Last year this week, I had just quit my job of 7 years and was out gallivanting in the happy Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. I had a vague plan on what to do and didn’t have a lot in my savings account. All I had was a strange defiance of the life that was laid out for me - a life bound within the confines of familiarity and ennui. I took the decision to quit as soon as I learnt how to make money in other ways.
The only plan I had before quitting was that I should work diligently, 4-5 hours at desk every day. Frankly, that’s all it takes at this point for me to earn a decent living. Now when I’m traveling, taking notes and photographing, that’s work too but it being something I enjoy immensely, doesn’t really count as work. When I quit, I didn’t exit the structured corporate life with a hefty bank balance. I had already spent all my money on travels. What I did accumulate was plenty of words and images from my travels. I invested in my travels and stories were the product that I intended to sell. I didn’t have a financial plan. I planned to sell stories.
One thing that I was looking for in the months after I quit was a clear direction. On some level I already knew the kind of work I’d like to do, telling deep stories from remote cultures and landscapes. But what I didn’t know was if I had it in me to take it up professionally. In the last few months, I found that direction. Earlier this year, I spent a week in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh to document the fabulously interesting Myoko Festival. I attended all their rituals, learnt the local names by heart. Shot many many portraits, which is one thing I’m terrified of and ate plenty of weird food. That one week pushed me so much out of my comfort zone that I’d like to think I have inched towards becoming a better professional. In future, this is the kind of work I want to do - document faraway, bizarre cultures and landscapes. This, I believe, was a step in the right direction.
The biggest high has been the opportunity to try something new. Earlier this year, I sold calendars which few of you bought (Thank you!). I priced them quite high at 950 and 1250 as the production cost itself was very high for small orders. I had outsourced the entire job of printing, assembling and delivery to another agency, all I did was choose the images and select a design. When the orders started pouring in, I began to wonder if it was going to be that easy to make money - sell an idea, delegate and earn profits!
But then came all the complications of managing the production logistics and delivering on time. That one week was one of the most harrowing times with insane sleepless nights and persistent headache. In the end, of course, I loved the fact that I sold a product, people actually bought it and I made some money out of it. I will be selling calendars and other products later this year again, armed with the learning from past mistakes and it’s going to be epic!
But there have been no lows. Nah, I’m kidding! No I am not.
You’d think I’m vain but let me go ahead and say it - there haven’t been any major lows in this journey. Sure, they were challenges, quite a lot of them. But that’s what they were, every potential low was a problem to be solved, a challenge to be tackled. Coming from where I did, anything felt better that doing the meaningless and miserable soul-crushing work I did earlier. When things went downhill, I was quick in counting my blessings. On some days, I just couldn’t believe this is my life - wandering about, taking pictures and writing stories.
I was full of bitterness in my earlier job - I remembered the bad days, the shitty meetings and the indignation. Surprisingly, now when I look back, I only remember the highs. That’s not to say there were no bad days, there were plenty. But it’s funny how genuine contentment can spill over into all parts of your life neutralizing whatever resentment you held.
Travel Writing, Money and the works
It’s been a bit challenging because I just wouldn’t get off my ass and pitch ideas. But on those rare days that I do manage to send my ideas out, I get good amount of work. I have written dozens of articles in the past one year and I’m secretly very proud that none of them were lists! (Okay, I’m lying. There was one.) When I thought of travel writing, this is what I had in mind. I am not going to tell where to go or how to do it. I am just going to talk about the reasons that compel us to travel.
So far, the only income I’ve earned is through travel writing & photography. There have been quite a few scary and penniless weeks, wondering how in the hell will I be paying those credit card bills because the cheques won’t ever arrive on time. But, I had decided a while ago that I’m not going to dilute my focus by dipping my feet into any other opportunities. I stuck to this decision and I couldn’t have been happier.
However, a lot of the stories I’m working on are from my previous travels. It essentially means I’m piggybacking on all the trips I paid for with my corporate salary. In about a year or more, I will run out of stories from my previous trips and the money I earn through writing will have to be put back into traveling again. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sustain myself for long depending only on income from travel writing but that’s something I’m not going to worry about right now. By that time in future, I should’ve also figured out how to get commissioned stories where all expenses are paid. At the moment, I travel on my own and then sell the stories. I do take assistance from tourism boards, hotel chains, travel companies and such but there’s a certain amount of money that goes from my pocket too.
There are some things I missed
Not having a steady base has been largely a liberating experience. On few days, I miss having a place to slow down and get work done but the fault largely lies with me in not being able to find a good guesthouse for long term stay. All world’s home now. Other than that, I really do not miss having a place that I call home.
What I do miss is writing good stories on my blog now. I am holding off the best stuff to write for other publications and I’m writing so much already elsewhere that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to write for the blog as well. Which is a pity because I love writing for you and reaching a direct audience. I do hope to post more anecdotes and unedited versions of published stories here soon. Meanwhile you can read my published stories here - www.neelima.contently.com.
It’s really crazy that I lasted a whole year. At some point, I imagined I’d panic, break down and go crawling back to a regular soul-crushing job. Strangely, a year after I quit, I don’t see myself heading towards a regular job anytime soon. I love the fact that I can experiment, think out of the box and keep myself open for opportunities. More importantly, all of this feels quite normal!