2019 was a roller coaster ride.
Waking up in my rooftop room that serves as my intermittent writing studio in Bengaluru, incorporating travel blogging with On My Canvas by writing throughout the year about my past and recent travels, connecting with other bloggers and travel writers, slow traveling in the Himalayas for four(4) months of summer while focusing on health and personal well-being and working remotely, writing thirty(30) long and super-researched articles in thirty(30) days in August, traveling in Karnataka on short and long trips, collaborating with both national and international travel organizations for the first time, getting my work and writing acknowledged over other media platforms, and then making my way to Myanmar via flight (after my plans to cross into Myanmar through Northeast got canceled because of the protests) and spending three weeks there — I never felt that the year was slow even though I slowed down quite a few time.
Oh, On My Canvas also won three travel blogging awards within my first year of sincere travel blogging.
Let me tell you my favorite and not-so-favorite moments from this hap hazardous list of actions and achievements. Later I will also summarize the things that I feel I couldn’t do justice to and wish to focus on in 2020.
Highs of 2019 — My favorite moments from the year
1. Reliving my nine-month South America trip by writing 20 articles in 2019 ( total of about 25 articles on South America )
Writing about Chile, Peru, and Bolivia wasn’t easy. I was nostalgic. I cried. I missed Spanish and my Latin friends. I longed to be back on the Chiloé island in my host mother’s cozy kitchen sipping a casuella and bantering with my British friend Al. I questioned my old travel style and wished that I had seen more of the beautiful continent.
But while struggling through a myriad of emotions, I kept writing. And that’s what matters.
2. Solo, slow traveling through the Himalayas for about 4 months in the summer of 2019
I had always wanted to live in the mountains. Early morning brisk walks in the forest while birds woke up to life, stopping by a chai shop to gossip about the weather, writing, ending the day by hiking to some obscure part of the hills while discovering colorful butterflies and hidden waterfalls on the way, I wished to do it all, and I did.
You must have read my travel stories from Dharamshala, Parvati Valley, Spiti, and other parts of Himachal Pradesh so I will refrain from narrating the journey here. But I can tell you that waking up to a view of the snow-capped mountains, soaking in a breakfast of aloo bhaji and poori, hiking through the day in the sun on unknown hills, practicing flute under pine trees, slowing down in a one and a half-hour yoga class, and ending the night with a star-studded dinner spiced with old monk and coke can rejuvenate you to life like only a few things can.
Give the Himalayas a chance. I was alone there and felt completely safe so you don’t have to worry about going alone if you don’t have a travel company.
Leaf through my Himachal pieces (linked above and more here) to see which places to avoid and the ones worth visiting. I also break down quite a few myths about the tourism industry there. Smoking and chilling and other cool things that people think the mountains are meant for did pose a problem but I managed my way around these issues. More issues raised and responsible travel advice in the articles.
3. Braving through 10 days of silence in a Vipassana meditation course in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh
Vipassana was a long-needed mental and physical silence. All the meditators would wake up at 4. From 4:30 until 9 in the evening we meditated with short breaks in between for breakfast, lunch, bathing, and light snacks consumed at 5 in the evening. We couldn’t smile or read or write or talk on the phone (or to each other) or run or engage in any regular activities that keep us busy in the 21st century.
We were free to think and to not think.
As the course ended, I decided to let go of a lot of bad memories to be peaceful, to be happy.
Vipassana is all about staying calm and not rising and falling with the ups and the highs of your life.
Try, but don’t cry is the motto.
I came out of Vipassana as a calm person for I had spent about 240 hours in peace, speculating, thinking, letting go, and just being. The absence of a phone or a computer or a writing pad helped. But as months have passed and I have not meditated much, some of the anxieties have come crawling back.
Vipassana is only helpful if you meditate daily, an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, at least as a new Vipassi. I am not able to continue meditation for a lack of time. And because I haven’t meditated regularly, I have not written an article on the course about my experience and how it changed my life.
