Instagram is saturated with influencers whose jobs entail traveling the world and endorsing products while looking glamorous. While their jet-setting lifestyle might be a fun virtual escape for most of us with a 9-to-5, it's not exactly attainable. Which was why I was so inspired by the travel philosophy of Samita Santoshini, a new friend I recently met at a dinner party.
Ever since relocating to the U.K. from India for work three years ago, the 30-year-old petroleum engineer has made it her mission to see the world as much as her work schedule allows. She's visited 20 countries in 2017 alone, taking a solo trip every weekend in the summer and two trips a month in the rest of the year. Ahead, she explains in her own words how she balances frequent travels with a full-time career and her secrets to taking incredible travel photos without anyone's help. Read on to learn how you, too, can prioritize your bucket list in 2018.
Growing up in India, I always wanted to be an engineer and eventually decided to pursue petroleum engineering. Most of my friends in India had degrees in chemical, civil, or electrical engineering, and it was uncommon for a girl to want to go into my field.
Upon graduating from college, I was offered a position at one of the best oil and gas companies in the world. I love what I do and saw myself going a long way on this career path. But, I also knew that I wanted to travel more. Moving to the U.K. was my goal, since it's such a fantastic base to see Europe.
I toiled away for two years in order to convince my superiors to transfer me to the U.K. office, and in July 2014, my wish was finally granted. It was a great professional move, but according to my work visa status, I was only allowed to spend a maximum of five years in the U.K. Knowing that I had very limited time, it became my top priority to make the most of my time here.
It's standard for employees in the U.K. to get 25 paid vacation days, and there are at least eight public holidays tagged to a weekend. On top of that, my company allows us to go negative to holidays — any extra days we take off beyond our annual quota can be deducted from my allowance next year. I realized very quickly how valuable these long weekends can be if I planned my vacation properly.
My first solo weekend trip was to Paris in August 2014. It was the summer, so the sun didn't set until 9 or 10 p.m. This trip really opened my eyes to how I wanted to approach traveling in Europe: I decided to optimize my time, so I can get as much daylight as possible and see an entire city in the span of three to four days. It's definitely not enough for an entire country, but it's the perfect amount of time for smaller places.
My FOMO was very real, since there was so much to experience — and not nearly enough weekends to spare. I just knew I had to keep going away: Even if I only got to see a little bit of a place, I could always come back and see more.
Airfare probably takes up the biggest chunk of my expenses, mainly because I'm choosing to traveling on Fridays, Sundays, and public holidays — peak times where flights are most expensive. Flying on these dates is a big financial commitment, but that's the number-one reason I love my job: With a steady income, I have enough earnings to cover even the more expensive trips. I'm doing this so I don't lose too many days of work.
When I do back-to-back weekend trips in the summer, about 50 to 60% of my monthly pay goes into traveling. And in other months where I get out of town every other weekend, these expenses amount to about 30 to 40%.
Seeing the world can be possible, but you can't just sit around in your cubicle thinking, 'I can't do this, there's not enough time.'
I sacrifice a lot in order to save more for trips. I rarely eat out, and I never order drinks even when I do. Alcohol is so expensive, so I'd rather buy cheap wine and drink at home. Fortunately, my work provides me with breakfast and lunch at a very reasonable price, so I rarely spend over $6 per meal. I usually get takeout for dinner and try to split the leftovers over several days. When I travel, I typically go for the cheapest hostels. There are a lot of great deals in Europe where you can stay for less than $25 a night.
However, dining is the one thing I always splurge on while I'm away, since the local food is an important part of the experience. On top of that, since I don't know how to drive, I've had to spend hundreds of dollars on taxis. I see that as a reasonable compromise — I can't just sit around and wait for a companion to take me to these places. I'm financially independent enough to take that cost on myself.
I'm not particular about where I want to visit: I'm basically open to anywhere. I check the "Everywhere" search function on Skyscanner every week to see which places are cheapest for a particular weekend to decide where to go. It's a great way to to figure out which destinations are currently in their shoulder season, when things are cheaper and there are less tourists around.
Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows: Traveling alone forces you to think on your feet because there's nobody there to help you our or give suggestions when something goes wrong. There was this one time where I got locked out of a hostel at 3 a.m. and I had to wait for an hour for someone to open the door. Luckily, someone showed up just as I was ready to sleep in the car park. There were times where I missed my bus and that was the only one running on that day, and I had to figure out where to stay for the night. But in the end, I managed it better because I was on my own, and I knew that I had to just do it. In a way, these hiccups made me realize how strong and capable I am.
All the photos of my trips are taken on my own. I started featuring myself more in pictures since they perform a lot better on Instagram. After experimenting with dozens of tripods, I finally found the trick: You have to use a tripod that's roughly the height of a normal person trying to take a picture of you. The price doesn't matter as long as long as it's tall enough for you to play with the angles.
Personally, I think traveling is all about priorities: Everyone finds time for things that are important to them. Seeing the world can be possible, but you can't just sit around in your cubicle thinking, "I can't do this, there's not enough time." As long as you have a stable job and a reasonable work schedule, you can make it work. That's why I started blogging: To prove that you are able to do this with a demanding nine-to-five.
Some people have asked me whether I'll quit my job to be a travel influencer full-time. I'm not exactly ruling out the possibility, but it's not something I'm considering at the moment. Being a digital nomad doesn't give me a vision of my future, and I really need to see where I'm going in life.
I love my day job: My needs are taken care of, and it's intellectually fulfilling. After a hectic trip where I try to cram tons of sightseeing in a long weekend, it actually feels refreshing to go back to my desk and put in eight hours of work.