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The Interview: Darrell Wade, Intrepid Travel

Intrepidvietnam
    Intrepid Travel is not your garden variety adventure travel tour operator. Not when they can arrange for you to spend 15 days traveling through Uzbekistan for $1,360. Plan a month-long trip for you in the jungle and on the beaches of Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo for $2,240. Or entice you with a 61-day "South America Encompassed" trip for $4,905, an amount that won't get you a week in Provence with a high-end tour operator.
    Of course, they go many other places as well – more than 100 destinations – including the usual suspects, like Bali, Belgium and Bolivia. In short, they offer organized group travel for the socially-conscious budget set, a faction whose numbers seem to be swelling daily. They’re even offering a 15 percent break to those who are newly laid-off.
    Intrepid Travel’s departures average just 10 travelers and they rate their trips not only by difficulty but by culture shock. While you’re part of a group, you travel as independent travelers do, via local transport. You sleep in local accommodations and guesthouses and dinner might well be at street stalls.
    The Australian-based company was founded in 1989 by two friends, Darrell Wade and  Geoff Manchester. I recently had a chance to ask Wade about the company.

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 How would you characterize the Intrepid Travel approach?

Well, it's a different approach to most I guess. We very much believe in getting under the skin of a destination – and so like to immerse ourselves in the local way of doing things. That might mean using lots of local transportation, or perhaps staying in the home of some local friends or perhaps just learning a little about the local good, language or culture. We also believe that the best way to touch the destination is to travel in a small group with an experienced leader. Our groups average just 10 travelers, which means that we can have a much more flexible, grass roots travel experience that we could with a larger group. We can blend in to a destination rather than dominate it.

How was the company founded?

    Almost by mistake! I got back from a year of independent travel at the same time my best friend returned from an organized cycling trip in China. We were comparing notes and came up with a list of pros and cons for each style of travel. Then we thought "I wonder if it is possible to retain all the advantages of both independent and organized travel – while leave behind all the disadvantages of each?" We arrived at a way of traveling that we felt was so compelling and logical that we couldn't work out why no one had done it before. Intrepid was born!

Intrepid morocco
 
 Darrell, your trips are known for being inexpensive, which, in this economy, is a godsend. What do you do to keep the prices low? Where do you cut corners?

    Really it has more to do with our philosophy on travel than anything else. The reality is that local style transport and accommodation just doesn't cost that much, so we pass the savings on to our travelers. We believed that lots of people would like to travel in the way we do, and so if we kept our profit margins relatively low, and therefore the price low, we could create a fast growing business so make up in volume what we didn't achieve through high prices.

And how on earth can you manage nearly 500 trips?

    You know how the real estate mantra is "location, location, location?" Well, ours is "people, people, people". If you have great people, and you respect them, they will take care of everything!

Intrepidmali
How does the travel experience differ on one of your self-guided tours?

    Quite a lot actually. Because there is no leader, we find it harder to get to the more unusual, quirkier places that we pride ourselves on so much in our small group adventures. There isn't our leader there to introduce you to their local friends in the market, or arrange the homestay in a village way off the beaten track. But we recognize that not everyone wants to travel with others, or their dates may not suit ours. So we do what we can to be as creative as possible and inject as many real life experiences as possible into a self-guided trip.

Have you received many responses to your recent offer of a 15 percent discount on a trip to anyone who was recently laid off?

    Yes, I'm not sure it is a good thing but we have already had a significant number of bookings. A sad sign of the times I guess.

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What are your favorite trips at the moment?

    I'm having an absolute love affair with Africa right now. Or should I say a second honeymoon as I spent a year traveling there in the late 80's. In the last three years I've had four trips to Africa and I'm currently planning a trip to Mozambique in June. It's the fantastic open spaces, the people smiles, the warm and smiles of the people – it's just great!

What can't you leave home without when you travel?

    Very little! Well, maybe a sense of humor! I find that is pretty essential. I tend to be an "in the moment" kind of person and really don't care for "things" that much. For instance, I only every travel with hand luggage because I like the flexibility and speed that allows. Do you really need that extra pair of shoes and a list of gadgets a mile long? I don't think so!

What remains to be done on your personal travel wish list?

    The sad thing is my personal list gets longer rather than shorter – and this is despite traveling for several months a year. Whilst business is great fun, and I am only in my late 40's, I have to say I do look forward to retiring in a few years. It will mean I can do some long trips and tick off some of those places that I've just never managed to get to – like Central Asia, Brazil, Yemen and Mali. But by then I'll probably have visited those places and replaced them with others!

Where are you off to next?

    Nepal – pretty much as soon as I finish talking with you actually! My family and that of my business partner Geoff along with another family we've both known for nearly 30 years are all off together. So there is 6 adults and 6 kids so it should be great fun. We'll have a couple of weeks light trekking in the Annapurna's followed by a few days rafting on the Seti river and then a couple days at Chitwan National Park riding elephants, looking for rhinos and stuff. I don't think you could get a better family adventure than that do you?

    Visit Intrepid Travel for more information.

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