A few days back, a media brand interviewed founder and trip leader Neeraj Narayanan. Sharing the full copy of the interview, with Neeraj going completely candid about his love for travelling, dreams and entrepreneurship!
1. Give a brief info about your On His Own Trip.
On His Own Trip is an experiential travel company that conducts group trips for young adults between the ages of 16 – 44. We organize and lead treks, beach trips, mountain trips, adventure as well as sightseeing trips in India, South East Asia and Europe. We are soon looking to expand trips to Central Asia and South America as well. We have also started organizing customized trips for families and anyone who wishes to book a holiday.
2. What made you start OHOT? and what problem does it solve?
I quit my job in June 2013 to travel around the world. For a year, I was backpacking and having my own adventures in Europe and South East Asia, and writing about them on my Facebook page and blog. These involved stories of my running with the bulls in Spain’s San Fermin festival, being chased by a bear in a forest in Croatia, living with some gypsies in a cave in Granada, getting lost in a forest in Thailand, and more. A lot of people would tell me, on reading the stories, that they wanted similar experiences and adventures. And that’s when the idea dawned on me, to start a travel company and lead group trips for young adults.
I think there are too many travel companies that lack imagination. And just focus on bookings and escorting people to the places mentioned in itineraries. Right from the beginning, our goals were different. On our trips, we are looking to have a lot of fun, and take away a zillion memories. There is a lot of focus on bonding, on most trips we are all sitting up till the wee hours of night, talking, having conversations, and fostering friendships. We try to push people out of their comfort zones a bit. On a lot of trips, we see people having fears – of water , of heights, of talking in a group and being put in the limelight, of not being sure they will be able to complete a trek, and a dozen other things. Mostly, most humans just need someone to listen to them, to give them a voice, to push them a little and tell them they can do it. And we try to do that, to the best of our abilities. The magic lies in the trippers discovering a potential they never knew they had, and feeling good about themselves, feeling wanted , loved.
3. Tell us a bit about yourself, and your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this ?
My childhood was blissful. I grew up like a million other Indians loving cricket and following Shahrukh Khan in every movie. I was perhaps a little timid then, but college and engineering hostel gave wings to my personality. I loved sports and was pretty decent at them. I captained almost every team I ever played for, and that gave me confidence. Being a trip leader often reminds me of my school and college days, of captaining my teams, teasing and mentoring younger ones.
I worked for a couple of years in IT, but found it dreadfully boring. So I then did my MBA from MICA Ahmedabad. Post that, I worked for a year as a Consultant in the Gujarat government, and then was head of Content and Social media for a travel startup company in Delhi, before eventually quitting to travel the world.
4. Where are you based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
When I am not travelling, I am either in Delhi or Mumbai with my friends, or visiting my parents in Kerala. I don’t really think there is one such place as a “best place for me”. I love being wherever I am, and am mostly content everywhere.
5. What are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
Haha, I am not paranoid, or even remotely scared about anything. I am mostly an under thinker, not an over thinker, so I dont usually get disturbed. The only things that keep me awake at night is a good movie or series, or a happy phone conversation.
6. Who are your competition and how are you better than them?
We live in a country of 1.3 billion people, in the second most populous country in the world. And mathematically, I need just 20 people to fill up each trip. I think all of us travel companies can co-exist happily, haha, and still have enough people on our trips.
The point is I am not bothered or ever thinking about competition. We just want to lead trips to beautiful places and try our best to give the best experience to the people who travel with us. All the best to all the other travel companies as well. Let’s all try to travel responsibly, lets all try to preserve and protect our nature and environment, educate people on the importance of not littering, and being sensitive to the local communities.
7. How hard is it to have a work-life balance and how do you manage it?
I am the last person you should ask this question to, haha! From the moment I wake up, to the moment I sleep, this brand, these trips, my people, my trippers is what I think about, what I am consumed by, what I breathe. It is impossible to separate my existence from On His Own Trip. My work, what I do, is my life. It’s in my head, in my dreams, in my soul, and doesn’t leave me even for one waking second in a day.
Maybe if someone observed me they would think it wasn’t the ideal work life balance. Maybe entrepreneurs, especially passionate driven ones don’t have a great work life balance. I would not know. What I do know is that I don’t feel the need or the urge to want other things. I am most happiest and content like this, and feel as if I have the most balanced, chilled out, sorted life in the world 😉
8. Share your favorite story of any of your trip .
Oh there are tons! It’s impossible to pick one. But let me share this one. We were in Ladakh, and the following day it was this girl’s birthday. Months before booking, she had mentioned to me that she was doing this trip because it was her 25th birthday and it was her dream to be in Ladakh on her 25th , and since she was a long distance runner, she wanted to do a little run as part of her Big Birthday Dream! One day before her birthday, we were in Nubra Valley. That entire day, three four of us roamed for more than two hours to find a cake. Nubra didnt have any bakeries then. Finally we found a house where they baked some cakes, and they made one for us. The house smelled wonderfully, of baked bread and buns and cakes.
