Smriti Bhadauria and Kartik Vasan are living their best lives, travelling across Canada and the Americas, breaking brown stereotypes, and funding their #IndianVanLife from their own pockets
A gun-toting priest stopping you outside a church can be daunting. But for Smriti Bhadauria and Kartik Vasan, ambassadors of Indian van life, it’s just one of the many memorable experiences they’ve been making since they sold their condo in downtown Toronto last year and hit the road in a vintage, brown campervan, their dog Everest in tow.
“When we entered the US, in the state of Oregon, in January, we were trying to take a picture of Mt Hood while driving through Portland,” recalls Kartik. “As we pulled into the parking lot of a church, a man waved us down. He seemed friendly, but when he got closer we realised he was holding a big gun in his hand. We remained calm and soon found out that he was the pastor of the church and was only cleaning his gun,” he laughs.
#IndianVanLife | Photo Credit: @thebrownvanlife
The couple, in their early 30s, met in Toronto in 2014. A year earlier, Smriti had read about an old couple travelling from Patagonia (South America) to Alaska and the idea of caravanning had appealed to her. So, when she met Kartik, she shared it with him. “Smriti’s love for the outdoors and adventure completely changed my outlook towards life,” he says.
But you could say that the travelling bug had bitten Smriti and Kartik well before that. “I’ve seen 100 cities in India, as my father had a touring job [as a power grid safety head],” says Smriti. Kartik’s father was a diplomat, because of which he grew up in seven countries. So, when they got the van in 2018 (a spur of the moment decision while on a camping trip), they started thinking about quitting their jobs and travelling with just their savings.
However, it was not easy convincing their parents of their plan to live a nomadic life — working remotely, exploring nature and living in a 77 Dodge B200. Van life was a foreign idea. As Kartik recently told Condé Nast Traveller, “Our brown upbringing has conditioned us to live a certain way. My parents often call us and tell us, ‘Your friends just bought a home.’ But these are fleeting feelings. When you park in a beautiful spot, the moment just passes by.”
Kartik Vasan at work, as Everest keeps him company | Photo Credit: @thebrownvanlife
The youngsters received the green signal once they tied the knot last year in February. Today, the two call their parents regularly and “show them beautiful sunrises and sunsets. This gives them peace of mind knowing that we are safe, working and still able to see new places”. Their Instagram, @thebrownvanlife, has over 8,000 followers too.
Kartik and Smriti travel slowly — usually driving between three to five hours daily, and never at night — so they get to stay in a place for a few days. “We don’t burn too much fuel because it impacts the environment. All our electricals are solar powered, so we are eco-friendly and self-sustaining,” adds Kartik. The van is outfitted with a queen-size bed, a kitchen with a fridge, and a 20-gallon water tank.
Snapshots from the trip | Photo Credit: @thebrownvanlife
Finding their balance
In January this year, the couple drove across several states in the US. “We were in a grocery store in Utah when they announced they had extra vaccine slots. So we walked in for yoghurt and came out vaccinated! Which was such a stress relief for our parents and for us,” says Smriti. After exploring the US for four months, they entered Mexico. “We are currently in Baja and ready for the ferry to Mainland Mexico,” she says.
Detailed paperwork is a critical part of the venture. “We have Canadian permanent residency, but hold Indian passports. Our biggest advantage is our 10-year US visa that allows us to travel to all of North and Central American countries with a visa on arrival. People often feel we come from rich backgrounds or that we have a lot of savings, but the truth is we have worked really hard to obtain this lifestyle. The idea of letting everything go does not sit well with our Indian upbringing, so we decided to keep our jobs while living and travelling in different places,” says Smriti, who is in digital marketing.
Kartik and Everest | Photo Credit: @thebrownvanlife
In fact, the duo had started planning their remote jobs early on, so they could support their caravanning lifestyle. “We work from 6.30 am to 1.30 pm, and then take the rest of the day to explore or cover distance. We have not monetised our trip yet; we fund it with our jobs,” says Kartik, an IT consultant.
Map to everywhere
The two have also tried to be distinct from their western counterparts. “Since we are possibly the only Indians pursuing this life full time, we did not have a reference point. We also realised that whatever we do might become a reference point for others. So it was important for us to bring representation into the dialogue. We discuss all the social and cultural issues Indian kids and adults might face starting a life like this,” explains Smriti.
Smriti and Kartik | Photo Credit: @thebrownvanlife
The duration of their journey is still unknown (though visiting 10 countries is one of their goals). “In terms of itinerary, our immediate goal is to get to Patagonia while exploring different countries in Central and South America, and experience all the cultures. We will go to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and by next year enter Columbia to start the South American leg of the journey.”
And Everest will play the role of a security guard everywhere. “Our photo model, best hiking partner, and optimism booster,” Smriti signs off.
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