Abhilash Surendran hails from Kozhikode district in Kerala right next to a former French colony called Mahe, he calls them both home! Abhilash has quit his corporate job twice to become a full-time traveller and travel blogger. Having failed the first time, the second trial seems to be going good, he says, ‘I had not strategized properly on the pitfalls of travel blogging’.
Surendran considers himself to be a mix of an orthodox and offbeat traveller. He enjoys visiting tourist places as well as places unexplored by the crowd. ‘After visiting 80 countries around the world, and almost every part of India, I think every place however touristy, crowded, dirty or polluted it is – has its own charm. It’s always up to the visitor to figure it out’, he says giving everyone some serious travel goals.
In 2008, the now travel junkie went on his first solo trip. While working in an MNC in Chennai, he was asked to move to their office in Manila, Philippines. A scary prospect at first, he accepted. ‘Living in the Philippines ended up changing my life!
After the Philippines, I was hooked. I started backpacking to other parts of South East Asia, came back to India to do road trips around my own country, went discovering Europe, Oceania and the Americas. And I don’t think I am stopping anytime soon’, he says.
Abhilash loves travelling solo and makes friends in places he visits and does short travels with them as a group to nearby places, a much better way to get to know the places from the eyes of a local rarely on the tourist trail.
The biggest challenge for Abhilash is family! He left a well-paying job in Singapore before he changed his profession of becoming a traveller. His family was definitely not happy with his career choice. They are now fully convinced and supportive of the idea.
For International trips, the traveller makes it a point to have a general plan in advance for cheaper flight tickets. ‘Like, I will spend 3 weeks in Germany. But what I do in those 3 weeks, is quite flexible’, mentions the travel blogger.
In India, he travels on his motorbike, riding solo around the country which also means he can go with the flow and do a little bit of research about the offbeat places he’d like to visit and save it to google maps. Whenever he is in the area, he makes it a point to visit the pinned locations!
The traveller’s 5 must-visit locations would be, firstly, Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Lohit, Anjaw and Changlang Districts are untouched and have amazing natural beauty!
Outside India, Jordan. The Bedouin culture and hospitality is amazing. Also, sights like Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash etcetera are not only historic but also out of this world. Serbia, one of his favourite countries in the Balkan region is full of delightful people, amazing food and easy to travel or hitchhike. Next is Timor Leste, the untouched and the latest country of ASEAN, the country gets only 10,000 visitors every year. A complete adventure to travel to, he was surprised to visit villages where he was the first tourist they had ever seen!
Last but not the least, San Marino. A country surrounded by Italy, it is the only country in the world where there are more people than vehicles. The pristine city views are straight out of a renaissance movie set.
Now, on to his 5 must-haves for travelling and staying outdoors.
In India, he prefers to travel only on his motorbike as it makes any place accessible. Second would be, a sturdy and multi-purpose backpack. Not to forget, offline maps, he suggests an application called maps.me! A sleeping bag, if one is into camping outside. Finally, a will to be flexible and adapt to situations is a must! The ability to accept different cultures, mindsets, people and the ability to get along with them makes the journey much more fulfilling.
The traveller loves meeting the locals on his expeditions. He does admit places, monuments and nature are great for photographs but one can only learn about the place through the eyes and the mouths of a local.
Abhilash prefers to listen to the natives and explore the not so ordinary sites, he remembers his earlier days of chasing the touristy spots, unlike today.
Surendran has covered all states except Mizoram, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh. Outside India, his travelling has been in circuits as he usually travels for longer durations. ‘I started with the Banana pancake trail of South East Asia, which covers countries like Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Then there is the Indonesia island circuit, taking you through the islands of Java and Borneo’, he adds. In Europe, time was mostly spent doing the Baltic trail (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) or the Balkans stretch (Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, etc).
One life lesson he has learnt through travelling – ‘That the world is not what you read about in a magazine or newspaper. I am not going to lie, I had many of my biases shattered in different places that I have visited around the world. These biases were formed by media, or opinions of friends, over the years, and only when I visited the place did I know how wrong my understanding was’.
For example, he says before visiting North East India, he perceived the tribes to be orthodox and not set in present times. But once he actually arrived, he was greeted with friendliness and generosity! A much more modern mindset than the rest of India, he says the entire country can learn a thing or two.
Also, media often portrays the Islamic countries around the world as orthodox and conventional. Whilst travelling to Bangladesh, Brunei and the Middle-East, the traveller made a note to wear decent clothes hiding his tattoos as not to offend anyone. He was blown away instantly by attending the craziest house party in Dhaka! The youth did have fun but unfortunately, the media portrays most of the countries in a much different light than usual which shouldn’t stop one from exploring and travelling all the countries out there!
Words by Harpreet
Images by ©Abhilash Surendran
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