3 Biggest Hurdles For Indian Long-Term Travellers

It is increasingly becoming "cool" in India to travel. The Indian bourgeoisie is leaving no stone unturned to secure fifteen seconds [sic] of online fame. However, most Indians go on short trips. (No derision intended there. There's no accounting for taste, right?)

I remember meeting a 26-year-old guy of Indian origin in Riga, Latvia. He was born and raised in the US. He was jealous when I shared my travel plans with him. He had to seek his parents' permission to travel around the world. They granted him one month! He was one step short of cursing them. He shared his angst with me: "They were born and brought up in the US, but they are still Indian in their way of thinking. I don't know what they are going to do with all that money! How did your parents allow you?!" I dodged it. I didn't want to make his afternoon any worse. (He'd just ended up ordering the Latvian equivalent of aaloo bhaaji (Hindi for potato fried in horsegram batter).) As an Indian long-term traveller, you get used to raised eyebrows in other countries (and gaping mouths in India). 

The few Indian long-term travellers I know of often bemoan the impediments that an Indian citizen faces while planning a long trip. But if you want to travel long term, you must be prepared to grab every bull by its horns. What should be your strategy to surmount the typical obstacles that you are likely to face as an Indian if you want to travel for more than one year (assuming you have the sufficient funds)? In this post, I share how I overcame what I consider to be the three biggest hurdles for an Indian long-term traveller (in an ascending order of difficulty)- the FEMA, the Visas, the Maa (Hindi for mother):

Fending Against FEMA

FEMA is a law. The abbreviation stands for Foreign Exchange Management Act. The flow of foreign exchange or foreign currency into and out of India is controlled by the Reserve Bank of India through the FEMA. (Warning: Gyaan Ahead!) It's good for a country to be a net exporter, in other words, to earn more foreign currency than what it spends. The RBI does not like if a lot of foreign currency leaves India. It loves all (lawful) inflows. To curb undesirable outflows of foreign currency, the RBI has introduced certain restrictions. One such restriction is that a permanently resident Indian can only spend USD 10,000 on leisure travel abroad in a financial year (A financial year runs from April of a calendar year to March of the next calendar year.). That would approximately be INR 6.5 lakhs. Only! One could travel for a year through some parts of Africa or Asia with that money. But what if you want to travel through the Americas or Europe?

My solutions? Ask me here.

Pauper In A Prince's Clothing

For an Indian citizen, applying for a US or European visa is usually preceded by a customary visit to the family astrologer. And if you're very unlucky, you may be advised to wear some precious stones or pay an exorbitant amount for the priest to chant the mantras that would invoke the right god or goddess. Thankfully, I am not talking from experience.

Experience dictates that you must earn a lot and save every penny you can. Or, find a sugar daddy. A visa officer is going to consider, among other things, the balance in your bank account or your sponsor's bank account. If you do not have any visa and not a very high bank balance, pounce on any opportunity of foreign travel sponsored by your school or university or your employer. It will be easier to get a visa in such a situation even with a low personal bank balance. But once you get a visa from the US, the UK, Canada, Australia or any Schengen country, it should perhaps become easier to apply for other visas even with a moderate bank balance.

If you are not lucky to get any such opportunity, the key would lie in your personal financial health. That's the key to get your visas; travelling does not cost a lot of money. Earn and save as much money as you can. Present yourself as a prince. Once you get your visa, travel like a pauper. Ask me how!

Making the Maa Agree

Regardless of your age, this will be the biggest hurdle- convincing your mother. They cut the umbilical cord that supplies food at the time of birth. The cord of a mother's love is harder than a diamond. You will have to find a way to sensitise your mother to the idea of long-term travelling. My grandfather was a forward-looking man. He let my mom venture out on her own at a very young age. She even got lost once while returning from a far off town. So it was not very difficult for me to convince my mom. I also got her to meet other travellers by hosting them through couchsurfing. That definitely helped.

Trouble is, even if you manage to convince her, and she may be able to pretend to have mustered the courage to let you go, it will still wrench your heart to say goodbye to her.

Every other hurdle will be a cakewalk. 

May the Road be with you!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Maa, thank you for bravely sharing your son with the world. He is a great ambassador and a blessing to all he meets. He thinks of you all the time :-)