From advertising to backpacking solo, to rediscovering herself, find out how Aparna Mohan, the Founder of Let’s Get Lost embarked on her entrepreneurial journey. Almost like a scene from ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, after returning from her backpacking trip through Europe, she settled down into domesticity, parenting and the usual humdrum of a professional career. However, something was still amiss when her love for travel sparked the entrepreneur in her and there was no looking back.
Meet 37-year-old Aparna Mohan, the Founder of Let’s Get Lost a boutique travel agency based out of Mumbai. Aparna is a PG in Communication & Advertising from MICA, Ahmedabad and has worked with several top brands right from Contract Advertising, Zee Television Network, Brand consulting at The Learning Curve until she founded Let’s Get Lost in January 2016.
When did it all begin?
“Traveling has been my all time favourite thing to do. I think a seed for wanderlust was laid in me when I took my first backpacking trip to Europe 10 years back. At that time, I was in between jobs and my parents wanted me to settle down and marry a ‘suitable boy’. I thought the situation was hopeless until I took the trip and came back a changed person with a changed perspective towards life. I was like the frog that jumped out of the well, and came back with wings,” quips Aparna.
Traveling has been more than just an interest or hobby for her, it has been an essential part of her life: in happiness, in sadness, in celebration, whatever the situation be, you would always find Aparna say “Let’s go somewhere!” Even while working in high paying corporate jobs and finally settling down with a very suitable boy, Aparna would still long to be somewhere else, always longing for the unknown. Aparna could actually describe herself as a sort of an ‘antevasin’ or an ‘in-betweener’, as Elizabeth Gilbert described it in Eat, Pray, Love.
“I have worked for over a decade in advertising, media and brand consulting and though I enjoyed it while it lasted, there came a time when I wanted to be on my own. More so, being a full-time mom to a little girl, a 9 to 5 was out of the question. So I took the plunge and called upon that one passion I had and started Let’s Get Lost – driven by the passion to create the most enriching travel experiences for the antevasins like me,” smiles Aparna.
Aparna likes to call Let’s Get Lost (LGL) a ‘home grown travel company’. She started on a shoestring budget to test the waters of entrepreneurship and it has paid off. LGL is a self-funded initiative from the beginning and she believes in pure organic growth.
She adds, “I remember the first beach camp in Kashid that we organised, we spent out of pocket for getting the supplies and equipment ready – things like tents, lamps, food, toiletries etc. I was very clear that I would not make losses – so we broke even for our first four camps. But LGL made profits from the fifth event onwards in the very first year itself. I knew it’s possible with one small step at a time.”
Though investment has been high in terms of time and energy spent learning about the business. Rather than hiring agencies right at the beginning, Aparna equipped her skill set by undertaking social media courses and sought creative help from WhatsApp communities and online portals. This year, Let’s Get Lost is in the process of shortlisting an agency for a branding exercise which will include making a website, running social media handles, building an active and involved community etc.
“Overall, I was aware that being independent would not yield big money initially unless I could consistently deliver on creating specialist experiential holidays for the right people, and that is my aim going forward,” states Aparna.
Branding – Let’s Get Lost
As Aparna explains, “While “Get Lost” signifies the quest for authentic experiences to unexplored places, the word “Let’s” is all about travelling with others. I’ve always enjoyed travelling with somebody; solo travel can be lonely sometimes. It’s lovely to see the sunset and share the experience with someone real at the same time while it’s happening. Posthumously uploading pictures on Instagram v/s real-time sharing of experiences with someone human are two different worlds altogether. There’s also so much to learn from others and their experiences when you travel in a group. There are life long friendships to be made. Contrary to perception, group travel can be an excellent way of travelling and making new friends.”
People find the name extremely exciting and maybe cheeky. Aparna mentions that she’s almost always got a laugh as a reaction and that’s great as it hits their spot somewhere. And because of its simplicity, the name implies everything Let’s Get Lost stand for.
Challenges are many but as exciting as they can be. The most critical challenge is to don the hat of an entrepreneur after several years of corporate life, that too while being a full-time mom.
“Now I am not only my own boss (the stuff of my dreams) but also the peon, accountant & everything else in between (not the stuff of my dreams). There are days when I wake up thinking “What am I doing?” But then, most other times I am insanely driven by my passion,” laughs Aparna.
Business -wise, the big challenge is to create fulfilling long-term partnerships on the supply side – local agents, transporters, hotel chains etc. For Aparna, her success depends on a simultaneous ability to sell to customers and to strike deals with the suppliers. That’s a tricky balance and tough to crack every time. Searching for the right place, putting together a unique itinerary, value for money, and the best customer service – all this has to challengingly come together to make it work.
Clients at Let’s Get Lost
Over 70% of LGL’s guests so far have been women; especially for longer adventure trips and they’ve seen this number only increasing each year. Mostly, women join their weekend camps with their family or friends, but travel solo on the longer duration trips. Whatever the case, women today are choosing to be out there and there’s no stopping them.
Aparna further adds, “Women are taking the lead in not only travelling for self but also planning for their kids and family. This is amazing because they are actually influencing everyone around them to get out more often. They are lapping up to new experiences like never before. Especially nice is to see moms, including single moms travelling with their kids. The dependence on husbands to take them out is much reduced.”
One of their guests Pallavi Khandelwal who paraglided with LGL in Bir, Himachal put it very nicely, “Now I am gonna work in-between travel, and not travel in-between work.”. And that is what precisely what women want today.
