Caravan tourism: Gear up for the future of travel
Waking up to the sounds of Nature and a different panoramic view every day – right outside the window – is how most travellers define their camper van experience. And club it with the safety bubble it offers, and you have the recipe for a perfect vacation.
No wonder, then, that there’s a manifold increase in the demand for camper vans amid the pandemic. Neha Soman, 39, director, Wacation On Wheels, which provides caravans for hire in multiple cities, including Mumbai, Pune and Jaipur, says, “We have been in this business for four years now and have vehicles that can host three people to nine people. After the pandemic, our queries have more than tripled. Lot more people are enquiring for it. From your home to your destination and back, you are in your own safe bubble. So, it is a completely self-contained experience. We have tie-ups at different places where one can park.”
The allure of this experience is also making many assemble such vehicles on their own. With their camper van near completion, travel enthusiasts, Deepak Pandey, 42, and Ruchi Pandey, 40, say, “We keep investing in different stuff, so I thought why not have an asset that’s movable and has versatile utility. That’s why we are customising our campervan according to our need. We wanted homely feeling with functional kitchen counter, adequate space and comfortable sitting. Based out of Alwar, Deepak is planning to go on his first caravan trip with family in next 15 days. “If you are planning for a caravan trip, there is no itinerary. Wherever you find a suitable, scenic place, you stop, take a halt and move ahead. Secondly, there is no hurry that you have to check-in or check-out of a place at a particular time,” he says listing advantages, and adds “I think this has got bright future and if there are right policies on the government level, it will certainly go a long way in boosting this mode of travel.”
The whole concept of being a camper is living a nomad life, admits Prateek Athalye, founder of The Vacay Vans, which provides such vans on rent in Mumbai and Pune. However, he shares that there are still several challenges in the domain and sometimes even expectations of travellers are unrealistic. “At this price point, many people expect very luxurious amenities but that’s not at the core of caravan tourism. You will be staying somewhere on the hills or in between a jungle and cooking your own meals. That’s the whole concept,” says Athalye, adding that the other major issue comes in terms of infrastructure. “India also has a very few camping parks. Getting them at affordable rates is still a challenge. Parking spots shouldn’t come at the price of a decent hotel room.”
Though the camping infrastructure in the country is still at the nascent stage, fortunately there are players working in the field to resolve the issue. Ashish Shah, 50, founder of Caravan Camping, outlines that safe parking spots are quite a challenge when it comes to caravan tourism. “And that’s where we come in. We have two properties in Naukuchiatal and Mukteshwar, with ample parking space. We also have tie-ups with four-five other sites in the Kumaon region which give you safe parking space,” says Shah.
Offering similar facility in Karjat, Maharashtra is Camp Comfygram. Namrata Kale, partner at the property says, “Ours is river touch property with ample space to park one’s van or pitch a tent. We also provide tents from our end. There is complete safety and even a round-the-clock kitchen to serve you delicious meals.”
But what do first time camper van users must keep in mind? “Someone who is looking to hire a caravan for the first time should primarily decide whether they are looking for an adventurous camping experience or luxury. We regularly partner with various campsites, hostels and hotel to adapt to each traveller's requirements,” says Archit Batra, founder of Raasta, India which provides caravans for hire, in and around Delhi-NCR.
While renting or investing in a caravan is a different thrill of its own, there is also downside to it, feels Dr Santosh Bagali, 47 from Vijaypur, Karnataka. “In long term camper van culture isn’t very sustainable in the country. I was a serious camper person. My van has all the facilities that one might want, but still it is not working out,” he says, adding, “I have been using a camper van for two years now. My van in particular is very comfortable. But the issue is that there are no specific regulations or guidelines in regard to such vans. Rules for operating them change from state to state. Also, parking at offbeat location is not as lucrative as it may sound because there is lack of awareness. Locals from that area tend to get curious and invade in your privacy, so the peace of mind travel doesn’t happen.” So, will the segment get over these hurdles or will it be a bumpy road ahead? Only time may tell it!
But till then, if you too, are planning to hop on a caravan, here are some salient features that can help you plan a better trip.
Explorations in a safe bubble
You don’t have a luggage limit and can cook your own meals, carry your own stuff and be in complete isolation even when travelling to different places. “The idea of not having to pack your entire house in a suitcase seems to be a hit among travellers across age groups,” says Batra from Raasta.
Caravan trips are pawsome! You can tag along your fur buddy, without worrying about the hassles of managing them on public transport. “India is such a vast land, and you have to be on the road if you want to truly explore it. One can’t do it with any other mode of transport,” says Ruchi, adding, “In future, I do plan to travel with my dogs in camper vans.”
Flexibility with a caveat
While a caravan trip lets you explore places off the grid, it comes with some riders. “We don’t have clear camper van policies and there aren’t many companies with expertise in manufacturing them. Also, we don’t have free, safe public spaces where you can park,” points out Dr Bagali.
Author tweets @kediashish