Ansoo Gupta of One Shoe Trust is fostering sensitivity towards our planetIndrojit D. Chaudhuri
In a room packed with people of varying age groups – from their early 20s to their late 40s –Ansoo Gupta holds her own as she talks about travelling, and shares her travel hacks. She is a treasure trove of information having visited 60 countries over a decade and a half. A communications and marketing professional, Ansoo had been working in digital/broadcast media, and never thought about starting a blog or travel group to share information, but was happy to help anyone who asked her opinion. What began as giving friendly advice to friends who wanted to travel on a budget, planning their itinerary, and suggesting places, soon led to structured travel workshops titled “Come.Plan.Go”.
Ansoo recalls a Women’s Day workshop where she noticed two guys sitting in the room full of women. When quizzed, they shyly admitted, ‘Our parents don’t allow us to travel independently, so we have come here to see and learn how you girls convince your parents to allow you to travel.’ Participants also exchange email addresses to form their own groups and share fresh information.
Based out of Mumbai, Ansoo started her workshops in June 2012 because she realised that all her friends and acquaintances wanted to travel but they found it overwhelming to plan, and take out time. “My friends would do one annual trip a year, which was mostly a package bought from a travel agent. But I believe in one planning one’s own vacations and with the advent of new travel solutions such as Skyscanner, ixigo, and TripAdvisor, it has become very easy to plan and go on the fly. I also saw that most of my friends, who used to travel a lot, cut down on travel after having kids, so I even did special workshops for new moms with young kids, as I have two small kids myself, and don’t see them as a deterrent to my travels,” shares Ansoo.
Ansoo shares information about upcoming workshops, which she conducts on her own at local cafés, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even by word of mouth. People who have attended her sessions invite their friends, husbands, wives, and parents to attend. She has held sessions all over the country in cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Raipur, and Indore. Her travel workshops have been part of HR programmes to encourage co-curricular activities for companies like ICICI, Ultratrech Cement, and Infosys. On average, she conducts a workshop every eight weeks, while holding a full-time job.
Making people comfortable in their skin while planning to travel and then, travelling
Ansoo feels that people are reluctant to travel as they have concerns about expenses, time and the whole planning process. But she refers to them as ‘mental blocks.’ There are people who turn up at her workshop without having done any research and keep repeating things like ‘But it is so expensive to travel to xyz place.’ So she encourages people to read a lot on the Internet make hotel/inn/homestay reservations, book their travel tickets and ‘just go.’
She tells people about the time she backpacked across Europe because she didn’t have the money to keep returning to each country and this long-term journey across the continent worked out cheaper overall. Ansoo says that if the travel bug bites when one is young, there’s no looking back. She believes that travel breeds better citizens. “A very small yet apt example of this is an aunt of mine who gets her daughter to India and shows her how people beg for food, and says she should be grateful for the food she gets and not waste it. Likewise, people travelling from developing countries to developed countries get lessons in utilising their resources better,” says Ansoo.
Even more interesting is the fact that a lot of older women with more free time are rekindling their interest in travel. “There was this 53-year-old lady who came for one of the workshops. She had undertaken a cycling trip in Europe many years ago, but then kids kept her busy for the next 20 years. Now, a grandmother, and free, she wanted to travel solo again, but preparing for it now overwhelmed her. Many travellers get bogged down by the sheer amount of information available on the Internet, so much so that they don’t know where to start. So I kind of help them navigate limitless information and find the best deals and best travel ideas,” tells Ansoo.
Along with her workshops, Ansoo is also working on creating the One Shoe Trust to Promote Mindful and Responsible Travel. The trust is a self-funded initiative with five founding members. There will also be a board of 7 – 10 rotating members for a three-year term each. “The Trust aims to encourage people to travel and explore far-off lands, not just as a leisure activity, but also as a means to understand issues such as climate-change, first hand,” explains Ansoo.
The Trust targets college students specifically, and people in the age group 18-64, who are now travelling the world, through exhibitions, travel fairs, and road shows in colleges. The aim is to promote responsible travel and become mindful of the planet and its people. She hopes the Trust will bring like-minded travel enthusiasts together, people who don’t just love traveling, but those with a deep desire to preserve our planet. “Through the Trust, I plan to help people remove whatever block they might have about travelling namely money, time, permission, company, safety, visas, etc. and give them practical tips on working on each issue and asking them to travel with open minds,” she adds.
Making time to travel needs some effort that comes with the willingness to take a few risks, like convincing the bosses to let you take a day or two off on a work trip or to extend the trip so as to make it a work-leisure trip. You do your work well and you get your little break. “Once, I was conducting a session with a group of business travellers who travel to exotic locations and stay at the fanciest places, but I soon realised they have never experienced anything beyond their meetings and client visits, which is kind of sad. I advised them to do their research about the places they are going to and to create little excursions around their itinerary while managing their travel bookings.”
Ansoo doesn’t advice quitting one’s job to travel, unless of course you are miserable in that job, in which case you should quit anyway. On the contrary, she suggests that you should be so good at your job that your employer doesn’t mind giving you your sabbatical. That’s how she managed a four-month trip from her hectic media and marketing job. That way, you travel but you are also financially independent. This helps you travel more without any mental or financial burdens.
And the energy she exudes as she speaks only makes you want to grab the next available opportunity to travel. Her keen interest in making others do what she does best i.e. travel comes from her philosophy, “Only when we see, we understand. And only when we understand, we appreciate. And only when we appreciate, will we care enough to protect.” It all boils down to travelling responsibly, seeing our beautiful planet and making the world a better place for all beings.