Backpack ME (bkpk.me) is a travel website by Ashray Baruah and Zara Quiroga, whose (nationality) Indian and Portuguese. They both love to explore the world and taste the local cuisine. Backpack Me is not only a travel website, but also a place to share tips and inspirational stories in general. This travelling couple quit their corporate jobs in Dubai in 2011 and have been travelling ever since (two years and counting..). I love them because they offer a mix of eastern and western perspective! Their website is full of unique information. Let’s get to know them better!
1. I know that you’ve been to Indonesia, Bali and Gilis, right? Be honest, at the beginning do you know that Bali is part of Indonesia? Just curious because a lot of people think that Bali is a country. What do you like most about Bali & Gilis?
We knew Bali was part of Indonesia, but had never heard of Gili Islands until we decided to travel there. At the time, we were living in Dubai, which many people also think is a country, although the country would be the United Arab Emirates!
Bali and Gili Islands are a paradise for beach and nature lovers. We visited Bali during Nyepi (the Balinese “Day of Silence”) and although that meant on that day we couldn’t make it outside the hotel, it also meant that we could witness a serious of festivals at the beach, leading to this festival. We were not expecting this, so it was a great surprise! We later stayed in Gili Air for a few days, just relaxing, enjoying the beach and did a day trip to Gili Trawangan too – we had a great time as the islands are beautiful. But we can’t help but thinking that the tourism there (specially on Gili Air) is rather unsustainable as everything has to come from Lombok, even the water we showered with!
Now that we’ve visited some of the most touristic spots in Indonesia, we’d like to go back and explore with more time and admire the diversity of the country. Our trip to Indonesia happened when we were still living in Dubai, with regular day jobs, so it was shorter than our usual travels now-a-days!
2. A lot of travelers never get around to travelling around their own country. How about you? Did you travel much around Portugal (for Zara) and India (for Ashray) before you started exploring the world?
Zara: My country is rather small, so it’s not very difficult to get to know a fair share of it. Still, I must admit that there are areas that I still want to explore in more detail. I never got to go around Portugal the same way I do now in other countries, taking my time to appreciate the little details.
Ashray: While I was growing up I lived in several regions of India and thus had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. My parents also love to travel, so that helped! But there’s still a lot to see, as India is such a massive country.
3. Zara, What are 3 top things that you would recommend to do/see in Portugal?
It’s difficult to point out only 3 things, but if I had to narrow it down and still include a lot of experiences, I’d say:
- Do a road-trip! The country is small, the roads are great and you can explore from the green valleys of the North to the beaches in the South. Allow some time to chat with local people, ask questions, share stories.
- Eat your way around the country: food is one of my favorite things about Portugal and traveling around my country without sampling the local cuisine would be a waste! We have delicious meaty preparations and excellent seafood from the Atlantic ocean. Furthermore, we’re crazy about pastries and deserts, so you better spend some solid time in Portugal is you want to try half the sweet goodies we’ve got at the ever present pastelarias (pastry shops).
- Enjoy some time in Lisbon. I lived in Lisbon for about 7 years and, after traveling all the time like we do now, it’s still one of my favorite cities in the world. A charming mix between old and new, a privileged location by the river and really close to the sea… Lisbon’s got great weather most of the year (at least compared with other European countries), has a really interesting food scene, nightlife and lots of cultural activities. It’s a cosmopolitan city but with a sort of vintage charm to it.
4. Ashray, I read quite a lot news (and even some travel bloggers) write about how hard it is to travel in India for a woman. What do you think about it? Anyways, I really want to visit India in the future and surely need your tips on how to keep the journey safe.
Ashray: It’s definitely challenging for a woman to travel alone in India but there are people who’ve done it. You have to be careful about things depending on the city that you’re in. Some cities are safer than others for women and in more dangerous cities you have to take precautions. For instance, do not go out at night alone or if you do, make sure you take cabs.
You should definitely read our friend Anita’s article, who traveled alone in India for a while and wrote a guest post for Backpack ME about her experience, sharing tips for other solo female travelers who’d like to visit India too.