Creative travel made accessible to all is what Let’s Get Lost believes in. Their adventures are not only for the most rugged, but young and old, women and children alike.
Aparna further adds, “A major differentiator for us is also the personal touch that is there in all our trips. It is not very difficult to create a unique tour package and there’s so much competition out there, but what’s difficult is to create an atmosphere of real bonding, something that is not fake posed only for group pictures. We approach all our customers like family and that creates very warm and friendly group dynamics that cannot be copied by any competition. It’s the beginning of the formation of a very close knit community of our own.”
Memorable trips with Let’s Get Lost
Amazing things happen when you are on the road and Aparna shares some memories from all her trips:
a) I remember how Payal* lived up to the brand name of Let’s Get Lost in its true sense in Pondicherry. During our morning cycling tour around town, it was raining and we were a group of 8 people riding happily when suddenly we realised Payal is nowhere to be seen and she had lost track of the group. She didn’t even have a cell phone on her. It took us a whole hour looking for her. We were getting worried when we finally found her sipping on coffee in a corner, waiting to be rescued.
b) Rajgundha is a fairy like a tiny hamlet in the Kangra valley at a height of above 4,500 feet. It has barely 8-10 houses that come alive only during the summer season for 4-5 months. You will see tiny but sturdy womenfolk walk miles and miles carrying heavy grain sacks to their houses from the river mills. That’s where we met ‘Pyar ki kali’, while we were trekking. Yes, that’s a real name and she had the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen – eager and innocent. She was a grandma of a 12-year-old boy who had moved to the city with his parents and was dearly missed by her. It made me wonder, how much in love her parents must have been to name their child ‘Pyar ki Kali’. She even invited me to stay with her, provided I could haul 10 kgs of rice grain on my back up the steep slope to her house. Obviously, I didn’t take up her offer.
c) And then Yogi, our dear local guide who took us to the most beautiful treks, shared the most amazing stories and also made us taste the perfect rhododendron flowers. We will never forget the tears in his eyes as we bade farewell. In less than 5 days, Yogi had become a deep impression in all our lives.
d) There are also stories of things going wrong and sometimes they are the best remembered. It was our ‘Movies under the stars’ camp out at Rajmachi Fort. Now, this campsite is right under the fort, has no electricity and the only way to reach there is by trekking up for 4 hours! And trust technology to fail you at the final moment. Just when our movie screenings were about to begin, the fuse on the amplifier went off! Panic mode on we literally ran to the village nearby with a torchlight, knocking on the villagers’ doors asking them if they had a spare amplifier. It was a total shot in the dark, pun intended. But miraculously a “village DJ” did possess what we were looking for, and our movies night out went on smoothly after that.
(*name changed on request)
The response so far
So far, the response has been excellent, better than expected. She believes what goes around, comes around; that LGL totally deserves the amazing people they have served so far and the people who believe in their honest approach to work.
“The biggest hallmark of success for us has been repeat guests and referrals. We have people travelling with us multiple times already, without any questions asked; and this, has made us very proud and happy,” smiles Aparna.
Otherwise, anyone who is open minded and is ready for a unique travel experience is their potential client. LGL had the cutest 60+-year-olds Mr. & Mrs. Bhawnani trekking the Tikona Fort with full gusto. They’ve also had fathers travelling with their sons and bonding with them over a BBQ. What’s more, they’ve also had people coming in with their pets as well.
“Our camps welcome all. We, in fact, will be hosting special camps for pets, for grandparents, for single moms/dads etc. going forward,” mentions Aparna.
How Let’s Get Lost plans its trips?
“Our weekend camps are based on the concept of ‘tent-ertainment’ – an experience of adventure and enrichment through creative arts, put together. So all our camps have an adventure activity like a sunrise trek to a fort, camping and BBQ along with a creative activity like movie watching, tribal jam, art therapy etc. The campsites we choose, after lot of time-consuming recce and personal trials, are truly hidden away and you can get lost trying to find them. But yet they are just a few hours away from Mumbai and Pune – perfect for a weekend hide-away,” explains Aparna.
LGL’s long duration trips too are of interest-based trips that could be of adventurous, cultural or of the local nature. For example, they went to Bir-Billing for paragliding and trekking, they’d be going to Coonoor for tea plantation trails and cheese farm stay, to Punjab for the local food trails & farm stay. The places we choose our usually unknown or those that you put on your bucket list but never really get to go to.
Apart from being authentic, their itineraries are the most comprehensive and robust. As Aparna explains that you usually don’t visit one destination twice, so they make sure you experience the place in all its vibrancy and beauty. While they avoid the touristy things at all costs (like ‘view-points’), LGL tries to create new experiences that get the character of a place under your skin.
For instance, they got an amazing French cook Fanny and her husband to host a crepe-making workshop for their group at her vibrant cafe in Pondicherry. That was an absolutely original idea not executed before and the group simply loved sitting on the terrace, sampling Fanny’s crepes with some French wine and French music.
While these are not luxury trips, they are certainly not backpacking trips either. The budget really depends on the type of experience LGL are creating and the place they’re going to. No compromise is made on quality – so at the end of the day its total value for money.
What makes Let’s Get Lost unique?
As she recalls, “On one of my trips to Scotland, I stumbled upon an amazing open air movie festival in Edinburgh, It was one of the most exciting experiences. And that was my inspiration to create the “Movies under the stars” campout in March last year for Let’s Get Lost. We were probably the first ones to have done something like that and the idea has become so popular today.”
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