Renting caravans for road trips is popular in countries with scenic locations, like Australia, New Zealand or the USA. Unfortunately, the culture never really took off in India; a country known for its breathtaking sights and delectable flavours. For travel and adventure enthusiasts Neha and Rahul Soman, this was a problem worth solving. And that is how Wacation On Wheels was born.
In conversation with Neha Soman.
The last person who took a caravan vacation in India was Shahrukh Khan in Swades…
(laughs) Exactly! Wacation On Wheels is our attempt to promote the caravanning culture in India. There is a small audience, but they are mostly foreigners. Very few Indians choose this mode of travel, especially within India.
Why would that be?
I think one of the main reasons is lack of availability. Which is why we have roped in 2-3 caravans that can be rented from Nagpur, Mumbai and Pune for now.
How was the idea conceived?
We had heard and read a lot about it. Rahul’s younger brother Praful and his wife Mrudula rented a caravan for two weeks in New Zealand, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were tempted to try it on our family trip to Rajasthan. But the only available caravans were in Delhi, 300 kms away. So we would have to pay the overhead to transport it to Jaipur first. That got us thinking. We would have loved to go around in that caravan. And we knew people would too, if they could. The idea was unique.
But how did you know there was a market for it in India?
We didn’t. But we knew that people – especially the young – are more open to experimenting now. If they can go skydiving, bungee jumping and camping, why wouldn’t they try this? Of course, there’s also the fact that an increasing number of people can now afford it.
So you just create a market on the go?
You could say that. The queries and requests came pouring in immediately after we started advertising it. In fact, it became a problem initially, since people from Pune and Mumbai started calling in. Because we were operating only from Nagpur, we had to charge them to transport it to Pune/Mumbai. Ironically, the same problem we had faced not long ago (smiles). So now, from mid-February we will have at least one vehicle stationed in Pune and Mumbai.
What does your caravan look like?
Well on the outside, it looks somewhat like a bus, or a vanity van maybe. On the inside, there are two configurations: driving and parked. While in the driving mode, the caravan is more compact with enough space for 4 or 10 people to sit and sleep, depending on the model. When parked, the expandable caravan opens out about 4 feet on each side. So the inner space expands to work like a living room or hall, where families can sit and chat over a comfy cup of tea.
And what are the available facilities inside?
We have all the facilities to make you feel at home. Comfortable sofas that convert into beds, a fridge, a LCD TV, a music system, a kitchen, bathrooms with WC, wash basins and showers. There’s a small private cabin with a sofa bed in the expandable model. We even provide a driver and a helper, who attend to your needs. The kitchen in the expandable model is especially interesting; it is hydraulically operated. Opens up with the click of a button.
Wow. All that must take a toll on the fuel!
Not at all. It is very efficiently managed. For example, there are two air conditioners. One is connected to the engine and works when the vehicle is moving. You can power the second one with the on-board generator. Then there are batteries, which can be charged with the inverter connected to the generator or to the solar panels atop the caravans when the caravan is at rest during the day. So, in the evening, your batteries are charged and ready to use for lighting, TV and other requirements.
All this must have been difficult to implement. Has it been a bumpy ride?
For starters, a lot of people showed an interest in the concept, before it took off. They still do. But this hasn’t translated into a large number of bookings so far. But it’s very new, so that is expected. Also, we kind of miscalculated initially. Our caravans started out as 8-10 seaters. But people want to travel in smaller groups of say, 4. We do have a 4-seater now, and plan to order more soon.
But I think the biggest problem we face right now is with the helpers on board. They must be able to take care of the vehicle, cook, attend to the passengers’ needs, and also interact with them. It creates a dilemma. Those who can do it, are too qualified and look for better employment. And those who are willing aren’t polished enough to do it.
That sounds daunting. You must have a support system to get you through…
Of course. Family and friends have been immensely helpful. They didn’t once hesitate to help us with the startup capital, and have contributed in every way they could.
Also, we are lucky to have a friend, mentor and guide like Mr. Sanjay Saini. He manufactures caravans, and could be called the pioneer of caravanning in India. He has really mentored us through. They’ve all had faith in us. And it won’t be for nothing. I am confident it will take off.
What does the future look like?
Well, we are definitely expanding to Mumbai and Pune. Let’s see where we go from there
Thank You Neha. Wacation On Wheels sounds like a interesting concept, and we hope it skyrockets into a massive success. If our readers were interested in taking a (W)acation On Wheels, how could they reach you?
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