After Exploring India for Nine Months Without a Penny, Vimal Geethanandan Is Embracing the Van Life


Vimal is all set for a world tour, in an RV

Photo of After Exploring India for Nine Months Without a Penny, Vimal Geethanandan Is Embracing the Van Life by Anshul Sharma

As a kid, when I used to travel long distances in buses with my family, I would find the journeys so fascinating that I wished they never ended! Today, years later, I still love journeys more than the destinations. Sometimes so much that I wish I could travel the world in my own RV (or a camper van). However, like many of you travel-loving souls out there still caught up in finding perfect-work life balance and can relate with me, the very idea of travelling in a camper van never seemed viable and the reasons are obvious: the immense amount of time and money we think it takes.

And while many of us might not even think of it as a possibility due to our lifestyles, I can tell you an inspiring story of a traveller who has not only travelled across 11 Indian states for nine long months but is also well on course to travel the world, in his own RV. Meet Vimal Geethanandan – the Indian traveller from Andhra Pradesh I recently interviewed who is taking the road not taken.

Who is Vimal Geethanandan?

"I am an engineering drop out from Ananthapur, Andhra Pradesh who loved the engineering that goes behind everything that makes our life comfortable (yes, I wasn't forced to take up Engineering) but left it for the sake of learnings that travel could bestow me with. Perhaps I believed more in a quote I read a long time back which read 'If you deserve a degree, you don't need it. If you need a degree, you don't deserve it.'

But above all, I am a normal human being like you, just that my dreams and priorities in life may differ from yours. Now, all I want to do is travel the world in my own van, give it back to the society in whatever way I can, and realise my dream. People think it's very special, or that I am trying to do something amazing, but for me it's realising my dream, nothing much."

Now how modest and cool is that for an introduction of the traveller who's already setting new trends!

11 states, 9 months, with no money!

This intrigued me a lot because I firmly believed that most of us are likely to blow our budget while travelling, let alone travelling without spending any money. So I asked him if this 'without money' bit was true and he responded,"Yes, I did travel without spending money. In fact, I started this journey without a penny in my pocket and managed to travel across 11 states for nine months without spending any money!

However, that doesn't mean it was absolutely free of any financial transactions. Even though the food, accommodation, and transport cost something, I would always come across people who would find my story interesting enough and would willingly pay for my fares, or my food, or allow me to stay at their homes.

Moreover, it's not always about what I am getting or giving materialistically. Besides volunteering at a number of places, I remember giving it back to the society in ways that cannot be quantified! You can just listen to someone who's sad, share someone's grief, help others with whatever skills you have, make them feel better, and you're already giving it back. So instead of saying that I travelled without money, it's rather more appropriate to say that I travelled with the help, trust, and love from the people, most of who didn't know me at all!"

On the move without money for months. Why would one travel like that?

Unlike most of us who are inspired by watching movies, looking at great pictures, social media, or our friends who travel, Vimal travelled because he says that travel is a lifestyle for him. It didn't happen overnight. He loved reading about some of the most influential people in the history since he was a child and he found one thing common in all of them – they all travelled a lot, perhaps to know how world works. As he was growing up, Vimal realised that travel teaches things that can't be taught otherwise in any class or lecture, at a very tender age. Now, for him, travel is more like meditation and he really loves it.

And for the way he travelled, Vimal says,"I wanted to show people that anyone can live their dream, no matter how wild. I wanted to set an example of how one can achieve what they really want even if they don't have resources like many others out there. I had met enough people who wanted to travel, or live their respective dreams, but they thought it wasn't possible due to reasons like money, time, opinions and what not! I just wanted show that anyone can do anything if that one thing is their only dream.

For me, the dream was to travel freely. For someone else, it could be to become a successful sportsperson, a doctor, or a responsible and caring family person. Like many of you, even I have been pulled down by naysayers, but if you know how badly you want to live your dream, it's always possible."

What changed for Vimal and his family

While dreams do come true, they demand significant effort that often has people leaving midway. But those who manage to hold on are rewarded with experiences that always worth reading and writing about.

Vimal recalls,"My mom wasn't too surprised because I have always been a very weird kid. I told her how the people who travelled were transformed in the most positive manner. I made her understand that I am only travelling to learn, just like many people out there who go to universities, and that she doesn't have to worry about. I wrote a letter to my mom before I left in which I told her how much I loved her and how much I loved doing what I was going to do, just in case I take more time to return.

Friends, as you might expect, said that I would be robbed and would come back in a few days. But days turned into months, and I never looked back. My family, despite the initial fears and apprehensions, believed that I was the kind of person who would manage to find a way.

