Shivya Nath: A Girl, her Backpack and the World

Sunetra Senior Thursday 27th September 2018 08:09 EDT

Shivya is the brilliant, pioneering product of an ever-shifting, professional landscape. She began her high-profile travel blog, The Shooting Star, back in 2011 when she decided to take “a two-month sabbatical” from her office job “to go travelling around western Europe.” It has since garnered accolades such as Best Indian Travel Blogger (2013) at the Indian Blogger Awards, Best Indian Travel Blogger as voted in Vogue India (2015), and got the cover of National Geographic Traveller magazine, (2017). Of course, these only palely parallel the numerous countries the determined, young traveller has visited, now reaching over fifty different global locations. “I travel as a passion, and the acclaim received is secondary,” Shivya told us, “though much appreciated and welcome! When I started writing on my adventures, there weren’t many travel bloggers around, much less those who ticked the boxes of adventurous and female too. I really developed a love of exploration,” especially, as we found out, for previously undiscovered, and rarely trodden territories. Shivya quit her corporate trajectory working for the Singapore Tourism Board, that post itself having been a deviation from original plans in a post-recession world, to go on to travel through parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. An epic accomplishment has been her recent excursion through Central and North America in 2015 when she stayed with locals, absorbing the culture in places such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama over a period of six months. “That really pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Shivya said. “I had the time to really learn the language, and interact with people who could share their ancient wisdom. It was completely off the tourist radar and so far from the universe I was familiar with.”

As well as bringing entirely new cultural perspectives, which the blogger emphasised are “sometimes saner” than the metropolitan lives we lead, another unique element to Shivya’s writings is her focus on “human stories and connections by way of bringing the world together. I enjoy being in others’ shoes for a while.” She has been featured on BBC Travel, voted India’s Best Young Social Media Professional at CMO Asia Awards (2014), and hailed as a significant social influencer also featured on The Good Trade as a visual storyteller using Instagram to inspire global community and kindness (2017). Interestingly but not unsurprisingly, Shivya’s unusual emotional journey began in a small town at the foot of the isolated Himalayas, where she was raised in “a very protective household.” As a result, “she wanted to break free from those conventions. Different parts of the world inspired that journey. Documenting my stories was purely out of my own interest and mostly for challenging the way of life one is taught as superior. Living with indigenous people, you see how their lives are more grounded. They are more connected to nature in a way. When I was staying with farmers during my trip to central America, for example, they had modern phones and chargers and were listening to reggae music, but were also relying solely on plants for food. I had to take a wooden raft on rapids, and trek through the rainforest as well as taking a few buses out from the city to actually reach them.” A poetic essence in her words, and indeed her natural disposition, it is then no wonder that Shivya’s tech savvy traversing has culminated in the publishing of her debut book: The Shooting Star, with Penguin publishing. “The book is different to my online log, which is more instantaneous and contains quick travel tips. It's more meditated and personal and delves deeply into my background. I introspect on what I’ve learnt through my nomadic twenties and who that's made me today. It’s the end of an era!" Thus, not only has Shivya escaped the constraints of a rotary, mainstream life, but also a flatter formula to actualising the self. "I suppose it does feel a little as if my writing career is happening in reverse," she added. "I jumped on the online bandwagon and am now being printed via traditional media. A lot of travel companies do now look to work with independent bloggers in a more authentic way.”  Taking chances and embracing future uncertainty, Shivya paradoxically achieves a sounder present stance. She also gave up her home and belongings in 2013 and is currently living out of two backpacks and the many diverse experiences of strangers. Having allowed herself to freefall, Shivya now emerges a modern, more luminescent success.

Where do you think you will travel to next?
Central Asia. Places such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and I’d also like to visit Iran. Incidentally, these places have just made the visa process much easier for Indians too!

People always think where they are is boring. Can you recommend some good getaways in Britain?
I’ve spent some time in North Wales which is culturally different from other parts of Britain – there’s a lot of adventure open to you and the beautiful wilderness. The Lake District where I am currently has been great as well, despite the weather.

Do you think willingness and a sense of curiosity are absolutely vital for good travelling?
It can be a chicken and the egg game long term because the more you travel, the more you want to do more.

You travel alone mostly; do you feel once you’ve immersed yourself in a place that it can take on its own persona and keep you company that way?
Yes, absolutely – I feel I carry so many bits of places within me. There’s no one place I call home. I don’t end up identifying with people I’ve known for a long time, and feel individual that way.
It is liberating to have no roots anywhere and a place I have to keep returning to. The independence is great.

How has it been travelling as a woman?
Equal parts fear and liberation. It’s a great drive to seek to travel yourself. If you’re traveling to remoter places, there is a certain thrill to it which mitigates the fear. If you can travel like this on your own, the confidence built affects every part of your life – if you can stand on your own far away, you feel you can take on any challenge.
Also, it puts the bigger picture into perspective, you can take a step back and identify what really matters.

What are further themes in The Shooting Star Book?
Travelling alone as a woman, trusting and connecting with strangers. I also look at sustainability. For a while I ran a company in India centred around sustainable travel and entrepreneurship.

Finally, can you give us your top three tips for good travel?
Don’t be overwhelmed by social media. Travel to places that connect specifically with you. Think on what you want out of your travels? Secondly, stay with locals as opposed to guesthouse or a hostel – you learn so much more when you connect with people who live there. Finally, be mindful of the pressure you’re putting on the environment and local economy: take public transport, refuse plastic bottles, contribute financially to places which are fuelling local life.

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