Monday, February 15, 2016

Me in 2016: Backpacking through India

It has been a few months since my last blog post. I have had a bunch of transitions in these months ending with me deciding to go on a backpacking trip through India for as long as I can. Here is a list of things I did which I recommend others on a similar path.

De-coupling by pivoting

The first thing I noticed was that the list of work I had to wrap in Bangalore seemed never ending. Some of it was reasonably legit and others involved simply waiting for specific events. I decided to handle this by using Bangalore as a sort of pivot city for my travels - I go someplace and return to Bangalore for a day before moving on to another destination. This way I could periodically check-in at Bangalore until I was fully decoupled from the city.

This is also a great way to bypass fear of travelling and fix situations like forgetting to pack something.

Gradually optimize gear

I overpacked in my first trip (to Hampi). Changed a lot of things in my second (Ooty, where I am stationed at the moment) so that my bag's a lot lighter and compact. In a few weeks (or months) I might get specialty gear, some normal and some slightly weird to better help travel to more hard to access destinations.

I highly recommend Decathlon if you plan to buy equipment for hiking as their selection is phenomenal. I bought myself a 70 litre rucksack. While slightly expensive at 4500₹, it came with a 10 year warranty and lots of goodwill on the internet which impressed me. Cheaper options exist online. A rucksack (cheap or not) is the bare basic you need when backpacking because it lets you walk hands free as compared to a duffel bag or a trolley bag.

Get a BSNL prepaid SIM

I ported out of my Airtel Postpaid connection (used to spend around 1200₹ on average per month) which was expensive and while coverage was excellent in major cities, it was rubbish in a smaller city. I found their online portal to be very sub-par (think a website designed by clueless imbeciles fresh out of college) and customer care ineffective.

Thankfully BSNL is the opposite - coverage is acceptable in cities but excellent further out where I'll spend the bulk of my travelling at. Internet is cheap as are the calls and incoming calls are free during roaming. See here to know what I mean.

I selected prepaid so I can keep the costs under control and track my expenses nicely (Airtel wouldn't even let me know how many of my free minutes I have used up - so I had to use an app instead which made switching between phones hard). The only thing I lose out on is the ability to use my phone in Kashmir, which due to a variety of security related reasons does not let outsiders use a prepaid SIM. But I doubt I'll spend a long enough time in Kashmir to need a phone so this is a reasonable trade-off.

Travel solo and use backpacking hostels

I also recommend travelling alone. It's a lot more exciting and you are around different people in different destinations which keeps you from getting bored.

Try to find backpacking hostels when looking for accommodation. You'll meet lots of like minded people and get plenty of travel advise. In India, Zostel is an amazing chain of branded hostels that I recommend.

You also want to avoid the kind of places frequented by loud families with annoying kids on a holiday. You cannot avoid them while travelling but you can avoid them when picking a place to stay.

Before you check-in anywhere though make sure it really is a safe destination. Most tourist places are safe but avoid checking into shady looking cheap hotels in big cities (or major junctions) near railway and bus stations for example. Use your powers of observation and judgement.

Travel by night; Land in the morning

Try to make as many of your journeys as possible during the night and land during the day. You save rent while you travel (assuming you can make yourself comfortable and fall asleep in a bus or a train) and when you show up at a new location in the morning, there is plenty of time to look around, bargain and find the best deals for accommodation. Remember that while bargaining, you are at a higher advantage in the morning than in the night when you have a limited time to find someplace to stay.

Good packing helps plenty here - when you pack light and walk hands-free due to a backpack, you can roam around plenty of places without tiring yourself out.

I guess that's the end of my blog post. I hope I see you during my travels somewhere!

1 comment:

  1. Would have hoped to get a mention here in your blog. Aah well not that important I suppose. Nonetheless good read.