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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Making Money from your Travel Blog

Last evening, there was a travel blogging session as part of the conference arranged by Social Media Week, Bangalore and Lonely Planet India. During this session, 6 travel bloggers (Arun Bhat, Sam, Deepti Asthana, Sangeetha, Mansi Pal and myself) dug deep into the world of travel blogging. Some of us have made this their career, while the others are pursuing this as an active hobby. We discussed how there is a distinct shift in the attitude of the young Indian travelers, the latest trends in travel, how to maximize leaves and finally, the monetization part. As expected, a lot of the audience were keen on knowing how to make money from their travel blogs. This seems to be the question in the mind of most travel bloggers and hence, I thought it would be great to summarize the various options here. These options are a sum of the techniques used by me, options discussed in the travel blogging forum and options used by other travel bloggers.

Is your Blog a Brand that people can connect to?

Before you read the various ways and techniques to make money from your blog, do ask yourself these questions:

1) Are you treating your travel blog as a brand? Does this brand connect with your personal style of travel?

2) Do you have a self-hosted blog with your own domain name and does it have a good navigable design and great content?

3) Do you write content that connects with your personal or your blog’s niche area?

4) Do you write content that your readers are interested in?

5) Can you afford to invest time and effort in your travel blog without expecting any returns?

6) Can you handle free of cost pilot projects to build your credibility?

7) Can you think of your blog as your startup business, however small the scale might be?

8) Do you write original content?

If you have answered ‘No’ to any of the above questions, you have still not reached the maturity to monetize your travel blog and you will have to invest more time and effort into it.

Think of your travel blog like a startup business. You build your brand first. Then comes credibility. Then you use your earned credibility and inherent skill to address your reader’s need. There was a problem and you solved or addressed it. Thus, you offer value and you have reached a stage where you will start to create money making opportunities. 

Money Making Techniques

Google Ads

This is the lowest hanging fruit  in the money making tree. All you need is a blog that is at least 6 months old and some tens of posts. You can register with google and insert these Ads on your blog. Initially, you will make miniscule money from this, but as your blog traffic improves, your Google Ad revenue will also increase. You can even monetize your videos on You Tube.

Contextual Ads

Once you have more content on your site and a healthy readership, you will definitely have decent domain authority and page ranking. At this time, a lot of organizations will be keen to advertise on your site. However, do ensure that you keep your advertising contextual with your content and with the blog’s niche areas. Else, you will get penalized by Google for link selling and also by your reader for confusing them.

Affiliate Marketing

Typically, on a travel blog, we talk about hotels, destinations, flight tickets, travel gear, gadgets and much more. Most of these can be bought online through websites like booking.com, expedia.com, flipkart.com, amazon.com and others. All these sites offer a percentage of the sale to the blogger if their reader ends up buying their service or product. All you have to do is sign up to be an affiliate, put the affiliate code on your blog and disclose to your reader that you will make a small amount of money in case they decide to buy a product or service by clicking the link on your blog.

Travel Writing

A lot of travel bloggers write well and hence as a next step, they can try their hand at travel writing. This could be for other blogs, online portals, magazines and/or newspapers. If you mine your relationships well, if you work hard and write good content, you will be able to land yourself a pilot project. Initially, travel writing does not pay much, but what it lacks in money, it compensates in reach and visibility. With a lot of travel writing opportunities in the kitty, the money factor will also go up. More travel writing exposure also opens up doors with more brands.

Working with Brands – branding, content, digital marketing, consulting

Each one of us possess an important skill or set of skills  that we use in our normal day-to-day jobs. These skills coupled with your blog’s reach and credibility can come in handy for many brands. You could collaborate with them for branding, digital marketing, blog management, content management, public relations and many other interesting activities. Again, the key is to mine your relationship, do some pilot projects for free and then take it from there. In some cases, you can also become a brand ambassador. Sudhir Shivaram, a top class photographer from Bangalore became the brand ambassador for Canon India.

Custom Tours

A lot of people following our blogs connect with our style of travel. This could be photography based, backpacking expeditions, culture getaways, wildlife holidays, food trips, luxury trips, adventure holidays, motorcycling holidays or a combination of all the above. And these people would pay us a small tour fee to plan their holidays and to experience traveling with us travel bloggers who inspire and motivate them. Arun Bhat’s Darter Photography offers photography tours in the space of wildlife and culture. Similarly, there are off-beat tours, festival tours, volunteering tours, food tours and any other niche that is your strength. Matt of Nomadic Matt also offers rich experiential international tours to his readers.

Travel Speaking

As you travel and as you blog, you will get experienced and knowledgeable. A lot of people will find this wisdom helpful. You could talk about building brands, social media, writing great content, planning trips and others to a wide demographic audience that ranges from students to young working population to people with lots of money. In addition to money, these sessions will help you widen your reach and increase visibility for your brand. You can also talk at leading travel blogging conferences, travel trade shows and other marquee events and earn higher while gaining more visibility.

Photography and Photo merchandise

Like content, photographs are also your intellectual property. And they offer a good money making potential. You can always try to put your photos on getty images and shutter stock, but the money from those sources take a while to materialize. What worked for me was selling my photographs to hotels, selling photograph merchandise (magnets, mugs, T shirts, keychains, etc.) to shops near tourist hubs and finally a full fledged e-commerce solution for selling merchandise for all my pictures. You could also try your hand at photo exhibitions and see if people are keen on buying your photographs.

e-Books or Books

These days Amazon’s kindle allows authors to publish without requiring a publishing house. They provide all the necessary publishing infrastructure and the blogger just has to write great content. Even if you price your book at $1 and you sell 1000 copies, you end up making $1000. Books require a bit more effort, but with some e-books under your belt, you will be much better placed.

Web Design, SEO, Social Media Marketing for other Bloggers and Website Owners

Depending on your skillset, you can help other bloggers and website owners with their graphic design, web development (templates, plug-ins, javascripts, etc.), mobile app development, SEO, social media marketing, content writing and much more. You are just charging for sharing your expertise.

Typical Gestation Time for a Blog

As a thumb rule, it takes about 12 months before a blog starts making sizeable revenue. I would not be surprised if people took 18 or 24 months to make decent money. It took me 24 months to start counting. There is no fast track, but if you do the right things, you can expedite the process.

