Kaushal Kharkanis (KK), an erstwhile corporate professional, now a full-time traveller, talks about his life-changing experience.
“Taxi, taxi, Colaba chaloge? Important meeting hain”, I hollered looking at the black and yellow cab. My phone rings and a young man beckons me in a coffee shop. “Hey, I’m here; your plate of waffles are waiting”, a deep baritone voice called out to me. I couldn’t curse myself enough for being late. After a ‘warm smile and sweet waffle smell’, the conversation got brewing. I’d expected him to be formal, the textual travel geek types. But I was wrong --
Me: So how did a corporate professional earning a cosy salary, land up travelling for life?
KK: Way back in 2007, I went to Goa, and like every other Bollywood movie, I kept on going back. A trek to Bhutan happened a short while later and I knew the world was my home and getting out of my cubicle was inevitable. You see, the earlier you pick up a passion in life, the longer it stays with you.
Me: Oh, that’s inspiring. You seem to be a backpacker of sorts, driven by impulses.
KK: If I may, I’d call myself a flashpacker. I have no fixed itineraries, no plans or no fixed dates either. But I like it a little smooth. You see ma’aam, flashpacking is like the ice tea you are sipping right now - not as strong as tea and not as smooth as milk either.
Me: Interesting analogy you’ve got there! (While still hurriedly sipping my ice tea) I read about your 6-month-long road trip to South America. How did that happen?
KK: Winnie, it wasn’t supposed to happen. I had planned a 40-day trip and it was supposed to be the biggest thing of my life. But, I spent few days on the continent and I knew that I’d be breathing here a lot longer. It was imperative that I had to feel the South American soil for more than just 40 days. I blew up my bank account, but it was the best decision of my life.
Me: That takes more than courage, and going by what you just said, your passion amazes me. I’m running short of words to compliment you now. Talking of shortages, did you ever go flat on your bank account?
KK: Oh sure yes! Right after my spontaneous road trip to South America; that was when I sold off all the assets I owned, accounting to almost Rs. 5.5 Lacs. I also once took a personal loan to fund my 3-month long trip to Columbia. It taught me a strong lesson - never land in such a situation again. To top it all, I got my visa the day I was supposed to fly.
Me: So, you are the Superman that likes to fly, eh?
KK: Nope, the Batman. I’d love to travel with him once. He does whatever he does within human limitations and that’s kinda cool.
Me: Same pinch! Have you --- (cuts me in between)
KK: Well, Miss Questionnaire, have you ever fallen in love with a place before even going there?
Me: Ah, yes! Pondicherry. Don’t know why, stirs my soul when I talk, see, hear or write anything about it.
KK: That happened to me when I was planning a trip to Brazil and Svalbard.
Me: We share the same sentiments. Well, Miss Questionnaire strikes again - what’s the craziest thing or the creepiest thing that has ever happened to you?
KK: I was in a night club in Quito (capital of Equador) and a random guy was leering at my friend. That’s normal, right? But what happened next, wasn’t! He pulled out his gun and we were terrified. I hugged the guy and somehow managed to sneak under his nose. We ran off as far as we could. It was scary then, but funny in hindsight.
Me: What is the difference between Kaushal now and 5 years ago? How does he travel differently?
KK: Today, I can travel with the same bag that I carry around in the city. It is less than 7 kgs, but still works for my long road trips. Interestingly, that’s all I own and a collection of books at my parent’s place.
There was a scary looking drunkard I encountered in Sao Paulo. I offered him chocolate and he was happy. That’s what travelling does to you. It changed my perspective towards the world.
You know, back in 2007, we didn’t have internet-enabled services. Now you see a destination, watch ample photos hit the social media; it’s a disease, the virality syndrome.
Me: I can’t imagine booking a hotel without having a quick glance of it on the internet - reading reviews, checking for photos and location. It has all become a part and parcel of the ‘travel research’ process now.
KK: That’s what flashpackers do as well. You know I have been to Bhutan, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, USA, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden, Norway, Svalbard, Estonia, Turkey and Finland so far, but I still love Goa. It’s my first love. You think it is overrated? Go beyond its nightlife and beaches, you’d be surprised.
Me: So are you the Goa Guru?
KK: (Smiles) Yeah, you can say that. I am also the go-to guy when it comes to Brazil and Columbia.
Me: Could you also help our readers plan a budget Euro-trip?
KK: Definitely!I know someone who spent less than Rs.1.5 lakhs over 4 months in Europe! Everything is possible if you want it real bad, but I think, you should have a minimum budget of 40-50 Euros to really enjoy the beautiful continent. If you are not spending on stay, you'll still need at least 30 Euros for food, travel and places of interest. My advice is to keep your budget as high as it can go, and then try and spend as less as you can. Keep daily notes of your expenses, cook food in your hostel or at your hosts' place - there are lots of ways to save while travelling. I also buy a local SIM card wherever I go.
Me: What is the future of travel? How do you envisage it?
KK: Travel will get cheaper, more accessible and faster - but people will realize it's best done slow, savouring in the experience, culture and making meaningful connections wherever you go.
I'm a big believer in travel being key to peaceful, tolerant times. If more people travel and open their minds and hearts to the world, we'll surely be creating a more inclusive and hybrid society.
Me: If only I promise you this is the last question, what message do you have for your readers? (staring at his now cold ‘hot tea’)
KK: Keep walking. Stagnation attracts mosquitoes. Also, walking is the most cost efficient, healthy, eco-friendly and easiest way to travel and discover new places.
Secret travel hack: Carry only one bag, and book only the first 2 nights in any place. Then find the place you really want to stay in.
Me: Way to go! Where next?
KK: I don't know. That's the beauty of travel. You don't make plans, you just go!
As I watched him walk away, a thunder of thoughts captivated my mind. Such an inspiration, this once boring corporate professional, now a full-time traveller is. Don’t let ‘travelling to your heart’s content’ stay a dream, buy an air ticket now and make it a reality like Kaushal.
Interview by: Winnie Karnik