By Kulsum Mustafa
The heartthrob of millions of Hindi-speaking travel enthusiasts, Varun Vagish, in his late thirties, solo, a budget traveler is a twenty-first-century travel guru. Solo, budget travel is his forte. The travel blogs on his YouTube channel, Mountain Trekker, sell dreams with details about how to make your travel possible. It makes one believe that one day they too can travel to these exotic places. There are 175 million views on the 400 videos he crafted out from the content he generated while traveling to 25 countries. It is interesting to note here that despite his intense passion for travel he never had ever imagined that travel would one day become his profession. Varun started off as a journalist after completing his mass communication from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. He shifted to jobs in government PR departments. All this while he kept making travel videos. It was just four years back that he launched his own channel, gave up his steady job, and decided to take up travel Vlogging full time. He does not regret his decision. In this interview, Varun walks us through his life’s journey.
Q: Were you or your family not weary of giving up a steady job and choosing a profession with uncertainties and where passion ruled your mind and heart.
A: No, both myself and my parents were confident that it was a good choice and that I will do well in it. I was getting a chance to chase my dream and my parents supported me in this. They had seen how difficult it was for me to manage a job with my traveling and blogging and felt I should devote all my time and energies to something I loved doing. Besides I had already started getting a good response to my work, which included the Government of India award for promotion of Tourism, and they felt I was on the right path.
Q: How do you feel when popular travel bloggers like Deepanshu Sangwan, a CAT aspirant says he was so inspired by your Vlogs that he gave up the idea of appearing in the competition and instead decided to do Vlogging. There is another case, of Shubrum, a 17 year Bihar boy, who decided to travel the world and do Vlogging after watching your Vlogs.
A: Of course I feel very happy. These boys are doing well and I wish them the best of luck and more success. This is a niche area for self-employment, you will do as well as your work. Requires hard work but the results are extremely rewarding.
Q: How has traveling contributed to your personal development?
A: Lots. The entire world opened before me, I got a chance to interact with people on global platforms. Thus ‘Acceptability’ became my second nature. I learned during my travels that people in different terrains are bound to be different. Accepting people as they are is a core element of all travels. A true Vlogger must imbibe and inculcate all the good things they see around himself, his vision must never be clouded with biases.
Q: What difficulties do you face during your travels because of being a pure vegetarian? How do you overcome the food hurdles?
A: None. I focused myself on my goal- that was to travel, any sacrifices I had to make for this I was prepared to make. I soon discovered that even for a vegetarian some basic foods like dairy and bakery products, fruits, could carry me through. But of course, it was soul-stirring and extremely welcome when I could find good vegetarian food.
Q: As a solo, budget traveler what are the things you do to cut down on travel costs?
A: I do a lot of research when I am zeroing in on a country for my travel. My destination choice is generally based on giving priority to an offbeat track. To save money I search for budget hotels, homestay, or better still look for couch surfing. This helps to cut down my accommodation cost drastically.
The second major expenditure during travel is on food. I either search out clean, cheap outlets or I buy ready-to-eat stuff from supermarkets.
The next big expenditure is on transport. I have adopted the age-old mode of hitch-hiking. I use a lot of public transport and for long-distance, interstate travel I take night trains, this way I save money on hotels for night stay.
But here I would like to emphasize that hitch-hiking, couch surfing, and volunteering (call it barter system. Here your host provides you food and lodging in exchange for work you do for him or his organization.) I do not do it just to save money. These are my ways of “getting Local while being global” I pick up so much knowledge, information about the locals through these interactions. .
Q: But does he feel that all these modes are safe to practice in countries you do not know?
A: On a budget and adventure travel you have to take risks as well as be prepared and alert. You have to do a ton of research on your couch surfing hosts and the same goes for those who are inviting volunteers.
Hitch-hiking can be a little unsafe as you have just your gut feeling to guide you. I have met some of the most wonderful persons when I tried to “Agoohta dikhakey ghumna” As a safety measure I suggest not to hitchhike after sunset.
Q; Can you please elaborate on Volunteering? Is it safe and meaningful?
A: Through volunteering one can learn new skills and also practice our inherited skills. It is very satisfying because it helps you to leave behind your ‘good work’ in a foreign land. Like for instance in my trip to a remote area in America, I worked as a volunteer for an old man who had acres and acres of a rather unkempt land. I first learned some basic carpentry and masonry work and then made some wooden frameworks and laid down some cement panels as flooring. When I was leaving my host made me sign my name, write the date and my country on the frame. That was a proud moment for me. It felt as if I was leaving my footprints behind.
Q: It is quite clear from your Vlogs that though you enjoy your trips but at the same time your “Phir bhi dil hain Hindustan” heart is always yearning for travel improvement in India?
A: True if I see anything good during my travels wish that we could have it in India too. Like for instance I enjoyed cycling on the cycle tracks and will be so happy if we could have them in India too. Another thing is high-speed internet.
I believe that if these countries learned some of our values and we exchanged and adopted some of their lifestyle life would be so much better for us Indians.
Q: Your blogs give a huge boost to tourism and often you even try to help out families financially where you stay and which you discover and find suitable for staying but their details are not available on the net
A: The raving reviews that I get thanking me for boosting their tourism after my travel Vlogs are extremely satisfying. But it also makes me a little sad that I have not been able to do my bit for my beautiful country. There are lots that I can do to boost our domestic tourism- especially in areas which are still non-touristic. Seems the communication gap has to fill up between the various tourism departments and me. I can say with confidence that travelers from across the world would like to visit our villages, stay with locals, enjoy tribal food and learn about their culture and lifestyle we just need to take all this to them first virtually. If I can through my Vlogs help tourism departments of different states to do this, believe me, I will be the happiest man.