I would share the course details and my post-course meditation experience soon as I get back to my meditation practice.
I am glad that I completed my first 10-day guided meditation course, which is considered to be one of the toughest, and learned some new things that would slowly help me in life.
Also, the Dhauladhar mountains in the distance and the deodar and pine trees overshadowing the ashram instilled new energy in me.
4. Paying attention to mental health
As someone who has left her secure investment banking job and an IIT degree to write and blog without any education or prior experience, I have my own share of worries to deal with.
I compare my journey to others in the industry. At times, social media makes me feel incompetent. The task list seems to be always growing. Every task requires me to first deal with it head-on. So on and so forth.
For the longest time, I was overthinking about how I wasn’t doing enough.
Vipassana and overall awareness of being kinder to myself and appreciating myself helped. I have cleared up a lot of noise that I had started the year with.
After all, our journeys are unique and we are all doing the best we can. So why worry?
Feel free to write to me if you are in a new career and are struggling with anxiety even though you are doing a good job (or not).
5. Soaking in yoga in the Himalayas
I learned yoga in Dharamshala for about a month from a yoga guru there. Every day from 9 to 10:30 I would leave everything behind and give myself to the session completely.
Along with following the yoga guru, I listened to some fellow yoga practitioners(all foreigners) who had been doing yoga for years and read more about this ancient Indian practice.
Yoga is not only about asanas or getting fit or improving yourself.
Yoga is accepting the world. Yoga is easy living. Yoga is about kindness. Yoga is about letting the universe pass through you.
I have a complete article on yoga so you better read it if you don’t want my abstract lessons.
The gentle breeze that gushed through the open window of our yoga shala still returns to play with my cheeks when I now practice yoga while traveling the world. The practice helps me slow down.
6. Focusing on personal health and well-being
I started the year with a homeopathic skin doctor telling me that I was overweight by a few kilos. I don’t know what my weight is now; it doesn’t matter for I have spent the year taking care of my health and fitness before anything else.
It wasn’t easy waking up at seven(7) every day to go run five(5) kilometers around a lake before I climbed up the steep days full of blogging challenges.
It wasn’t simple to practice yoga daily for about six weeks while I slow traveled in Dharamshala, a place that was waiting to be explored.
Hiking mountains, whenever I got a chance, and walking kilometers even when I had the option of hiring an auto or a taxi wasn’t easy as well.
The random badminton sessions with my partner, morning yoga, and the runs in the park all seem to pay off when I can hike a mountain or bike through a Burmese village for hours with energy left to travel the rest of the day. I feel lighter, too.
I cared about what I ate, the ingredients involved, the packaging, and raw materials to ensure that my food didn’t have a negative impact (or at least had the least impact) on the environment and my body. I cooked a lot of my meals, especially when I was in Bangalore — saving money, eating healthy, and delicious.
You can read some of the responsible ways to eat seafood here in my Penang food guide.
In these super busy years when we can’t seem to find time to take care of ourselves, I am proud of myself for focusing on the right things, that is health and fitness.
One of the purposes of On My Canvas is to inspire others to live better through my own experiences, and I feel that constantly pushing myself to set a good example for others accelerates my personal growth, too.
7. Spending more time with friends
After a long spell of hectic work, travel, and personal schedule when I couldn’t meet many friends, finally in the second half of 2019, I took out time for my close friends and other people whom I wanted to meet.
Using the luxury of creating my own work schedule, I leisurely discussed art with a friend from Delhi at my sunny rooftop in Bangalore, met an old friend over coffee and drinks many times, caught up with travelers and bloggers passing by Bangalore, and even connected with long-lost friends.
Reconnecting with friends is one of my biggest achievements last year.
And you? Has your work schedule estranged you from your friends?
Read my article on how relationships help us live better and reassess your priorities.
