Meenakshi Arvind On How She Travelled Across 24 Countries In 70 Days Despite Society’s Taunts
- IWB Post
- March 15, 2018
Meenakshi Arvind is an avid traveler, a car enthusiast, and a successful business owner. She is the brain behind the all-women road trip from Coimbatore to London, traveling across 24 countries and covering 26,800km in 70 Days.
She was accompanied by Mookambika Rathnam from Pollachi and Priya Rajpal from Mumbai. The journey started on March 26 last year and ended on June 5. The women embarked on this journey of a lifetime with a critical mission, to promote the cause of ‘Rotary India Literacy Mission,’ spreading awareness about women’s empowerment and literacy. The 70-day trip was in sync with the 70 years of Independent India. Excerpts:
Meenakshi, you have an incredibly diverse work pool. So, apart from traveling, which you are so passionate about, what are you currently involved in?
I run a resort in Coimbatore, called Lakeside. Since the time I bought it from a British couple, I’ve been hands-on involved in running it. It is something that almost happened by chance. So these friends of mine, a young British couple, owned this place, and I used to frequent it a lot. I was absolutely in love with the place – its natural beauty and serenity. So when I realized they were interested in selling it, I jumped at the offer! Running this resort is something I absolutely love to do, and it is very close to my heart. Apart from this, my family has traditionally been in the pickle business, and that took me traveling to a lot of places in Europe. When it comes to our own venture, my husband and I are in the textile business, though here I am not actively involved, I am more of a dormant partner.
Being a woman entrepreneur in the travel and tourism industry, have you faced any hurdles?
Not really. This is so mainly because my target audience and clients are tourists and not locals. When it comes to my immediate competition too, it has usually been resorts run by foreigners. Also, I am not running a massive hotel, it is a very niche boutique hotel. So, maintaining and sustaining this tourist-friendly hotel in a tourist place hasn’t been so much of a trouble for me.
You are also a nature enthusiast. So could you tell us about initiatives that you undertook as an environment conservationist?
Personally, I have taken an oath to never use plastic products in my life, and this extends to my family members as well as my resort. So, my family is practically an eco-friendly one. Recently along with a bunch of friends in Coimbatore, I started this thing called “We Mean Green,” which is basically a campaign aimed at creating awareness, specially among restaurants owners and shops, about the environmental harm in serving plastic water bottles. This idea pioneered in my resort where we serve only double filtered purified water and reuse water. So basically, I live a plastic-free life and propagate this idea as much as possible.
Moving on, let’s talk about your love for traveling and more specifically the recent road trip that you took from India to England.
See, this was just a road trip. I didn’t anticipate all the publicity that came out of it. This was my dream, and I just wanted to do it. Traveling has been my passion, and I’ve been extensively traveling since the last almost 20 years. I had undertaken a road trip to Thailand which was more like a trailer in front of the longer and more arduous England one. On both the trips, the diverse experiences that I’ve had is something much beyond what I can put into words.
Being a woman traveler, and undertaking a cross-country, 70-day road trip, what were your major obstacles?
The hurdles have been many. First of all, coming from a small town like Coimbatore, especially being a woman, I faced a lot of flak from society for venturing into traveling alone – why are you doing this, it is not safe, you won’t be able to finish the trip successfully, etc. But I just faced it bravely, put on my thick-skinned attitude and went ahead with all the preparations of finding a team, a car, getting the finances ready, etc.
Apart from this, another grilling task was to get all the paperwork in place – concerning borders crossing and immigration. Getting sponsors was another tedious task, as most of them thought that women driving across the world was an implausible idea. But once all this was in place, the trip itself was pretty smooth, apart from a few instances with respect to the border crossing, but this is something everybody would face.
Did you plan this to be an all-women trip?
No, it just happened by chance. This is my second international road trip. The earlier one to Thailand was with my husband and brother and a few others, so I was the only woman. Soon after I returned, I started planning for the England trip. I was supposed to go with a couple of people from the same group itself, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. So then I took to social media to connect with like-minded people who had the same passion for traveling and was interested in such a trip, and in this was it eventually became an all-women trip.
Now when it comes to traveling alone, especially for women, a primary concern is safety. What has been your experience in this respect?
This definitely was a concern, but to our surprise, people abroad have been extremely friendly and hospitable toward us. We were obviously cautious – we watched our backs, never diverted from the planned route, didn’t do anything stupid, didn’t go out late – basically, we were pretty sensible tourists and riders. We never had any trouble from anybody, anywhere outside India. To honestly tell you, I’ve actually felt unsafe in India. My fear, whenever I’ve traveled outside, has been with respect to the car, weather, border crossing formalities, etc.; but in India, it is more about my safety as a woman.
What kind of cultural shifts did you notice during your journey and how important do you think it is for people, especially women, to experience these diverse cultures?
We definitely experienced a plethora of cultures, both in the east as well as the west. Looking back at all the diverse cultural encounters that I’ve had, I would say that we are in many ways better off in India, with respect to the freedom that we enjoy and the privilege that we have. We end up taking it for granted, and that’s why I feel it is essential for people to experience these different cultures so that they finally understand how privileged they are and not end up misusing this freedom.
What tips do you have for women travelers on the road, especially if someone is a first timer?
First and foremost, get all your papers in place. From a road trip point of view, and otherwise, also, a lot of importance needs to be given to the documentation part. Being careful and mindful of what you do is crucial. Be a very sensible tourist, and always be prepared for any contingencies. And more than anything else, have the attitude that you have everything sorted, you are in control.