When I exchanged mails with my namesake Gauri Jayaram, I instantly knew I had found a kindred spirit. She is quick with a joke, completely passionate about what she is doing, and loves to travel -what’s not to like! Her company the Active Holiday Company runs tours for both the couch potatoes and the marathoners- who want a bit more from their vacation than just the blind clicking of pictures and ticking off of landmarks. You can cycle, you can run, you can hike in some of the most beautiful parts of the world- but most of all you get a chance to ‘engage’ all your senses- to look at a place as a part of the world ecosystem and not just as a ‘tourist’.
Gauri is also mother of two girls, writer of the hilarious memoir Wise Enough to be Foolish, and all-round adventurer in life!
We will let her tell us some more!
Gauri, when did the travel bug first hit you?
I have always been a traveller and I took my first road trip when I was just 5 days old. Before turning into a teenager, I had pretty much explored the length and breadth of India, thanks to my dad’s job in the Indian Air Force. Finally when the time came to choose a career, I gravitated towards travel since it would allow me the opportunity to explore the world. I have been to 35 countries so far and I still have a very long bucket list of places I want to visit.
I really love your emphasis on ‘active’ travel as opposed to just taking in the sights passively. In what ways do you think an Active Holiday is more rewarding for a traveller?
Package tours are passé and the way to explore the world is to go active and I am not saying that because I am running an active holiday company. An active holiday allows you to explore destinations up-close and personal as you get behind the scenes. You eat local, you stay local, travel local and not only do you leave a low carbon footprint and help sustain local communities but also get to participate and interact with locals. For example on some of our trips, we use home stays and we encourage people to go to the local market, buy their own ingredients and cook with tribals. Fitness or the adrenaline rush, and the ability to boast of your adventures is only a very small part of active travel.
Which is your favourite travel spot in India, outside India?
I love the North East in India and I just wish that it was more accessible and affordable to travellers. I love their food, the north-eastern culture, the huge chunk of the Himalayas that sits in some states and the cleanliness and road network in places like Sikkim is just wonderful. Internationally, I have enjoyed Jordan, Cambodia, Tuscany, Norway, Peru and Eastern Europe. They are so different from each other that its difficult to choose one over another – its like choosing a favourite child.
What are the backpack essentials you think a woman traveller should always keep with her?
Good looking, comfortable walking shoes that look good in pictures, sun-block, a hat, sun-glasses, chocolates / dry-fruits, a photocopy of travel documents including your hotel address and telephone number. Most importantly I would say travel light. Your baggage goal weight should be 10 kilos and trust me it is possible.
What is the most ‘difficult’ active holiday you’ve ever undertaken?
The Everest Base Camp was probably the toughest for me and not just because it is physically tough. After spending 20 years in fancy, well-established companies, I was spoilt rotten with luxury hotels and the fancy things they come with. Then I ended up taking a trek which reintroduced me to the basics and it was cold like hell. But, despite all the challenges it was a life changing experience. When you survive out of one bag and no gadgets for two weeks, it redefines the meaning of life and all that you are missing chasing a high-flying corporate career and financial goals.
Do you have a travel wishlist- places you haven’t been to that you really want to see some day, or active sojourns you’d like to take?
Oh yes and it is a very long list. You can’t enjoy this business if you are not going to bed dreaming about some place or the other. I want to go on an expedition to the Antarctica, I want to climb Mt. Fuji. I want to go on a cycling trip through Western Canada and I want to go on a hiking vacation with my daughters to Greece. I would also love to do a Gorilla walk in Rwanda sometime soon.
Finally, we’d love to get your suggestions for active holidays in the upcoming summer vacations for the following people:
a. Women traveller who want to travel alone: We would say join one of our small group big fun departures where you may be alone but never lonely. But if you really want to go alone, do a cycling trip of Tuscany. Not only is the destination gorgeous but also Italian men are extra nice to women travelling alone.
b. Families: There’s an excellent trip to Luang Parbang in Laos where they can enjoy a bit of cycling as well as learn to train elephants. The cycling path along the Danube is also pretty flat and child friendly and kids as young as 8 join us on some of these trips.
c. Groups of women travellers – Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is an excellent trek to go with a group of girls. It is not easy and needs some training but if you want to opt for an easier trip, you could do a lighter trip walking through Santorini and Nexos in Greece – stopping to sip that wine and enjoy these fabulous islands.
d. Someone who is not very ‘active’ in everyday life – In Asia, our 6 day trip in Siem Reap is a really easy cycling trip and good for people of all abilities. We provide a van that follows you and you can always jump in when you want to. And if you are looking for something in Europe, you can blindly go with the hiking trip along Austrian Lakes .Finally, if you want to be on an active trip and yet do not too much, there’s always an African safari to enjoy.