Ask Neelima: I'm still in college but I want to travel! How?

Friday, January 09, 2015

This post is part of the series Ask Neelima.
And you can find all previous answers here - Answers to Questions

Many have asked, I am still in college and I would love to trek or travel. But neither do I have the funds nor any idea on how to go about this. Can you advise me on how I can lead a life of travel?
“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” – Michael Palin
However, the catch is that in today’s Internet age, it’s as easy to get bitten by this bug as catching a cold! And that’s why it doesn’t surprise me to be getting several emails from college-going students to new entrants of the corporate world who want to know how to travel the world right away. It’s good to have these thoughts of travel because no one can deny the therapeutic and wondrous effects of travel but it’s also worth noting that there is no set formula to lead a life of travel. However, I can tell one thing with certainty.

It’s possible.
It’s not an outrageous dream.

© Sharath Vishnu
Understandably, many turn to travel bloggers or digital nomads for advice. But I really can’t help much here, because without knowing the skills or interests, I can’t give any actionable advice. Besides, my scope is limited to writing and photography and you might be a genius illustrator. I would probably send you in the wrong direction if you took my advice.

I’ll give one piece of advice that holds true though - use the available resources in the best possible way! And here’s the story of a young boy who’s doing it so well that he’s actually living the dream, one might say.

I met Sharath on a weekend trip when he was barely 17years old. He had traveled to Himalayas once already by then, he was obviously charmed by the mountains and expressed his desire to go back again like everyone does. But few months later, I ran into him at the airport. Still in his teens, he was on his way to Ladakh to cycle on the epic Leh – Manali highway and he completed it successfully. Two more years down the lane, he has already finished his Basic and Advanced Mountaineering Courses, has trekked and cycled extensively in Western Ghats and has summited a 5700m technical Himalayan peak already. Here’s the catch, he’s not even out of college yet and most of this was self-funded! Didn’t I say it’s not an impossible dream?

Here’s his story that reiterates the maxim where there's a will there's a way!

I have been attracted to the mountains ever since I was a kid. As a boy scout, I attended a lot of camps when I was as young as 7 years old and I was an active scout till my high school. Back then (2007-08), we had no access to reliable information about treks nor were trekking companies operational. I remember saving for weeks to go out on treks around Bangalore like Skandagiri or Savandurga which didn't cost more than 100 bucks.

Sharath, on a 1000 kilometer self-supported cycle ride through Western Ghats

My interest in trekking was getting more serious and I went to the Western Ghats for the first time in 2010 after I finished school. I was 15 and I had to save up for three months to afford it and thus began the obsession with mountains. I joined many clubs (like BMC and Bangalore Ascenders) in the beginning, as I needed a group to go with. After 6 months of observing and learning the tricks of leading a trek, I started working part time as a trek coordinator/ guide because I desperately wanted to go to the Himalayas and I knew I couldn't burden my parents even though they never told a word about me spending so much on adventure, they even pitched in a lot of times. In 2011, as a 17-year old boy, I went to the Himalayas first time on Saurkundi Trek and joined a group there. I took the cheapest transport available, took lifts from pick-up trucks to travel around Manali and Parvathi valley and I managed the trip in under 10,000rs. I’ve been smitten since.

I wanted to graduate from trekking into technical mountaineering because it was a dream to climb those big Himalayan peaks that needed a lot of skill and fitness. I applied for my mountaineering course at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and decided to train for that. During this 2-year period I worked extremely hard, I contacted local companies and took up part time work. Leading treks was the only source of income and Mountaineering was a costly affair. I led as many as 40 treks in the Western Ghats in that 2-year period to fund my Himalayan dreams.

During these two years, I never worked just for the money. During student life, it is extremely useful to pick up skills. For me, leading treks was a way to learning to organise, making decisions, getting to know the outdoor community and keeping myself extremely fit. At times it was extremely difficult to balance studies with adventure but that extra effort was needed to make my dreams come true. Most people feel that adventure/travel is too expensive to pursue in student life but it is a choice to make. I would say that all my money has been spent on adventure. I cut down on all possible luxuries like buying a bike, fancy mobile, new jeans, attending parties & such.

Now after graduation I am looking at a life in the Himalayas. Since I have been a part of the adventure community for a while, I have met a lot of people in the Himalayas who have invited to come over and work with them. I also made sure that I come out of college ready to make a life out of Mountaineering. I have finished my Advance Mountaineering Course from Asia's top mountain school, summitted my first Himalayan peak and all set to keep working hard and go on more expeditions.

During one of his mountaineering courses at NIM
As a student, always remember that you have a lot of time at hand but no money. Make use of it as much as possible. If you want to travel as a student, use public transport, go backpacking, learn the outdoor skills which help you cut down on budgets, camp out instead of renting a room, keep picking up skills that adds value to your career, work with people even if you cannot earn out of it. I have been able to travel so much not despite but because I am a student. Invest time in your passion and enjoy what you are doing. The rest will follow :)

Ladies and gentlemen, he just turned 20!
Project Frozen Highway : Later this month, Sharath and Rajesh, good friends of mine, are setting off on an ambitious, month long expedition of cycling on mind-numbing frozen highways and breathtaking high altitudes of Ladakh in the dead of winter! Knowing these two, I reckon they’ll pull through this crazy adventure. More details about their epic adventure at and if you’d like to support the expedition, write to them at

Next week, I'll have another friend talk about how quitting job is not the only way to travel, he keeps his job and travels the world.

Meanwhile, what advice would you give someone who wants to travel right out of college?

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  1. Awesome and Excellent Sharath! Keep it up (Y) You are very inspiring for the younger generations..

  2. Inspirational! Way to go, Sharath. Conquer those mountains.

  3. I just want my son like you dear


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