The Deal: What do you get when you combine a love of adventure with a love of free trade coffee? Adventurous Joe, a new Maine-based company started by John Connolly, former manager of L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Schools. Connolly not only imports coffees from Costa Rica and Peru under the Adventurous Joe label but showcase it with his background in adventure. The first departure, Costa Rica Multi-Sport and Coffee Farm Adventure, runs April 26 to May 5, 2012
What’s the Deal: The trip includes kayaking through Tortuguero National Park among howler and spider monkeys and a spectacular array of birds, staying at Mawumba eco-lodge, whitewater rafting the Pacuare River Gorge, exploring the Rios Tropicales rainforest eco-lodge where you can experience touring and zip lining through the canopy, as well as a coffee farm tour
Details: $1,950.00 per person, based on double occupancy, land-only.
Contact: Adventurous Joe
By Steve Jermanok
The small strip of pavement forms a straight line into the horizon like an express route to freedom. Astride my bike, I zip over bridges and through tunnels, past large ponds, salt marshes and cranberry bogs, all while breathing in the sweet smell of spring wildflowers and the far more potent brine of the sea. The hum of traffic is gone, replaced by the call of the red-winged blackbird and the yellow warbler. The only obstacles before me are runners, clumsy rollerbladers and other leisurely bikers. In the Cape Cod town of Orleans, I hop off my bike for a few minutes and take that quintessential New England snapshot of fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. Soon after, I’m in the shade of Nickerson State Park, pedaling straight through Brewster to a series of swimming holes that reward bikers with a refreshing dip.
Such is a ride on the 25-mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail on a corridor that, until 1937, was used to ship cranberries the Cape to Boston aboard the Old Colony Railroad. Today, the relatively level rail trail is a placid retreat that has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in the Northeast for biking, hiking, strolling, jogging and in-line skating.
Like so many of these paths proliferating across the US—from the 225-mile Katy Trail that stretches across most of Missouri to the 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path that snakes through the heart of Chicago’s suburbs—the Cape Cod Rail Trail was for many decades an abandoned railroad line. Far away from maddening congestion on city streets and the noise of rural highways, rail trails are beloved by outdoor enthusiasts and a focal point of renewal across the country. From 1965 to 1985, only 1,000 miles of trail were opened. Today, there are currently more than 15,000 miles of rail trails open across the country.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail takes you through the interior of the Cape from South Dennis to Wellfleet, or vice-versa. The salty air is a pleasant reminder that the Cape Cod National Seashore and its 40-mile stretch of pounding Atlantic surf is never far away. At the visitors’ center in Eastham, you can veer off the CCRT for two miles on a separate trail to lounge on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach. Continue on to Brewster to cool off in a series of kettle ponds (swimming holes). Nearby, a favorite picnic spot, the Pleasant Lake General Store in Harwich, was once a popular stop on the Old Colony Railroad Line.
Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World, due out late 2010. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.
There are plenty of adventure travel companies out there, but Classic Journeys seems to have found and refined its own niche: tours that combine cultural immersion with physical activity in some of the most delightful locations in the world. What’s more, many of these trips can handily fit into a week-long time period, making them ideal for the time-pressed among us. I recently had a chance to ask company founder Edward Piegza about what makes Classic Journeys unique in a crowded marketplace.
What are the origins of Classic Journeys?
My “aha” moment was in realizing that we could use walking as a means rather than an end. “Let’s create trips with strong cultural and historic elements, and use moderate, manageable walks as the way to get close to the local people and see things you don’t see when you’re on a forced march or a big motor coach.” That’s how we created our first Cultural Walking Adventure, and it’s the principle we still apply to all of the itineraries we have in 2011.
We just celebrated our 15th Anniversary, but the idea of the company is a few years older than that. I already had a lot of experience with fairly intense walking tours, like coast-to-coast treks in northern England. But “intense” was the key word. I knew a lot of good travelers who were happy to go for a walk and who loved being out in the country, meeting the locals. At the same time, I felt that there was a limit to how many of them were willing to sink knee-deep into a bog or trek through nettles to make it happen. I realized it was a new niche: people who wanted to exercise their imaginations as much as their bodies.
What do you bring to the table in terms of expertise?
