Nothing opens up your world like travelling. With the pandemic changing life equations, travel has changed its course. The latest trend to hit the pandemic-bored and overworked explorer is Spartan Travel. Mostly short-term, people are exploring digital-free and relaxing experiences.
Samarth Kholkar, co-founder & CEO, BLive — an EV Experiential Platform, describes this as a chance to be 100% detached from technology and enjoy. “You live through the surroundings, bond with the locals, explore the unexplored, observe things you haven’t seen, and connect with your true self. The idea is to travel as a minimalist, pack as little as possible and relish an uninterrupted moment.”
He quotes a Thomas Cook report stating 67% of Indian professionals, millennials and solo travellers are going tech-free for holidays. “The mental health crisis led by the coronavirus pandemic pushed its demand to a new level. A tech-free vacation is a reminder of living a simple life in modern times.” The term ‘Digital Detox’ is now part of this travelling style. Devendra Parulekar, Founder, SaffronStays, calls it slow travelling with nothing to do. “We are constantly being bombarded with all kinds of information across our devices. Spartan travel helps you get rid of all this. You tend to experience the little joys of life — and that’s the true worth of life.”
A traveller’s description is quintessentially needed. For brand consultant and content creator Pooja Saha, being Spartan means depriving oneself of the unessential stuff. “A true Spartan traveller knows the process of setting boundaries and making sure that they are using their devices in a way that benefits their emotional and physical health.”
Spartan travellers are a different breed because what they seek doesn’t fit the norms of tourism. PR consultant Supriya Karikatti is one. Born into a trekking family, she has trekked with them to the Himalayas since 2001, without any digital contact.
“It was in 2018, when I felt the need for it. I am a communication consultant in a time where social media and digital marketing is at their peak. It was exhausting and overwhelming at one point in time. That’s when I decided to take a break and go back to the mountains with no phone, internet and social media. I went to Uttarakhand on a five-day winter trek called Kuari Pass and five days peaceful travel to Rishikesh and Auli.”
In February 2020, she visited a tiny hamlet in Himachal Pradesh — Jibhi to relieve her experience. “In February 2021, the call of the mountains was too strong to resist. I found myself back in Uttarakhand doing a week-long trek in Kedarkantha under Covid measures. I utilised these occasions to live in small homestays with the local people and got to experience their culture and amazing cuisine, did some artwork and made a lot of fur friends. Now it’s almost like a yearly pilgrimage for me to the mountains to recharge my batteries.”
She has rediscovered books amidst the peaceful mountains. “The sylvan surroundings of the places I stayed in rejuvenated my interest in Yoga and meditation that helped me to de-stress myself. The benefits will surely help anyone to face the hustle and bustle of our routine city life.”
Saha’s experiences were quite similar. “I have spent weeks in McLeodganj. Triund Trek was my first trek. I stayed in a mud house. You needed to trek down to the market to get your daily ration. I spent a lot of time in the local cafes reading short novels and talking to the café owners and visitors. A fellow rider joined and showed me the entire Dharamshala. As he was a local, so he knew every bit of that place. We went to The Tibet Museum, Norbulingka Institute, Tushita Retreat Centre, Kalachakra Temple and the Namgyal Monastery. By the time I left, I had connected so much that I started following Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism.”
She further reveals, “Serolsar Lake trek is one of the most magical places I have ever seen. I stayed in a solo tent on a stormy night. I spent the entire evening stargazing, something we miss out on in cities. Another is the Giri Ganga, a beautiful place hidden near 7 km above Kharapathar in the Shimla district. Only Alpine tents are available and are the best way to have an experience. Homestays are available around 30 km away.”
The thing with trends is that they have a way to create an impact. Psychologist Dr Arati Suryawanshi reveals, “It is a digital detox which deprives you of all unnecessary distractions and helps you find the real joy of a holiday. It helps you realise how badly you need time for yourself and makes you feel free from the trappings of technology and everything that’s been affecting you in this new normal.”
Parulekar points towards the home becoming a workplace since 2020 with work and leisure hours merging. “People have started working out of cafes, and even move to different cities/towns. They do this not only for a change of scene but also to mark your EOD when it’s due. Earlier, most of our villas did not have WiFi and were perfect spots for a digital detox. However, now many want to work out of our homes due to which we had to install high-speed WiFi.”
He still sees week-long stays with people logging out around 6 PM and then going for some family time amidst nature. “One major trend that has seen a rise over the last one year is week-day travel. Since most places are sold out or slightly more expensive over the weekends, many families and friends now choose to stay at our homes on weekdays for three-four days.”
Digitalisation has had an immense impact on travelling. Kholkar thinks so. “But most of us miss a critical element: human interaction. Spartan Travel encourages people to immerse in the destination, create more valuable memories with their travel companions, and form a genuine connection with locals. These unique local experiences can bring back some of the amazing memories and let us reminisce some of the good old days.”
He accepts the trend has brought in a rise in micro hotels and properties like treehouses and forest cabins. “Also, demand for experiences like trekking, hiking, cycling and yoga will also accelerate, in turn boosting businesses like BLive that provide such intimate, authentic experiences.”
Some trends like these keep shifting paths to stay relevant. Supriya notes that earlier internet was an advertising point for hotels. “Now, we might get to see a change in the trend where the USP of non-availability of the internet will be highlighted.”
The others too agree with this becoming a lambi race ka ghoda. According to Suryawanshi, we are now used to the peach in our lives. “It is good for their mental health. Travellers can experience minimal living while being away from gadgets. It helps you reboot and get back in sync with nature allowing the atmosphere to heal us from within.” Spartan Travelling has been a way of living for ages. That is what Saha thinks.
“People are just renaming the words and calling it a trend because as living in an urban lifestyle, we tend to have a robotic and repetitive routine, which is hectic and unhealthy. Thus, so much hype has been created around it to remind people what we are missing out in life.” Of course, travelling as we know has officially changed. The pandemic, according to Kholkar, has given rise to high demand for domestic travel, especially to remote places.
“The duration might remain short yet there’s a high possibility that people will opt for longer Spartan trips in future to counteract digital malaise.” As someone rightly said — We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.