It was almost a moment of epiphany. My boss had called upon me to have a post appraisal chat. As usual, I was asked, ‘what next?’ And for the first time in eight years, I did not have an answer. I asked my boss for some time to think and walked out of the cabin.
Little over a year later, I was walking out of that office in Mumbai, one last time. Since then, I have traveled through 13 countries to pursue a personal project called ‘The 12 Project: 12 months, 12 countries, 12 challenges’.
I traveled through India on 25 trains in 25 days, learnt rock climbing in Thailand, searched for positive stories in Sri Lanka, learnt about a mystical religion in Brazil, fought at a fighting festival in Peru and learnt Salsa in Colombia. Each one of these (and other) projects has helped me shape my personality.
Even with its fair share of ups and downs, the journey has been no less than a dream. I was hosted by locals for months, got a part sponsor for the project and made friends for life in places I did not know existed.
There is one aspect that many probably do not realise. It was my public relations experience that made this project a reality. Here is how PR helped me travel the world.
Most PR professionals understand that anything that needs visibility, interest or support needs to be relevant to others. And that is how most of us create concepts for clients and the brands that we work with.
I realised that being a lone ranger on a sabbatical wouldn’t help anyone. Hence I came up with the concept of learning or taking challenges around the world. That is how ‘The 12 Project’ was born. A learning project linked to travel. This also helped me get fabulous insights into the societies I visited. This concept was the first step in getting people involved in this journey. And it was my experience as a client servicing person that allowed me to articulate it.
Now, this one comes naturally to all PR professionals, and I was no different.
Getting the project some visibility through media would have helped build credibility and garnered further interest. Also, this was the quickest way to build a follower base. It started with Buzzfeed and then with the help of Alphabet media the project was profiled in media outlets across the country. This may be the reason why Airbnb chose to become part sponsors of the project. They committed to help me with accommodation across many destinations in South America.
Only a PR person could have laid such a strong emphasis on partnering with the media in this journey.
Any PR professional with a few years of experience has worked on at least a few BD projects. I was not going to waste this experience by not using it for ‘The 12 Project’.
Finding brands (or clients) to support the project was going to make this journey that much more possible. That is how, me and some friends started identifying and creating a pitch for travel brands. Many of the brands agreed to give away products and helped in different ways. Even the crowd funding campaign that I started was based on the lessons learnt through business development in my PR job. Without that experience, I would have been clueless about how to appeal for support.
One of the biggest lessons my job had taught me was to leverage networks through a mutually beneficial proposition.
Local couchsurfers hosted me; I got access to unknown destinations in Sri Lanka and was invited to LGBT parties in Brazil. All of this happened because I was able to become a part of relevant networks such as couchsurfing, twitter and facebook groups such as Nomads & Meeple. All these groups of amazing individuals came to my rescue every time I needed them. All I had to do was to identify them and ask questions the right way.
You would agree that story telling plays an equally important role in PR as it does in journalism or publishing.
Whether it meant sharing stories on social media or engaging with a journalist or just to sit in a pub sharing my experiences, I was trained for eight years to do that. And this ability helped me in more ways than I probably realised. Also, without PR experience it would have taken me much longer to establish myself as a travel writer and journalist. The fact that my works were published in NGT India, Mint Lounge, DNA, The Quint, Dailyo and many others, is credit to the story telling and writing experience from my cubicle days.
So there we are, these were some of the numerous ways in which PR aided me in long term travel. Some of my friends were not happy that I was leaving my formal public relations career. And I believe that is a wrong way to think, because PR is more than just a career. It is a lifestyle. And no one gives up on a great lifestyle, including a person who aspires to travel the world.