Canada born, award-winning travel blogger at Breathedreamgo.comMariellen Ward is a digital storyteller who whips up delicious stories around her extensive travels in India, abroad and those around being a solo traveller. By Charu Chowdhary

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You will want to go here! . . Tropical beaches, fragrant spice gardens, languid lagoons, vivid green tea plantations, and wildlife reserves rich in flora and fauna. These are just some of the enticing features of beautiful Kerala, a tropical state in South India known for its gentle people and fascinating culture. . . But Kerala was hit with devastating floods back in August 2018, and the news went viral around the world. Everyone heard about the terrible flooding, but they didn't hear about the quick recovery. In fact, most of the tourist regions of the state were virtually back to normal in about a month. . . I travelled with Canadian photographer Andrew Adams to Kerala in January to visit five @cghearth resorts, experience five different landscapes, and document conditions five months after the floods. We heard a lot of heroic stories from fishermen and locals, and enjoyed incredible hospitality from the gentlest state in India. . . I've just published two blog posts about the trip with photo galleries of Andrew's stunning work, see link in profile. Photo by @andrewadamsphotography and a second one I’ve posted on Instagram inspired by Victoria of @followmeaway. . . #MeandCGHEarth #Kerala #KeralaTourism #IncredibleIndia #KeralaFloods #MeaningfulTravel #responsibletravel #Indianshutterbugs #womenwhotravel #travel_deeper #travelphotogram #followmeaway #Keralablogexpress #passionpassport #breathedreamgo

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1) You’re a female travel blogger at 59. Not something we see a lot. Take us through your journey of becoming one and staying relevant in the blogosphere.

Well, there may be a lot of 50+ travel bloggers, but as you say, we don’t see them. We are a youth-fixated culture.

I had no choice, as I started late: I didn’t start travelling or travel writing until I was 45-years-old. At the time, travel blogging wasn’t even a thing, so I was in the first wave of travel bloggers and was able to make a name for myself. I was also a professional writer and journalist, which helped.

Nowadays, for women, there’s a MUCH bigger emphasis on how you look, what you’re wearing, posing for that perfect Instagram shot, and etc. It wasn’t like that when I started. Back then, people were interested in your travels, your adventures, your skills as a writer or photographer, and your passion!

Like many of my blogging generation, it started as a pure passion project. There was no money in travel blogging back then, and it didn’t seem like a viable career option. However, I loved it and stuck with it, and evolved. Slowly I shifted from making the bulk of my money from freelance writing to making it from blogging.

Staying relevant for me is about leadership. It’s about leading, not following. For example, I’m speaking up about ageism in travel these days, and proudly holding my space. I’m also speaking up about responsible travel, and being aware of the impact of travel decisions.

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A microcosm of Kerala’s culture. . 🥥 That’s the best way to describe @cghearth Coconut Lagoon in Kumarakom. As we travel through Kerala with CGH Earth, we are finding that the company’s promise of giving guests not just a hotel stay, but an experience, is certainly true. At Coconut Lagoon, you get an authentic experience of the Backwaters, in a comfortable and naturally luxurious setting. . 🥥 All of the beautifully carved, teak buildings are heritage structures, saved from demolition by the CGH Earth team and transported here. The menu presents authentic flavours and dishes, full of local herbs and spices. As CGH Earth founder Jose Dominic once said, “We don’t want to serve anything our grandmothers wouldn’t recognize.” Local musicians are hired to play, a local woman paddles a boat in every afternoon to serve chai and snacks. The entire place is an homage to the rich culture of The Backwaters. . 🥥 And the commitment to sustainability is part of the way in which they protect this fragile ecosystem. We toured the backend too, and saw the many ways Coconut Lagoon ensures it is a zero-waste facility, from composting, to creating biogas, to collecting rainwater. Coconut Lagoon is impressive in a multitude of ways. . 🥥 Plus, it’s gorgeous, relaxing, and inspiring. I loved my stay and am already planning to return as soon as possible. A new favourite place. . 🥥 Photo by @andrewadamsphotography #MeandCGHEarth #KeralaNowCGHEarth #kerala #keralatourism #India #incredibleindia #incredibleindiaofficial #responsibletravel #sustainabletourism #CoconutLagoon

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2) As a Canadian, was there a culture shock when you decided to extensively cover India? What are the things that made you go like, ‘Oh this should change’?

I had an almost instant affinity for India when I first landed in 2005, at the start of a six-month trip. And believe me, that affinity, that feeling of being “home” surprised me. I didn’t expect it. Of course, I still had culture shock. I remember describing my first car ride into the heart of Delhi as, “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” I guess I’m the stereotype of the foreign woman who falls in love with India. I found something here that I’ve never found anywhere else.