Do you know any more ways to Make Money?

Is there something else that you or your blogger friends do? Well, we would love to hear about it. Drop me a line in the comments below and I will add it to this list.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Top 13 Things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal

Most of the people who think or even dream of the mighty Himalayas, think of Nepal. And when you think of Nepal, its bustling heart and its capital, Kathmandu, can hardly be ignored. If your itinerary only includes a brief halt in this city before you head off on your trek, then you need to keep in mind that you will be losing a lot of culture, color, fervor and many attractions that this city has to offer. You would have made a good decision if you plan to experience this city. I have spent a lot of time in this city during my trips to Nepal and have put together the below top 13 things to do in this lush green valley in the mighty Himalayas.

A Daal Bhaat Meal
Traditional Nepali Thali Meal
This is an iconic meal of Nepal and your best bet to have a great Daal Bhaat meal is at Kathmandu. It includes lentil soup, vegetables, crispy papad, salad, greens and yoghurt with either rice or thick wheat pudding or sometimes a local millet bread. This meal is cheap, is always fresh and is insanely delicious. Do ensure that you have this meal on the first day of your Kathmandu trip so that you can enjoy it more if you like it a lot. While you are at it, you can also try the Tibetan food near the Boudanath Stupa area.

Festivals of Kathmandu
Artisans from Newari Community during Gau Jatra, Kathmandu
It is said that the people of Nepal celebrate a festival all 365 days of the year. Some of these are Hindu festivals. Some of them are Buddhist festivals. And the others are uniquely special tribal festivals. The people of Kathmandu celebrate all their festivals with great fervor. At many important ones, there are street processions, dances, costumes, music, food, beverages and much more. The top festivals are Dashain, Tihar, Bhai Tika, Krishna Janmastami, Gai Jatra, Ghode Jatra, Teej, Holi and Maha Shivaratri.

Lose Yourself in the Local Markets
Street Moment from a temple in Patan Heritage Zone, Nepal
The local markets of Kathmandu with its color, frenzy and old world charm is a must visit. The ones in and around Thamel make for a great start and then you can explore the others especially the ones near Boudanath and Pashupatinanth Temples.

Sunset from Swayambhunath Temple
Admiring the Kathmandu valley view from Swayambhunath Temple
The Swayambunath or Monkey temple is one of the top tourist attractions of Kathmandu. But, if you visit it around sunset, you will see a glorious view of Kathmandu city with the setting sun and once the sun has set, you can enjoy the view of the temple that is lit beautifully with butter lamps.

Taste the Street Food
Tibetan Food at a restaurant near Boudanath Stupa, Kathmandu
Golgappas, Lassi, Jhaal Muri, Samosa Chat and much more can be had on the streets of Kathmandu. Hygiene might look a bit on the lower side, but if you have even a bit of an adventurous streak in you, I would recommend that you sample the delicious street fare. I am sure you will return with an enriched culinary experience.

Rudraksha, Beads and other Shopping
Souvenir shop at Bhaktapur Heritage Site, Nepal
If you are a spiritual Hindu, you will like the Rudraksha beads of Nepal. They are the best place on the planet to get authentic Rudraksha beads.  And the markets of Kathmandu are the hub from where they are distributed. You can also shop for other beads, bead jewellery, clothes and many other souvenirs and artifacts from these markets.

Aarti ceremony at Pashupatinath Temple
Sadhu who lives near Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal
Whether you are a Hindu or belong to any religion, you  will appreciate the rich Aarti ceremony that takes place by the river Baramati just outside the Pashupatinath Temple every evening at 7 pm. This vibrant ceremony is to offer the prayers to Lord Shiva and the Goddess Baramati who is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, Shiva’s consort. While you are watching the Aarti ceremony, you can also interest yourself in the Hindu cremation ceremony that takes place at the nearby ghats.

Interesting culture at its temples
Akash Bhairav statue at a temple in Kathmandu
Be it its Hindu temples or its Buddhist temples and monasteries, the people of Nepal follow an interesting set of beliefs and practices.  There are rituals. There are offerings. There are flowers. There is incense burning. There are butter lamps. There is so much more to see and experience at the many temples of Kathmandu, especially at Pashupatinath, Boudanath, Swayambhunath and at the many temples in the Thamel area.

Kathmandu old city view from Kathmandu Palace
View from the 9th storey of Kathmandu Palace
The Thamel area is a pulsating heart of old Kathmandu. And amidst this heart is located the very beautiful and intricately carved Kathmandu Palace and its nine storey tower. The view of Kathmandu city and the entire Thamel area from this ninth storey is a sight to behold. On a clear day, you can even see the Swayambhunath Temple clearly.

Short Treks around the Kathmandu Valley
A lot of us go to Nepal to trek either the Annapurna, Everest or Langtang ranges. It is advisable to do some short mild treks before you embark on the big ones. The ones at Dhulikhel, Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park and Boudanilakantha offer fantastic trekking trails while offering a great cultural experience with minimal tourism. Hence, offering an authentic off-beat trekking experience.

Day Trip to Bhaktapur and Patan
At a roadside souvenir shop in Patan, Nepal
Bhaktapur was the erstwhile capital of Nepal and along with Patan forms two of the most cultural and successful historical hubs of Nepal. At between 30 and 60 minutes from Kathmandu, these offer great day trip opportunities where you can experience the rich culture, see the countryside and connect with the local people.

Volunteer at any of the many NGOs
Nepali lady offering her prayers at a Hindu Buddhist temple in Kathmandu
A poor country like Nepal needs a lot of help. Be it agriculture or building houses, teaching kids or helping in women empowerment, cleaning the trekking paths or studying the impact of Kathmandu’s increasing pollution levels, helping the struggling tribes or helping promote eco tourism in its forests, the opportunities to volunteer are immense. All you have to do is find a good NGO that offers services in an area of your interest. 

