Traveling to Greenland, the Galapagos Islands and Cuba may seem like an impossible dream, but for travel writer Sucheta Rawal, those are just a few of the many far-flung places she’s visited.
For Rawal, an Indian American originally from Chandigarh who has lived in Atlanta, Georgia, for 18 years, traveling is a way of life. She’s been to 55 countries and counting, and started her own non-profit organization, Go Eat Give, along the way. She also documents her travel adventures on her blog, full of intriguing stories of witnessing massive glaciers in Greenland to hanging out with penguins in the Galapagos Islands. She especially enjoyed Greenland because, “it was very serene, and it felt like someone had taken you off of the planet and put you somewhere else, so that was definitely something unusual, that you cannot find anywhere else” she says.
But, the 35-year-old Rawal originally started on a different, more traditional, path in investment banking. “I realized that my passion was in the travel part and not so much in my 9-5 job,” she says. “Every time I would sit down at my desk, I would look forward to when I would take my next vacation,” she adds.
So, she gave up her life in finance to build her NGO and travel blog from the ground up, and she’s never looked back since. “I’m so much happier doing what I do now,” she said.
She combined her passion for ethnic cuisine and travel when she launched Go Eat Give four years ago. But, before starting the organization, Rawal traveled on her own and sought out volunteer projects and authentic local experiences wherever she went.
Her travel focuses on understanding both the local culture and cuisine, and she meets fascinating people during her journeys around the world. No trip to a foreign country comes without a visit to a local family’s home for a meal.
“I’m the kind of person who skips the museums and goes to the farmers markets,” she says. “I find somebody who can take me to their house or show me around their neighborhood, and show me what they eat at home,” Rawal adds.
After returning home from her adventures, she would advise friends on countries to visit and local restaurants to try. This later expanded into a blog with personal stories about ethnic food, restaurant reviews and recipes.
Soon, she started getting e-mails from people around the world asking to travel with her or to organize a trip for them. She planned her first group trip to Morocco, which included volunteering and traveling. That trip, in turn, sparked even more group trips to places such as Bali, India and Cuba.
When this reporter spoke to Rawal, she had just returned from back-to-back trips to Mexico City and Cuba. She was also extremely busy preparing for an elaborate “destination dinner” event to celebrate Italian cuisine in Atlanta. She organizes these monthly events to give people an opportunity to learn about different cultures – including India, Vietnam and West Africa – without leaving home.
“I realized that not everybody can afford to travel,” she says, “so that’s why I started organizing these destination dinners locally, where people can come for an evening and feel like they’ve traveled abroad.”
If Rawal isn’t busy arranging events with unique speakers, dancers and artists from around the world, she’s planning group trips to exotic locations or working on travel stories at home or abroad.
Most first-time travelers to India only see popular tourist sights such as the Taj Mahal or Golden Triangle. However, Rawal’s Go Eat Give trips to India include a visit to her hometown in Punjab for a one-of-a-kind experience. In India, she takes her group to visit her childhood house, meet her grandmother, and even visit her former high school. “I take them around to places that I grew up in, so they are kind of reliving India through my eyes,” she says, adding, “I feel proud to show them around.”
Rawal wants participants to get out of their “cuisine comfort zone” by trying different styles of food in other countries. On Go Eat Give’s recent inaugural trip to Mexico, Rawal introduced participants to a variety of cuisines. In Mexico City, her team organized an insightful food tour through one of Mexico City’s vibrant, historic neighborhoods, as well as a cooking demo with a top Mexican chef.
The trips also include volunteer experiences. In India, those include projects at a women’s safe house and orphanage, and, in Cuba, participants work at an organic co-op farm and elderly daycare facility. Rawal said participants begin to “appreciate so much more of what they have in their lives” once they actually visit the homes of villagers, who don’t have easy access to electricity, water or food.
Go Eat Give now has chapters in D.C. and New York, and Rawal hopes to expand across the U.S. Her mission remains steadfast: to encourage travelers to change their mindset and seek out local experiences, and to promote understanding of other cultures.
For more information about Go Eat Give and Rawal’s work, check out the Web site at https://www.goeatgive.com.