This travel blogger interview features Angela Haines of SlumdogSpirit. A blog about the reality of working and travelling in India.
What is your name?
Which country do you come from/call home?
Are you a backpacker/long term traveller/business traveller/live and work abroad?
I am an on/ off backpacker and volunteer in India.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)?
I save as much as I can when at home. I own a property that I rent out which gives me a small cash flow. I am a fully qualified Reiki healer also, so can use that skill abroad to make a bit of money.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
Ibiza with my parents aged 5. I remember collecting all the colourful cocktail straws with feathers and peacocks on them in San Antonio Bay.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
The Thai islands, I expected them to be like they were 12 years ago but they have become overcrowded and spoiled to some extent. They were stunningly beautiful back then and I imagined them to still be like they were in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ James Bond, but sadly not so much any more.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
Yes. I had a motorbike accident in Chicago. I was on the back of my boyfriend’s motorcycle wearing jeans, jumper and no helmet (so stupid)- I was told by the paramedic I was lucky to have my left leg.
I had a stone thrown in my eye in a slum in Mumbai where I was blinded in my right eye for a day.
I arrived in Bangalore late one night and got into a rickshaw, and soon realised the driver was drunk, wouldn’t take me back to my guest house but instead picked up a ‘friend’.
My boyfriend and I were stranded in a remote village in Laos for 5 days with no money. That was intense!
I think everyone has bad experiences when they travel, but the good always outweigh the bad (unless you were on Banged up Abroad!)
Do you have any funny travel stories?
Yes, the craziest are always in India.
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
I am not a huge fan of Delhi. The general treatment towards women is awful.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
Yes, I would love to travel to South America, Japan, Africa, Tibet and Bangladesh. There are so many other places I want to explore.
Can you imagine life without travel?
I guess so. I would probably have had more stability and structure in my life, saved more money and bought a flat in London by now. I’m not sure how content I would be though. I know myself very well and there would always be a yearning to go back to India.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
I would teach English abroad. I have a TEFL qualification so would probably spend a year in Asia doing that. Failing that I could see myself working for an NGO.
What is the name of your travel blog and the url?
When did you begin your website?
It’s been going almost a year now.
Why do you write (for money/connecting with people/therapeutic/fun)?
It started out of boredom! – I had taken redundancy from my job and had a lot of time on my hands. It was a way for me to express myself creatively whilst being therapeutic. I write about spirituality also; the articles were always written when I was going through something and my own words helped me at that time.
I write a lot about solo travel and volunteering in India, I’m passionate about the country and its people that I wanted to encourage others to volunteer in a place that so desperately needs help.
India can be deemed dangerous for women travelling alone, but I wanted to emphasise that you can travel solo around India as a female, whilst remaining safe.
What makes your site so unique and why should people read it?
My passion is to make people conscious of the needs for help in India: people in the slums, families living under bridges, children on the railways; animals that have been so badly treated. They don’t have anything like the NHS or RSPCA out there. I could not believe either how many people suffer from leprosy in this day and age.
These are important issues that are not always mentioned in other travel blogs as maybe they are not deemed glamorous or appealing to the readers. However, I could not write about India and ignore this.
Do you have any products or services to offer?
No, this really isn’t about money for me. It’s a way to express myself creatively, help people and raise awareness. I offer free advice for solo travel around India and can offer advice for people looking to volunteer or donate through reputable NGOs.
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
There are two :
‘What was it really like to work in one of India’s poorest slums?’
What has been your favourite article to write either for your blog or another publication?
‘What was it really like to work in one of India’s poorest slums?’ Because working there was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
What is your favourite mode of transport? (plane/train/boat/car)
Train travel through India is the best!
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
Obviously you need money. If you are saving, don’t worry about having to have the latest i-phone or buy the latest item of clothing that is in fashion. (There will soon be a newer i-phone out and fashion is fickle – it will soon go out of fashion!) The joy of buying stuff like that is short lived in comparison to travel. Focus on what would really bring you joy. i.e. travel, experiences, and save towards that.
Stay open minded when away and don’t be too organised, keep your travel plans quite loose as you never know who you might meet!
Oh, and one last thing – be yourself. I love India but have always had issues with the food. I’m just not a great fan of it, being completely honest. I’ve been criticised for eating Dominos pizza, chips and sandwiches from ‘Café Coffee Day’ as it’s not very ‘Indian’ or ‘traveller-like’. Who cares?! Eat what you feel like! After you have been eating curry morning, noon and night, I can assure you, you will crave Western food and if it’s available, why not?!
What has travel taught you?
Travel, mainly India travel brings out the best in me. When I haven’t been for a while, I get caught up in the rat race and it becomes easy to feel trapped and forget what truly makes me happy.
Travel has taught me that you don’t need all these ‘things’, possessions to make you happy. You don’t need to stay in the same job, same city doing the same thing all the time. As human beings we need to grow and evolve. You come out of your bubble and it opens up your mind to a new way of living, new people and adventures. It has taught me to follow my heart more than anything else.
Why do you love India so much?
A lot of people ask me that question. I guess I could ramble on about the mesmerising culture, colours, landscapes and mystery of the country.
Ultimately, my best analogy is ‘Why do we fall in love?’ There is no logic involved. It is a connection, the strongest pull.
Slumdogspirit your website, is that inspired by the film?
Yes – It ‘s one of my favourite films for so many reasons. I had been to Dharavi before it was filmed and made a promise to myself at 23 years old that I would go back and work in the slums. The spirit part is my tarot/ spirituality section which ties in well with India. I remember watching Slumdog Millionaire at the cinema a year after I had returned. It reminded me of my purpose.
Whenever I feel low I think of Jamal Malik in SlumdogMillionaire . What a childhood he had, what atrocities he witnessed, pain he experienced and look how he came out the other side. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is! It is one of the best films ever made in my opinion.
There have been a lot of negative articles written about the safety for women travelling around India alone. What advice can you give for a female wanting to explore India solo?
There has been a lot of bad press but personally I wouldn’t let it put you off. You can still travel independently and remain safe.
Respect the culture, cover up – don’t walk around in a bikini top! (except in Goa, where anything goes!)
I wouldn’t recommend going out alone at night.
Avoid arriving at destinations at night time when you travel, try to plan it so your train, plane, bus gets in in the day time. Wear a wedding or engagement ring to avoid hassle.
Like any country, for every bad person there are 10,000 good people – so much is luck though.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in volunteering in India and wanting to know more?
Think about what you are good at? What do you love doing? What skill(s) do you have? Then think about how you can utilise them in India or anywhere else.
So many kids are begging for a living or collecting plastic bottles from rubbish wastelands to sell on. The film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a true reflection of life in the slums of Mumbai and other cities in India. You don’t have to be a doctor or nurse to volunteer. Just by teaching English to children you are giving the gift of education, which is a pathway out of poverty and on to a better life.
The best NGOs in Mumbai are Reality Gives and Atma.org.
From personal experience, I would recommend volunteering to anyone, you not only help others, you heal yourself. If you are reading this and even slightly interested, my advice is to just go for it!
Quick fire questions:-
Favourite airline? Ethiad
Favourite country? India
Favourite city? Bangkok
Favourite beach? Patnem Beach, Goa
Favourite food? Italian
Favourite language? Spanish
Please provide the following:-
Website url? http://slumdogspirit.com