This Guy On His Own Trip

Featuring Neeraj Narayanan, A MICAn who travels for a living. He reveals his experience of ups and downs and thrills and chills, in an exclusive interview with Alumni Engagement Committee, MICA.

After quitting my corporate job in 2013, and solo backpacking for a year through Europe and South East Asia, I decided to start my own group trips. My solo travels had their share of madness and adventure and the antics on these trips inspired the name — ‘This Guy’s On His Own Trip’

Having previously worked in the travel industry for two years, I believed that a lot of freshness could be added to a person’s travel experience.

I plan holidays to places that are on people’s wish lists/bucket lists like Ladakh, Bhutan, Vietnam and Turkey. Or I try to take them to wilder, lesser explored places like India’s magnificent north east, the Andamans etc.

Mostly, a trip is made live about two months in advance. I look to have about 14–16 people join in, and then we go and have a whale of a time.

Neeraj, on one of his trekking trips

The trips are all about experiences, coupled with a tinge of adventure..

I would like my trips to make people want to talk to strangers and locals, to get inspired by nature and to return back home a lot more sensitive to the world.

Though there is a lot of planning that goes into making the trip, there is a very conscious effort on my part to spring up impromptu ideas, surprise the travellers and test their comfort zones a bit. I dislike plans which only stick to point to point sightseeing and we never worry about stopping at a place enroute if it looks pretty, or spending more time in a place because we are enjoying ourselves.

The key to a successful group trip is in making the group gel. It is also the most challenging aspect of the job. In the twelve trips so far, I have never had a group that has not felt sad on returning home, every group goes mad on Whatsapp when we return (“I want to go back”, “Guys, we need to do another trip together, just the fourteen of us” being the most heard lines), and there are city reunions even 8 months after a trip.

Since I share all my trips on Facebook, the audience that is attracted to is of a certain demographic. Most people are between 24–36 years of age and unlike bigger commercial players, I avoid mixing age groups in my trips.

I promote all the trips on Facebook and sometimes on my blog as well. But most of the people joining in now are because of the word-of-mouth generated. That, coupled with the communication presented (how the itinerary is described) are the two biggest factors in people signing up.

Well, to be honest it wasn’t till I completed my third trip that I thought this could really work and I could make it sustainable. I had thought of leading trips almost six months before I first started them. It seemed like a dream — to blend your passion with your work. But back then, I wasn’t very confident of the chances. Then, when I started the trips I was just testing waters and didn’t have any major expectations.

The way I saw it then, I was anyway having a great time travelling and if things did not go my way, all that I had to lose was a year.

There was one major inspiration. I had been writing about my solo travels on my blog and whenever I had a spell of self doubt or worried if quitting my corporate job was the right decision or not, I’d always get encouragement from others to keep doing what I was. That kept me going. Also a lot of readers would say that they wished they could travel more or wanted to try some of the things I was doing on your travels”. Reading that made me wonder if I could actually assist people in doing the same.

It is when the first three trips became hugely successful that I realized this would go somewhere. Today as I come close to finishing a year and twelve trips, I receive messages and emails on a daily basis from new people wanting to join a trip. I have still not thought of having a massive office or a hundred people working for me. But yes, the thought of exploring a new country and continent excites me no end.

Neeraj, with his group of Travelers on one of his trips

A typical ‘This Guy’s On His Own Trip’ travel itinerary will not just focus on sightseeing points, but will almost always have you walk or sit by a river. It will also warn you that the guide, Neeraj Narayanan, will definitely try to push you into the water. If not river, we will find some snow on a mountain to slide on. A typical ‘This Guy’ itinerary will discourage you from having lunch and dinner meals in the hotel; if travelling internationally, it will discourage you from having any Indian food at all. It will encourage you to stretch your comfort zone a bit.

Heh there have been quite a few exciting experiences in the last two years. In terms of action, I guess the top three would be running with the bulls in Spain, camping in a forest in Croatia and being chased by a bear, and being lost in a forest with five elephants for three nights in Thailand. Deep sea soloing — climbing up a cliff jutting out from the ocean and then falling off it without knowing swimming — was another scary but amazing experience. In Granada, I lived with some gypsies in a cave. Again in Bologna (Italy), I had a strange but beautiful Couchsurfing experience where both me and my host did not know each other’s language (we had informed each other about that in advance over Google Translate) but still co existed, ate and drank for two days happily.

Teaching teenagers Bollywood dancing in Vietnam was a lot of fun. Heh, it has been a good two years. With my groups too, sometimes really exciting things have happened. There was a snow storm on the Ladakh Kashmir route once and we stayed the night in Drass — which once officially was the second coldest inhabited place in the world.

Mica was of course a magical time. And there is much more we need to thank MICA for, than just the courses we studied there. Besides helping me evolve a lot more as a person (not sure if my sister or friends agree with the ‘evolve’ bit), the freedom we had there to make our own decisions, the encouraging atmosphere to keep being creative, have played their own part in helping my work to be absolutely different from most players in the industry.

I don’t remember how many times we read the word ‘brand’ or ‘advertising management’ in Mica but, heh, it sure has helped me develop a niche personal brand — which is the USP of these trips.

Who wants to be a Travel Blogger

I’d like to say this to anyone who is reading — Follow your dreams. If you like something and are passionate about it, try and pursue it.

One of our biggest fears is in taking the plunge, in stepping out of our comfort zones. We assume the worst when it comes to taking a leap.

But take it from someone who did, that when you do cross over to a new territory, initially it will be alien to you. That is the way it is meant to be. But soon you shall find paths you never knew existed.

Know what you want and be smart about finding a way to get to it.

MICANs, unite.

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