Discovering unknown places with unknown people

Independence of solo trips within safety of a group

Tourism

May 6, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Discovering unknown places with unknown people

Travellers say that travelling with a group of strangers makes them feel calmer and safer in comparison to a solo or family trip (Photo Credits: Vishakha Singh)

Exploring unknown territories with unknown co-travellers is gaining popularity in India, especially among youngsters as it ensures independence, lower budget, safety and new experiences.

Despite lockdowns, flight bans and the Covid-19 chaos, there remain a few options for travellers seeking adventures. But what happens if you are the only one in your group willing to travel?

That is exactly what happened to Gagandeep Barua, a 30-year-old engineer, based in Tinsukia, Assam. Barua had planned a trip to Goa with this group of six friends early this year. Despite an early plan, all his friends backed out, one by one. However, that did not deter Barua and he visited Goa in February this year, with a group of strangers. An experience that he says has changed his life.

“I travelled with a group of 12 strangers. We did not even know each other’s names. We were all travelling to Goa for the first time. We travelled on the same bus, stayed at the same hotel and visited the same places. Though I was nervous at first, I felt a different kind of independence there. It has changed me as a person,” says Barua.

While it was a new experience for Barua, 33-year-old Vishakha Singh from Patna, Bihar has been travelling to different parts of India with groups of strangers for the past seven years. Similar to Barua, she says the experience has changed her life in a positive way and has made her a more independent person.

Preparation for solo travelling

“It is amazing for first-time solo travellers especially. You feel safer, calmer and at the same time you also feel independent as you are not dependent on your friends or relatives,” she adds.

Singh further informs that he had planned his travel itinerary through a tour operator company, Wow Club Travels. Based in Patna, Wow Club Travels is a travel agency that enables strangers to travel in a group. They do the background checks, document verification and all required formalities so that the travellers do not face any problem. They also say that the demand for travelling with strangers has increased during the last five years.

“A decade ago, people would either plan trips with their family, friends or solo. There was no other way. But, since about 2015, the trend of travelling with a group of strangers has set in. A few people who used to travel solo earlier, have also opted to travel in such a group as the budget for such trips remains affordable to each individual in comparison to those travelling solo,” Rahul Verma, founder of Wow Club Travels, tells Media India Group.

He further says that even planning such a trip is easier for operators as people choose their preferences independently, and those whose choices match, can travel as a group. They also take proper precautions to ensure that all members have a pleasant experience.

“We take all necessary precautions and make sure that all people are safe to travel and stay with. We also make all members of a travel group sign a paper of consent that they will be responsible for their safety and inform us immediately if anything goes wrong,” he says.

He says that the idea of group travel but with strangers occurred to him about a decade ago when he was in college. He explains that as a college student, he always wanted to travel solo, without friends or family but his budget did not allow him. “I have always preferred travelling solo. I did not want to travel with someone I know. I wanted to be alone but at the same time, my budget those days never allowed me to do so. Hence, I came up with the idea of travelling in a group, but with strangers,” he explains.

He further says that his company has a lot of female customers, almost double that of males. They also have a lot of young students who wish to travel solo but are on a budget, as their customers.

Travelling independently, safely & on budget

Another travel operator which plans group trips with strangers is Soul Purpose, founded in 2017 by Khushboo Soni and her husband Atul Soni. Khooshboo says that as a woman, she wanted to travel solo but was very sceptical about her safety while exploring different places. Hence, she chose to travel with a group of strangers. “It might sound funny that your solo travel is in a group, but being a woman, till I had prepared myself to stay safe and know a few places and how travelling works, travelling in a group was a safer option without friends and family telling me what to do and what not to do,” she explains.

Soni goes on to say that currently their tour company only allows people between the age of 18 to 45 for a group tour with strangers. She says they are still working on expanding it for elders too. “We cannot allow underage people to go on tour with strangers. Similarly, people who are above the age of 45, usually have some or the other health condition. Hence, we do not allow them to travel with strangers. We have to make sure that any participant of the group is not physically dependent on anyone else,” she adds.

She goes on to say that as it happens with every trip, sometimes all members are not compatible with each other and end up having unpleasant experiences but such incidents are rare. “Since the time we have established this company, we have only witnessed one such instance where a traveller had complained about another traveller’s behaviour. We took proper action and made sure the complaint was appropriately dealt with,” she says.

She also informs that the pandemic has pushed down group travelling to barely over 10 groups in a year, since March 2020. Before the pandemic, her company used to arrange about 15-20 groups of travellers per month. The number of travellers in a group depends usually on the number of solo travellers to a particular location. “Usually it stays between five to eight, but during holiday seasons, it has also gone up to 15 members in a group,” she explains.

Travellers Singh and Barua are waiting for the lockdown restrictions across the country to ease and domestic travel to resume. They say that it not only prepared them for total solo travelling but also enabled them to take a closer look at people from different parts of the country.

“Travelling with people is the best way to know the kind of person they actually are. Apart from the budget and safety, group travels are a great way to meet like-minded people and make new friends. I can’t wait for the pandemic and lockdown to ease. I am all set with my bags pack to explore new places while meeting new people,” says Barua.

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