On their Instagram page @fourhappyfeet, and blog DuoYatra, Shikha Bhandari and Sangam Neupane, a Nepali couple who currently live in the UK, shares glorious photos and accounts of their trips together. As a couple, they are all set to discover the world hand-in-hand, one trip at a time. Here, with The Week’s Anweiti Upadhyay, the duo talk about their love for traveling and how it defines and shapes their lives.
First things first, why do you travel? Shikha: Growing up, we traveled a lot around Nepal as a family. Every month we would go somewhere, be it Nagarkot or Pokhara. When my family moved to London, I could travel more liberally. I traveled with my parents or friends and then even went on solo trips to the United States. Also, I traveled a lot for work and that made me want to travel more. I’d always wanted to go traveling with Sangam but we couldn’t until we were married. We had all these years worth of planning and anticipation, so we started as soon as we got married.
Sangam: I went to Australia on a student exchange program through my college – SOS Hermann Gmeiner in Sanothimi, and spent seven months exploring different places, making new friends, learning about their culture, language, lifestyle and, you could say, this fuelled my love for traveling. By the time I returned to Nepal, l was sure I wanted to study abroad to be able to see the world. So, I decided to go to the UK and here I met Shikha who, fortunately, turned out to be such a travel enthusiast.
What does traveling mean to you? Shikha: For us, traveling means so much more than a vacation or a holiday though we do enjoy the occasional lie down on the beach doing absolutely nothing. When you have learnt so much from traveling to different cities and countries and being surrounded by people from different cultures, you just start seeing the world in a different light. It broadens your mind and changes your perspective. You meet so many new people, you hear their stories and, at times, it makes you realize how privileged and lucky you are. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt from traveling is how to appreciate everything and everyone in our life. So, for us, traveling serves as a means for continually learning things from new experiences at different places and with different people.
How did you start travel blogging? Shikha: We didn’t set out to become travel bloggers. It just happened. We never thought about blogging until the end of 2016. Many people have inspired us to do what we are doing today. Both of our parents have played a vital role by understanding and being supportive of our work. And we are positively envious of all the people on social media who make their living through traveling. An Instagram couple that instantly comes to mind regarding this is @bruisedpassport. They are an Indian couple that we look up to and find inspiration from.
Sangam: The thing is Shikha used to have a blog addressing various issues within our society long before we started our travel blog. When we started our travel Instagram page, we wanted to be able to tell our followers which places to see and what to do in countries and cities they wanted to visit. That is when we thought it would be a good idea to start a blog and DuoYatra (www.duoyatra.com) was born. Although we used to travel well before that, it wasn’t as extensive as it is these days.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned as travelers and bloggers? Sangam: The biggest lesson we have learnt, I think, is to always be curious and open-minded. New places will bring about new ideas and teach you new ways of looking at things. You understand how the locals live, what they, what they do for living, which language they speak and how they speak it. You learn about their likes and dislikes. And these are all important lessons to understand life in its various forms. But, most importantly, we have learnt to get out of our comfort zone often talking to locals – at times, through non-verbal cues and body languages. We have tried local delicacies that we would never have tasted otherwise and made friends with strangers on trips. Each new person we have met has taught us new things, be it the Canadian guy who gave up his job and sold his house to fund his trip across the world or the Swiss grandma who was sad at the thought of the snow melting because that would mean the number of tourists visiting her town would go down. Things that you are never taught anywhere, you learn while traveling.
What’s the one story or incident that sticks to your mind out of all your travel escapades? Sangam: We went to Singapore last year and we got an Uber from the airport to our hotel. The taxi driver was middle-aged man and we started talking about the history and culture of Singapore. He told us “Singapore is a fine country”. At first, we thought he was referring to Singapore being a beautiful place and agreed but his “fine” had a different meaning. What he meant was Singapore had strict set of rules and regulations that the citizens and tourists needed to abide by. If you didn’t, the consequences would be hefty fines. Our driver had been in the receiving end of some large fines himself for parking at the wrong spot and speeding. Our driver chose not to pay those fines and instead chose to stay in jail for a few weeks. Fortunately for him, the jails were quite nice and he was served delicious meals.
