Travel with a twist

On your next vacation, take the road less travelled. Travel in a van, volunteer on your holiday, or connect with the culture. Prachi Joshi suggests a few offbeat travel ideas...

In India, a few companies have recently started offering 'overlanding' experiences.

As we travel more often, the sense of ‘been there, done that’ starts setting in. What will bring that sense of wonder to your next trip? It could be an immersive cultural experience, or learning a new art form, or volunteering on a farm, or simply staying at an unusual accommodation. Here are some ideas to make your holiday more interesting:

Surprise setting

Planning a trip is half the fun of travel. But if you’re too busy or disorganised or just not the type to pore over maps and guides, and trawl the internet for information and deals, there’s a travel company that can help. Unpland goes a step further than your traditional travel agent by planning a surprise trip for you. You begin by choosing the type of trip you’re looking for; this falls into five categories — backpacker trips, couple retreats, family travel, self-drive trips, and international trips (to destinations that offer visa on arrival for Indian passport holders). You also provide the number of people, budget, and the number of days you’d like to travel.

The next step is filling out a form that asks you for your preferences, the kind of activities that interest you, the last five destinations you have visited, etc. Based on these inputs, Unpland will create a trip for you, complete with travel reservations, accommodation booking, the itinerary, etc. A few days before the trip, you will receive an email with packing tips and weather forecast, so you can pack your bags accordingly. The destination is only revealed to you the day before you set out when you receive your travel tickets, accommodation bookings and final itinerary.

So, bring spontaneity back into your life by letting Unpland organise a surprise holiday for you.


Cultural immersion

India’s Northeast region is a treat for the intrepid traveller with each of the seven states offering unique experiences and stunning vistas. Away from the over-touristy locations of Kaziranga National Park and Assam’s tea gardens, there’s a fascinating world of diverse races, cultures and cuisines to explore. Curtain Call Adventures creates curated experiences in the Northeast, led by its passionate owner, who grew up in the region and knows its people and places intimately. Tours centre on the culture of the place, ranging from festivals to textiles to cuisine.

Experience Arunachal Pradesh’s lesser-known Myoko Festival that brings together the Apatani villages for days of revelry as they celebrate the arrival of spring.On a textile tour of Manipur, learn about the various weaving traditions in the state where each tribe has its own set of motifs that they translate into colourful silks and shawls. You will trawl the markets, feast on traditional cuisine, and even share apong (fermented rice beer) with the locals.

Upcoming trips include textile-focussed tours in Manipur and Nagaland in September and October, the Sangai Festival experience in Manipur, and the Tawang experience in Arunachal Pradesh, both in November 2019. Their ‘Little Roots’ itineraries are specifically geared towards children and make for a great family holiday.


You can now sign up for an apprenticeship to learn a new art form or craftwork.
You can now sign up for an apprenticeship to learn a new art form or craftwork.

Artistic retreat

Travel has traditionally centred on seeing places and things — attractions, museums, monuments, religious sites, etc. However, travellers are increasingly seeking out local experiences when they travel and are often looking to learn something new, whether it’s trying your hand at pottery, painting, cooking, or any other form of art or craft. Art has always sought inspiration from travel, so it’s natural that on your vacation you’d want to dabble in creating something beautiful. Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA) helps you connect with artist studios across the world where you can sign up for an apprenticeship to learn a new art form or craftwork.

This could be anything from dhokra metal art in Panchgani to photo-etching in Boston to stencil art in Buenos Aires to porcelain ceramic-making in Paris. Experiences range from 10-36 hours of studio time spread over 3-6 days and accommodation is not included. You don’t have to be an artist to sign up for this. The experience is tailored to your skill level and you don’t need to have had any prior experience or training. All you need to bring is the enthusiasm and willingness to learn something new. VAWAA is not just a great way to learn a creative skill but will also help you create local connections and have more authentic experiences on your travels.


Overlanding in India

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” — the quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson has been repeated so often that it’s now reduced to a cliché. Yet, nothing captures the spirit of road trips better. In recent times, a new form of road tripping is on the rise — overlanding. Its recent surge in popularity has in part been fuelled by the ‘quit-my-job-to-travel’ generation looking to call the road their home, often in an amped-up van or caravan of sorts. It’s no wonder that #vanlife has racked up more than five million posts on Instagram at last count.

In India, a few companies have recently started offering overlanding experiences. Voyages Overland offers multi-day trips across India, from the mountains of Uttarakhand to wilderness trails in the heartland of Madhya Pradesh to a coastal jaunt through Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. You will be travelling in an amped-up utility truck . In addition, there’s a separate utility truck with camping equipment,five on-board bathrooms, a kitchen, hot and cold running water, washing machines, deep freezers, etc. So go explore the great Indian outdoors and share the ‘van life’ with strangers who could end up as lifelong friends.


Volunteer holidays

Voluntourism or volunteer tourism has been an emerging travel trend with travellers looking to spend some of their vacation time helping with a cause. Of course, a lot of voluntourism opportunities have come under criticism, especially those working with vulnerable children. However, one way of responsible voluntourism is to work on a farm. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is an excellent resource that can link you with organic farmers and growers worldwide. Always wanted to visit Italy? Try WWOOF Italia where you can sign up to volunteer at farms across Italy, from the rolling green lands of Tuscany to the wine-growing regions of Piedmont to tiny rural communities in Basilicata. You could be working on a vegetable farm or an olive farm or even a vineyard in exchange for room and board with your host family.

Apart from getting your hands dirty and learning the ways of organic farming, ‘wwoofing’ is a great way to meet new people from different cultures and discover their world, their customs, and their foods. It’s also a way of getting closer to what you eat by understanding everything that goes into producing the plate of food in front of you.


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