Naina siwach, consultant digital strategist now based in bali, who manages to live her travel dreams almost every weekend, shares travel hacks with us – when to plan your trips, when to book, where to look for best deals and how to get your bank to do all the hard work with your finances when you holiday
HYDERABAD:Every time the long weekend, like the May Day (May 1) weekend looks us in the eye, we go into a tizzy trying to make last-minute plans and then regret not planning ahead. But meet Naina Siwach from Mumbai, who by her own confession, is a digital nomad. Planning, she says, is the key to making your travel dreams come true. In her 30s now, this former VP of a national PR company in Mumbai who is now 'location independent' and has chosen to become a consultant digital strategist and moved to Bali, Indonesia, in December 2017 as she feels the new job will help her travel yet work for a living. While many of us got inspired to spend at least two days at the La Tomatina Festival after watching Laila and Arjun fall in love with each other amidst the squishy tomatoes in Spain in the epic 2011 Bollywood movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, this girl actually managed to ring in her 30th birthday in Spain at the fest. "Ever since I turned 21, I've managed to visit more than 30 countries and I hope to have 50 stampings in my passport before I turn 40." she says. Naina was at The Philippines for her birthday in 2017 and she says she loves to do it the local style. Her holidays are dotted with archery, height ziplining, surfing, snorkeling, deep sea diving and more. She loves to hang out with the locals, eat like them and even rent a little studio apartment for herself when she travels. We ask her how she manages to do all of this and how to plan to explore the world. Excerpts from a conversation with this true blue nomad
When did you start travelling solo?
I ventured on my first solo travel at the rebellious age of 18, as a birthday gift to myself. I yearned to step out of my comfort zone and explore unchartered territories. The first trip was to Europe where I travelled for 30 days and it felt like the best 30 days of my life. Every day, I learnt the value of being true to myself and appreciating my moments of solitude. It changed me as a person and restored a newfound sense of independence within me. I understood how to adapt to different cultures, cuisines, languages and of course, money conversions most importantly. Every solo trip has enhanced the quality of my peace and happiness.
What is it in solo travel that keeps you going again and again?
Every solo trip has helped me grow and evolve as a person. It is an ideal stress buster and enables me to truly appreciate the value of my freedom and Independence and to be a better human being. It fills my soul with tranquillity. It is what I do to recover from life's many unpredictable blows, so I may refresh and rejuvenate myself and go back to face anything that comes my way with renewed energy. In a land where you meet new people, you realise you a mere speck in this vast diverse world. Taking yearly solo trips has been essential in teaching me to expand my boundaries and help me take a step back in my own life to appreciate the things I have been blessed with.
How does one realise their dream of travelling the world while still holding a fulltime (often demanding) job?
First earn well and save well ( a few lakhs in Indian Rupee to take care of emergencies). Then choose a job which allows you to work remotely. With the advent of mobile technology and superfast broadband and many companies also giving the remote work options, it is easier to find jobs in the new age economy. For instance, I was previously based in Mumbai and used to work fulltime as the Vice President of the luxury segment of a PR company. But now, thanks to my quest for travel, I travel wherever I want but to using my high end laptop and a super fast internet connection (luckily Bali has a good one), I work as a digital strategist for global brands. My work involves planning digital campaigns and promotions. So if your travel quest gets the better of you, this is the best way to go about life and your dreams.
What are the three tips for Indian solo travellers to stay safe?
During one of my solo trips to Amsterdam a few years ago, I recall feeling completely vulnerable and alone. Nonetheless, I decided to step outside my hostel and check out their famous Dutch apple pie cafe. My recommendation would be to step out of your fear zone and explore the city and trust me, this will redefine your definition of freedom. You can thank me later. The hacks that keep me safe or sorted are:
- To blend in and dress like one of the locals.
- Carry a dummy wallet. I keep my money and cards in my inner garments. So in case, anyone attempts to rob you, only the dummy wallet is lost.
- Pepper spray is not allowed in air travel. So you can carry a mosquito spray or miniature hair spray if possible. That works too, in case of emergency to at least stump the intruder.
- Pick Airbnb and hostels that have maximum reviews and are centrally located.
- It is preferable to leave the DND sign on your door before leaving the hotel room.
- Do not trust people easily. Stay alert and vigilant.
Is there any process you follow on how you decide your next destination?
Birthdays are special days and I want the best stuff those days. So for the last five years, I have made a pact to myself - to break boundaries and travel far and wide. As an avid traveller who uses almost every long weekend for some sort of travel (I started 2018 with the Thrissur Snake Boat Race festival), I have several exotic and unexplored destinations to discover. I am a thalassophile - a sea lover. The ebb and tide of the waves lull me into a new world whenever I play on the beach. So naturally, my travel is research-oriented and usually around beaches. I am an adventure freak so activities such surfing, diving and snorkelling with intriguing culture blends interest me. I celebrated my birthday in Balinese tradition in 2017.
Share three travel hacks.
Ans: Always make sure to inform your bank about the country you intend to visit along with the duration. Make sure you are familiar with the conversions and costs. Keep the emergency number of the bank in handy in case you lose your cards without fail.
What are the destinations in your bucket list?
There are three destinations and experiences I wish to complete before 2020 which are as follows:
- I want to attempt the Lava Surf in Hawaii. It is said to be extremely dangerous, however, I wish to experience the thrill to ride waves on fire!
- I want to walk through the magnificent Amazon rainforest. The starting point would be from Bolivia. This is an experience of a lifetime and I would recommend the same to all the solo travellers across the world.
- I would like to travel across Japan for about four months during the Cherry blossom season. It begins to bloom in Okinawa, passes through the middle of Japan and finishes with a late bloom in northern Hokkaido.
Ideally how much budget should a single Indian set aside for a week's travel abroad.. not too much luxury but not too much of a shoestring.. economy.
It would depend on the destination. I wouldn’t recommend Europe or USA for a week. The tickets are expensive and to justify that cost, you need to spend at least two to three weeks. If you want to go abroad for a week, I would recommend The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand Islands, Cambodia and Vietnam. You can work within Rs 1.5 lakh including tickets, visa, stay, meal and intercity travel. If you are a shopaholic, then I recommend you downsize your credit limit to 50K so you don’t splurge. However, avoid malls. Always visit flea markets and vintage stores
What websites/ apps to plan your travel do you recommend?
- TripIt - saves my travel itinerary, while the alerts are like my best travel buddies.
- Airbnb for homestay.
- Hostel World for any hostel bookings.
- CityMapper - for any help in understanding local transport.
- Google translate are my Go to apps as required.
Any tips on snagging the best foreign travel deals
Plan in advance. Think glocal, spend on local (stuff).
5 things I learnt living as digital nomad
1. You get to meet the most incredible human beings on similar journeys.
2. Bittersweet farewells become a happy part of your nomadic life.
3. You find an abundance of love, hope, gratitude and comfort even from the most unexpected lands and cultures.
4. Home is where you invest emotions in people, it is not a city or a structure that you are confined to
5. Last, but not the least, you learn to care and become much more protective about our environment and our planet