Vipasana
A lot of people love the Vipasana experience in Nepal. They believe that it helps them connect with their inner self and it also helps them detox their body. It is definitely worth a try for those interested.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Things to do in Philippines

Considered as one of the most awe inspiring places in the world, Philippines is more than just an island with beautiful beaches. On my trip to one of the cheapest holiday destinations in the world, every penny I spent in Philippines during my Philippines Holidays was worth the time spent there. With the perfect and the most beautiful beaches, awesome local food and the friendliest people, this country is gradually cementing its place in the chart of the most preferred holiday destinations in the world. If you are looking for reasons that help you know more about how to spend your holiday in Philippines, my experience through this article will tell you a few of the hundreds of things that can be done there.

Friendly locale
A Manila Pedicab and his owner
The people in Asia are considered to more friendly and compassionate in comparison to the locales in other countries. Due to this, the hospitality of Philippines is something that you would love. Since the people here are very friendly and curious you would not face any problems related to security or ill-treatment.

Beautiful beaches
Beautiful rice terraces of Northern Philippines
The beaches in Philippines are more than just beaches. When you spend some time there, you feel that it is nothing less than a paradise. Philippines have around 7000 islands and the natural beauty here will leave you astonished. For instance, the white beach in boracay belongs to the category of the top ten beaches n the world. With this fact, you can realize the beauty of the country. With crystal like white sand and the clear waters every beach will look like a dream come true.

Handicraft shopping
For all those people and specially the ladies who feel that a holiday is incomplete without shopping; you should consider visiting Philippines once. The giant shopping stores and malls in manila will leave you a lot of room for shopping for your favorite products and brands. Apart from the malls, the country is also famous for its street markets and handicraft markets as well. Depending upon your budget and choice, you can get a lot of things that you would simply love.

Safari and deserted islands
Fabulous island hopping from El Nido, Philippines
If you love nature and have a special inclination towards the flora and fauna, you would love Philippines. The widest and the most diverse range of birds, sea creatures and plants, Philippines are a proud country to be known as the home of to a lot of distinct species. Going scuba diving, watching and playing with the white whales and sharks and visiting safari and deserted islands will make you realize that your holiday will give you memories for the entire life.

Finger licking food
The local food and the drinks of the Philippines are very famous. Your holiday here will be incomplete if you don’t try the local food served by the most authentic restaurants. The rice terraces, the underground rives, funky, bumpy and unique modes of transportation are some of the other things that you surely should go for.

Well, the list won’t end as there is so much that Philippines has to offer to all the visitors. It is an assurance that once you visit the country, you will thrive to visit the country yet again just like I would be doing. Maybe this is the time to book your Holiday as well!!

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Great Advantages of Medical Tourism

Are you searching for cheaper medical services? How about getting your treatment abroad?

This may sound absurd but, travelling abroad for a medical treatment actually costs cheaper compared to a visit to your local hospital. Sure, you may have to pay for travel fees, but all of these expenses will be compensated because you can get the quality care that you need.

With the rising popularity of medical tourism, a lot of countries are offering impressive treatments at a lower rate. But it’s not just the services that you should look out for. After resting from your operation, you can visit a country’s popular tourist hotspots and have a grand vacation. If these reasons are not enough to convince you of going on a medical trip, read this post to learn more about its other advantages.

1. Quality Care A lot of foreign hospitals nowadays give better personal care than your local facility. The secret here is to determine the specialties of each country. Israel, for instance, features great expertise and advanced equipment in the field of oncology. In addition, services like private lung cancer treatments in Israel also come with travel packages. They can assist you in getting a visa, book your hotel, or recommend tourist attractions so you can further enjoy your stay in the country.

Hospitals in Thailand and Brazil, on the other hand, specialize in cosmetic surgery. If you wanted to undergo a facelift or rhinoplasty surgery without breaking your bank, this is the best place to go. Iran is also popular for hair transplants and nose jobs. India is great for cardio vascular and many other surgeries.

2. Ideal for people without medical insurance Not everyone can afford to have an expensive medical insurance policy that can cover numerous treatments. If the rate of your local health care service is extremely high, chances are your insurance policies will have a limited coverage. In most cases, the deductibles from these services are more expensive compared to travelling abroad. Going on a medical trip is an ideal and legitimate option for people who cannot afford to pay a decent health insurance plan.

3. Cost-effective This is the number one reason why most people travel abroad just to seek medical treatment. Depending on the type of procedure, you can actually save a lot of your budget when you visit a foreign facility.

Because most international medical procedures are extremely cheap, some people think that these services are a big scam. However, that is not true. The reason why it is cheap is that the cost of labor is low in most countries. In addition, there are several international governing bodies that evaluate the quality of service in each foreign hospital. The Joint Commission International and the International Organization for Standardization give accreditations to hospitals that provide exemplary care and treatment to their patients.

4. Improved Communication First-rate foreign hospitals have an adept physicians and staff that were trained in the United States and Europe. Even if you are in Thailand or India, you can probably meet a doctor who speaks fluent English. This will make it easier for you to understand the types of treatment that the facility has to offer.

And with the advent of technology, you can easily schedule your appointments or book your flights online. This removes the inconvenience of flying thousands of miles just to just to perform an evaluation. The only time that you will have to leave your home is on the week of the actual operation.

Are you planning to go on a medical trip sometime soon? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Great Food and World Cup Cricket: A Fantastic Combination

As much as I love watching the world cup cricket matches at home on weekends, I miss getting out during the weekends. And this has put a huge dent into my culinary experiences during the weekend. On a normal weekend, I would explore the new restaurants in the city or simply go to my favorite hangout place and have my favorite meal. But, with most of India’s matches scheduled to take place on weekends, my weekend food trips have taken a backseat.

Enjoy great food from Foodpanda during this cricket world cup
And that is when I thought why not watch the cricket matches at home and order my favorite food from my favorite restaurants. And make it a win-win situation. My outing may not be possible, but I don’t have to sacrifice on the good food. I could have Rajasthani, Gujarati, Punjabi, Italian, Biryani, Pizzas or anything I liked from Foodpanda, one of India’s top food websites and get it delivered right to my doorstep.

There are more than 3600 restaurants to choose from from Bangalore alone. I can pay online. I can choose from pure vegetarian restaurants. And I can claim my Citibank dining benefits. Actually, there is one more important benefit. Foodpanda is running this interesting campaign called CricBites for the world cup. If I use the promo code for my food orders, I get a discount on my orders. Which makes a sweet deal even sweeter. Now, I can enjoy my good food while I enjoy the thrilling world cup matches on TV. I hope India wins the world cup again. #WeWon’tGiveItBack!!

