Living out of a Suitcase with Santosh & Aanchal Iyer

A nomadic Couple talks about sustainability, their travels and how they’re shaping their children into independent decision-makers in an exclusive chat on Bakstage

Would you be able to fit all of your belongings into four suitcases? If you’re anything like the typical Indian hoarder, chances are that you answered no. Meet Santosh and Aanchal Iyer and their kids, a family of four that moves around every 2-3 months, lives out of just four suitcases and defies the conformed ideas of stability and education with their travels.

This family of four used to live fairly regular lives before they jumped into a hyper-sustainable lifestyle — Santosh had a 9-5 job, Aanchal worked as a marketing freelancer and their children attended school. The one-size-fits-all education system began to frustrate Aanchal who felt that, “Everything that I’m doing with my life right now is barely connected to what I’d studied in school or what had been taught. We’ve been conditioned to believe that education happens only through books, or one only learns if they’re studying for 8-10 hours a day. We’ve lowered the bar of intelligence so much, for our own kids”.

As a result of this, they decided to home-school both their children and take the responsibility of their education into their own hands. Spending time with the kids round the clock resulted in the parents becoming increasingly conscious of the questions the kids had (about the world, different people, existence etc.), planting the idea of travelling. “The desire to take our kids out of the rat race led us to the idea of travelling because according to us, it felt like the only thing that could give our kids the opportunity to explore new cultures and people and walks of life and also learn about themselves.”  Once they had started toying with the idea of travelling, they came across the question, “What’s holding us back?” Aanchal explained that they gave themselves three days of deliberation and a year to experiment and experience the highs and lows of a nomadic lifestyle while talking to Vartika Chaturvedi, the host of Unravel Travel on Bakstage. 

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Once they had started toying with the idea of travelling, they came across the question “What’s holding us back?”. Aanchal explained that they gave themselves three days of deliberation and a year to experiment and experience the highs and lows of a nomadic lifestyle.

Their parents resisted the idea at first, primarily because they were worried about the kids’ future. However, after much convincing, they were on-board and now, after three years of having lived this life, they love how their grandchildren have turned out and credit their personal growth to their distinctive way of life.

Before embracing a nomadic existence, the couple sold their home and all of their belongings as they didn’t want anything holding them back. The idea of having only four suitcases’ worth of possessions allowed them to pursue their idea without a safety net, a prospect with an element of novelty that only heightened their excitement.

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Along with their minimalist way-of-life, they also practice sustainable living. “We make sure to always walk as much as we can. Our minimum walking distance is 7km until we can take a cab. In one of our previous trips, we had learned how to make manure from waste so now the kids have been making sure to segregate our garbage, to keep the food waste for composting, etc.”. Their son is the flagbearer of sustainability and ensures that they minimise waste and utilise products that don’t pollute the environment. Moreover, everyone does work around the house and gender is of no consequence when doing one’s chores.

While every parent wants their child to become an independent decision-maker, barely any give their children  the opportunity to make decisions at a  young age. To further cultivate important life skills, the children are responsible for deciding the family’s potential next destination. They present information about two places in the same state and after considering finances, network and other variables, the parents decide between the two destinations. If the place turns out to be enjoyable, the kids are able to rejoice in the idea that their proposition was a successful one and if the place turns out to be disappointing, the experience becomes a learning opportunity.

While their life yields several benefits, it comes with its own set of impediments such as convincing landlords to rent out homes for short-periods, managing home-schooling while earning money to sustain themselves, and dealing with close-minded people.

However, COVID-19 did not present any major challenges to their lifestyle. When the lockdown started, they were in a village called Ketty. There were only 200 houses in the village, so no lockdown was required and life in the first four months went on as usual. The roads and the surrounding areas were completely deserted so they would play badminton and football barefoot on the roads. Around the peak of COVID cases in July, they went to their in-law’s place in Bangalore and paused their travels until November.

“After we started travelling, we realised that the life we were living before was truly lifeless.” is how Anchal summed up her feelings

The regular middle-class family turned serial nomads recommend travelers to pack minimally, take frequent breaks from social media and walk as much as possible in order to stay fit, reduce pollution, and interact with the local people, an opportunity that you would miss out on if you drove.

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