8. Completing 30 articles in 30 days challenge successfully
I read about a similar challenge for the first time on a Facebook bloggers group where the members were about to take a 7-day challenge and was dreading it.
Soon when I took the 30 in 30 challenge upon myself I understood why the other bloggers were gearing up as if they were going to the battlefield.
Imagine waking up to write, writing all day long while eating lunch, dinner, and breakfast, editing pictures, optimizing the posts for Google, researching, reading, recollecting, going to bed while thinking about blogging, dreaming about incomplete articles, and waking up within a few hours to complete the piece only so that I could start a new one.
Phew. I am glad the challenge is over. Not for long though. I would soon sign up for other shorter challenges to get more writing done for I have a lot of things to write about.
Let me know in the comments if you signed up for tough challenges this year and if they helped you.
9. Collaborating with international and national travel organizations
Alright. I am new to travel blogging. Hey, I am new to the writing industry. Even though readers feel I have been writing for years, I hadn’t written anything decent until two years ago when I started writing day and night, took feedback, practiced grammar, and decided that I would write full-time. I had no other option but to write better.
2019 was the first year when I was invited by several travel companies to promote their destinations or curated travel tours.
Dandeli and Myanmar are only some of these destinations and many more will come as 2020 progresses.
I promise you — my readers who value my advice and trust me — I only work with travel organizations that promote environmental-friendly and sustainable travel options, let the traveler choose her own pace of travel, and work with local-community to increase employment and exposure.
Do let me know if you ever feel anything odd about the companies I work with.
10. Celebrating a 300 percent increase in On My Canvas readership
My blog is now read 300 percent more times than it was at the beginning of 2019.
As more people read my writing, I feel even more responsible to share honest experiences.
Thank you all for reading. You come before all the awards in the world.
11. Winning three top travel blogging awards within a year of sincere travel blogging
The journey has only begun.
12. Traveling extensively within India and outside India
I have already mentioned my four-month solo travel through the Himalayas. These four months were how I had wanted them to be — slow, relaxed, full of walking around, meeting travelers, and exploring the mountains.
Most of these trips were to places rich in nature, a trend that I want to continue in 2020.
I am thankful that I have the privilege to see the world which brings me to this highlight.
13. Traveling to Myanmar, once Burma, to end the glorious year
I am not one of those people who count countries or the number of cities or Indian states I have visited. If you would ask me, I wouldn’t be able to tell you any of these above numbers even though I have been traveling for a long time now. But I do care about visiting at least a few countries every year so that I can see most of the world before I would need artificial teeth to bite into crunchy lentil snacks or use a stick to walk.
As the entire 2019 went in writing, figuring out the nuances of travel blogging, and traveling through the Himalayas, I almost forgot that I didn’t cross the country borders even once.
So as December approached I quickly made plans to visit a country nearby. Myanmar has been on my list for long. When I checked that the visa process was easy, as that is not always the case with an Indian passport, I finalized Burma as the last travel destination for 2019.
It was a good decision, I would later know. But my plans of traveling to Burma via land and crossing into the country from the Northeast crashed when the entire Assam was put under a curfew for protesting.
Long story short, I flew to Yangon instead of over-landing into Burma. Once in Burma, I had a gala time riding the Circular train of Yangon, visiting the cultural lake Inle, hiking in Hpa An, photographing the ancient Bagan, cycling in villages, while I constantly overstuffed myself with the delicious Burmese preparations.
I have reason to visit Myanmar again. But traveling to Myanmar by land isn’t the only reason I want to visit the country again.
I want to hike in the remote states of Burma, explore more villages, and eat more of the amazing soups and noodles that Burmese start preparing before the sun rises.
14. Getting a plethora of positive feedback and thankful emails from you guys, my readers
This has got to be my biggest achievement.
I feel elated when readers and travelers send me their queries regarding the destinations I have written about (sometimes about the ones I have not even been to) or pen down long thank you emails to let me know that my articles helped them travel better and easier.