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Handy Tips to prepare for your Skiing Holiday

Winter is in full flow in Europe and it is also snowing heavily in the Himalayan mountains. This means that now is the best time to indulge in an adventure filled skiing holiday. Whether you are planning to ski in Europe or in India, you have to prepare yourself well as this is a high adventure activity and in some very cold conditions.

You have to get your ski gear in place. You have to find a way to keep yourself warm. You have to take care of your safety. You have to take care of insurance. Yes, insurance is essential as skiing is an high risk adventure sport. And definitely travel insurance if you are going to ski out of your country. And you have to remember to enjoy.  Well, there are a lot of things that you need to plan and prepare for.

Helpful tips for Skiing holidays

I found a great way to get started and get all of this in order when I saw this post on the blog of Avanti Travel Insurance. I found it very helpful and am sure that all skiers and snowboarders would find it very informative while planning their upcoming skiing holidays and trips.

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Experience the Taste of Rajasthan with the Best Resort

Luxury vacations are on the rise worldwide, with India quickly becoming a hot spot for tourists from all over the planet. No matter where these visitors are coming from, whether it’s far in the Russian north or down under in southern Australia, there’s no destination quite like Rajasthan. As India’s largest state, Rajasthan offers over 130 thousand square miles of culture, history and beauty for visitors and locals alike, with “the Pink City” nestled in the eastern district of Jaipur. Virtual Tourist rates half of Jaipur’s top 10 attractions at four stars or higher, making this one of the most highly-praised tourist traps in India—and that’s just the city, not the whole district.

Luxury Holidays in Rajasthan
To get a real taste of Rajasthan, from culture to cuisine, Jaipur is the place to stay; however, as with any international vacation, that means choosing the establishment in which you stay very carefully.

Must Have Features The first thing you want to look for in a resort is features that are “all-inclusive”. According to Business Insider, this means that features like lodging, dining and in-house activities such as water sports or tennis should be included in the room price. This allows you to leave your wallet behind while you trek around your home away from home; no worrying about paying extra for towels, chairs or bottled water.

It’s important to note, however, that not being “all-inclusive” shouldn’t knock a resort off your list. When it all comes down to it, you need to make sure that the Jaipur resort in question offers the following features, at a price you can afford:

1. Queen or king size beds. If you wanted to sleep in a twin or a full, you would have gotten a hotel!

2. Swimming pool, hot tub or spa. All three is best, but every resort should have at least one of these features to give you a chance to lay back and relax for a little while after a long day of touring this beautiful city.

3. Concierge services. This means a receptionist capable not only of giving you tips on which tours and attractions you should visit, but can book them for you. The best resorts keep you from having to do any work at all.

4. Dining in-house. A lodging destination isn’t a resort without its own restaurant. Whether it’s connected to the lobby or only accessible from the outside, to get a true taste of Rajasthan you need access to the best in Jaipur fine dining.

5. Basic hotel amenities. This means bellhops to carry your baggage, housekeeping to make your bed and room service to bring you food, fresh towels and other necessities once you’ve arrived.

If the resort you’re eyeing doesn’t offer at least these five features, look somewhere else. The best resorts consider it their duty to take care of you and make sure you enjoy your vacation, so hold them to it.

Bonus Options
There are, of course, other bonus features and amenities you can look out for. Karma Luxury Resorts’ Jaipur location offers visitors access to a gym, a fully supervised “kid’s club,” and a step well (a traditional Indian pool) with live music throughout the week. You can expect live music to be a standard at most Indian resorts—particularly those run by Karma—along with engaging and exotic activities like puppet shows, live stage performances, dancing and more.

Many resorts, particularly in India, offer traditional or cultural features that aren’t always fully advertised, so talk to your booking agent about what the resort really offers before you make a reservation. Lonely Planet refers to Jaipur as an “the gateway to India’s most flamboyant state,” so make sure that your resort experience is designed to show off the culture and color that makes Rajasthan so enthralling. These extra amenities, features and options offered by the best resorts in the city make it easier than ever to get a true taste of all Rajasthan has to offer.

Enjoy Rajasthan in Comfort
Regardless of what resort or hotel you choose, just make sure that you’re going to be enjoying Rajasthan’s most colorful city in comfort, if not luxury. A safe place to lay your head at the end of a busy tourist day can be more than enough for some visitors, and if that’s all you need then there’s nothing wrong with looking for it. However, if you want to get the most out of your vacation, from local amenities to entertainment to dining, then going a little higher class may be your best bet. The best resorts in Rajasthan didn’t get that kind of praise for no reason—complement the beauty of your vacation city with your temporary vacation home by choosing a resort that doesn’t just give you what you need, but the kind of experience you really want.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Kathmandu: A City with an Old World Charm!

Close to three decades ago, I was a small boy roaming the markets of Bihar holding my mother’s hand. Those were the years I got exposed to the chaos of the local markets, its colour, its frenzied energy, the rich religious fervour and oodles of local culture. Three decades later, you can still see that at Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal and a city a few hours north of where I spent my childhood.

Street vendor making delicious Chatpat at Kathmandu, Nepal
I absolutely love its old world charm. By this, I don’t mean its temples or architecture. But, its people and the way they live their life. Rickshaw wallahs and Maruti 800s move in those small lanes along with motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. There are street hawkers everywhere. There is a bustle. There is some chaos. There is lots of action. And that is something that I miss about our Indian cities that are quickly embracing the mall culture.

Portrait from inside a temple in Patan
Big shops are few and far between. Hawkers sell their wares right on the street and shout at the top of their voices to attract the prospective customer. Be it vegetables, spices, tools, clothes, spices or anything else, everything follows a similar way of sell.

Street Vegetable Market at Kathmandu
Early morning and late evening hours attract the largest crowds and that is when these hawkers are shouting at the top of their voices. Even though the entire setup looks very dis-organized and clumsy, it is very well planned, laid out and organized. In fact, the crowds seamlessly weave their way around these colourful bazaars.