Travelling to India really did change my life. Among other things, it gave me a passion for travel and travel writing. So, covering India was driven by pure passion. But it wasn’t a passion to change anything – I mean to change anything other than me. I needed changing, I was in a depression.

Like every other right-thinking person, I would like to see everyone living a happy, peaceful, safe life, and having everything they need in terms of material wealth. I would also like to see animals, wildlife, and nature protected and preserved. I’m an idealist but I don’t think it’s my job to come to India and change it.

My method is to celebrate what’s beautiful, what’s worth protecting and preserving. And to encourage people to live a life of wonder and pursue their dreams. I particularly like to encourage and empower women, when I get the chance.

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Journey to the heart of India For the fifth time in two years, I travelled to central India, to Madhya Pradesh. The state is known as the heart of India, and it’s one of my favourites. I am drawn there by the ancient monuments, sublime temples, wildlife and tiger safaris, and the greenery — MP still has about 50% forest cover. My trip started in Indore the largest city in MP. I joined a tour organized by the AdventureNEXT India conference to explore sights along the Narmada River. The most memorable stops for me were Mandu, an ancient fort, and Maheshwar. In Bhopal for the conference, I went on a walking tour of the old city. Bhopal is known as the City of Lakes, and also as the City of Begums (Queens), as three generations of queens ruled here and left a lasting legacy. It’s a lovely city, with a slower pace of life and a rich historical past. An overnight train ride on the Narmada Express took me to Bandhavgarh National Park, where I stayed for four nights at Pugdundee Safaris Kings Lodge. I explored the local villages and went on two wildlife safaris with locally born-and-raised naturalist Naresh "Gudda" Singh, and saw five tigers: Dotty and her three cubs and Bheem. On this trip I was trying out my new SWISSGEAR luggage and putting it through its paces. I’m now an ambassador for Swissgear, so I was hoping the luggage wouldn’t fail me — India is particularly hard on luggage, and my carry-on spinner was thrown around a lot by baggage handlers. I’m particularly happy with the light-weight and durability of my carry-on spinner and tablet backpack. I’m using this backpack all the time now. I also found the toiletries bag very handy as it has zip pockets and hangs up, and I’m totally sold on the trim RFID wallet. It gives me peace of mind to know that no one can scan my bank cards because of this protection. I feel very confident, recommending this luggage for the rigours of travel in India! #sponsored #Swissgearlife #mptourism #incredibleindia #heartofindia #anextindia #maheshwar #withpugdundee

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3) What is it about India that keeps you here for most part of the year? Can you list a couple of places you think every foreigner and even Indians must in the country?

I’ve spilled a million words, maybe more, trying to capture “what is it about India.” Many foreigners who also love India feel it, and we all have trouble putting it into words. It’s an unseen feeling, an energy or vibration. The feeling that “all life is here.” The feeling of being fully alive.

I asked a spiritual teacher why seekers have always been drawn to India, and he said, “India is the soul of the world.” That makes a lot of sense to me. It’s like the entire spectrum of human existence and experience is on display here, from the lowest to the highest. So, in a way, it doesn’t matter where you go in India. Wherever you are in India, you “experience India.”

Having said that, I am always trying to encourage people to visit the villages, national parks and lesser-known, but still spectacular, monuments. I love the villages of Kumaon, the parks and tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh, and UNESCO sites like Hampi, Ellora and Ajanta, Konark Sun Temple and Khajuraho. I would love to spend more time exploring the Western Ghats – I want to go to Coorg, for example and the Northeast. I’m very excited about a planned trip to the Sunderbans and then Assam in October.

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“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant – the only harmless great thing.” ― John Donne 🐘 Happy World Elephant Day! I fell in love with elephants in India, and have had many memorable experiences with them over the years. From getting a surprise blessing at a temple in Kanchipuram to bathing with the most famous elephant in India, Tara, at Kipling Camp in Kanha National Park. I’ve also visited the wonderful @wildlifesos Elephant Conservation and Care Camp in Mathura, North India. 🐘 Elephants are very sensitive, intelligent, and family oriented animals. They are not here for our entertainment. Their spines are not able to withstand heavy loads, either. Please do NOT ride elephants! I explain why in my new blog post, which is all about Indian elephants, how important they are to Indian culture, and why tourists should NOT be riding them. Link in my profile. 🐘 #WorldElephantDay #BeElephantEthical #India #IncredibleIndia

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4) When you’re not travelling, where do you live? Do you have a permanent address?

I live in Rishikesh now, in a spacious apartment with a stunning view of the mountains and the Ganga. I get inspired just by looking out the window! In summers, I return to Canada to see my family and enjoy the Canadian summer.

5) As a woman traveller, can you take us through the ordeals one faces in India and the world? Is the world becoming a safer place for women to travel?