5. I just saw that you were the travel bloggers of the month by Hostelbookers. Congratulations! I think it would be great if you can share tips on how to keep blogging and travelling in the same time?
Thanks! It’s always great when someone recognizes your work and gives you a shout out, because that means more people will come to know about you!
We work and we blog as we travel, so it’s important to leave some time to do everything everyday. It’s true that not all days are the same: some days we’re more out and about, and others we stay in our hotel or apartment rental for longer, catching up with work and creating new content for Backpack ME. When you do something you love, you always find time for it. And, above all, when you live happily, you can face blogging or even work with high spirits and it doesn’t feel like a chore, as it would if we were sitting in an office without a window somewhere dull!
6. The best thing that you can learn from traveling?
Traveling is a great experience – not just individually, but also as a couple!
One of the best things one can learn from travel is to look at the bigger picture in life. Do not limit your thoughts to your own city or country, understand your place in the world (which is so vast and diverse!) and understand how everything is so relative no matter where you are.
Also, traveling helps you understand the things you shouldn’t take for granted. Seeing how people live differently in various parts of the world is the best school of life one can ever attend!
7. I read in your blog that you’ve been exploring South America and I am so envious of you! So far, what is your favourite country in South America and why?
Although right now we’re in South East Asia, we did spend last year traveling around Latin America: from Mexico all the way down south to the Antarctic region of Chile. It would be very difficult to pick just one country as our favorite. We did love Peru though: the country displays such an intense culture and tradition that inspires a lot of everyday things. As a traveler, you can wander around never-ending historical sights, indulge in the local cuisine and have adventures in places so different as the desert or the Amazon Jungle. Peru is an extremely rich country on so many levels! This is also where we got engaged, so Peru will always be a special place for us.
8. A lot of nationalities (Ashray and me as an Indonesian) will have a lot of paperwork to do for visas if they want to travel. As I know through having applied for a Schengen and UK visa by myself which was such a pain… Do you have exact plan whenever you go travelling so you can prepare everything for the visa application?
Ashray: We don’t normally plan in advance for visas to destinations. We normally try to fix up the first destination we’re going to and then try and take it from there. In my research though I find that having an Indonesian passport is better than an Indian passport, so lucky you! If I can do it, you can certainly do it!
9. Since you lived in Dubai for 4 years, I would like to ask what is the best thing to do in Dubai for a budget traveller?
Dubai is not the most budget-friendly destination in the world, but there are definitely several interesting things to do around the city, for cheap or even free.
Indulging in a great variety of ethnic cuisines would be a good plan to start with: Dubai is home for people from all over the world, which means you can come across restaurants serving all sorts of things. In a regular week over there we could easily have Italian, Arabic, Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Kenyan… and there is so much more to choose from!
Apart from eating your way around Dubai, you can visit the old side of the city (Old Dubai and Deira), cross the river in a local boat for just a few cents and enjoy the views of the city, while people-watching and observing how so many cultures come to mix here.
And there’s also the beach (warm water, but not as good as Bali or Gili if we have to speak the truth), a ridiculous number of shopping malls that are worth visiting even if you don’t plan to buy anything (they’re MASSIVE, seriously!) and, of course, the desert, where you can rent quad bikes and ride up and down the sand dunes.
10. What is your dream destination(s)? Do you ever think about settling down somewhere (someday)? (probably this question is too soon!)
Ashray: There is this new planet which was found yesterday. I’d like to go and see that! Apparently it has a new form of water. Other than that, I’d love to visit Japan!
Zara : I can speak for both when I say our dream destination is called “the world”. Seriously, the more you travel the more that imaginary list of “places I’d like to visit one day” grows. Truth is that everywhere we go we come across something new, that makes the trip well worth it. Other than “everywhere”, I’d also like to visit Japan, Korea and the Philippines.
We thought we’d travel for one year and then settle down somewhere new. But now it’s already been two years and we have gotten too used to this life-style! As we’re both from different countries and we met in Dubai but do not want to return there, this makes things a little bit more difficult. On the other hand, all doors are open, so this is quite exciting too! We’ll go with the flow!
All pictures belongs to Backpack ME.