In 2011, Shivya Nath left her corporate job in Singapore and jumped head-first into a life of nomadic adventures. Five years on, the Dehradun, India, native has been chronicling her journey on her popular travel blog, The Shooting Star, where aspiring nomads can find well-crafted stories from around the world and resources and tips on supporting a travel bug while on the road.
We recently chatted with Shivya about full-time blogging, solo travel, and why she doesn’t keep a bucket list.
You’ve been a full-time travel blogger for several years now — what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about yourself and about travel since taking the plunge?
We take life too seriously. Most of us grow up with checklists of what we are supposed to achieve by the time we’re thirty or forty. We forget it’s okay to mess up and live a little. When I quit my job as a social-media strategist five years ago and decided to experiment with long-term travel and blogging, conversations with my family and friends made me feel a lot like I was shying away from adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it.
But the more I travel, the more I meet people who are choosing less steady, more satisfying paths in life. A common thread is that we all have gone in knowing we might fail, but also knowing that we’ll never know for sure until we try. I met a fisherman in Mauritius who chooses to fish for a living over working long hours for big bucks in a factory, because he loves the sea; in rural Kerala, India, I met a craftsman who is single-handedly keeping a traditional craft alive, even at meager wages, because it is his legacy and calling. As for me, I may not have a fat monthly salary or an MBA or the high life of my banker friends, but my days on the road are full of unanticipated adventures and I love that.
Has your perspective on the places you visit changed as well?
I’ve come to realize that our perception of the world is seriously flawed. In Honduras, notorious for being the “most violent place on earth,” I lived with local hosts who don’t even bother locking their doors at night (their biggest fear is that the neighbor’s dog might steal their chihuahua’s food!). In my solo travels in India, I’ve witnessed overwhelming kindness from people who really don’t have much else to offer. I’ve learnt that judging a place and its people before you engage deeply is like judging a book by its cover. People from around the world, no matter how different from you and me on the surface, have the same heart and the same insecurities — and when we travel without preconceived notions, we discover that in beautiful, unexpected ways.
Shivya taking in the view on a recent trip to Mauritius.
Many people dream about becoming a self-sustaining travel writer, and your blog is full of insight on how to pursue this passion. What do you think is the most important thing aspiring travel bloggers should know about this path?
Travel blogging is a bit like being in a serious, long-term relationship: the only way to make it work is to love it selflessly, commit to it irrespective of the ups and downs, and believe that you can make it.
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It’s a lot about loving travel, blogging, and social media in almost equal proportions. Perhaps unlike other genres of blogging, travel blogging often involves working out of beautiful locations — which can seem glamorous in Instagram photos, but in reality involves a tremendous amount of discipline. Imagine being in beach mode on a remote island and having to pull out your laptop on the sunbed to meet self-imposed timelines — I personally think the only way you can psyche yourself into doing that is if you really love spending time creating aspirational content on your blog and social networks.
You’ve amassed an impressive following on your blog but also on other social platforms. Do you treat these different “channels” differently? What role does your blog play in your overall online presence?
I like to think of my blog as the hub of my online presence — the home of my adventures, where I ideally want to lead all my followers.
Besides my blog, I am primarily active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and have been experimenting with different content and engagement strategies on each. Instagram is for (relatively) longform stories, Twitter for quick observations, and Facebook for a mix of both — and since I’m always on the road, most of my updates are in real time from the location I’m in.
I like to think of my blog as the hub of my online presence — the home of my adventures, where I ideally want to lead all my followers. But I also curate my social channels so that they can exist and engage independent of my blog.
Many recent conversations in the US and elsewhere have focused on street harassment and other visible symptoms of patriarchy. Do you sense differences between how solo male travelers are treated compared to solo female travelers? Is that something that influences the way you design and write about your adventures?
There are certainly differences, though contrary to popular perception, I wouldn’t say solo female travelers are always on the losing end. Personally, I’ve struck up interesting conversations, hitchhiked, and lived with kind locals in many parts of the world. After the initial shock of meeting a female traveling by herself, they went out of their way to connect me with their friends and help me sneak a peek into the local way of life. It’s hard to say if they’d shower the same kind of attention on a solo male traveler. The challenges are different too: the perception of safety tends to influence the kind of adventures I land myself in (often unintendedly), which in turn influences what I write about.
Truth is, the exhilaration I feel on solo adventures in remote parts of the world, without the need for a man to keep me company, in a time where patriarchy (especially in a country like India, where I grew up) is still very pronounced, is perhaps far more liberating than a solo male traveler might ever feel.
A solo traveler needs to know how to take a creative selfie — Shivya took this one in Kumaon, India.
How do you feel about the ever-popular notion of bucket lists? Do you keep one?
I’ve never bothered keeping a bucket list because it’d be so long, looking at it would probably exhaust or intimidate me! I’m usually pretty spontaneous and unplanned with my travels — deciding on my destinations literally a day or two before I fly in. That’s partly because I hate planning into the future (hello, commitment phobia!), and partly because I’m lazy. I love that I tend to travel with a blank slate, without being too influenced by the impressions of people who’ve been to a place before me.
What are your next destinations — and which do you enjoy more: exploring a new place, or rediscovering an old favorite?
I’ll be traveling back to Germany in September, and for the first time to Scotland after that — both for travel-blogging campaigns (and hence planned well in advance). Between October and December, I’m thinking of either heading to Bolivia, since I’ve loved my time exploring other parts of Central and South America, or traveling up north to Bhutan, where the focus on happiness has intrigued me for years.
The thrill of landing in a new place, not knowing what horizons lie in store, is often hard to resist.
I find myself drawn to places that are not high on the regular tourist radar, for they still tend to have a genuine warmth towards outsiders and lend themselves to incredible adventures; my six-month sojourn through Central America in 2014 bore testimony to that.
The choice between returning to a place I’ve loved versus going to a new place is always a tough one. I usually lean towards the former when I’m in work mode; the familiarity helps me to settle in sooner and I feel less tempted to trade work time for exploration time. But the thrill of landing in a new place, not knowing what horizons lie in store, is often hard to resist.
How do you envision the long-term arc of your travel blog? Is it something you can see yourself doing for the foreseeable future, or would you like it to transition into something different?
I’m working on transitioning towards passive income from travel blogging, so I can spend longer stretches on the road without connectivity, yet not burn through my funds. In the long run, I also want to evolve my blog from its entirely personal voice to being more community-driven — a place where other long-term travelers can share inspiring perspectives and compelling stories from their adventures.