Offbeat Tracks: making travelling meaningful

Vandana Vijay, Founder, Offbeat Tracks
If a random survey is undertaken by one of the world’s top five companies, asking their employees would they like to quit and start off one their own? Chances are that 90 per cent of them would refrain from raising their hands. But 10 per cent would. Vandana Vijay, the founder of Offbeat Tracks, belongs to that 10 per cent; or as  Steve Jobs would have called them “square pegs in round holes”.  The 29-year-old quit her comfortable and cushy job at Facebook, Hyderabad to start Offbeat Tracks an experiential travel company that aims at promoting sustainable eco-tourism across different destinations in India and abroad. 

The Halong bay at Vietnam

“Our endeavour is to promote the concept of experiential eco-tourism, which is still at a nascent stage in India.  We want more people to ditch the traditional tourism exercise where one is whisked away in buses and is only shown famous tourists spots, without having an opportunity to mix with the locals or even understand the local cultural milieu. We want to create a customised tourism experience that will enable tourists to mingle with the local population, and understand their culture from close proximity,”  says Vandana.  She adds,”With the help of this venture we would also like to empower local villagers with additional means of income and help them connect with a larger diaspora of people who would be appreciative of their unique culture. This coming together of varied cultures not only facilitates enriching experiences but ensures the preservation of local cultures for future generations to enjoy,”

Offbeat Tracks uniqueness lies in their idea of trip customization that caters to the specific needs of an individual traveller. “Most of the theme based players out there are working on group based trips or else they specialise in one specific region. What makes us stand apart is that we function across various geographies and create a spectrum of experiences for all the travellers,” explains the Secunderabad resident.
Offbeats Tracks organises trips to Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Assam and Coorg in India. “Abroad we are covering Thailand and Bhutan with plans to expand to other South East Asian countries as well,” she adds.

Extensive research undertaken:

The states in which Offbeat Tracks operate are not considered to be amongst the safest ones. However, Vandana makes it a point to personally visit these places to connect with homestays and the best available non-profit organisations. “This has helped me create a  network of known and trusted sources whom I can rely on. I liaison with them whenever a trip has to be organised there,” she explains.  

She further adds, “I work with non-profits functioning in the community-based eco-tourism space at different villages. If a tourist is interested, I connect them to these NGOs, who in turn are supplied by an additional source of income that enables them to serve their community better.  I also visit places and form communities comprising local homestay owners and village councils. We sit together and device itineraries and work out the infrastructural requirements to bring about community-based eco-tourism ventures into their villages,” she says. 

Vandana points out that her clients’ comfort is of paramount importance to her.   “We take great care in planning every facet of a journey ranging from comfortable local transport with a good and reliable guide to providing comfortable accommodations- homestays, heritage homes, farm stays, village stays- for a range of prices. Food is an integral part of the local culture and we like our customers to have meals with local families where they can learn more about the delicacies of the land,” she says.

The Khonoma Fort, Nagaland
“I also spend hours surfing the internet looking for interesting properties that have something unique to offer and contact them personally to pitch the idea of Offbeat Tracks to them,” she adds.
The distinctiveness coupled with the relative inexperience of the young entrepreneur made the start of Offbeat Tracks quite challenging. “Offbeat Tracks is a one “woman” army and as we scale, hiring a quality team is a challenge. I am always on a look out for passionate travellers, who can also communicate and organise multiple facets of a trip, to be part of my team. Funding is another challenge that we need to overcome as currently, we are a boot strapped venture,” says Vandana, who asserts that in spite of the challenges faced, she never questioned her decision to quit her secure corporate job.

“There hasn't been a single day where I have regretted my decision. Every trip completed, every happy customer and every excited villager who has benefited by extra income, sharing his culture or having electricity at his home at night, gives me the conviction that I am on the right path,” says Vandana whose personal favourite research trip has been Nagaland.  

Nomadic childhood:

Vandana attributes her love for travelling to her almost nomadic childhood that is the norm among army kids. “As an army brat, I have grown up all over the country with a love for nature and everything outdoors. I have spent my childhood growing up in the valleys of Kashmir, the Nilgiris and many more places across India. This type of lifestyle inculcated in me the need to respect nature and various cultures. I love trekking, meeting new people, and learning about new places and its history,” she says.  

Kigwema, Nagaland
Every two years we would know it was time to move, and would eagerly look forward to our new station, new friends and experiences that we would get there. It also made me appreciative of the vastness and diversity of India and the thirst to know more about my country,” she adds.
The travel bug that bit a young Vandana left a lasting impression. She soon realised corporate job wasn't her true calling.

“A couple of years into Facebook made me realise that corporate life isn't my cup of tea. The turning point for me came in May 2014, when I volunteered with a non-profit in Ladakh.  I soon realised that my true passion lay in the field of experiential travel,” she explains adding that though it was a tough decision to take, she had the steadfast support of her parents and brother, who are avid travellers themselves. 

Hornbill Festival, Nagaland 
So where does she see Offbeat Tracks go from here? “We aspire to be leaders in the experiential travel segment across India and eventually in Asia and Africa. Our primary aim is to improve the livelihoods of rural entrepreneurs, and we also want to share the joys and learning of experiential travel with the larger community,” she adds. 

Learn more about Offbeat Tracks.

- Gayatri Nair 

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