Street vendor selling fiery hot chillies at Kathmandu
To get a good feel of this street culture, you have to get lost at least once in any of Kathmandu’s many markets. It is an experience that is tough to write about as it deserves a personal connection.

Kaal Bhairav Statue near Kathmandu Durbar Square
The people of Kathmandu, who form an interesting mix of Hindus, Buddhists and indigenous tribes are so colorful, religious, humble and laidback. This is one of those cities that celebrates a festival every day of the year and thus the local temples are always abuzz with action. The people offer their prayers, celebrate  and enjoy their culture. And by nightfall, the streets wear a deserted look as everyone is back home with their families. The newer generation is bucking this trend, but the bulk of the city is still old-fashioned.

Golgappa street vendor from Kathmandu
The street food of this city also lives in an era gone by and is a treat especially for a foodie like me who used to like his childhood street food. You can suck on a kulfi, pop in a jamun, chomp on that jhaal muri, or smack your lips after a sumptuous golgappa snack meal, Kathmandu’s street has it all. Jalebis, samosas, lassi and much more are on offer. And when you feel really hungry, you can go for the traditional Nepali Daal Bhaath meal.

Street Action at a local market in Kathmandu, Nepal
A Kathmandu experience is not complete without sampling its street food and irrespective of whether your stomach is strong or not, you should at least give it a tiny try.

Nepali gentleman sleeping in a cycle rickshaw
Every time you walk the streets of this vibrant city, you will feel its magic. Crowded lanes with busy street action, cars from a different era, smoke belching buses with loud bus conductors, street artists trying to catch your attention, sadhus trying to tie a holy thread on your arm and local people trying to make a living are what you can see in action on any day in Kathmandu.

Lighting of Butter Lamps at a temple in Kathmandu
The religious fervour of this city is bound to enjoy one and all. Whether, it is a Hindu temple, a tribal procession or a Buddhist monastery, most of the people of this city are deeply rooted into their religion and that is something that you will see everywhere around the town.

Fruit and Chilli Hawkers on the streets of Kathmandu, NepalSurprised Woman on the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal
If you ever want to live this old world charm, spend a couple of weeks at Kathmandu and soak in its archaic magic at leisure.

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Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary: Nesting Colony on the Cauvery

Karnataka is one of those states in India that attracts a lot of birds. The pristine ecosystem of the Western Ghats, the tropical weather, the lush rainfall and the Cauvery river ensure that local and migratory birds make this state their home for a long time every year. Be it birds of paradise, large water fowl, raptors, fruit-eaters and many other species, Karnataka boasts of quite a big number.

Asian Openbill nesting colony at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
A bird sanctuary that is located close to Bangalore and one that is active all year round is the Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary. Located on an island on the river Cauvery and at a short distance from Srirangapatna, the Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary is a great getaway for birdwatchers, adults and kids alike. It is known for birds like painted storks, spot billed and white pelicans, night herons, herons, harriers, kingfishers, fishing eagles, peacocks, spoon bills and many more. In all probability, you will see all of these birds throughout the year and especially during the cooler months.

Asian Spoonbill at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
Due to its close proximity to Bangalore and the fact that it falls enroute to popular weekend getaways like Bandipur, Coorg, Wayanad and Ooty, it can either be explored as a short pit stop on your journey or as a day trip from Bangalore. Irrespective of your choice, the pristine location, the abundance of bird life and the cleanliness is bound to keep you captivated.

Young Marsh Crocodile basking on the banks of the Cauvery at the Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
All you have to do is carry your pair of binoculars, a keen eye and a bird book while visiting this bird sanctuary. There are two ways to explore this sanctuary. One is by foot that is along the banks of the river Cauvery and the other is by a boat on the river Cauvery itself.

Painted Stork at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
Birds are most active during the early morning and the late afternoon hours. Thus, these become your top time slots in case you are interested in active bird watching. If you visit at 10 am, you might not see a whole lot of bird activity, but you will see a lot of marsh crocodiles basking in the early morning sun.

Beautiful Peacock at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
The boat rides typically cost INR 350 per person or INR 1000 for a full boat. This is for a 40 minute long ride over the Cauvery and is in the company of a professional birding guide who is also your boatman. There is also a short ride available, but I would recommend the longer one for a more relaxed birdwatching session. The guides are good forest guides and are extremely knowledgeable in birds and are a storehouse of local information.

Black Crowned Night Heron at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
If you are interested in seeing the birds build their nests, form nesting colonies or see young chicks being fed by their parents, the months from January to March would be your best time to visit this bird sanctuary. If you go in January, you will see frantic activity where all birds will collect twigs, straw and mud from all around the river and forest.

Green Bee-Eater at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
In late January or early February, you will see the young cormorant chicks. Later in February and in March, you will see the young ones of painted storks and pelicans. Basically, these 3 months would be a bundle of frenzied activity and will offer a special birdwatching experience along with great photographic opportunities.

Marsh Harrier at Ranganthitu Bird Sanctuary
There are nice walkways, viewing towers and ponds prepared by the forest department to help the visitors enjoy the bird life at leisure. While the walkways and ponds are great to view birds like mynas, bee eaters, king fishers, robins, woodpeckers and other terrestrial birds, the viewing points are great to see the birds that are perched on the top of trees on the other bank of the Cauvery.

Small Blue Kingfisher at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
If I remember right, the bird sanctuary is open from  8 AM  to 6 PM. However, if you are keen on birdwatching, you can request the forest officials to allow you in a bit earlier. At this time, there will be fewer tourists and the birds will be super active and it will be a super enjoyable experience.

Stork billed Kingfisher at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
Entrance fees are INR 150 for an Indian national and INR 350 for a foreign national. I think, there are discounts for students and young kids. There is also a small canteen where you can grab a bite or a quick cup of coffee.

Pelicans in abundance at Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary
Route
: From Bangalore, head to Srirangapatna. Once you have crossed the town and the Cauvery bridges, there will be a right turn on the highway that will connect you to the Coorg or Hunsur road. You will cross a railway crossing and shortly, you will notice an arch that says Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary. It should be about 4 kms from Srirangapatna town.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Guilt Free Ski Holidays

As a thumb rule, most of us end up sinning too much during our holidays and then cringe at the extra weight gained while working out in the gym on returning home. Or at other times, we worry so much that we forget to enjoy our holidays. Both of these are bad options for us. The ideal option would be to have an adventure-filled holiday that compensates the extra calories we guzzle. It would be even better if we had a way to count the calories we burn and then sin accordingly.

