Leena Mehta is Indian, born in Britain, and she has been backpacking, volunteering and working aboard for the last two years. She has found in her travels that there are very few women Indian Backpackers. She started her blog Indian Flashpacker, here she writes about Some of her journey
I love backpacking, volunteering and exploring the world. I love climbing mountains, the long treks, watching the sunrise over a volcano, marveling at historical temples, catching my breach as the sky changes into a hundred beautiful colours and lying on the whitest, sandiest beaches. I’ve been lucky enough to experience some truly amazing, breathtaking, moments which I will cherish forever.
But for me, what I love most and what make these moments so special are the people. It is no longer important where I go or what I do, it is more who will I share this experience with?
Who will there be to soak in the magic and marvel at the four thousands stupas at sunrise in Bagan? The world is a very big place with many amazing cities, cultures and landscapes but I’m not in any hurry to see it all.
Whilst I set off solo and for the most part I remain solo during my journey, it is the endless encounters I have shared with other backpackers, locals and children that have made this journey so special.
I get attached to a place from the warmth and love of people. I stayed in Encarnacion, Paraguay for ten months for this very reason. I managed to find a home away from home without intending to. I believe we attract certain kinds of people and thankfully I have attracted some amazing people, many of whom I know, will be friends for life. It’s as they say, it is not about the destination but the journey.
My heart breaks every time I leave a city but I know I have to leave for the next part of my journey to start. So here I sit in Brisbane with friends, job hunting and my plan is find a job helping people, it is what I do best and it is something I am passionate about.
Before leaving for Vietnam, I was an independent domestic violence advocate for a women’s organization in West London for three years. I loved my job and sure it was stressful but I enjoyed supporting women on a daily basis and being able to see the impact of my work. It was a very rewarding profession and I hope to do something similar in Australia.
Volunteering in Vietnam
I started my journey in October 2013 when I headed to Saigon, Vietnam to volunteer in an orphanage. It was my dream to volunteer aboard and after some research and careful consideration, I decided to volunteer in Vietnam for two months.
It is generally unheard of for solo, female, Indians to travel or volunteer aboard. During my three months in Vietnam, I didn’t meet any other Indian travellers.
While volunteering in Cambodia, I met one other British Indian woman but other that her and local Indians in various cities in South East Asia, I met no other Indian backpackers. Initially, I felt like any other backpacker but after having spent seven months travelling around SEA, I began to realize that I did stand out as the only brown women.
It was never a issue for me, if anything, I had other locals or backpackers intrigued and interested in my culture and background. I was very often deemed to be exotic and different.
Upon arriving in Bariloche, in Argentina, I had the opportunity to meet a group of Indian guys, university students, on a break and headed for Brazil for the world cup. Whilst volunteering in Rio de Janerio, Brazil for ten weeks, I met three other Indians at the house, again all volunteering for the duration of the games. I recall meeting one other Australian Indian woman, who had set aside one year to travel as many countries as possible. I then lived and worked in Paraguay for ten months where Indians are scarce and I was often mistaken for a Brazilian. In Asuncion, Paraguay there are a few Indian restaurants and stores but for the most part, these are all expats living in Paraguay to make and send money home.
I met plenty of backpackers but very few solo, female, Indian backpackers.
From South America, I headed to Africa, where initially I met my sister and brother in law. After having spent three weeks together, they flew home and I decided to stay and volunteer in Cape Town. I met one other British Bangladeshi girl whilst at this house. I spent the next two months travelling through the north east of Africa on a tour bus. I met many local Indians residing in parts of Tanzania and Kenya but no backpackers. Often, I was mistaken for a local rather than British. I loved visiting Tanzania as my father was born and raised here but never had we visited.
Upon leaving Africa, I decided to head to Australia to work for six to twelve months. Backpacking is by no means cheap and volunteering also can be expensive in the long run. Whilst I worked and saved money in Paraguay for ten months, I knew if I wanted to continue travelling that I would need to work again and save up. The other option was to go home which I wasn’t ready to do.
It is not in our Indian culture to take off and explore the world solo. If I had done this trip with my husband, my parents who have approved and would have been at ease. Unfortunate for them however, this was not the case, I took off over two years ago and continued without looking back. Sure, I love and miss my family and friends dearly but not enough to go home, not yet. I long to see other Indian backpackers, solo, female travellers exploring the world and living their dream. It isn’t easy by any means, standing up and fighting to try and live your dreams but it is so worth it.
I was scared, anxious and worried sick about coming to Saigon, Vietnam but thankfully my friends reassured me that I would be fine and sure enough they were right. We all have fears and reservations but when we overcome this mountain, the world is our oyster. I have no regrets about travelling or still being on the road. I sometimes feel upset that I my parents find this decision difficult and are unable to accept it but I hope one day they will and feel proud at how they raised me.
My parents are very hard working, determined and stubborn. The term ‘I can’t’ didn’t exist in their vocabulary, you try and try harder until you succeed. Now, of course, on occasions, some things are simply not meant to be and so they don’t work. However, their words of encouragement and determination are forever in my head, no matter where I go and it guides me.
I am able to make things happen, to chase my dreams thanks to their words and my friends, who continue to support me wherever I go. I believe I’m truly blessed and so grateful for such family and friends. I want to inspire and encourage other fellow Indians and women to travel and live their dream. I set up my website to share my story and to provide information on where to stay, food to try and key highlights for each of the countries I explored.
For more information please visit – www.indianflashbackpacker.com