Aparna Shekar Roy (A) lives a dream most of us have. A marketing professional based out of London, when she is not stuck in her cubicle she is backpacking around the world and blogging about it . Read on for our most recent conversation (with Shruti Bharath).
STW: Who is Aparna? Tell us about yourself.
A: Well… this is one question I have struggled with in any interview and I don’t think I am going to answer it very well here. To tell you the boring part, I’m a marketing professional, who has survived the corporate world now for almost 10 years. At the same time, if 10 years is madness, I know 20 is insanity. I’ll surely find my way out before that. On the personal front, I’m married to this great guy I met in college and one who brings the balance to my crazy side. I’m a traveller, not just when I have packed my bags and headed somewhere. I travel all the time. Through meeting people in my own city. Through unpredictable encounters in everyday life. I’m restless to do something new most of the time and I’ve tried to follow my heart almost all the time. It has landed me in a lot of trouble and lot of fun too. That’s me Aparna aka Ninja.
STW: STW absolutely loves your website – Backpacking Ninja. You are obviously very well-travelled, where and when did this all begin?
A: My travel dream was always to go to South America and after 7 years of working, I had saved up enough money to quit and take a year off. I started my blog Backpacking Ninja, when I set out on this journey through South America. That was a little over 4 years ago. My life changed after that trip and travel just became my no. 1 priority. I’ve now managed to consistently travel every few months to a new country and my blog captures my experiences around the world.
STW: You are trained in the Brazilian martial art Capoeira. Tell us more about this art form and what it means to your life.
A: When I was really young, I had trained in Bharatnatyam and Karate (dance and martial-art) and discontinued this when I was in high school. That’s why I took an instant liking to Capoeira when I first saw it in 2006. A martial art disguised in the form of a dance, it was a dream come true. I trained under Reza Massah aka Baba, who got Capoeira to India, for 5 years, before moving to London. To me, Capoiera is not just a martial art or a physical fitness regime. My Capoeira group in Mumbai are my family. So, you can imagine how it feels to leave one family and try to find a new one in London. Incidentally, Ninja is my capoeira nickname and that’s why I named my blog Backpacking Ninja.
STW: Couchsurfing has caught on particularly in some circles in the Western world. What has been your experience with this? Any interesting stories you would like to share?
A: I was one of the first members of Couchsurfing in India and I’ve been on the site since 2005. I’ve hosted and stayed with more than 200 people over the last 7 years. All my experiences have been unique and wonderful. Couchsurfing is very personal to me. Everyone I’ve met has left me with something or learnt something from me. It made me believe in one thing, that people are inherently good at heart. People don’t do the cruel things you see on media everyday. Couchsurfing restored my faith in humanity and that’s why I still prefer sleeping in someones corridor after having shared a cup of coffee and delightful conversation than a fancy hotel room. There are too many stories to tell. I would just tell you to go and experience it and live your own story.
STW: Travel has always been considered an ‘elite’ hobby, but this has certainly evolved with the advent of shoestring travel ideas from the likes of Globe Trekker and The Lonely Planet. What is your take on budget travel?
A: Traveling is not elite at all. If you are only talking about foreign holidays and going to exotic destinations, it may look elite to the common man. But, remember that going to Pondicherry for the weekend is as much travel as going to Bali for a spa holiday. Unfortunately, people don’t see it that way. It is not so much about India or foreign destinations. It has to do with what is spoken about
these days. People don’t think they are traveling unless they go far and away. So, my point is not on budget travel but travel itself. Also, the most exotic travel doesn’t necessarily mean it is expensive. It can come very cheap and come with basic comfort. When I mention Bolivia or Guatemala or Cuba to friends, they croon ‘oooooh.. so amazing.. must be so exotic.’ Their idea of what it would cost for one person is what I normally spend for two. However, I doubt any of them would take the chicken buses or sleep in huts or eat rice and beans for 14 days straight, when it comes to a holiday. So, to me, travel is how you want it to be. You can travel with any budget. You can travel anywhere, near and far. And, all without the LPs and Globetrekkers of the world.
STW: What has been your mantra to planning a fulfilling journey/vacation?
A: I plan 50 % and leave the other 50 % to spontaneous decisions. If you plan everything before you go, there is no fun in the actual travel. You tend to be burdened with expectations. So, my only mantra is to take it as it comes.
STW: What is has been your best and worst travel destination?
A: Best travel destination for me is Latin America. I’ve traveled to Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba. I feel like I’ve still not seen enough. The vibrant culture, the friendly locals and boundless nature makes me want to go back every year. Honestly, I can’t think of a terrible travel destination. But, if I have to narrow down one place, then it would be Disney World, Florida. Screaming children, too much pink and a sheer waste of money. If I had kids, I would avoid this place.
STW: Where is the ‘ninja’ off to next and what advice do you have for new backpackers in search of a good adventure?
A: The painful part about living outside India is that you have to visit India for one holiday 🙂 So, my next long break is going to be spent coming back to India to visit friends and family. However, before that, I’ve planned 2 amazing weekend trips – one to Norway (the Fjords) and the other to Spain (San Sebastian). Nothing like 3 day breaks to keep you going. For new backpackers, my only piece of advice is this – If your boss doesn’t give you a holiday, that job is not worth it. If you think you don’t have enough money, ask yourself how much you have spent on shoes or beer or eating out. Everything that doesn’t let you travel is just a stupid excuse. If you really want to travel, you can make it happen. Don’t be restricted by money or the place or time. Just pack your bags and set out.
STW: Thanks Aparna, this has been great. Anything you would like to add?
A: Go and check out my blog and tell me whether you would go traveling with me if I quit my job and started a small backpacking group. Leave a reply on this post or the STW Facebook page.