Many of you reach out to me because you read my article on the marriage system in India or about the life lessons that I learned in my twenties or personal growth articles that I have shared freely. You say I helped you decide. Or I helped you solve a problem.
That’s all I need to hear.
Please keep reaching out to me because your words keep me going.
Thank you all 🙂
Lows of 2019 — My not-so-favorite moments from the year
1. Getting under social media anxiety
As I have started using more platforms to share my writing and experiences, I am exposed to more information, some of which I don’t even care to see. I feel anxious and compare my life to others.
I know that comparison and jealousy aren’t the best reactions but social media is designed to induce these emotions and it overpowers me sometimes.
Slowly, I have started to take everything on a positive note. I tell myself that everyone’s life story is unique because we are all unique. Also, I was believing everything that I saw on social platforms and was told by friends and family that’s not true.
Now I take every piece of information with a pinch of salt.
The negative news spread all over the internet also affects. The US-Iran issue, the CAB protests, the fires in Australia, the protests in Chile, the rape cases, I feel that the world is going down.
A combination of negative news and social media notifications took a toll on me for some days of the year, and that needs to change. But it doesn’t mean that I will close my eyes to world news and more on that later in this article.
2. Less focus on freelance writing than I would have liked
I was so occupied with traveling and blogging throughout the year that I couldn’t always reach out to clients to score more freelance writing work. I did a few projects with clients most of whom reached out to me after reading On My Canvas.
In 2020 I would spend more time scouting for freelance work while the blog continues to grow.
3. An imbalance in personal growth, writing advice, and travel articles
When I launched On My Canvas in 2017, I didn’t plan to write about my travels.
I started On My Canvas as a self-development blog. Experiencing different things, reading about self-growth, and writing about these learnings to inspire and help others learn and live better was my goal.
Then readers told me that they wanted to read my travel stories. So I started penning down travel guides and travelogues.
As I learned the various skills of blogging in 2019 and travel blogged a lot, I couldn’t write as many articles as I would have liked in the growth genre.
That’s going to change in 2020, I promise.
What are my priorities for 2020
1. Sharing the right information
To turn around the social media depression, I have decided that I would not let the internet take over me. When negative news affects me, I read about it from reliable resources before forming an opinion. Going forward, I will try to share the right information with my writing.
Just voice is noise. Talk with the right information else stay quiet would be my motto in this sea of information.
2. More freelance writing
As I mentioned above. Even though On My Canvas has started to earn money, it would still be some more time until I can make an entire living out of it.
Gearing up for 2020 in all power.
3. Traveling to offbeat places within India and outside India
I want to fill my 2020 by exploring the unknown. Expect remote countries, hidden hikes, off-route waterfalls, unheard villages, and colorful cities.
Let’s make a travel plan soon, or not.
4. Picking up more sustainable and environmentally friendly projects and engaging the local community in the process
I have always been a fan of creating employment, especially for locals. Having said this, I wished I loved my computer science background more and had started a business so that I could hire more people.
But as a writer and a travel blogger, I can still create plenty of opportunities for locals and work with companies who are already doing the same. Needless to say, the initiatives have to be planet conscious.
5. Restoring the balance between personal development and travel writing
Let’s give you travel goals, the zeal to see the world, and meet its people. Let me make it easier for you to travel, especially on your own with an Indian passport.
But let me also help you figure out the daily life stuff. Do you like your work? If not, what can you do? Is marriage pressure too much? Let’s find a solution. You procrastinate much or don’t know how to achieve a big task? Let’s try to get you started with small changes in life. A little every day is better than a lot on just one day.
You get the idea.
We all can create our own path and destiny and do whatever we want to do, but sometimes we need a little push. I hope that my writing can give you that slight nudge to take the jump.
I will give you plenty of things to think about this year while restoring the balance between the two writing genres.
Thank you for reading all these years and staying by my side. Let’s rock this year as we have never before.
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