…Because Travelers Have Responsibilities Too!

As I recount the last days of my erstwhile corporate life, I romanticize my new existence as a vagabond. I wonder if I will have a lifestyle with no strings attached. Will I escape the common man’s worries of paying rent, getting dressed for work, cleaning the house or doing the dishes? Will I be absolved of my duties of attending to a (future) husband, tucking the (future) children into bed or caring for my parents?

Life isn't always a fairytale (Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany)

Life isn’t always a fairytale (Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany)

Wishful Thinking Won’t Change Reality

With the new-found freedom (read For Travel Goals that are Long Term…), I am becoming acutely aware of the new responsibilities I have. I am no longer insured by my employer or mandated by law to save a slice of my income for my retirement. To add to the uncertainty, the regular flow of monthly income, that I’d grown accustomed to, is missing. I can no longer dismiss my credit card bills, thinking my next month’s salary will take care of those.

I may have become a full time wayfarer, but I am still accountable to my folks. I may not have to wake up at 7 on every weekday, but I have to be awake at 4 on a weekend to meet that impatient client’s deadline. I may be able to pull off a Skype call with a trench coat thrown over my jammies, but I still need clean sets of trekking clothes on my countless hikes through the wilderness.

After each day of wandering, the mind longs for rest (somewhere in Eastern Europe)

After each day of wandering, the mind longs for rest (somewhere in Eastern Europe)

Some Needs Are So Basic, They’re Profession-Agnostic

I must also remember that my new profession does not magically make me a superhero. I need a lot of rest after every hectic day of scouting for interesting places. My sore muscles need to relax after every strenuous trek. I have to allow my weather-beaten skin to be at peace after I’ve subjected it to cold winds, charring sun-rays and liquefying humidity. After all, there is no air-conditioning when you’re on the road!

 

I mustn’t forget that I won’t be in my 20’s forever. The thrill of going solo might some day give way to a yearning for companionship. The couples and families I meet on my journeys will make me question if I indeed can live without a partner or spend a lifetime without having my own kids.

There is a kind of hunger that food cannot satisfy (my zucchini pocket in Budapest)

There is a kind of hunger that food cannot satisfy (my zucchini pocket in Budapest)

Future Depends On The Steps Taken in the Present

Ruing is of no use when you’ve dreamed an empty dream and taken no action to make it happen for real. Living each day without any consideration for what to do tomorrow, is a recipe for delayed regrets. I don’t have much advice on emotional matters, but for personal finance, there are neat ways to protect your future and grow your wealth. Bajaj Allianz Life’s recently launched Future Wealth Gain ULIP is one such way. The unit-linked insurance plan does its primary jobs of insuring the policy holder and enhancing the worth of the instrument by investing in a mix of 8 debt and equity funds, allowing you to #InvestBefikar and #JiyoBefikar.

 

There’s quite a bit of flexibility in the product as you can choose the variant you want (Wealth Plus or Wealth Plus Care), the premium you pay, the life cover you need, the policy term, the premium payment term and frequency, the portfolio strategy and even the riders.

When you've lived in strangers' homes for so long, you desire to have your own (a friend's couch in Lindau)

When you’ve lived in strangers’ homes for so long, you desire to have your own (a friend’s couch in Lindau)

Someday, We’ll Know…

Life is a tough nut to crack. You may have had your future planned out, but there are always surprises. Some pleasant, and some unpleasant. Planning ahead eases your pain through the unpleasant times of disease or death. You can never know when life will throw a curveball at you, but you can be prepped to strike a score. Getting your finances in order goes a long way in tiding over the bad times. Do not tarry. (This is the advice I give myself everyday – do not tarry.)

Getting tanned in Doha like there's no tomorrow

Getting tanned in Doha like there’s no tomorrow

I wander like I have no cares, but I have responsibilities too! Have you financially invested in your future yet? Share some of your strategies in the comments section below! 🙂

 

Do follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my journeys, and spread the love by sharing this article with your pals who are planning their future. 🙂

Advertisements

For Travel Goals that are Long Term…

“I’m quitting my job to travel.”