After spending a few years as a banker (what was I thinking?), I’ve been in the travel business for almost 20 years. In addition to our headquarters operation, we have about 175 local guides around the world, many of whom have been with us since the beginning. I like to say that we built a major social network 15 years before it became a hot idea. We have native resources on the ground in every one of the 68 regions in 31 countries on 5 continents where we take our guests. Instead of coming in from California and imposing a trip on a region, we have the resources to start from the ground up and construct an experience-based itinerary that immerses a guest in the culture and really captures the essence of the place.
How would you characterize the Classic Journeys approach to adventure travel – and how does it differ from the competition?
Like I said, we’ve been different from the start. Our unique brand of adventure travel is what we call a Cultural Walking Adventure. For us, the cultural experiences are where the real adventure lies. It’s not that we don’t go river rafting in Costa Rica or camel-riding in Morocco. But a Classic Journey is never primarily about the physical adventure. It’s about the life of the place we’re visiting.
Another huge difference is how we empower our local guides. Of course, we have established itineraries, but our guides have tremendous flexibility that other travel companies don’t allow. We always want our travelers to be able to take advantage of the copacetic things that happen when you travel. If we get an impromptu invitation into a farmer’s home, or if a major local festival happens to coincide with a village visit, we go for it. It keeps the trips spontaneous and fresh, and that’s everything to us.
How about your travelers – who are they, what are they like, how experienced are they in roaming the world?
Demographically, they’re mid-40s to late 60s (though I also like to say we’re very strong among 8 to 15-year-olds thanks to Family Journeys). Our guests are generally professional and urban. The most relevant distinguishing characteristic is that Classic Journeys’ guests are very experienced, independent travelers. They’ve been around. They’ve seen the marquee sights. They’ve gotten lost in their Italian rental cars and ordered the tripe by accident. They tell us that they like our approach because they still get the kind of rich experiences they always looked for on their own, but they are happy to have us handling the logistics.
You offer family trips – tell us about them, and where they go.
We offer 17 Family Journeys to destinations from Tuscany, Amalfi, Provence, Croatia and Ireland to Costa Rica, Morocco, Peru and Montana’s Glacier Park. I have two kids of my own—now 11 and 13. We’ve traveled with them since they were toddlers, and my experiences are behind the Family Journeys approach. All Family Journeys are hosted by multiple local guides, one for the adults and one for the younger generations. That lets us provide a vacation that everybody can love. The kids don’t get bored by parental activities. The parents get a real vacation without having to sacrifice everything to keep the kids happy. Everybody comes together for experiences they all enjoy together. We’re big advocates of exposing young travelers to different cultures and experiences. Family travel is now 30% of our business and all indications are that it will continue to grow.
You also offer culinary programs?
Classic Journeys runs Culinary Tours in Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Provence and Napa. The experiences all include several cooking instructions in private and professional kitchens. Unlike a lot of tours in this category, they’re not just about cooking. We get to markets, olive mills, and vineyards. We meet cheese makers, bakers and patissiers. Guests also eat incredible meals as well. And we also balance the culinary aspects with plenty of walks and other cultural experiences. The walks help us work off some of the calories. The itineraries are specifically designed so that a traveling companion who’s not into cooking can have a fantastic time.
How is adventure travel changing, in an increasingly frenetic world dealing with recession worries and lack of free time?
One of the biggest shifts we see is toward customized travel. Given current economic conditions that may sound contrarian, but it’s not really. Travel time is scarce. Guests may not take as many vacations as in the past. And they want to be sure they get exactly what they want out of their trip. We’ve been addressing those needs by expanding the number of Private Journeys we create. The customization can be as simple as running one of our itineraries “as is” on a schedule that works for the guest. At the same time, we’re also set up to tailor our trips as extensively as a group wants. Right now, we’re creating a 27-person version of our Costa Rican itinerary for an family celebrating a 50th anniversary. In addition to tweaks to the usual day-by-day, we’ve also added an extension to the Galapagos. We work hard to keep the pricing premiums to a minimum so that the package stays affordable and costs less than if the group had the time and knowledge to arrange the same tour independently.
Any new destinations for Classic Journeys this coming year?
We’re going to Montenegro! It’s such a great destination, right on the Adriatic with fantastic seaside villages as well as spectacular mountains. The itinerary includes luxury resorts, a mountaintop day with a shepherd family, lake cruises with great birding, and a lot more. A few years ago, Croatia really opened up the idea of traveling in the Balkans. Our journeys to the Dalmatian Coast and the Istrian Peninsula remain some of our most popular. We think Montenegro has the same kind of appeal—made all the more exciting because it’s not on most travelers’ radar screens. The experience is as authentic as it gets, and that’s what our guests value most.
