On the other end of the phone line, Sana Rizvi excuses herself and coughs away from the phone. She sniffles, and gets back to the conversation, rolling the 'R's in her "Sorry". We caught her on a mobile phone number in Delhi, something that is unusual on two counts.
One, this 28 year-old is rarely ever found in metros, and secondly, she doesn't carry a phone around. But a bout of flu meant that we finally caught hold of this nomad, who is currently living with her brother, but will soon most likely be spotted with a backpack and a camera in a remote corner of the country, with no itinerary in mind, nowhere to rush to, and no fixed agendas.
"Most of us travel with a hope that it will answer all questions lurking in our mind," Rizvi says. "After two and a half years of travelling, the questions I had ceased to matter. I've realised that the questions will be with us forever, and the only thing that matters is that we should be happy." If this were a blog post, we'd insert a couple of smileys here.
This happiness, for Rizvi, comes in small, odd packages. Like camping on a secluded part of a beach in Malaysia, or a homestay with a family in rural India. Or trekking to a live volacano in Java, Malaysia, or living with the nuns in Vietnam.
After having lived all over the country, thanks to her father's job with the Navy, Rizvi at the age of 21 left for a university in Midwestern USA to get her degree in Economics and Business Administration. Knowing that she then wanted to experience the America seen in soaps and glossies, she moved to New York to work in event marketing.
"I met a lot of people in New York who didn't have the usual 9-to-5 job and associating with them moulded me," she says. "But at 25, there I was, unhappy with my job and unhappy about living in a box. I had some savings, and it was in September 2009 that I quit my job to travel around for a while. I didn't think it would last too long back then, but today, I can't think of anything else that gives me this much satisfaction."
Apart from wandering through the Southeast Asian countries of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and parts of Europe, her travels have taken her to Kashmir, Orissa, Kerala, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, among other places.
If you think Rizvi has a generous godfather financing her meanderings, think again. The girl lives on as little as Rs 250 a day on an average, travels only in general class train compartments, scouts for places that offer rooms for as cheap as Rs 70 a day and rarely goes to big cities where expenses shoot up. Additionally, she also works.
She recently worked at a film festival in the Middle East, and once at a rafting camp in Uttarakhand in exchange for food and stay. She tries her hand at quirky things too -- like stitching up her travel photos to make bags or cushion covers to sell. "When people tell me things like 'I can't afford this' I tell them that's nonsense. Don't go out for expensive drinks over the weekend or buy things you don't need." Where do you go next, we ask her? Rizvi replies in a way that we know she is smiling on the other end of the phone line - "Who knows? Wherever my travels take me."
Follow Rizvi's blog at http://nomadbuzz.tumblr.com/archive
You can do it too!
We get Sana Rizvi to share some travel tips, just so that when the real hippie in you emerges, you shall have all the weapons at hand.
Have a good sum of emergency money that you should vow to never touch unless it's an absolute emergency. This is what will bail you out if you catch a sudden bout of flu and all you can think about is going home.
Do it the cheap way, which can be a lot of fun too. Look up friends who stay at the places you are travelling to, especially abroad, and camp with them.
If you are staying at a place for some time, look around for work and ask for food or a place to stay in exchange. Try to keep money out of the barter.
It can be a nightmare if you are travelling around India as a single woman. I have been labelled everything, from a prostitute to a guide. It can get very exhausting to fight it everywhere you go but try not to be a stranger and mingle in rather than stand out. Dress right, be respectful of the local culture and speak the local language if you know it.
Write down your expenditure in a pocket diary, especially when you are new to travelling around.
Scout around for cheap places to stay. And don't go to places during high season. Start off with places, which see lots of tourists and then when you are more comfortable with being on the road, explore the little-known regions.
Carry a guidebook on you. I carry a Lonely Planet on me. Earlier, I used to do what it would tell me though now I have reached a phase where I read it so that I can do the exact opposite. I don't want to go to a caf � where every tourist goes.
Connect with other travellers to find travel buddies, or inspiration. Most importantly, don't be scared about travelling alone. I have come to know that most people are essentially nice. They might think you are crazy but they'll help you out anyway. Don't be worried about what your parents will make out of it. Sit them down and explain it all to them. Chances are they will be happy if this is what will make you happy. Tell yourself that your bank balance will fill itself out, and that you have just one life to live.