(April 23, 2023) A solo land journey from Thailand to India via Myanmar, travelling on land from the Persian Gulf via Iran to Armenia, staying with the Mayan community in Guatemala, taking a dip in the deep blue sea in Cuba, rejuvenating at onsens across Japan, a stay at a Ladakh nunnery—Shivya Nath’s decade as a solo traveller is rich with stories and exotic experiences.
“I travel slow, seek offbeat and local experiences. I like to be my own boss,” smiles Shivya Nath, solo traveller and blogger, digital nomad, storyteller, writer, speaker, photographer, and social entrepreneur, in an exclusive chat with Global Indian. Shivya, who is one of India’s top travel bloggers, was featured among 30 global champions of environmental sustainability in hospitality and tourism by the International Hospitality Institute in 2021. She’s currently doing her Master’s degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management at Harvard University.
Desk job to following her travel dream
Shivya was born in Dehradun, where she studied at St Joseph’s senior secondary school in Dehradun. Soon after, she moved to Singapore, obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Economics and Marketing from the Singapore management university and going on to work with the Singapore Tourism Board. In 2011, at the age of 23, Shivya quit her job as a digital marketing and social media strategist to follow her dream of travelling the world.
“I suffered through some sleepless nights after I resigned from work, thinking about where I was going to find the money to travel or live,” says Shivya. She was 23 at the time. Recalling her days at work in Singapore, Shivya, like most people, was bound by a desk job, catching up on daily tasks and aiming for the next promotion. “I did not hate my job and maybe if I had stuck around for a few years, I would have done well for myself.”
Working in the tourism industry exposed Shivya to the largely Western concepts of long-term travel and living out of a backpack. “I took to my social networks to find people living my travel dream. I followed the likes of Wild Junket, Nomadic Matt and Wandering Earl, all world nomads from the West. I found no reason why an Indian girl like myself couldn’t do it,” says Shivya, who won two return tickets to France after taking part in a Facebook contest run by Air Asia.
After a month-long Europe tour, she spent the next month volunteer-travelling in the high Himalayas of Spiti, which was her first solo trip. Thereafter, she began shortlisting places she could travel to on a tight budget. “I stay in a place for a few weeks or as long as it inspires me,” says Shivya.
She gradually stabilised her income through freelance travel writing, social media assignments and then launched her startup India Untravelled in 2012. As a freelance writer, she contributed to BBC Travel, National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet India among others.
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A climate in crisis
In 2018, Shivya spent a few days at Cocodrilo in Isla de la Juventud in Cuba, which gave her an off-the-beaten-track experience of the country. She was volunteering at a coral reef restoration project set up by IOI Adventures in collaboration with the island community.
“Swimming in the deep blue sea off Cocodrilo was evidence that no matter where in the world we live or how far from the sea, the plastic we consume in our everyday lives is directly responsible for destroying our oceans,” says Shivya, who was disappointed to discover the seabed littered with plastic bags, beer cans, shampoo bottles, cigarette buts, plastic straws and menstrual pads. It was another reminder of the importance of responsible travel.
The same year, she went on a month-long trip to Japan. At a guesthouse in Tokyo, her local host was amused when she explained her vegan lifestyle. “But when I woke up, he had experimented with a vegan breakfast feast just for me: tofu steak and miso soup with seaweed dashi! He ended up including a vegan option in his breakfast menu,” smiles Shivya,
In 2018, she published her book, “The Shooting Star” detailing her experiences during her travels across the globe. She was also featured by National Geographic Traveler (global) among travellers of Color smashing stereotypes (2020) and The Washington Post among travellers changing the way we think of the world (2019).
A journey to remember
Among all her travels, she describes Robinson Crusoe Island (earlier called Mas a Tierra), nearly 700 km off the coast of Chile in South America, as the most unique place on earth. She was invited there as part of the work for Humankind project with Lenovo and Island conservation.
Even the journey there was full of adventure – she arrived aboard a six-seater plane to an island where “no human had set foot until 500 years ago.” “So the island’s endemic forests, plants, marine animals and birds evolved in isolation,” says Shivya, who took a boat ride to San Juan Bautista, the island’s only inhabited village, which reminded her of a scene from Jurassic Park.
Among her other memorable trips was the 7-day e-biking trip across the Swiss Alps and the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Arctic. She and her partner spent a month travelling from Switzerland to the Lofoten Islands and back, using only public transport – trains, buses and a public ferry!
“The journey was over 8000 kilometers and we spent 74.5 hours on trains, plus a few more on ferries,” recalls Shivya. They cycled and hiked in the surreal magic of ’24 hour sunlight’ days, confused about when to sleep and eat with no sunset or sunrise to guide them. “It was summer after all, and the sun never sets this far out in the Arctic,” says the avid traveller, who was voted the best Indian travel blogger by Vogue India in 2015.
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She says in the age of ‘over-tourism’, that too in the midst of a climate crisis, becoming a responsible traveller is a pressing need to protect the incredible natural and cultural heritage of our world. “It is also the only way we can still find authentic experiences, engage meaningfully with locals and savour the pristine beauty of our planet,” says the co-founder of Voices of Rural India, a not-for-profit digital initiative to host curated stories by rural storytellers, in their own voices.
Finding her roots
After years of living out of two bags, Shivya feels ready to pursue a different kind of life. Having moved to Goa along with her partner during the pandemic, she no longer travels full time. “Goa gradually showed us a slower life we fell in love with. We live an earthy life in the midst of nature, close to a beach with some of the world’s most magical sunsets,” says Shivya, who turned vegan in 2015 and cut out all animal products from her diet and lifestyle. Weekends are reserved for hiking through the mist-laden ghats, kayaking in the mangroves and swimming in remote waterfalls. “I will continue to travel for meaningful assignments and speaking opportunities,” she says.
An entrepreneur with a cause
Shivya has been consulting a tourism business on calculating and reducing their carbon emissions, and designing community-based offsets for carbon neutral trips. “I’m co-creating a sustainable tourism storytelling project with a European partner,” says Shivya, who recently decided to formalize some of her work in the form of Climate Conscious Travel which works with businesses and destinations to develop sustainable tourism solutions that centre communities, conservation and climate action.