there?

One thing that I would like to tell anybody who is just starting out is to just keep at it. I know initially it can seem like a lot of hard work, getting your first 1000 followers or subscriber can feel like huge task and things can move really slowly but if this is genuinely something that one wants to take up and build a career out of then you are gonna have to be able to make peace with the fact that you're first few months or even years might not be your best. You might not instantly touch 50k or whatever your target is but genuinely being consistent and staying true to yourself and your niche is the most important thing. 

I know it's easy to look at a travel lifestyle as something that is super glamorous but I would not want anybody to look at it as a go to. People should really travel for themselves which is something that gets lost in the world of social media because we always have your #goals but goals are really something that you define for yourself. Do you and have fun while travelling! 

Our conversation with Preethi illustrated how travelling can transform your personality. How it can make you more self-sufficient, how you do things you never imagined you'd try and they end up being your passion! Preethi gave us with a very thorough and raw glimpse into her life as a travel content creator, which we hope will inspire many individuals who are just getting started or are afraid to venture into the world of travel!


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