Now, plan a vacation where the destination is a surprise!

Two days before her 24th birthday, Ushmita received a mysterious envelope at her home in Ahmedabad. She opened it, her heart in her mouth. This envelope contained the details of her very first solo trip — a trip she was leaving on the next day, and still had no idea where and how. Quickly perusing through its contents, she breathed a sigh of relief: Coorg, was the destination. She would be spending her birthday in peaceful solitude, surrounded by Nature.

In fact, this was the exact brief she had given WanderTrust, the travel company she booked a ‘surprise trip’ with. WanderTrust is one of the rising crop of companies that offers personalised, ‘blind’ trips, where the destination and itinerary are revealed to the customer only a day before the journey. The pressure of planning is completely off the shoulders of the client.

“We have a survey form on our website where you can key in all your travel preferences, along with the budget, the accommodation you prefer, and the dates. Once we get those details, we will call and confirm. From thereon you can relax,” says Sanket Somani, founder of Pune-based WanderTrust. The website also notes the places you’ve already been to, or are planning a separate trip on your own, to avoid any clashes. The itinerary, he says, is kept flexible, in accordance with what the person wishes to do. “We do all the research and plan the best possible itinerary to suit your budget. The day before you leave, we send an envelope with the details of the trip.”

Now, plan a vacation where the destination is a surprise!

Music on the cards

Chennai-based Wandercue is secretive about their travel itinerary as well. “What lies ahead during the course of the trip is a surprise,” says co-founder Shraddha Kadel. “At every checkpoint in the trip, we have partners that we work with, ready to receive and take care of you,” she says.

As a way of example, she talks about an anniversary trip to Thanjavur they had planned for a couple. “They wanted to do a road trip, and drive themselves, so it made the surprise part a bit more difficult,” she says. So Wandercue broke the trip into three parts: “Before they started driving, we gave them an envelope with a QR code — it was a link that opened the route on Google maps. There were points midway, where someone was waiting for them with small gifts — ranging from tender coconut water to lunch in a vintage hotel. Another envelope, with a QR code, told them where to drive to, next,” she explains.

The couple, on finally arriving at the resort in Thanjavur, was treated to a private veena concert, a massage, and a seven-course dinner.

While most cross-India trips are relatively easier to plan, the challenge is in planning trips abroad. Visa requirements mean that the destination doesn’t remain a surprise. Which is why, most travel companies plan trips to countries such as Thailand, Bali, and Maldives that allow visa on arrival.

Twenty-five-year-old Krishna Rai recalls how she booked a journey with Mumbai-based Trip Surpriser when she wanted to take her mother on a trip using her first paycheck. “I just told them that it had to be somewhere abroad, preferably a city with a beach,” she says. The Trip Surpriser team, founded by Shrutti Rajgarhia, confirmed if they had a valid US visa, and planned a trip to Dubai. (Indian nationals who hold a valid US visa get a two-week UAE visa on arrival in the country.) “We didn’t know where we were going until the day before our flight,” she says, “We went all the way atop Burj Khalifa! If it were up to my mom and me, we would have just lazed on the beach. But I’m glad we stepped out of our comfort zones.”

The little things

The night before Ushmita turned 24, as the clock struck midnight, she was woken up by a fellow backpacker at the Coorg Zostel. “She convinced me that there was something urgent she needed my help with, and took me to the floor above,” she recalls. There, she found a cake waiting for her; WanderTrust, with the help of the Zostel management, had decorated the room with balloons. Such additional touches and surprises are a trademark of WanderTrust, says Sanket.

Meanwhile, Wandercue’s Shraddha explains how she never does business just over phone calls. “We personally visit whoever books a trip with us, and first take them out for coffee,” she says. “Only by spending time with the client, understanding their preferences, and their personality, can we plan a trip. Would this person enjoy a night out partying, or a quiet retreat; would they prefer beaches or mountains — these are all things we need to gauge.”

Look who’s here
  • In 2014, Katy Perry crashed five separate birthday parties of her fans — in disguise — for her music video for the song ‘Birthday’.

To keep building on the surprise, these companies send emails and envelopes a week before the trip commences, with little hints as to what lies ahead: the weather at the destination, packing essentials and so on. Wandercue, for example, sends people curated playlists, or books or movie recommendations based on the destination.

“When the organisers gave me the time I was supposed to leave for the airport, my friends and I kept guessing all the possible destinations, based on the flights out of Ahmedabad,” Ushmita says.

Camp out

Picture this: a tempo traveller stops in front of you and asks you to get in. You have no idea where you’re headed to, but you have given your consent to being ‘taken’ beforehand.

Best kind of secrets Surprise trip planners also organise trips abroad as long as the countries allow Visa on arrival

Best kind of secrets Surprise trip planners also organise trips abroad as long as the countries allow Visa on arrival  

This is the premise for Chennai-based Exoticamp’s Camp Nowhere edition, where people can sign up for a surprise trek to unexplored places in the Western Ghats. “We recce for new trekking spots every time we go on a regular camp,” says event manager, Sukanya Kannan.

And that’s how they found Kanimoarchola, near Vagamon (Kerala). She recalls the first time they visited the place: “In the morning, we unzipped our tents to six-seven hills and clouds in front of us.”

The trips from Wandercue and WanderTrust depend on your budget, generally starting from ₹4,000 per person, per night, for the latter; while Exoticamp’s Camp Nowhere is set at ₹3,500 per person, and lasts one night and two days.

“Most travellers try to coax the destination out of us, while we are in the tempo traveller. They keep guessing based on the route we are taking,” says Sukanya.

And then, there are others who take the driver aside during tea breaks, and try to get him to reveal it. “But even the driver doesn’t know the final destination. We tell him the broad area, post which one of us gives the directions,” she laughs.

Ultimately, there is an element of excitement in giving away control and being open to whatever surprises life — or the travel company, to be more accurate — throws at you. Says Sukanya, “It’s like a blind date with Nature.”

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 3:18:55 PM |

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