The world is not a safe place for women. I think there’s way too much attention paid to the safety of women travellers, and not nearly enough to the safety of women in the home. Most women who experience abuse, violence, rape, and sexual harassment know their attacker.

The media loves to sensationalise, to get clicks and sell copies. There’s a lot of drama in stories of solo women travellers who experience attack. But the real story is the domestic violence that women all over the world face. Every day.

All women should feel safe all the time. Period. That’s the way it should be. If any other segment of society had to face what women face on a daily basis, there would be an outrage. I’ve addressed some of these issues and also offered tips for female travellers in this post – my most successful blog post of all time.

6) Can you throw some light on what you mean by transformative travel and responsible travel?

For me, it’s about impact. Transformational travel is when you slow down, really get to know a place, and let it impact you. This is the beauty and magic of travel, the way travel can open up our minds, broaden our perspectives, make the world a smaller place. When we know each other, and understand each other better, we stand a better chance of getting along. Travel is a privilege, not everyone can afford to travel. So I think recognising you have this privilege, and using it to somehow make the world a better place is part of the responsibility of a traveller.

Likewise responsible travel. It’s about recognising that you DO have an impact, so what decisions can you make that have the best impact on local communities and the environment. For example, spending your money so that it benefits the local economy. Not adding to plastic pollution. Not supporting activities that contribute to animal cruelty.

7) Tips for aspiring bloggers on how to be an entrepreneur while running a blog?

It’s very hard to travel and run a blog. You have to stay put and work! So schedule in work time. And, recognise that you’re running a business.

8) What are the ingredients needed to become a successful travel blogger?

Each blog, and each blogger is unique. There is no cookie cutter formula for success.

My top tip however, is around niche. It’s very hard to stand out in a very crowded and competitive field, so be unique and carve out a unique niche. Having niche authority is the single best thing you can do as a blogger. It leads to all kinds of opportunities to monetise.

If you carve out a unique niche, create good quality content that’s either useful, entertaining, or enlightening; learn everything you can about blogging from the pros, work harder than you’ve ever worked before, and persevere … there’s no reason why you can’t succeed. But you better be passionate about it, and have fun, because otherwise, it’s just a lot of drudgery and you will burn out.

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Today is International Day of Yoga. Yoga has been an integral part of my life for more than 25 years. It has saved me over and over again, and has helped keep me sane, strong, and centred. Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is 30-60 minutes of pranayam (yoga breathing), stretching, and meditation. I check in with myself and spend time being as present as I can, listening to the birds chirping and my inner world. There are so many misconceptions about yoga in the western world, it's hard to know where to begin addressing them. I'm going to take on two of them. 1. Yoga comes from India. Yes, it is a worldwide phenomenon, and many people are interpreting it a mind-boggling array of ways around the world. But it's roots are solidly in India, in spiritual traditions stretching back thousands of years. So, personally, I was delighted to see India take some "ownership" of yoga when they declared June 21 to be Yoga Day three years ago. As the poster Incredible India released says, "Yoga belongs to the world. But it has a home." I studied and practised yoga for many years before I went to India. But it was not until I studied in India that I began to really get yoga. I think it has largely been lost in translation, and I highly encourage western yoga students to make the pilgrimage to the birthplace of yoga, where you will experience it within its cultural context, and get a chance to see the full spectrum of what it offers. 2. Yoga is not a system of exercise. You can't "do" yoga. It is much much more. It is an art and science, a way of being int he world, and the physical part – asana – is only a fraction of what it represents and what it can offer you. Yoga means "yoke" or connection, and it's about being connected – to yourself, the universe, and the divine (or whatever word you want to use to indicate the something that's bigger than us and that connects us all). Please read and share my blog post, Namaste India, the Birthplace of Yoga to learn more and find out my recommendations for yoga travel in India: #YogaDay #IDY2017 #IncredibleIndia #Yoga #India #UPTourism

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9) Anecdotes that you would like to share from your sojourns around the world? Anything that would spark the interest of a traveller to visit the place.

Yes, but way too many to recount here! I hope people will read my blog. Here are some links to places I truly love (and this is just a few!). Read it here and here.

10) Last but not the least, does one make a decent living through this career?

Bloggers are on a wide spectrum from hobbyists who make absolutely no money (and perhaps have no ambitions for making money either) all the way up to people who have built careers and even small empires from blogging. I personally know a lot of bloggers making more than $100,000 USD annually. It’s a LOT of hard work and it takes years. Most of these people have been doing it for more than six years full time. It also takes a change in mindset – to see your site as a business and not a creative pursuit. I’m just going through this mindset change myself. I redesigned my blog and relaunched it just a few weeks ago.

Related: Lakshmi Sharath, India’s Most Beloved Female Travel Blogger, Shares Her Blogging Process