I broke this news to my parents last month. They were too baffled and disappointed to react.

“Do you have enough money?” My father finally broke his silence. He had asked me the question I had been asking myself for several months. The more I pondered over this matter, the stronger my decision became. I realized that I want to live for my dreams, and not to be wealthy.

You cannot always predict where the road will lead you (picture from Paro)

You cannot always predict where the road will lead you. (Picture from Paro, Bhutan)

The Road Not Taken

I wasn’t surprised at my decision at all. After all, I had been fed on Robert Frost’s timeless poem – ‘The Road Not Taken’ and countless stories of bravehearts who leave their lives of comfort to chase their dreams. I grew up watching love stories where people would give up all of their money and fight to the ends of the earth to be one with the person they treasured. How could I then be a coward and continue doing what a regressive society expects me to?

Dreams are sweeter when our future plans are secure

Dreams are sweeter when our future plans are secure

A Contingency Plan

There was some truth in what my father said, though. How would I sleep in peace if I did not know how to pay for the night? How would I literally travel the world if my pockets did not have enough to afford the tickets? And how would I be happy with my decision if the worries of the world bothered me?

I knew I needed to get my finances sorted! Throughout my short span in the corporate world, I had managed to set aside small chunks of my salary. I did not know what I was saving for, but I knew I’d be thanking myself later. I suppose, life was preparing me for the eventuality of getting closer to my dreams.

For the nomadic traveller's ever-changing home, her finances must be strong. (Somewhere in the Himalayas)

For the nomadic traveller’s ever-changing home, her finances must be strong. (Somewhere in the Himalayas)

Towards Long Term Financial Goals

Now that I know I’ll need to be more careful with money, I’m keeping an eye out for investment instruments that will serve my need for long term protection. Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance has told me that on 22nd June, 2017, they’ll introduce a product with dual benefits of growth and protection to help me #JiyoBefikar. You and I will have another option to consider as we sit down to do our financial planing for the year. Stay tuned with us for updates on the launch. You may want to get live notifications on Twitter – @BajajAllianzLIC and their Facebook page.

A happy meal is when you've left your worries behind (traditional Bhutanese fare)

A happy meal is when you’ve left your worries behind. (Traditional Bhutanese fare)

The Wise Do Not Worry

Matters of money don’t have to crease your forehead with worry lines. You only have to be aware of your needs, keep your eyes open to the offerings that meet those needs, plan meticulously to find the best fit, and finally, act on your decisions – #InvestBefikar. Why should wealth come in the way of your dreams?

Some smiles stay beyond a picture

Some smiles stay beyond a picture. (At Jaldapara National Park)

Have you had the courage to pursue your dreams? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who’re hesitant to follow their dreams because they can’t figure their finances out. 🙂

Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival

Winters in Sharjah are special. Not just because the weather is pleasant, but also because Sharjah’s famed light festival is celebrated in that season. With the onset of February, I flew over to this emirate to witness the celebrations which not a lot of tourists are aware of. I’ve brought back pictures and videos for you to enjoy vicariously! 🙂

When water shines and light rains

When water shines and light rains

When to Visit

This 2017, the Sharjah Light Festival was held from 2nd to 11th Feb across 14 locations. Each evening, the drama would unfold after the sun went down. I was fortunate to have good seats before the crowd would normally gather. It helps to get to the spots early, so you can position your cameras and have a clear view.

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall - before the show begins

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall – before the show begins

Opening Ceremony

On our first evening, we waited at the University City Hall’s open air amphitheatre for the inaugural show to commence. The heavens had other plans, however! It started pouring, and we had to pack up our camera kits. We did manage to see the scientific marvel the next day. I’ve made a timelapse for you to see a bit of the projection-work in a jiffy:-

Al Noor in the Night

One night, I took a walk around the Khalid Lagoon (read: Sharjah at First Sight) to watch the beautiful Noor mosque lit up in an array of colours. The work of light on this building was so smooth, that the facade appeared to be painted. The paintings would not be still, though. The patterns changed dynamically. Before my mind could feast on one, a new design was laid up before my eyes.

