Beyond the brochure: Serial entrepreneur Shilpa Sharma’s inclusive travel approach with Breakaway
If you ask Shilpa Sharma to explain her venture Breakaway, she would say—a company of travellers who have broken away from the clichés of travel, going far beyond the cookie-cutter approach, helping its guests discover the length and breadth of India like never before.
“As a child, my fondest experiences are associated with travel. Living in a joint family gave me an opportunity to venture out on three vacations every year,” shares Shilpa, who is proud that her venture is not just another travel company.
Founded in 2011, Breakaway offers arts, crafts, and textile immersions, ranging from day-long workshops to week-long trails led by some of the respected names in their fields.
Its repertoire of offerings extends to plantation tours, social sector interactions, bespoke itineraries, pet vacations, solo travels for women, and sabbaticals for those who want to reset.
And it all began with the entrepreneur’s 12-year professional stint with FabIndia.
As she traversed every terrain in the country, growing FabIndia’s pan-India footprint through new stores, Shilpa’s inclination towards scouting ‘needle in the haystack’ experiences grew stronger.
“This is when I discovered the joys of solo travel. I would trot around the city, meet interesting people, and look for craft or design interactions. And it only grew over a period of time,” she shares.
“Even when I moved roles within FabIndia—during the two years of running around, buying, and merchandising—it gave me another opportunity to look at the craft and textile of this country more closely.”
Journeys off the map
After a two-decade-long career in FMCG and retail, Shilpa decided to live out her entrepreneurial dreams. In 2010, she set up a retail advisory practice to consult on strategic business projects. Eventually, she co-founded Jaypore, an online retail portal for exquisite Indian handmade crafts and textiles.
Nonetheless, she knew it was time to share her love of travel with the world. As someone comfortable with going against the grain, Shilpa knew she didn’t want to make another travel firm with bucket-list experiences found in every other guidebook and thus launched Breakaway.
This led to Breakaway’s signature offering ‘Beyond the Brochure’. “It had to be something out of the ordinary, unique, authentic, and exceptional in every way. Breakaway is rooted in the philosophy of looking for the unseen in the seen,” Shilpa says.
Over the period, it became Breakaway's guiding ethos. Whether it’s heritage, craft, or even food, there’s enough and more waiting for travellers to be discovered.
“For instance, when a traveller heads to Agra, we offer experiences beyond the Taj Mahal, or in Assam, it is beyond the Kaziranga. We are focused on the depth of an experience and not looking to replicate it, day in and day out,” she explains.
So, is Breakaway really about breaking away from convention? Shilpa smiles and adds, “I believe we all need a break away from a routine, from our comfort zones, and even from our families.”
A repertoire of unique experiences
Curating unique experiences comes “quite naturally” to Shilpa. The entrepreneur always had an affinity for all things craft, textile, and design, besides enjoying the diversity of food.
“What we do in travel is a natural outcome of my work in fashion, lifestyle, and food, and the opportunity to meet interesting people. I think this inspired me to curate interactions around a whole network of people who would welcome us to their homes in a way they don’t make themselves accessible to others in the travel industry,” she shares.
Besides Breakaway’s craft and textile interactions, the company has an interesting approach to cuisine, which is visible in its feature—State on a Plate.
For her, food is a great way to sample a state. Shilpa believes what’s memorable should always be on your plate. She also runs a concept restaurant Mustard in Goa with her partner Punam Singh.
“Our culinary interactions are not street food walks but finding that one household that will do a nuanced approach to cuisine. Through State on a Plate, travellers can experience a state’s cuisine through different communities, say in Kerala or West Bengal,” she explains.
“Learning from the masters about their approach to flavours, spices, and vegetables is an enlightening experience. We try and weave in as much a representation of local flavours for our guests, depending on their stomachs, appetite for experimentation, and their aversions,” she adds.
Breakaway's authority on cuisine has even led the likes of the Culinary Institute of America to approach them.
It also offers carefully curated breakaways for seniors and pet vacations, keeping in mind the needs, preferences, and comfort of its travellers.
So, how does it all come together?
Shilpa believes it is the collaborative spirit that has taken them ahead. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Breakaway decided to curate experiences where they are domain experts, including craft and textile, design, and even the social sector.
“If there’s someone else doing an approach to wildlife or heritage walks, we will find the best representations of these experiences on-ground across the country, and bring them on board,” Shilpa shares.
“There are times when travellers ask us for something we have never done, which helps us to push the envelope. I believe when you work with others, you do not have to look at people as competition, but as your allies,” she adds.
Changing the way women travel in India
As someone who has travelled the length and breadth of the country, Shilpa believes there is nothing more reassuring than not having to look over her shoulder when she’s on the road or otherwise.
As women, wherever we are, we want to feel secure about our accommodation, the people we meet, and the pit stops along our journey.
“For women to know that somebody is going to take away the stress of travel, while they enjoy it, is a huge relief. Many women also look at solo travel as an opportunity to meet other like-minded women and make new friends,” Shilpa believes.
She continues, “In India, when you travel with family, it is all about managing expectations with your husband and child; that’s what happened in my case. There was no real opportunity to do things my way.”
In her experience, women travellers are very different from men. “Women are more willing to experiment and are more open-minded to experiencing cultures differently. Some come with willing partners, others with grudging ones, but women always want to pack in as much as they can. I think it is our innate sense of curiosity that needs to be quelled,” she shares.
A look into the future
Travellers who approach Breakaway are those who are willing to peg a value to an experience that goes beyond finding a good deal. And Shilpa wants to continue to offer ‘beyond the brochure’ breakaways, often raising the bar.
“There’s so much diversity in India that’s waiting to be discovered. I want to create journeys to meet people, on which Bharat Bala makes his virtual Bharat series. I think that is as much a representation of incredible but unseen India. I want to keep raising the bar in experiences and be able to find that one person in every nook and cranny that will add tremendous value,” the entrepreneur says.
“Every trip of mine is laced with an agenda to discover new interactions, properties, or cuisine. We like to surprise travellers sometimes with stuff that wasn’t even talked about in an itinerary, but is waiting to be experienced,” she concludes.
Edited by Suman Singh