Calorie counter for your ski holidays 
Like you all, I am also on the lookout for such helpful calorie counters and that is how I came across this ski calorie counter that ensures that we have a fun-filled ski holiday without worrying about the rich food or the beer that we consume after our skiing activities. This ski calorie counter takes care of the person’s age, sex, height, weight, type of activity (Snowboarding, Downhill, Ice Skating, Tobogganing, Cross-Country), duration and location while calculating the amount of calories that you have burned. It also gives you an idea of what you have earned in terms of food and beverages.

Guilt Free holidays 
I think this is a cool tool to carry with you on your skiing holiday. I hope there will be more such tools for other activities as well so that it covers a larger range of holidays. And when I do find them, I will sure remember to share it with you.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Handy Persian Phrases for an Iran bound Tourist

Iran is one of those holiday destinations where conversing in English is extremely difficult if you go outside of the tourist districts. However, if you know Hindi or Urdu, the Persian language is not that difficult to learn. I was thankful to learn the similarity between these languages while I stayed with a local family and this also helped me in picking up some very helpful Farsi phrases that came in super handy during my backpacking trip in Iran and I hope you will find them handy too.

And remember, keep your ear open for many Hindi or Urdu words. If you listen carefully, you will understand the context. After all, we have had such a rich past, that both languages (Hindi and Persian) have borrowed a lot from each other.

Farsi (Persian) Phrase English Equivalent
Salaam Hello or simply a salutation!
Halet Chetohrey  or Khoobay? or Chetohri? How are you?
Man Khoobam! I am good!
Merci or Mamnoon! Thank you!
Kheyli Mamnoon! Thank you very much!
Ahle Khojaeey? Where are you from?
Balle or Arey Yes
Nah Khair or Na No
Beselamati Cheers (to everyone’s good health)
Khahesh Mikonaam You are welcome
Khoda Hafez Good bye!
Bedoonay Goosht Without Meat
Goosht Meat
Sabzee Vegetables
Bebaaksheet Excuse me!
Agah Sir
Khanoom Madam
sefr Zero
Yek One
Do Two
Se Three
Chahar Four
Panj Five
Shesh Six
Haft Seven
Hasht Eight
Noh Nine
Dah Ten
Sad Hundred
Hezaar Thousand
Sobh bekheir Good Morning!
Shab Bekheir Good Night!
Nooshe Jaan Bon Apetit!
Be Salamat Bon Voyage!
Man I
Shoma You
Doost Friend
Haynd India
Che Khabar? Whats new?
Bozorg Big
Khoocheek Small

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Goa – A piece of paradise next to the Indian Ocean

A dizzying mixture of sights, sounds, and smells is what attracts the majority of travellers and tourists to India. An astonishing one-sixth of the planet’s population can be found here, all of which contribute to an incredibly diverse melting pot of cultures, religions and ethnicities.

In addition to man-made wonders such as the Taj Mahal, there are some astounding natural landmarks too including the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. But for many, the biggest draw will be the stunning holiday resorts found on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Arguably the most popular and well known is Goa, which not only provides sun-seekers with a yearlong balmy climate, but also several enchanting and inviting attractions too.

About Goa
Beautiful Beaches of Goa

It may well be India’s smallest state, but this diminutive yet distinctive region provides visitors with countless highlights. In spite of its booming tourist industry, there are still plenty of historical and cultural delights to capitalise on along with 80 miles of magnificent coastline and beautiful white sand beaches.

Owing to the fact this was a solitary Portuguese outpost for almost 500 years, influences from colonial rule can be found in everything from the cuisine to the architecture. But ever since its return to Indian rule in 1961, Goa has embraced a laid-back way of life, where peace and tranquillity conquer all. Things to see and do

  • Explore the street markets - Although several street markets can be found in Goa, the one at Anjuna should not be missed. Even if you don’t come away with some sparkling jewellery, a colourful woven bag or another authentic momentum, the experience is satisfaction enough. Watch the old hippies brush shoulders with young backpackers and those on package holidays.
  • Sample the local food and drink - Rice, fish and coconut are staple ingredients here, but usually packed full of chilli flavourings. And for something equally as potent, be sure to try the fiery sprit made from cashew or coconut sap known as feni. However, this might need to be diluted with water or soda, as it packs quite a punch.
  • Discover Margao – Trying to cope with busy city life is a bit too much for some, but in Margao you still get a sense of the energy and exuberance of India’s urban areas without being overwhelmed. Before the Portuguese arrived, this was a centre for pilgrimage and learning thanks to dozens of Hindu temples. One of which, just south of the covered market, is well worth a visit.
Colourful markets of Goa

So while the sand and sea is enough of a lure for numerous visitors to Goa, this pocket-sized piece of paradise offers up plenty of additional crowning glories to experience and enjoy.

Images by Shanawaz Sid and PJR Photography, used under the Creative Commons license.

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Australia Visa for Indians

The ICC Cricket World Cup is underway in Australia and New Zealand and India seem to have found their stride after beating Pakistan in the opening match. Things are looking promising for the Indian cricket team. If you are looking to see India play in this world cup and explore the country during the other days, then you need to start planning for your Aussie visa. Once you get your Aussie visa, you can get the Kiwi (New Zealand) visa on arrival. This is an open offer that is valid till the end of the world cup. I applied for my Aussie visa recently and have laid out the details below to help you with visa application process. I have not decided whether I will visit New Zealand, but the option is there at the back of my head.

Australia visa for Indian citizens

Application Process
You can either apply directly at the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection or go through an authorized travel agent. Since the Australian embassy is based out of New Delhi and to avoid any un-necessary travel costs (as I am based out of Bangalore), I submitted my application through an authorized travel agent. In my case, it was Udaan India, who is based out of Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore.

