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How the pandemic got people into road trips

Taking flights and public transport is still unsafe, so people are increasingly travelling by road to break the tedium of staying home

Ramu Kennedy next to a mustard field in Jharkhand.
Ramu Kennedy next to a mustard field in Jharkhand. (Ramu Kennedy)

The night before her 38th birthday, Mumbai-based Madhura Auddy decided to take a week-long road trip. She and two friends had been discussing the plan for a few days but that night, she decided to go for it. Within a few hours, they had packed their bags, piled into Auddy’s car and left for Chittorgarh.

They had been home for six months with their families (all married, one friend has one child, while another doesn’t have children.))—and they needed a break, says Auddy.

The trip offered a chance to reclaim some personal space. They didn’t plan everything down to a T, leaving themselves some elbow room to do as they pleased on the spur of the moment.

“My father’s friend and his family live there. They have a bungalow and an outhouse where we stayed. The space was what we wanted after staying within a flat for all these months,” says Auddy, an educator who has two daughters, aged 12 and 10. Since the trip was only for a week, her husband and daughters managed without her.

Sumit Kumar, 31, who works with the hospitality startup Rizort, drove from Bengaluru to Coorg in mid-September. His wife and he wanted a change of scene. He has never been a big fan of road trips, but the six-hour drive one way has changed his views. “I find road trips to be uncomfortable. But I think I would do a long road trip now that I have experienced this. It’s much safer this way as well,” says Kumar, who usually drives within the city.

While flights have resumed, the freedom, flexibility and safety of travelling in your own or rented vehicle has made road trips attractive. For some, it’s a way to escape the dull sameness of routine, protect their sanity; for others, it has served as a great parent-child bonding exercise; for yet others, it has been a way to rediscover themselves. Whatever the reason, the pandemic has sparked a love for road trips. are there any numbers on this? NO. This was his first road trip.

Avinash and Medha Dhagat opted for a self-drive, rental subscription when they decided to travel from Mumbai to Bengaluru, end of September. Since it was a long journey, they wanted a vehicle that had a big boot and was comfortable for off roading. “We have always preferred trains over flights and road trips over trains. And during these times, we were more comfortable going by road. It also gave us a lot more flexibility to plan the travel with ever-changing regulations,” say Avinash (37), who works with a multinational personal care company. They travelled from Mumbai to Bengaluru, proceeded to Nagpur and then back to Bengaluru. Mindful of safety and hygiene, they carried sanitisers, hand wash, water bottles, napkins, food and energy drinks. “The trick was to find good washrooms en route and surprisingly, the ones at petrol pumps throughout the trip were a real saviour,” says Medha Dhagat. Except Bengaluru and Nagpur, the duo stayed at branded hotels.

For some, the leisurely journey was a perfect opportunity to bond with their children, though both parents and children continued to work or study through it all. Mumbai-based entrepreneur George Koshy, 40, who runs an IT consulting and tech product outfit, for instance, ensured that his 12-year-old son Emmanuel didn’t miss even a single day of classes during their 11 day long road trip to Gujarat, Rajasthan, north UP, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. “No matter where we were, he would log into his classes from 8am till noon. In fact, once we were at Taj Mahal, and he showed the place to his teacher and classmates during the video call,” he recalls. Koshy explains that he planned the trip based on the best way to reach Wagah border by road with detours to historically significant places mentioned in his son's history book like Agra Fort, Panipat, Pokhran, and places he always wanted to visit such as the Golden Temple, Ajemer dargah and Mathura.

Madhura Auddy (right) with her two friends visit Udaipur Palace while on their way to Chittorgarh.
Madhura Auddy (right) with her two friends visit Udaipur Palace while on their way to Chittorgarh. (Madhura Auddy)

For Mumbai-based Aparna Chawathe, 46, too, a road trip was a way to spend time with her daughters, aged 18 and 10. Around Diwali, Chawathe and her daughters set out on a four day road trip to Goa/single mom? No. It was the first time her daughter was driving on a highway. They stopped frequently to take photographs, spending the night in Panchgani, near Mahabaleshwar. Chawathe, who is the CEO of a brand consultancy firm, would check on her mails at night, while her elder daughter would do online meetings for a college project (she’s already in college.) during the day. “For me, it was about spending time with my girls and creating memories. It was an agenda-less, stress-free trip, and we had great fun even though we couldn’t go to Goa what with us starting from home late, and then stopping frequently for photos. Eventually, I want to do road trips abroad, so I am gearing up the girls for that,” says Chawathe.

Akshay Punjabi, assistant vice-president, sales, Growisto, understands what it is like for plans to get derailed. Punjabi set out on a 10-day workaction to Goa with a colleague in his car, taking an unplanned detour to Gokarna when they were exploring south Goa. They ended up spending a month out of Mumbai? YES. They got cheap rates for stays at beach-facing properties and spent time with fellow travellers like them, who were also on workactions. “It was stressful managing work, as people around us were doing 9-5 work or didn’t have much to do, while we worked for 12 hours, and then chilled out till 5am. I recall doing a performance review sitting on the beach watching the sunset,” says Punjabi, who now wants to do a bike trip.

For some, hitting the road is akin to a spiritual experience. Over the last three years, Bengaluru-based Ramu Kennedy, the 54-year-old founder of Akshar Advisors, provides consulting services to SMEs, has been going on solo bike trips across the country, akin to “being on a pilgrimage”. In spite of pandemic-related concerns, Kennedy didn’t want to miss out. “It has shaped some bit of my personality, fulfilling something in me at this stage in my life. I thought if I didn’t do it in 2020, I would lose the momentum,” he says. In October end, Kennedy embarked on a 15-day trip covering six states and four national reserve forests. “It was special because I could see a lot more places, didn’t have issues with stay and there was no crowd,” he says.

Auddy says the trip “gave me time for some self-care”. That may just be what the doctor ordered in an unprecedented year.

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