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Where Parks are Golden

Sharjah knows how to build up the tempo to the main attractions during this fest. Even the sprawling gardens become a part of the light festival when they hold tunnels of coloured lights for kids (and adults who are kids at heart 😉 ) to saunter through. The tunnels I crossed zigzagged about the palm trees, making them glow as well.

Light Falls on the Waterfront

Al Majaz is one area you cannot miss when you’re in Sharjah! The promenade along the waterfront makes for a refreshing walk. It’s wonderfully breezy here, and incredibly magical once the skyline is bedecked in jewels of light. The still waters look ethereal as they softly reflect the gleaming towers.

Al Majaz waterfront is silent before the show begins

Al Majaz waterfront is silent in anticipation of the spectacle

Music, Fountains and Lights

The light and water show in front of Al Majaz was perhaps the highlight of my SLF experience! Here’s some footage from my film:-

En Route to Al Qasba

Qanat Al Qasba – the mosque which draws its architectural inspiration from one of the mosques in Oman, is another building of note. It was a sight to behold at night! Its minarets were swathed in golden hues, with emerald at the top. The rest of the building looked a patchwork of ruby and sapphire as the light effects brought colours to this masjid.

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

The Story Unfolds at Al Qasba Canal

I stayed till very late at Al Qasba canal. From the bridge, I watched with wonder as the history of Sharjah was told through light and sound works on the buildings on either side of the canal. If you are here during the day, take a boat ride through the lagoons.

Al Qasba waterfront at night

Al Qasba waterfront at night

I know many who complain about the lack of a nightlife in Sharjah. Well, “nightlife” is honestly how you define it. If you are not into drinking and clubbing, this emirate has a soulful display of light-artwork across the city to keep you intoxicated with enchantment!

It all begins when the sun goes down ;-)

It all begins when the sun goes down 😉

Have you been to any light festivals around the world that you’d like to share? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Preserving Your Travel Memories on Travelibro

I was looking back at all of the trips I did last year, and I realized I couldn’t even recall a few! On an average, I had been on at least one trip a month in 2015. If I struggled to remember 12 destinations, I would certainly find it it a task to remember 12 times the-number-of-years-I-live (assumiing I keep up my pace of travel for the rest of my life 😉 ).

As I flipped through my Poland album (see What Warsaw Whispers – A Photoessay), I was suddenly gripped by the fear that I would someday forget all about those wonderful moments I spent there.

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

I knew there were myriad ways I could store all the pictures, but I wanted to keep a trace of the path I took at every place I went. That is when I stumbled upon Travelibro. This site showed me (and quite literally with its video and user-friendly prompts) how I could preserve some practical bits of my trips so I would never have to worry about forgetting anything.

My travel map on Travelibro

My travel map on Travelibro

After I created my account on the website, I could colour the world map with all the places I have already seen (and also pick those on my bucket list). I quickly filled up the list of countries as I went through one photo album after another, remembering my moments in every place I have been.

I stopped at Colombo (see First Impressions of Sri Lanka), and longed to plan another trip there.

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Travelibro created a neat little travel tracker for me with the flags of the countries on a timeline. I have only been to 10 countries so far, and that makes me a “globe trotter” already on the site. 🙂

Tracking countries on a timeline

Tracking countries on a timeline

After I marked my countries, I got to the task of documenting my trips. I started with Latvia (see The Romance of Riga). The process of creating an itinerary is very simple on Travelibro – you pick your country, the cities you have been to, the dates of travel, the type of trip (adventure, budget, romantic, etc.), the places you stayed at, the restaurants you ate at and the activities you recommend. Most of these have preloaded options to guide you. You can then start telling your stories (by each city/town/village) and create a day-by-day plan. You obviously get to upload pictures with captions and finally select the cost of your trip before you publish it for the world to see.

