Started in 2012 by Guinness World Record Holders Sanjay Madan & Tushar Agarwal, Adventures Overland has emerged as India’s leading road trip company, which offers specially curated driving expeditions all across the world. With the Covid-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror, the travel industry is witnessing a big boom, seemingly unaffected by the looming recession fears. This includes a huge increase in interest amongst travel enthusiasts for overland, self-drive expeditions. We had the chance to speak to Adventures Overland’s co-founder, Tushar Agarwal, where we asked him about the company’s journey over the last decade, the flagship “Road to London” self-drive expedition, the company’s expansion plans, and a lot more. Here’s what he had to say:
The concept of overland expeditions crossing international borders is very new in India. Your company being the first and only of its kind, can you share your experience thus far and the response received in the country?
Adventures Overland has emerged as India’s biggest road trip company. We have in the past successfully organized over 100 expeditions in 80 countries with over 1000 guests travelling with us on self-driven road trips across five continents. Our flagship trip, ‘Road to London, ’ recently culminated its fourth season.
Over time, with repeat travellers and a consistent surge in queries, we started our upward climb. We have recently raised funding at a valuation of 10 million USD, and the investment will fuel our expansion as we target 1000+ trips globally over the next three years.
The annual growth rate in this segment, especially within the age group of 25 to 35, is constantly rising. Many Indians opt for international destinations and are open to experimenting with self-drive journeys by renting a vehicle at the destination of choice or by choosing an offering like ours that takes care of all travel nuances. In contrast to families making trips to hill stations within a range of 500 km a decade ago, we have witnessed a steep increase in cross-border trips to far-off lands. While traversing the length and breadth of India remains popular, offbeat international destinations are getting more interest from travel enthusiasts.
It is definitely our own passion to travel and explore the world that has led us to form Adventures Overland. We set off on a world road trip in 2012, covering 90,000 km across 50 countries and 06 continents, setting 1 Guinness World Record and 15 in the Limca Book of Records. This journey was filmed and aired on the TLC channel as ‘The Great Indian World Trip’ and is currently streaming on Discovery+.
Soon after this trip, we decided to set up Adventures Overland as a platform to offer discerning travellers the option of an all-encompassing luxury tour package, which fulfilled their dreams of exploring the world without the worry of travel nuances such as accommodation, meals, language barriers or breakdowns. Our maiden commercial trip to Ladakh in the Himalayas was a success, and we are happy to share that today Adventures Overland is a leader in the luxury adventure travel segment, offering fixed and customized journey experiences, both national and international.
India shares borders with countries that are either closed to Indian citizens or have been crippled by political turmoil. The pandemic dealt a massive blow to the whole travel industry, as well. How did Adventures Overland deal with these challenges?
Geopolitics influences how businesses shape and destinations operate; visa restrictions are the biggest hurdle, making it difficult for inbound travellers to venture from a specific destination or region. However, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism is the only way to encourage normalcy and economic well-being. Reopening attractions can gain national and international media attention and stimulate demand during the recovery stage of a once-suffering country.
Since we specialize in cross-border journeys, with closed borders we had to revisit our itineraries without compromising the travel experience. The permissions and visa approval processes took longer, with multiple layers of checks added. This year the ‘Road to London’ trip took a slightly different route than the past three trips due to some border crossings being closed and commenced from Iran to reach London through a new route for the first time. The road trip started from Bandar Abbas in Iran. It traversed Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France, culminating in London. We are delighted that the trip created so many memorable moments and the experience of a lifetime for our travellers.
What prompted you to recreate the legendary London to Calcutta bus service, and can you talk a little about the challenges met while planning and executing such a grand overland adventure? Also, how different is the experience when compared to a self-drive road trip?
London to Calcutta bus service was a motivating journey back in the 1950s when the world was restricted by technology and internet connectivity. We at Adventures Overland are all set to launch our very own dream bus, ‘Bus to London,’ which will recreate that vibrant era gone by with utmost comfort and luxury. This will be the longest bus journey in the world, spanning 02 continents and 18 countries and covering 20,000 km. After reaching London, the bus will embark on its maiden voyage back home, taking the same route to reach India.
Organising road trips takes meticulous detailing to ensure travellers enjoy their journey, and we keep our promise of offering carefree travel. One of the significant travel challenges is managing reservations and expenses in keeping up with itineraries and travel regulations; last-minute blows can affect the entire group and cause delays, adding to panic and frustration. Fortunately, we have tremendous experience and are well-connected to take care of the nuances of the road; each route is thoroughly vetted, and contingency plans are at hand. For new travellers, body clocks may take time to adjust to the various zones they traverse; it is a temporary problem often accompanied by fatigue and irritability. We carry our medical and first-aid kits and have doctors on call available at all stops; we also have a list of medical emergency go-to, just in case.