Required Documents and Notes

Passport: Original Passport with validity of minimum six months and a notarized copy of full passport (including blank pages).  Attach all your old passports (if any) & if any visa had been issued in old passport, notarized copy of first & last page of old passport along with the visa copy.

Australia Visa Application Form: Form 1415 to be duly filled and signed by the applicant. If going through an authorized travel agent, Form 956 to be duly filled and signed by the applicant to authorize travel agent to submit and collect documents on applicant's behalf. Forms can be downloaded from the Australian immigration website.

Photo Specification: Two recent passport size coloured photographs with matt or semi matt finish, 60%-80% face coverage, white background and without border (Size: 35mm x 45mm). Please note: Photograph should not be more than 3 months old , scanned/stapled and should not be used in any of the previous visas.

Covering Letter: Covering-letter from applicant/Authorized signatory of the Company on company’s letter head stating his name, designation,passport number, purpose and duration of visit duly signed by authorized signatory and addressed to – The Visa Officer, Australian High Commission, New Delhi.

Invitation letter: This is not required for tourist visa. For business visa, get an Invitation Letter from Australian host / inviting Company on its letter head stating the purpose of travel and duration of stay and should be duly signed with signatory’s name and designation.  It should have the following:

1) Copy of correspondence / Business Transaction with the Australian counterpart or Evidence of any fixed appointments 

2) If Going for any Exhibition: Exhibition registration letter from Australia

Ticket: Confirmed Air Ticket (not mandatory, but helps improve visa approval chances)

Hotel Booking: Confirmed Hotel Bookings (not mandatory, but helps improve visa approval chances)

Financials - If Employed a) Personal ITR for last 3yrs
b) Three months salary slip
c) Personal Bank Statement for last six months mentioning the Bank’s name, Bank’s Telephone Number clearly
d) Credit Card copy/Foreign Exchange endorsement/Traveler’s Cheque

Financials - If Self Employed
a) Personal & Company ITR for last 3yrs
b) Personal & Company Bank Statement for last six months mentioning the Bank’s name, Bank’s Telephone Number clearly
c) Credit Card copy/Foreign Exchange endorsement/Traveler’s Cheque

For First Time Traveler (Following documents apart from the above mentioned documents need to be submitted along with the application)

Proof of Occupation - If Self Employed

a) Company Registration Certificate / Certificate of Incorporation
b) Brief Company Profile
c) Articles of Memorandum (In case the applicant is MD/Director)
d) Proof of Proprietorship / Partnership (In case applicant is Proprietor / Partner in a firm)
e) Import / Export License (if applicable) 

Proof of Occupation - If Employed
a) Copy of Academic certificates
b) Copy of Appointment Letter which should contain the date of Joining, Designation and the Salary drawn.
c) Previous working history

If aged over 75 years DIAC will request:
a) Evidence of health insurance for entire period of stay
b) An ‘Aged Visitor Health Check’ completed by a DIAC appointed panel doctor

Medical: The Embassy may ask the applicant to undergo a medical examination by a panel doctor authorized by the Embassy if:
1. Applicant is aged 75 years or above
2. Planning to stay for more than 3 months
3. Entering any hospital
4. Persons likely to enter a hospital environment, health care environment or a classroom.
5. Persons likely to work in child care centre.
6. Persons likely to work as a doctor, dentist, nurse and paramedics (and students of these professions).
Visa Fees
Embassy Visa Fees – INR 7400, both for single and multiple entry. If you go through an agent, you will have to pay a VFS fee of INR 910 and additional fees as charged by the travel agent.

Notary charges – Roughly INR 750 for a passport with 32 pages. Cost will go up if you have more passports or more pages.

Handling charges: Roughly INR 1500

Visa Application Timeline

From the time of submission, it takes 10 to 15 days for the visa to be given.

Type of Visa Given
You will get an e-visa in your email. All you have to do is carry a printout of your e-visa along with your passport to clear immigration. Australia does not give label visas in India.

While this article is primarily targeted for people looking for a tourist visa, those looking for work permits, business visas and jobs in Australia can look up the Search Jobs Abroad website.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Useful Tips for Preparing for a Walking Tour in France

Walking is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated joys of life. The simplicity of just heading out into the great outdoors for a while, nothing between you and the sky, getting your body moving and seeing what things await. Travellers don't do it nearly enough.

The best thing about walking however is that it doesn't warrant too much of a travellers' two most precious things; time and money. Walking can last as long as you like. Walking costs nothing but the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet.

Walking Holidays in France
Getting prepared for a walking holiday in France however, one of the best places in the world to do it, is something you should spend a little bit of time thinking about. Between planning all the great stop-offs you wish to make and the great French food and wine you're hoping to savour, there are a couple of other things it pays to be mindful of also. Let's run through a few in the hope that you'd enjoy a trip even more.

Solo or Guided?
Delightful French Food
One important thing to consider when it comes down to planning a walking holiday is whether to undertake it on your own or whether to go down the organised tour way of doing things. If you pip for the latter, outdoor activities like walking tours offered by Belle France are always a safe and secure bet for fun, relaxation and having everything else taken care of. Not only would you have a local guide showing you through particular areas in France, but you'd also have someone responsible for booking your accommodation and showing you the key sights, freeing up your time to walk stress-free with no worries at the end of the day.

General Fitness
Although walking isn't really the most demanding of physical activities your general level of fitness is still something worth considering based on the length and intensity of your itinerary. France, although it has its rather flat regions, is far from being without hills, mountains, streams and other challenging geographical features. Ensure you're in relative good shape, and that a walk isn't completely alien to you, before you begin tackling some of the stronger ascends and descends France's regions have to offer.

Regions
Beautiful Landscapes of France
The regions of France are quite distinct as to what they offer walkers and all differ in terms of sights and sounds. Provence, for example, is full of medieval-aged villages with lots of stop-offs along walking routes. Regions closer to the Alps on the other hand, will be a lot more mountainous, hilly, perhaps a bit more on the cooler side, and possibly more remote. Decide on what part of France you'd like to walk in beforehand and you'll know exactly what to expect, and what's worth your time, when it comes to the real thing.