Around 1130 at night, we all pretended to feel sleepy and retired to our tents. She looked a little puzzled as we always stayed up till 2-3 am. At 12 o clock, I walked to her room and asked her to join me outside. We walked outside the camp to the road, It was pitch dark. I turned to her and said “run”. She looked surprised. I reminded her that it had been her dream to run on her birthday. She said she felt scared to run alone in the dark. I told her I’d wait for her right there, and it was absolutely safe and she could turn back whenever she wanted. She hesitantly agreed, and started running.
What she did not know was that 20 trippers were standing, each ten metres away from the next person, in one line, on the corner of the road. Since it was pitch black, she couldn’t see anyone. When she ran and crossed the first person, he switched on a torch. Startled, she looked at him and he smiled and stepped forward, gave her a chocolate and asked her to “run”. She ran, and as she kept running, every ten metres, torches kept switching on, people kept stepping forward, gave her gifts and kept whispering her to run. When she crossed the last person, almost 200 metres from the start, ahead was a chair with a cake box on it. As she came towards it, a tripper and I picked up the chair and started running. She kept laughing and running behind us screaming, “my cake, my cake”. Panting, we stopped somewhere, and as she cut her cake in the middle of nowhere, all of us sang “happy birthday” to her under a million stars and a dozen shooting stars flying around us. I think that was a beautiful night!
9. What’s the biggest misconception people have about travelling ?Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
A lot of people aren’t sure if travelling to certain destinations is safe. A lot of people would feel that if you belong to a certain race, certain gender, certain community or religion, that travelling to many places would be scary or intimidating. We probably feel that because of what we see in the news, in the media. The news won’t be news if it shared stories of nothing happening or life being peaceful in 47689 towns every day.
But the truth is that in almost all the countries, and cities and towns and villages, most people are nice. Most people aren’t looking to just pounce on you the moment you step into their country. Most people will smile if you speak a few words in their language, and will giggle when you pronounce those words wrong. Most people will help you if you smile and ask for directions.
Most people in the world are exactly the same. They love movies, they can’t dance well, and the ones that do dance well are looked at by everyone. Men everywhere curse their beloved teams when they lose, and pump their fists when they win. Women love Milind Soman, almost everywhere. Haha, I am of course generalizing above and these are such shallow generalizations I made, but that was in humour. The point is do not be scared to travel, do not think that people overall are bad. Go out, discover, explore, and you will know for yourself that the world is a much safer place than you thought it could be.
10. What gets you excited about On His Own Trip?
Of course I am excited every day. It is like when you get a doggy in your house. They never grow up for you, you always love them, and you are always fascinated by them. At a daily level, my head’s always always thinking about what new places we can go to, or what new thing to add to the website, or what story to put on the blog, or how to engage people on Instagram, or millions of other things.
We keep adding new destinations to our trip portfolio. It’s just Feb and this year we have already added Lakshadweep and Annapurna Base Camp trek to the trips we will do. We are thinking of Peru end of year and maybe even Antarctica. Can you imagine how exciting that is! Twenty Indians who met just days back, being on a ship that stops near an icy island, and you see penguins, hordes of them, dawdling on snow and bathing in the chilly waters.
11. Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night when not on trip.
When I am not on a trip and am in Kerala, my day usually starts around 10 am post breakfast. I spend my day mostly engaging with my back end team about work. Besides that I read a bit, smile and reply to messages that I get from strangers fascinated by travel, and spend an obnoxious amount of time dreaming about how we want to go forward.
I usually going on a walk with mom every evening, and still find time to fight with dad about cricket, a tradition he and I started in 1993.
12. Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
Almost all the people who work with me now, were once my trippers. I met Sakshi in May 2016, when she joined my Meghalaya trip. It was a legendary trip and she was the friendliest person there chattering away with everyone. Even now as a trip leader, her super friendly nature attracts everyone. Shaurya too was on the same trip. He was 19 then. He was the first person I took in the team and he led a few trips before going for his masters. Niyati I met a couple of months later in June 2016 when she joined my waterfall rappelling trip in Maharashtra. Can you imagine! It was a half day trip, but we had so much fun that she signed up for two more short trips almost immediately. Both Sakshi and Niyati returned to do a few more more trips every year with me before I asked them to join me in 2018. Harsh assisted me on a trip in Meghalaya in September 2017, and I remember how politely he spoke to everyone then. He is still the same soft spoken boy, always willing to listen and learn, and that will always hold him in good stead as a trip leader.
Shrimayi did an Andamans trip with me in November 2017, and is now one of the pillars of our team. The same goes for Reshma, who’s worked endlessly for hours and days and weeks when we were all leading trips. Radhika is the youngest on the team as of now, she did a trek with Niyati and me in August and just quit Amazon last month. She leads the Operations team now.
There is a common thread that runs between all of us. We love nature, we love animals, we want to give the best trips to every person, we want people to follow their dreams and live a little more. They would do anything to make a tripper smile, and that’s why they are my tribe. These are my people, my kids, mine to love and be there for. Basically they are my family.