Bus travel and self-drive road trips are unique experiences; it is only a matter of personal choice. Our drivers are professionally trained and usually stick to the designated lane as per the region-specific rules. Also, in a bus journey, the speed tends to be slower since traveller comfort is paramount; fewer buses than cars are needed to transport the same number of people on the planned routes. From a traveller’s point of view, it is economical compared to self-drive tours, and one can enjoy the journey in comfort without tiring oneself.
Can you tell us a little about your upcoming expedition tours, including the self-drive expeditions in Brazil and Jordan? How are they different than the previous overland drives offered by your company?
We have quite a few journeys planned, the forthcoming being one to the Kingdom of Time, Jordan, one of the most iconic ancient cities in the Middle East; it shares borders with several Middle Eastern countries – neighbours being Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Southern Saudi Arabia, and Egypt’s Sinai, and is rich with archaeological, religious and tourist sites. Our guided, small-group self-drive trips allow travellers to experience new destinations while driving in convoys. We are excited to bring a superlative travel destination such as Jordan to our travellers. They can enjoy the Jordan expedition without worrying about breakdowns, language barriers and navigating rugged terrain. Our Boundless Brazil Drive to the fifth-largest country in the world, which occupies almost half of South America, will take you through Brazil’s cosmopolitan cities, glamorous beaches, and tropical rain forests. Brazil’s wildlife in the world’s largest tropical rainforest, famed for its biodiversity – The Amazon Rainforest – which is crisscrossed by thousands of rivers, will be an experience of a lifetime.
Yet another exciting expedition planned is to Laos, a country traversed by the Mekong River and known for its mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries. This will be followed by the expedition to Iceland, a natural wonder like none other; the magical and mysterious land of lava rocks, mesmerising beaches, larger-than-life mountains, ancient glaciers and rugged fjords – indeed a country of extreme contrasts and ideal for travellers looking for a destination that offers a plate full of diversity.
We believe in offering distinctive travel experiences to passionate travellers. Each expedition is curated keeping in mind the natural bouquet of experiences the destinations offer; each journey is an experience in itself and hence, different in its own way. While travellers embark on this journey in an individual capacity, they often end up befriending co-travellers, and by the end of the trip, the memories made are unforgettable. Add to this, the thrill of a self-driven convoy-style journey across varied terrains in Land Rover Defenders or Ford Raptors makes it worthwhile.
How should one prepare himself/herself both mentally and physically for an overland expedition that usually lasts at least a few weeks, especially if the concept is very new to the person?
It is essential to prepare your body and mind when taking cross-border trips as long as Adventures Overland offers; long durations behind the wheel require total focus and can be tiring but being mentally prepared can help with a safe journey. It is easy to get distracted while traversing beautiful terrains, but since each vehicle has a group of four travellers, the drivers can switch driving wheels whenever tired and keep each other alert. Eating balanced meals and sleeping well is the key to keeping the body and mind healthy to enjoy the duration of the journey; we ensure luxurious accommodations and delicious meals. When driving to an unknown territory, aspects such as toilet facilities, food options, hygiene standards, parking spaces, range anxiety and safety, to name a few, add to the stress of trying to find the ground. But we take care of it all and more such as documentation, paperwork, visas and permits to ensure that the entire focus of travellers is on experiencing the journey. We share all details of the terrain, weather, and other critical factors so that each traveller can be well-prepared. We are passionate about customer service, and our team is present to support the travellers at every step of the journey.
As an avid motorcyclist, I’ll personally like to ask if Adventures Overland has any plans to come up with something for those looking to explore the world on two wheels
Currently, we are more focussed on our expansion plans of setting up offices around the globe, engaging with enthusiastic travellers, and working towards more customised offerings in tandem with the demand of the hour. Charting out such lengthy routes through countries that are offbeat choices for tourists is surely not easy. Getting visas for various countries without flight tickets is yet another challenge that often arises. Insurance, vehicle visas, explaining the rationale behind going on a motorcycle, and the logistics and planning involved in an expedition of this magnitude will be a different arena altogether. The planning and executing of each massive expedition we undertake take much understanding of the regulations of the countries we traverse, and this is an area we have yet to think of.