What places are on your personal travel wish list?
I’d fly off to Cuba in a second if I could. I love the idea of this place that’s so nearby, but not familiar. It’s one of the ways that I’m a lot like our primary guests: I love discovery, that sense that I’m having travel moments that most people have never had. I didn’t get a chance to personally do our scouting in India and China, so they’re high on my list too. I like the Indian contrasts: we walk to rural villages and stay in some of the world’s top 10 hotels on the same trip. In China, we go to Shangri-La, which is tribal Tibetan territory in the foothills of the Himalayas. I’ll be happy once I’ve had my first cup of yak butter tea.
And when you’re not working, where do you find your center of gravity?
Easy answer. It’s all about my family. I’m especially involved in coaching the boys’ athletic teams. Some people think it sounds like a busman’s holiday. I spend my days managing international operations at Classic Journeys, and my evenings and weekends coaching the kids and sharing these intense moments with them. But I guess it’s a big theme of my life: show me an interested group of people who share a goal—winning a baseball game or exploring Machu Picchu—and it makes me so happy to jump in and make it happen.
Visit Classic Journeys.
The King of Mustang and Steve Conlon.
I met Steve Conlon about 15 years ago, after a friend traveled to Nepal with him and his company, Above the Clouds. She had enormous respect and confidence in Steve as a leader and a creator of authentic experiences in the Himalayas. He’s still at it, as he explained over a lunch with Jamling Tenzing Norgay (yes, his dad summitted Everest with Hillary) in New York City this past year. Now his daughter Lisa has joined him in the family business. Steve is a pioneer in the adventure travel world and I decided it was time to let him talk about how his extraordinary company began.
Steve, tell me about the beginnings of Above the Clouds?
In 1982, I was managing a local trekking agency in Kathmandu. As my Nepali wife, Muna, and I prepared to move to the US to raise our soon to be born son, several Sherpa friends came to me and suggested, “Why don’t you start a trekking business when you get back home, and I’ll handle your groups over here.” And that’s just what we did. Our son was born nine days after we landed, and Above the Clouds was born later that same day. Once again, necessity, combined with a fierce passion, was the mother of invention. In the five years I lived in Nepal, I had visited 65 of the country’s 75 districts, and that enabled me to develop some innovative itineraries that gave us a leg up in Nepal and proved to be foundational to our growth.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know
that I like to promote small outfitters from each of their respective
countries. After all, who knows their region of the world better than a
local? That said, I just received an email from Jhonathan Rodrigues,
owner of Adventure Kingdom
on the island of Madeira. 35 miles long and 13 miles wide, Madeira is
best known for its mountainous interior, with Pico Ruivo rising 6100
feet in the center.
Kudos to the Mile High City for implementing the first bike-sharing program in the United States. Comparable to Paris, Amsterdam, and Montreal, you can pick up a shiny new red 3-speed Trek bike at any of the 40 stations around town and drop them off at another station. A 24-hour membership is $5 while a yearly membership will set you back $65. Simply pick up the bike at say the Colorado Convention Center and drop it off near the Denver Art Museum. From the Denver Art Museum, grab another bike and cruise to your hotel. Starting in June, the bikes will be equipped with RFID chips and computers to track mileage, calories burned, and carbon offsets. Visit Active Travels for more adventures.
What’s ahead for travel in 2010? Longer security lines and jittery fliers, for sure. But five travel experts looked beyond those concerns and deep into their crystal balls.
Kathy Dragon, Founder and Chief Curator at TravelDragon.com
Curators will rule: too much noise, too much information, and too many people talking becomes increasingly overwhelming. In order to make decisions people will rely on people/sites they trust in the travel space (and in all decision making). Blogs, travel bloggers, twitter leaders and niche vertical sites will gain exposure and influence as they turn down the volume. Social Media will be a game changer. Tour providers will invest in developing and implementing social media strategies. Those who embrace, interact, listen and share will see significant changes in customer retention, referral bookings, and resolution/customer satisfaction. Facebook will lead the consumer interaction, twitter will lead the pr, mobile devices will lead content sharing. Get Satisfaction and TripAdvisor will continue to navigate reviews and resolution.