INTERVIEW: Meet A&Z of Backpack ME

It is finally time for another travel interview. If you read my blog regularly, you might be aware of the fact that there are indeed a few travel bloggers out there whose stories I read frequently and who inspire me.

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Today, you will meet Ashray and Zara of Backpack ME. The couple who met in Dubai through work takes you on a journey around the world. They offer a (multi)cultural perspective on travel and by doing so they live their dream. They describe themselves as “East meeting West”, for Ashray grew up in India and Zara is half Portuguese, half Spanish. Both had enough of the corporate world and headed out to see the real beauty it holds. They want to inspire everyone to see the world with an open heart and mind to be able to become a better person.

Now, here is the short Q&A. 

How long have you been blogging for / why have you started your blog?

We started Backpack ME in late 2011, right after we quit our jobs in Dubai to start traveling full-time. It’s been almost 3 years and our project has really grown. It started mostly as an amateur blog, following our steps around the globe. But now it is a platform where we’re proud to share many travel stories from all over the world on a regular basis (with key importance on visuals), as well as showcase guest posts and interviews with other travelers who keep on inspiring people interested in living an alternative lifestyle.

Has there been a situation that made you realize you have caught the travel bug and everything else except travelling the world would make you unhappy?

We were always into traveling but we would do so during vacations and long weekends, just like most people do. When we quit our jobs and sold all of our stuff, we had in mind a one year trip that would take us all over Latin America. That’s what we had been saving for! When that year came to an end, we realized that this had just been the beginning. It was a transformational year, really. Our passion for travel developed more than ever and we realized that there were more places in the world that we would want to explore than ever before. There was no way we could go back to the life we used to have before. Travel is an addiction, but at least it’s the healthy kind!

What kind of traveler are you / how do you fund your travels?

We’re full-time travelers. At least for now! We work and travel at the same time - we’re what people these days call “digital nomads”. Apart from our travel website Backpack ME, we work on different projects online (Ashray as a programmer and Zara as a social media manager). That makes it possible for us to travel indefinitely, without having to be confined to one given location on a 9-5 job.

Is there one thing you never travel without?

Laptops! They are our office, our way to connect with the rest of the world and a major source of entertainment too.

What do you like most about travelling?

Traveling makes you understand that there is no such thing as “normality”. There are standards for things and certain ways of living depending where you are. But when it comes to the bigger picture, anything goes! Traveling makes you get rid of prejudice and preconceived ideas. Ultimately it makes you more understanding of other people, more flexible and, we hope, a better person.

What is your most memorable travel experience?

It is difficult to narrow it down as we’ve had so many memorable experiences in different parts of the world. Still, one that really stands out is getting engaged in Machu Picchu, in Peru. After a strenuous climb of almost 2 hours to the top of Wayna Picchu, the tallest mountain in the Machu Picchu ruins site, Ashray popped the question. We were already out of breathe because of the climb at such altitude, so you can only imagine how much more after the proposal!

Have you had any bad experiences during your travels?

We’ve had some bad moments during our travels too. It’s all part of the experience and, thankfully, nothing that transcended too much and that we can’t look back and laugh a little at. We’ve experienced a flea infestation in Ethiopia, tick fever in Costa Rica and got violently mugged in Brazil. But we’ve made it OK out of all those situations and we’re still around having fun!

Of all the places you have been to, is there one you like best? Why?

There is no way we can pick a favorite place in the world. Each place has its ups and downs, and it also depends on what mood you’re in while visiting. A place that offers great opportunities for adventure might not be the best for a relaxing “I don’t feel like doing anything” type of vacation, for example. But some countries that are special to us include Ecuador (because it is so tiny yet it has such great diversity), India (they call it “Incredible India” for a reason, you just have to come and see for yourself) or Peru (we had a great time exploring such a rich culture and we love the cuisine there too).

Have you been anywhere that turned out to be completely different from what you imagined?

We haven’t been anywhere that has been completely different than what we had expected as such. But that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been places that have surprised us because of how little we knew about them or because they are often misrepresented in the media. A recent example would be the city of Medellin, in Colombia.

(In)famous for being the former home of drug lord Pablo Escobar, this city blew us away! Not only because of its natural setting and beautiful surroundings, but mostly because of the way things work over there. This is a city meant to serve its citizens, while making them proud. They aim at making everyone feel included, no matter if you are rich or poor. For instance, the metro network includes cable cars (included in your regular price ticket) that take people up to humbler areas which are normally perched on the side of very high hills (accessing them by road is difficult and much more time consuming). Art is to be found all over the city as well (even in poor areas) in order to make everyone feel proud of their hood and to take good care of it too. This would be a great city to spend some time at - there’s a lot of lessons to be learnt in Medellin!

In your opinion, what’s the key to a successful, enriching travel experience?

To allow yourself to disconnect with wherever you come from. Ideally, you should not be thinking about work or about problems back home. Only then you can immerse yourself in the moment and enjoy the local life of the place you are visiting, understanding why things are the way they are. Try to blend in as much as possible and magic will happen naturally!

Last but not least: What’s your advice for all the other adventure seekers out there?

Even if you think this might not be the best time to travel, just go for it. NOW is usually the best time there will ever be! You do not need to be rich to travel, all you need is to have flexibility and be eager for experiences. Don’t plan too much either. Go with the flow and enjoy the ride!

A&Z are a couple from India and Portugal. Back in 2011 they quit their jobs in Dubai to travel around the world. Now they want to inspire everyone to travel, no matter where they come from. Backpack ME is all about a multicultural perspective on travel: http://www.bkpk.me

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