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

I currently have most of my recent foreign itineraries up on Travelibro. Do visit my profile – http://travelibro.com/users/oindrila-de. It will be fun swapping itineraries and taking travel tips from the growing community of travellers and travel bloggers on the site!

For those who prefer flash-packing, do check out their On-The-Go app feature. It lets you create shared timelines with your travel buddies on the fly with simple things such as check-ins, photo uploads and status updates.

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

I understand that many travellers prefer to have their hands held through the tedious process of preparing for a trip (think booking flights, hotels, planning the itinerary etc.). I have also gone through moments when I wished I could outsource the boring stuff to an agent, especially when I was planning a trip to Lithuania (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) – applying for a visa was a real hassle! If you like to relax while someone else plans your trip for you, Travelibro has something that will make you smile! You can choose from a collection of travel agents to bear your headache for you.

While I was running through Vingis Park - the largest park in Vilnius

While I was running through Vingis Park – the largest park in Vilnius

Of course, there are many of us who truly enjoy the task of planning every bit of our trip. (And I belong to this group.) Travelibro lets you search for itineraries (created by real people who have actually undertaken those trips) by destination and type (luxury, business, roadtrip, etc.), so you can look for some inspiration. Do read their blog posts for useful tips!

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

The site also interfaces with Skyscanner for flight search and Homestay for accommodation search. Now, you can’t even blame laziness for not taking that long-pending trip! 😀

We are never the same people when we travel. It changes us in beautiful ways. If you ever forget how fulfilled you felt when you just returned from a trip, you will thank yourself for storing your memories on Travelibro.

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

I read my own itinerary for Czech Republic a while back and remembered I haven’t written about it on this blog yet. Now, I know I won’t have to wrack my brains to recollect all my experiences there.

How do you record your travel memories? Let me know by commenting below!

Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains

I can open your eyes

Take you wonder by wonder

Over, sideways and under

On a magic carpet ride 

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

These lines from my favourite song in the Aladdin movie rang in my ears as we zipped through the mountain trail on our first monsoon roadtrip for the year. The road almost sang for me as it curved and split and sloped with alarming swiftness beneath us, almost taking us on a magic carpet ride over the Western Ghats!  I slid the car window down to feel the winds getting stronger as we gained altitude on the road to Lavasa. And after about five hours of playing hide and seek with the rains all along the path, we reached our destination. Hidden somewhere between the hills of the mighty Sahyadri range, a charming little city gleamed in the afternoon sun. I could not believe I was still in Maharashtra!

Just before the thunder split the sky

Just before the thunder split the sky

As the car eased into the driveway of our hotel – Mercure Lavasa, I made a mental note to find out why this city looked so Mediterranean. Weary as I was from the long drive, I almost flopped on my bouncy bed, but I realized I hadn’t had lunch. So, off we scurried to Mercure’s Celebration restaurant, and got hold of a table by one of the French windows. A view like that could only be enjoyed with Italian mains! After the appetizing meal of spaghetti and mushroom, we gathered our camera lenses and tightened our shoelaces – it was time for action!

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

As we walked through Lavasa, I learned that this planned hill station is modeled on the Italian fishing village of Portofino. Orange, yellow and brick red coloured buildings dazzled from afar. This was the Waterfront Shaw which framed the shimmering blue waters of the Wasargaon Lake. These waters are boundless in the scenes they reflect, yet restrained by the Wasargaon Dam. The mountains that guard Lavasa have an appeal of their own – they are gentle in their incline but strong when it comes to carrying entire villages on their backs.

The waterfront at Lavasa

The waterfront at Lavasa

My train of thoughts was broken by a little kid calling out to her father. She insisted on getting on the trackless toy train that chugged along Portofino Street. It was only then that I took my eyes off the mountains and looked around me. The lakefront promenade was lined with a host of counters that let one try everything – from miniature golf to adventure sports. Instantaneously, I broke into a smile as I knew just how I would spend the rest of my evening!

