Here’s a numerical glimpse into my current life status as a freelance travel writer. Two is the number of months since I’ve travelled anywhere farther than a 10-km radius from my home in Mumbai. Five is the number of planned trips that have fallen by the wayside — two within India, and three international.
A little more than 30,000 is the combined amount in rupees that I will never see again. Lost and irreplaceable in a gut-wrenching combination of cancelled airline, hotel and other miscellaneous booking fees, thanks to a pandemic. Yes, life as a ‘jet-setting’ travel writer isn’t as glamorous or envious as it is made out to be. Nor is it always about sponsored press trips, as is commonly believed. More often than not, I travel on my hard-earned dime, too.
Now, here’s where it really hurts. Seven is the number of articles of mine that have either been junked or held over by the travel editors of various publications. Each one of them deeming the publication of said pieces insensitive in the current scenario. Zero pitches for new travel articles have been accepted since the last two weeks. And don’t even get me started on the figures of my projected income for the current month.
But before you accuse me of hideously exaggerating my ‘first-world problems’, I must let you in on something. Freelance travel writing, along with a little restaurant reviewing on the side (which, again, is virtually non-existent these days) are not just the essence of my very being, but also my only two sources of livelihood. Never mind the fact that both are grossly underpaid jobs in India. Still, there’s nothing I love more. Or know to do better, for that matter.
It’s strange how the urge to pack my bag and head out into the vast unknown is even more heightened now, when travel is a forbidden temptation. Sure, I get my vicarious pleasure from my quotidian supply of the many travel vlogs that both Facebook and YouTube make sure to send my way. But that’s not enough for me. There’s really nothing that comes close to the real deal of hitting the road and finding that elusive story along the way.
The past week has been particularly tough — for the first time in four years, I’ve been home for my birthday. I detest celebrating my birthday and have consciously chosen to be on the road to avoid any embarrassing hoopla. Usually, some of the first people to wish me are immigration officers and front-office staff at hotels, once they scan through my dog-eared bundle of stapled-together passports. This year, I had to make do with soggy, early-morning nose kisses from my trio of dogs. But no complaints there.
Chances are that by the time this essay is out, I would have succumbed to something pernicious. And no, I don’t mean that omnipresent sense of boredom I’m dealing with, thanks to our new favourite phrase du jour aka “social distancing”. Nor do I mean yielding to the virulent threat that the world’s grappling with at this moment. At the risk of being labelled selfish, careless and irresponsible, I suspect that I would have fallen prey to my life’s one constant — the lure and love of a good travel story. Never mind how bonkers the process of chronicling it might seem!
Even as I was penning this diatribe of sorts, an e-vite to India’s first ‘Isolation Getaway for Longevity’ slid into my inbox. “Utilise your quarantine with us,” says the Atmantan Wellness Centre, which claims to be a ‘natural healing destination’, thanks to its location on the banks of the crystalline Mulshi Lake, and only a three-hour drive from Mumbai, too.
I’d be lying if I said that this invite — as bizarrely inappropriate as it seems, given its timing — hasn’t intrigued me. But sadly, in the current scenario, reality is one up on intrigue!
Raul Dias is a food and travel writer based in Mumbai