Meet Samyukta Ranganathan, the freespirit who is living every traveller’s dream. Post quitting a corporate job, the travelpreneur is now fuelling her passing for exploring by curating intimate local experiences and elevating local partnerships. In an exclusive teté-a-teté with Travel + Leisure India & South Asia, Ranganathan shares delightful anecdotes of her journeys, travel inspirations and more.
Samyukta Ranganathan quit her marketing job to fuel her passion for travel. Looking to curate intimate local experiences at popular travel destinations in order to elevate local partnerships, she founded Urbanaut, a travel app where users can find and book exclusive, authentic, local travel experiences. Post the launch, Urbanaut received immense love. So much so that her find, a traditional Landlord’s feast in Goa, caught the attention of Bollywood star Akshay Kumar who wanted it recreated for wife Twinkle Khanna’s birthday!
Excerpts from the interview with Samyukta Ranganathan:
T+L India: Tell us about your startup Urbanaut, and what makes it unique?
Samyukta Ranganathan: When I lived in Dubai, I had the opportunity to indulge my love for travelling. I found myself in Lebanon, a gorgeous destination that I didn’t know much about. People seemed to have a misconception that [the country] was dangerous since it was still recovering from war. I pieced together a lovely holiday using Instagram hashtags and handles that were sharing local content, and realised I had no resources to find discerning, curated information by locals. That’s how the idea for Urbanaut was sparked.
Urbanaut is like having a cool friend with great taste in different cities! We don’t list everything; we only mention the places that locals appreciate. So, you won’t see many chain restaurants or flashy hotels. The idea is to be a trustworthy, authentic source for recommendations and experiences.
T+L India: When did you start travelling? Tell us about some of your most fascinating trips.
Samyukta Ranganathan: While my family loves to travel and we would make trips every year, I think my first real taste of travelling was at the age of 19 when I studied abroad in Europe — England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. It was life-changing! We would learn about Spanish history while at Alhambra in Granada, and watch plays at the Globe Theatre while learning about Shakespeare.
T+L India: What are your favourite travel destinations?
Samyukta Ranganathan: I absolutely loved Ladakh. Alaska was also a mystical experience. I went to Tanzania for my honeymoon and the Serengeti was the most life-affirming place I’ve been to. The Ngorongoro Crater is a must-visit for any travel or wildlife lover. I also went to Saudi Arabia and Iran for work, and loved both the places because I was able to change my preconceived notions. Lebanon might have been the most exciting and inspiring place for me. Beirut is special to me and I will always love it. In Europe, Slovenia was just stunning and took me completely by surprise — I would definitely want to return!
We have stayed in a tent in the middle of Wadi Rum in Jordan and seen the milky way; travelled to a bear-only island in Alaska, where giant brown bears crossed our paths; stayed on a boat and jumped into the ocean at every opportunity in Turkey.
T+L India: How has travel changed you?
Samyukta Ranganathan: Travelling, and meeting people while travelling, is possibly the only way to truly develop an open mind. It is also the best way to feel inspired and think of great ideas, recharge and refresh. I firmly believe that looking forward to a holiday is as important for your wellbeing as actually going on one!
T+L India: What do you look for when planning a personal trip?
Samyukta Ranganathan: I usually look for places that have more than just one thing to offer. For example, this summer I am planning a holiday to Mexico and looking for a bit of culture and history, plenty of natural beauty, and vibrant city inspiration. I am not the sort of person who can sit on an island for four-five days and not leave the hotel premises. I love exploring a bit of everything that a place has to offer.
I try not to have very long lists because I tend to completely ignore them. My husband has nicknamed me “Sambitious” because I used to plan too many things in an attempt not to miss out! I have changed and now appreciate slow travelling with fewer destinations.
T+L India: What’s on your travel bucket list?
Samyukta Ranganathan: Morocco, for its enchanting streets and markets. Patagonia, for its unprecedented natural beauty and solitude. Bolivia, for its stunning salt pans and culture.
T+L India: What are your thoughts about sustainable travel? What are some ways people can opt for more sustainable travel?
Samyukta Ranganathan: There is no other way to travel. It is truly the better, more fun and more rewarding way to travel, and it doesn’t require any sacrifice of any sorts. Being mindful is just a kinder way to be.
Reducing flights is key. Take a train or bus when you can. Choose boutique hotels over large chains. Carry your own water bottle, eat local, and support smaller businesses when you travel.Discover a place on foot, bring your plastic back home, and reuse your towels and linens.
T+L India: Give us a few travel recommendations for your favourite travel destination.
Samyukta Ranganathan: I don’t have a favourite! Having said that, if you’re in Manali, you should try the Lahaul hike. It was life-changing to see a glacier so close or run into a shepherd who lives in the mountains with just his sheep and dogs! In Dharamshala, The Other Space has sublime views. You should park yourself at this cafe for a while. In Goa, the Floating Feni experience is such a special way to understand more about Goan heritage and the history behind this fabulous drink. You absolutely must take a sunset cruise, and jump into the river or go kayaking through the mangroves on the Chapora River with our partners Konkan Explorers.
T+L India: Tell us about some of the unique travel experiences on Urbanaut?
Samyukta Ranganathan: Lahaul hike, an incredible farm-to-table desert experience in the middle of an orchard in the outskirts of Jodhpur, Floating Feni in Goa, and even the private monastery visit and session with a monk in Stok, Ladakh.
T+L India: What can one expect when booking an experience on Urbanaut?
Samyukta Ranganathan: We hope our experiences are unique and authentic. Since we are a tech company first, we hope to really make the booking process smooth for users and partners, both. We need to do to ensure the experience economy in India grows as it should.
Related: How To Explore Kolkata Like A Local