The toy train is coming!

The toy train is coming!

“Burma bridge crossing” was first on my list. This adventure sport can actually mislead people into thinking all bridges in Burma are made of ropes and only luck can help you go across. The operator from XThrill Adventure Sports warned me cheekily not to ask for help if I got stuck on the bridge. He hurriedly plonked a yellow helmet on my ashen face, straightened the harness around my waist and told me he’d see me on the other side. I held on to the rope railings for dear life as I wobbled across the rope bridge, stepping on one knot at a time. Zip lining, the next thing on my list, was a breeze after the Burma bridge ordeal. Zip line is also called Flying Fox, though you don’t quite feel foxy as you fly from one point to another, suspended only by two ropes. We tried our hand at archery and shooting before heading back to our hotel.

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

This hill city has a handful of business hotels and resorts, but not much for the budget traveler. In Lavasa, be prepared to loosen your purse strings! There are some cafes that dot the waterfront. If you love people-watching, you can sit and sip a different coffee under a different awning every time you pass a café by. For visitors who like to “feel” a place as opposed to tick things off a checklist, I recommend alfresco dining. No music is more melodious than the whistle of the wind, and no décor as enchanting as the mood of the sky.

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

Back at Mercure, we realized we still had some light before dusk would swallow the place. So, we decided to walk on the other part of Lavasa. Right outside our hotel, we heard a stream gurgling loudly with no other sound adulterating it. We walked past rows of single storey and double story houses which had no occupants but a guard to keep an eye on them. I guessed that many real estate investors have second homes here, but choose to stay in bigger cities. I cannot fathom why one would prefer noisier cities to the tranquil tunes of nature. In some time, the sky darkened with clouds and we strolled back to our hotel. I was a little upset that water-sports was closed in the rains. I just could not get the image of that expanse of hypnotizing blue out of my head.

The sky darkens

The sky darkens

To get my spirits up, we ordered Italian again. We had ravioli with some wine for dinner and then went out one more time to look at the diamonds that had scattered all over the night sky. The best thing about a weekend getaway to the hills is the crisp air and the clear skies. Stargazing is a luxury one cannot afford in big cities where light pollution is rampant. Over a bottle of Bordeaux and under a sheet of stars, we exchanged stories of our past and toasted to a brighter tomorrow.

Washed by the rains, the city gleams again

Washed by the rains, the town gleams again

We were greeted next morning by an intermittent drizzle that kept most of the tourists indoors and left all of Lavasa to us. With no group to trek with, we explored the place further on our own and spotted many a rare blossom and insects crawl out in the rain. Monsoon, I have observed, is more beautiful when you get out there and explore. A warm mug of coffee can only soothe your throat, not your soul. Rains are not for us to sit and watch from the confines of our glass walled homes. Rains are the Earth’s way to communicate with us. And we must reciprocate – by walking, running, driving and dancing in the downpour.

The hill station from the top

The hill station from the top

From where I stood, I saw at a distance, all the touristy cottages perched precariously on the hills. I knew then that I had escaped the tourist trap and wandered where only travellers could! I could then hear the true song of Lavasa.

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Useful Information:-

  • Arrange your hotel bookings in advance, especially if you plan to visit over a weekend. Tourists start trickling in mostly in the monsoon.
  • Lavasa does not have an airport. The closest international airports are in Pune and Mumbai. There are also no trains or buses that connect Pune / Mumbai to Lavasa. Travelling by car is recommended. Besides, the enthralling views along the route are best enjoyed on a long drive!
  • If you are travelling in a bigger group, do not miss the morning tour conducted by Nature Trails.
  • For running enthusiasts, the Lavasa Hill Run is the cherry on the pie! Even if you are training for another marathon (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad), the hills of Lavasa could be your practice pit!
  • If you have more time on your hands, squeeze in a visit to Bamboosa – the bamboo factory. You can also request for a tour of the entire area, interact with the workers and see how a bamboo product is made – start to finish.