Sajna Ali has the best quality that all winners have—attitude. Her story starts in 2014 when she and a few friends planned a weekend trip from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala to Odisha. When they bailed, Sajna did not sulk. Instead, she went solo, came back home to Kerala, and started a women-only travel group.
This June, she completed the 398th professionally-organized trip of her travel agency named Appooppanthaadi.
Appooppanthaadi is milkweed in Malayalam that grows in abundance in the Kerala countryside. It relies on the wind to disperse its seeds and sort of represents gay abandon, a burst of freedom amid a crowd, spreading its gossamer wings to wherever it wants to go.
Women travellers at one of the locales during their trip organised by Sajna Ali's company
The 36-year-old Sajna, a mother to a two-month-old baby girl, is celebrating the travel company’s 400th trip milestone. In the last seven years, 4,300 women have travelled across India, thanks to the decision made eight years ago.
Another first for her travel company is its first international trip slated for this year. Sajna’s best memory is about how it all started—the maiden trip to Rosemala in the Kollam district with eight women.
“I posted the fun parts of the trip on social media and inquiries started flooding in. I thought it was the right time to start this travel agency as a side hustle,” she remembers.
“I hail from Kozhikode. My father is a truck driver who brought home photos from every trip. I always wanted to accompany him but he used to dissuade me from coming on long rides as there were not enough washroom facilities for women. However, he used to take me on short one-day trips and I enjoyed them very much,” she says.
A women travellers group in Kashmir. It was organised by Sajna Ali's company
A software professional, Sajna, quit her job at Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram to pursue her passion for travel. As the travel company hit the 400th tour milestone, Sajna wants to give back to society.
A ‘give-back-to-the-community’ trip that involves volunteering in a village is on the cards. The members of the trip could be volunteering their time for anything––from teaching language skills to coding to the locals.
Appooppanthaadi has tied up with Responsible Tourism Mission Kerala, the state government’s mission to promote sustainable travel. Another association is the travel fellowship Prayaana. As part of this, her company will sponsor short two-day trips for travel enthusiasts to promote offbeat destinations in return for blog and video posts online.
Her main source of travellers is the agency’s eponymous Facebook group which has 11,000 members. Sajna is the administrator of 22 WhatsApp groups with 300 members each and uses social media to promote and finalise travel plans. The travel pioneer thinks that travel, especially solo travel for the average Indian woman, is less about visiting a place, ticking off the sightseeing spots, or taking selfies. “Solo travel is empowering. I have seen hundreds of women who feel liberated traveling with us.
Some were traveling solo for the first time in 50 years. Solo travel brings out their fun side; it makes them feel independent, confident, and competent,” she states. Sajna keeps the trips budget-friendly and even does a recce for every place before she organizes the program. “My top concern is the safety of my female travelers. We never compromise on that,” she insists.
Lights in hotel corridors are checked out. They take along spare battery torches, safety apps, and self-defence devices like pepper sprays and tasers. Sajna’s achievements include winning a `40 lakh fellowship grant for a special travel project by Aao. Although Covid-19 put a brake on travel, she now is back to work with two office staff and 18 travel volunteers.
Appooppanthaadi has an evocative meaning for Sajna. The word sums up the fun and carefree times of her childhood when she sat on her grandfather’s lap listening to his stories and playing with his beard. “Now, travel makes me feel liberated and blissful.” Have feet, will travel, should be her T-shirt slogan.