When I left my home, I didn't think too much. I just had some huge confidence within me that kept on building as I travelled. And as I kept sharing my stories with my family during the course of travel, the worries, whatsoever, turned into beliefs. Now, I am a completely changed man in the way how I perceive the world."

One unforgettable experience

For someone who's explored so many places in such a manner, it's not easy to pick one, for there are numerous experiences, both good and bad, that stay fresh in their memories for long if not forever. And that's exactly what happened when I asked him to share one with us.

"That's a tough one. I have had so many of those. I was getting so much love and so much support from strangers that I never felt like I was away from home. There was this one incident when I was going to a place called Lambasingi, Andhra Pradesh. I was starving to the point that I could barely gather energy to cross the road. I was sitting when two complete strangers stopped right beside me. They asked me if I had eaten anything. When I told them no, they looked at me, gave one of their rusk packets and left. I don't even remember their faces, but I just can't forget this experience and I think I never will."

...And now the world tour in a camper van? Is it really happening?

The prospect of living in a vehicle, waking up at different place every other day, meeting so many new people, witnessing the landscape transition from coastal to mountainous, is something that still triggers the child in me. But I hadn't come across any one in our country who was doing this full time. And that's why I really wanted to know it from Vimal, what he had in mind.

Vimal says,"Yes, absolutely. It's a work-in-progress right now, but no more than two-three months from now, I'll be driving around India in my RV. I have travelled a lot with the love and help of so many strangers from so many different places. Now it's my turn to give it back to society while living my dream. My customised vehicle is almost ready and I am planning to move in soon. I going to explore India for at least one year and then go further."

Will that, too, be without money?

Here's what Vimal has planned:

"I'll be hosting people, allow travellers to hitchhike in my RV while not charging anything. After all, that's the point of giving it back to the people. However, a moving vehicle does demand money and that's why I have planned to dedicate one side of the van to hoardings and other kinds of marketing material. So as I travel around in the van, the hoardings of the organisations on my van that I collaborate with will attract a lot of eyeballs both on the road and online.

I think this would be a win-win situation for either parties involved. I have also started a crowdfunding campaign and I am already getting huge support in different ways. You can watch the YouTube video regarding the same at this link. One thing I am sure about us that while I might try to earn to survive and bankroll myself during my planned world tour in this van by doing things that I have planned already, I am not really looking forward to making money for profits."

How practical is all this? Do you think anyone can travel the way you do?

"Travel is not as difficult as people think it to be. Like I said before, anyone can do the things they really want to. If they can't live their their dream, that wasn't probably their dream. I'll do whatever it takes to make it a home for myself and for other travellers who I meet during my travels. While I'll be travelling in that RV, that'd be my home", says Vimal.

Can't agree more with him. It's as practical as your job, isn't it? You just have to put in the effort to make things happen. Unless you want to work full-time in an office with comfort of monthly salary and also dream of travelling the world in an RV, it is practical and possible.

But isn't that against the concept of sustainable travel?

I remember interviewing a French couple travelling the world without taking flights, just to do their bit to reduce carbon footprint caused by taking frequent flights. And I couldn't hold myself back from questioning Vimal if this idea of travelling the world in a personal RV resonated with his approach of travelling responsibly. This is what he said:

"Yes, that is not far from reality, but I'll be making sure that I am responsible in terms of what kind of material I use and what the kind of practises I follow while travel so that the carbon footprint I leave behind is minimum. Also, I am planning to use solar panels for electricity and use recyclable products. And I hope that with time, I am able to completely negate the carbon generation caused by my travels."

Last words:

"World would be a great place if everyone did what they loved. Doing things people love makes them happy, and happier people make the world a happier place. If your desire to fulfil your dream is greater and stronger than the tendency to give in to other people's opinions, there's no stopping, no matter who you are and what you want to achieve. Whole universe conspires to help you get what you want, you just have to start putting efforts whole-heartedly", says Vimal with a big smile.

Rapid fire round:

Favourite sportsperson- MSD

Favourite dessert- Gulaab jamun

Favourite travel icon- Not one in particular

Favourite subject in Engineering- Robotics

Place where you made best travel memory- Assam

One item that's always there in your backpack- First aid kit

Well, how often do we come across people who leave something they actually love for the sake of realising their dream without losing an ounce of confidence? Not many I think. And that's why Vimal is a special traveller who's all set to embark on a journey that few have completed before in this country, if not the world.

I am going to follow Vimal's journey, for he has already changed my take on society. What about you? Let us know in the comments below.

Remember, you can also create your own travel blog and share it with travellers all over the world. Start writing now!

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