Gear
Although walking is a very minimal gear pursuit you'll still want to make sure you have a good pair of walking or hiking boots to hit the trails and protection from the elements if you're going in the height of summer or rainy spells in other seasons. It's advisable to pack light, especially if you plan on walking with a pack, but otherwise make sure you have a good change of clothes, some rain gear (just in case) and very importantly, some protection from the sun.

Walking in France is a joy like no other. Making a few preparations beforehand can help make your trip that little bit more stress-free and enjoyable in the long-run.

Image Credits: Belle France

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Roop Tal: Off-Beat Adventure in Nepal

Nepal is famous for its treks, temples, spiritual experiences and its people. But, that is not the end of what this country has to offer to its visitors. There are many hidden places in this Himalayan country that can blow your mind away. And I found one such place on my latest visit to this beautiful mountainous country. This place is Roop Tal, one of the many Himalayan lakes located in and around the Pokhara region.

Scenic view of Rup Tal from the view point
Situated at about 30 kms from Pokhara, this place is totally cut off from civilization and that is the charm of it. The entire location is riddled with adventure and is bound to excite the adventure traveler. Whether you are into canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, outdoor camping, trekking or birding, this place has it all. This place is great either for the solo adventure traveler, adventurous couple or for families with young kids.

Remote Rup Tal, near Pokhara, Nepal
And when you need rest after your adventure filled day, you can climb up to any of the many view points and soak in the beauty of mother nature’s rich bounty. Do remember to prepare yourself with your own gear as there are very few facilities available nearby. And do not forget your mosquito repellents as the mosquitoes here are quite a big size.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Taste the flavors of Spain

Spain is famous for many things, its beaches, football, architecture and, of course, sangria; it should also be noted that this rich country is full of flavour! Spanish cuisine is diverse and certainly not limited to just tapas and paella. Take a holiday with Saga Travel and you will find this out for yourself. Generally Spain can be divided into six culinary regions, each with distinct flavours and dishes worth trying.

Northern Spain
Flavors of Spain
The North of Spain, particularly Galicia and Asturias, with its higher rainfall and lush green pastures is known for its excellent selection of fresh vegetables and dairy produce. The Atlantic and Cantabrian seas provide the ingredients for their fish and seafood dishes which are usually accompanied by fresh local vegetables. Additionally, hearty soups and stews such as caldo gallego and soft artisan cheeses are very popular.

Cataluña
Cataluña is renowned for tasty sausages such as the butifarra (pork, pine nuts and tripe) and casseroles (cazuelas). Local specialities include delicious fish and seafood stews and classic sauces such as romesco (chillies, red peppers and tomatoes). Local cooks also like to combine the sweet and the savoury in their recipes.

Central Spain
Roast meats and stews dominate the daily diet in Central Spain due to the plentiful supply of game such as pheasant, wild boar and hare. Local dishes in areas like Extremadura include el frite, a delicious dish of fried lamb with garlic, lemon, paprika and onion. Castilla La Mancha is best known for its saffron, introduced by the Moors many centuries ago and found in many of Spain’s traditional recipes. Castilla y León is a traditional farming area where pulses or legumes in particular are produced. Consequently, many local dishes consist of a variety of wholesome, one-pot pulse/legume stews.

Eastern Spain
The Eastern region of Spain, including the Valencia Community, is the principal rice-growing region and unsurprisingly one of the primary dishes is paella. There are many variations of paella -meat, seafood, chicken, but the main ingredient is always round grain rice with saffron added into the mix to give it a golden yellow colour. This area is where you'll find the well-known Mediterranean diet which is considered to be extremely healthy because it's based on the local foods of fish and seafood, olive oil, plus fresh fruit and vegetables.

Southern Spain
Food of Spain
Andalucía, in the south of Spain is where tapas was invented and you can sample plenty of delectable dishes in this region. Grilled fish is very popular, in particular calamares (squid) and sardines and tomatoes and peppers are used in many local recipes. Gazpacho, a cold tomato soup also originates here. There are vast olive fields in Andalucía and the region is the third largest exported of olive oil to the rest of Europe.

Pyrenees
Warming, hearty meat dishes are typical of the Pyrenees region. These dishes are served in chilindrón sauce which is made with tomatoes, ham, garlic, peppers and wine. Fresh mountain trout is also a firm favourite. No matter what part of Spain you find yourself in, the flavours that surround you will instantly make you feel comfortable, happy and hungry for more. Be sure to try as many different dishes as you possible can.

Images by Juantiagues and Cyclonebill, used under the Creative Commons license.

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Is Travel Blogging a Profession?

I started ‘be on the road’ travel blog 6 years ago as a way to share my travel experiences with my family and friends. A lot of travel bloggers did the same. They started their travel blogs either because they treated it like a hobby or because they wanted a medium to be able to share their photos, videos and stories with their folks.

Today, this blog is my career. And so are many other blogs of other travel bloggers. The whole travel blogging ecosystem has been changing slowly over the past few years. Today, travel blogging has evolved into a profession and many brands are keen on working with them. There are many avenues of making money. And I am not just talking writing or advertising. I am talking social media. I am talking digital marketing. I am talking brand positioning. I am talking so much more.

Travel Blogging as a profession on Social Media Week, Bangalore
If you have ever wondered how a travel blogger makes his money or if you are an upcoming travel blogger who wants to carve a niche out for him(her)self, you should block Feb 25, 2014, 4:30 PM to 5:15 PM on your calendar!!

Social Media Week, an international news platform and worldwide conference orchestrator on social media and technology is organizing a session in Bangalore on Travel Blogging. Lonely Planet, along with Iffort is hosting this session at Social Media Week, Bangalore as part of the international conference from February 23 to 27.

Sankara of be on the road as a speaker on social media week bangalore
I am speaking in this session and so are other popular travel bloggers. During these 45 minutes, we will unravel the world of travel blogging, talk about our personal experiences, discuss money making options and share tips that we have learnt either from our past experiences or from making mistakes.

The location has not been finalized so far, but once it is finalized, you can find that and more details about this session on the Social Media Week Travel Blogging Event Page.

I look forward to seeing and meeting you there!

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Logo Credits : Jobi T Chacko. UI/UX Credits : Murugan S Thirumalai
Copyright © 2009-2017 Sankara Subramanian C (www.beontheroad.com)
Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited. All Rights Reserved

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