Meet Shivya Nath. A medium-built, unassuming girl from the mountains who becomes deeply rooted in every place she travels to, yet finds herself unable to call one place home. Her passion for travel and people takes her to the remote corners of the world where she soaks herself in the beauty of solitude, yet thrives on the whimsical conversations with people she meet along the way.
Her stories are inspiring women to leave home and take the road untraveled. To dare defy patriarchy and the confinement most women are made to believe is their cocoon of safety.
She’s a free spirit and never in one place for too long, but we managed to catch her for a quick conversation over some vegan coffee.
Monica: What was the deciding factor for you to give it all up and start traveling?
Shivya: It all happened when I took a 2 month sabbatical from my corporate job. The year was 2011 and I was working as a Social Media Strategist with the Singapore Tourism Board; I loved my work, but I hated the 9 to 5 routine. On that 2 month sabbatical, I went flash-packing across Western Europe with a friend and volunteer-travelled by myself in the high Himalayas of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. In those two months, I saw, experienced and lived more than I ever had in my 23 years of being alive, and decided to quit my first and only corporate job with the dream of travelling the world on my own terms.
Two years later, I decided to give up my apartment, sold most of my belongings, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car, and started calling the road home!
Monica: What made you go vegan?
Shivya: I had no idea that an ordinary ‘chicken bus’ ride in Nicaragua was (sort of) going to transform my life. But that’s how it is with the road; it changes you when you least expect it.
I no longer remember what our destination was, only that the chicken bus – so called because people are crammed in like chickens – was far more crowded than usual because it was the day before New Year, and locals were heading home to the rural countryside. An old Nicaraguan lady kept her sack next to my feet, and I felt it move! When staring didn’t work, I asked her in polite Spanish to move it. Minutes later, I felt something poking my back. Much to my horror, inside were three little squeaking chicks trying to survive in a sack without a hole to breathe.
The incident stayed with me. The next time I was in a kitchen, making myself an egg, I felt odd. I started reading about what an egg really is, stumbled upon the cruelty of the dairy industry, and slipped down a dark hole upon realizing what I’ve been eating all my life, despite having turned vegetarian over a decade ago.
I’ve been vegan for a year and a half now.
Monica: What has your experience been travelling the world as a vegan? Share some experiences that were really bizarre and some that really touched you.
Shivya: I’ve travelled to around 10 countries as a vegan so far, and somewhat magically, the universe has led me to places where my vegan lifestyle has not only been welcomed, but has also led to my hosts and fellow travellers to contemplate and experiment with a plant-based diet.
Living with the indigenous Quichua people in Ecuador, I realized that their traditional diet was vegan until the Spanish conquered them and introduced dairy. In Ethiopia, where locals follow an Orthodox form of Christianity, they “give up” all animal products for almost 200 days of the year. And closer home, many local tribes in Odisha and Maharashtra consume no dairy, not even in tea, because they believe that a cow’s milk belongs to the calf.
Monica: Have you felt like women in this country don’t get out as much due to safety reasons? What is your take on that?
Shivya: That is definitely changing! Since the time I started writing about my solo travels, I’ve been able to meet, both online and offline, many Indian women who are challenging convention by travelling – solo, offbeat and adventurously. The numbers are still low, but I think the concept of travel, as opposed to a holiday, is still catching up in India.
Monica: As a solo traveler what are some of the tips you’d like to share with fellow travelers.
Shivya: The thing about solo travel is, whether it’s your first trip or tenth, you might never feel 100% ready. There will always be a little voice at the back of your head asking, are you crazy?
I try to quieten that voice by pouring a lot of time into researching my destination. Having a fair idea of what I’m in for, while leaving enough space to be impulsive, is the right balance for me. You just have to experiment to see what works for you – some people prefer to plan to the t, some prefer to show up without any plans at all.
If you’re on the fence about traveling solo, start small. Take the coming weekend and explore your own town or city as though it’s your first time. Have a meal alone, speak to locals you’ve never had a conversation with, spend time with yourself in the kind of place that you’d love on your travels… or take a short trip out of your town to somewhere you’ve been before. It doesn’t have to be long or expensive. See how far you can stretch your comfort zone without getting bored or lonely.
Monica: Is it true that travelling changes you?
Shivya: Well, like life, it all depends on how you approach travel.
I don’t think a typical holiday, where you try to cross a hundred things off your list and get the perfect pictures, is going to change much. But if you slow down and try to experience life like the locals in a place, it is more likely to open your mind, change your perspectives and take a lot less for granted.
Monica: How do you cope with home sickness – the feeling most people find most comfort in- calling one place home.
Shivya: That’s an easy one. I feel like I have so many homes around the world – the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, the mountain villages of Uttarakhand – that I seldom feel homesick 😉
Monica: Financially how do you manage all your travel expenses?
Shivya: When I first quit my job, I lived off my savings for a few months, then let freelancing take over. I wrote for travel publications, took on social media consulting work, did anything that came my way and filled my bank account. But over the last couple of years, I’ve transitioned into a full-time travel blogger, making nearly 80% of my income through travel blogging.
Monica: What are some of your favorite places to travel to?
Shivya: I don’t think I have an answer for that. It’s like food; you’re craving a burger today and a huge thali tomorrow… vegan of course 😉
Monica: What’s next on your bucket list?
Shivya: I’m planning a big trip through the Balkan countries of Europe this summer; let’s see if I make it.
Monica: World over, how easy or difficult has it been staying vegan and having a good time?
Shivya: To tell you the truth, I’ve had some of my most delicious meals since I turned vegan!
I’m thinking about the Quinoa burgers in Ecuador, a home-cooked Sri Lankan meal by Victoria Lake, vegan kebabs (marinated with cashew cream) at a lodge in Himachal Pradesh and most recently, a vegan spread made with wild plants and vegetables at an aboriginal Truku home in Taiwan…
The trick to be a happy vegan while travelling is to do your research, learn the names of important ingredients in the local language, and use your creativity to customize a menu.
Monica: Which airlines are most vegan-friendly?
Shivya: Gosh, I wish I could tell you. I’ve been so disappointed by vegan food (and sometimes the lack of it, despite indicating a special request) on most airlines that I always carry my own food on board. It’s healthier, more hygienic and often the envy of my co-passengers!
Monica: What are some of the challenges you faced as a solo woman traveler.
Shivya: I face many of the same challenges as solo male travellers – being the only one in charge of my safety and that of my belongings, blocking out the negativity that surrounds us, dealing with loneliness and being adventurous while trusting my gut.
Monica: A little background on your education and upbringing. Was it that you had to face restrictions at home that made you leave. Or was this something you’d always dreamt of – traveling the world.
Shivya: I grew up in a protective Indian family in Dehradun, a small town at the base of the Himalayas, and spent my teen years in silent rebellion against everything I was told to do… even though I did it. Studied science, graduated with an Economics degree, you get the picture.
It was only when I started travelling around Southeast Asia, first on a student budget and later with my corporate salary, that I realized how liberating it was to be on the road.
Monica: Responsible traveling and slow travel – what is your take on it.
Shivya: To me, travelling is not about rushing from one place to another, crossing countries off my list. It is about slowing down wherever I am, living with the locals, opening myself up to their way of life, experimenting with local cuisine (in its vegan form), and giving a little something back if I can.
When we choose accommodations and experiences that are conscious of the environment and inclusive of the local community, we not only experience a place deeper, we also leave a somewhat positive impact. That’s the only kind of travel that has the power to change you.
Follow Shivya and her upcoming travel stories on her website – here