Which is the one place you have traveled to that is your favorite? Is there a place (or places) that you want to go to but have not been able to yet? Shikha: A place we absolutely love and is our favorite is Gili Air. It is a small island in Indonesia. You can get there either from Bali or Lombok. We can’t really pinpoint what it was that made it so special, maybe it was the fact that it was just so quiet and peaceful or maybe it’s the feeling we got there like time just stopped when you were sitting on a beach hut watching the sunset. But we simply fell in love with Gili Air. That probably is the best place we have been to so far. You might not find it to be as amazing as we did but, you know what they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
And a place that we want to explore really well but haven’t gotten a chance to is Nepal. We would love to spend a lot of time in Nepal experiencing all the different cultures and traditions that it has to offer. The Everest Base Camp hike is pretty high on Sangam’s bucket list. Also, Bora Bora is somewhere I really wants to travel to but haven’t gotten around to yet.
Is there a destination you wouldn’t mind revisiting? Sangam: There are so many places we want to revisit and we have already done that a few times too. We love Italy and Austria so much that we have been there about five times now and it’s quite easy because these places are not too far from London. We will probably go there a few more times in the future. California is next on the list. We have already been there about three times now but don’t mind revisiting. The one place we would get on the plane for, right now, if given a chance, is, again, Gili Air.
Are the two of you spontaneous travelers or avid planners? Shikha: I’m an avid planner. For me, everything has to be planned to the smallest detail. I don’t mind impromptu trips that much but I’d pick a trip where everything’s planned over a spontaneous one. As contradictory as this might sound, one of the things on my bucket list is to randomly go to the airport one day and board the next available flight, without a concern for where I’ll end up.
Sangam: I’m a spontaneous traveler. I’m not good at planning. I often try and convince Shikha not to book a hotel beforehand so that we are not bound by where we have to stay for the night. I think it lets us explore more and also appeases my free roaming spirit. It’s very rare that Shikha goes along with this. She is a meticulous planner.
Any problems you have had to encounter while traveling? Shikha: There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, from planning, and budgeting to waiting for hours for the perfect shot. But we both enjoy doing it. Managing time between our full time jobs and traveling is difficult. Also, traveling doesn’t come cheap. We trade our bank balances for invaluable life lessons. And I’m scared of spiders, which makes nature trips tricky. I’m always super alert when we have to stay overnight in a natural habitat.
Sangam: We have experienced some pretty scary take offs and landings. So, I’m wary of that now. Not getting enough holidays at work to travel as much as we would like to is another huge inconvenience for us. We love traveling but we also want to progress in our careers so we can’t just quit everything and leave. One thing we really want to do, and are hoping will happen soon, is to go work in a different country, at least for a year to experience the culture and to live like a local in a new setting.
How hard is it to maintain a travel blogger lifestyle? Shikha: It’s a lot of hard work. Sometimes it feels like you need to get that perfect shot or perfect angle, so you are more focused on getting that than actually enjoying where you are and living in the moment. When we feel like we are reaching that point, we take a break and try to enjoy the moment.
Sangam: We also believe in the divide and conquer strategy. I have no shame in admitting that I’m not the best at planning and Shikha is, frankly, quite amazing. We both have our strengths and weaknesses. So, we divide our work according to our strengths. We also help each other out and teamwork and communication are what we are really good at. That helps us tackle our workload.
How do you pick a place to travel to and how do you explore it when you get there? Shikha: We are both lovers of nature, so most of our destinations are influenced by this fact. We try to choose places where we can see the mountains, and lakes and rivers and what not. I think that comes from being a Nepali. We love anything and everything to do with nature. One thing we never do is fall for the tourist trap. Every time we go somewhere, we hire a car at the airport and go on a road trip. We try to avoid typically touristy spots as much as possible. All the places we have been to, we would have never seen had we not gone off the beaten track. A good example of that was when we were in Bali. We went to see one of the most famous waterfalls there. It was beautiful but, it was so crowded, we could barely enjoy it. So, we decided to go find other waterfalls and we found this amazing place where we had the waterfall to ourselves for almost an hour. Also, we both love adventure. Be it hiking, kayaking, rowing a boat or jumping from a cliff, we love living life on the edge. So we make sure we get plenty of adventure wherever we go.
Where are you headed to next? Sangam: We just got back from California and we’re going to Amsterdam with some of our friends and then we’re off to Paris for a weekend in June. We tend to travel around Europe during the weekends as we can get there quickly and easily and we save all our holidays for the big trips. The next big trips we are currently planning are to Canada in August and hopefully Nepal or Thailand and Vietnam in December. The Nepal visit has been a tough one to plan. We can’t wait to explore Nepal but we are not sure if, weather-wise, December is the right time to do so.