Tag Archive | "adventure travel"

Discovering Ireland with Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland

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The view from Gougane Barra, Cork

The view from Gougane Barra, Cork

by Everett Potter

Just when I thought that I’d seen it all after visiting Ireland for the past 35 years – the greatest vistas, the venerable pub that I swore pulled the best pint ever, the most comfortable country house hotel anywhere – I had a pleasant awakening last October. I owe it to a five day adventure-laden meander through Counties Cork and Kerry with Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland.

Now this is unlike any “tour” that your great aunt Mary or your parents may have done once upon a time in the auld sod. You know, the classic mad dash in a bus or rental car from Donegal to Waterford with barely time for tea in Dublin, all in less than a week.

Seeing the Wild Atlantic Way with Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland.

Seeing the Wild Atlantic Way with Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland.

Vagabond uses custom-designed Land Rovers that take no more than 13 passengers and one loquacious guide who acts as driver and raconteur. The idea behind Vagabond is to bring travelers well off the beaten path in this remarkable country. You won’t see everything in Ireland, not by a long shot. But what you do see will remain with you long after you’ve left.

Such as sea kayaking around a boulder-rimmed bay near Sneem, paddling out to watch foaming Atlantic rollers –coming from Boston, presumably — and spied upon by a curious bunch of gray seals as we paddled. Hill walking through a rugged Kerry landscape that seemed populated solely by sheep. Or mountain biking in a forest in Limerick. I would have found none of these on my own, regardless of how good my GPS might have been. It’s all down to local knowledge, like so much of what goes on in the West of Ireland.

Pub lunch along the way with Vagabond.

Pub lunch along the way with Rob Rankin of Vagabond, right.

“We set out to create a unique way for people to experience the full range of what Ireland is all about,” says Vagabond’s founder, Rob Rankin. ”Most adventure travel is ‘soft adventure,’ such as walking, cycling and kayaking, and that’s the type of adventure that Ireland is so well suited for. We pair that with the country’s rich culture and history.”

Much of where they took us is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a recently designated 1,600 mile route along Ireland’s West Coast that is said to be the longest defined coastal touring route in the world. Dramatic cliffs, ancient ruins, impossibly pretty villages and empty beaches comprise this route that twists and turns from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork. More than just a driving route, it’s an endless invitation for adventures. On a Vagabond trip, that can mean surfing, horseback riding on one of those empty beaches or mountain biking in an old growth forest. Every day is a different adventure and a different activity. It might be the single best use of the term “multisport” that I’ve ever experienced.

All the while, our driver, Larry Coady, kept up an incredible stream of history, folklore, jokes and observations, a finely tuned mix of entertainment and pedagogy. He also had the remarkable and truly Irish talent of doing it solely from memory. In the age of Twitter, when we’re forced to reduce our “bon mots” to 144 characters, this was impressive indeed. Larry also had the gift of knowing when no words were needed, such as when we came upon a view of a brilliantly sunlit wave-lashed Kerry coastline or spied half a dozen rainbows in a single afternoon on the Beara Peninsula. And if things needed to be livened up, then tunes by Imelda May or The Pogues were readily at hand.

Pub lunches ruled, and the best was at MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbeare, one of the Holy Grail’s for pub-lovers. It was the inspiration for Pete McCarthy’s book “McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland,” a personal favorite that is funny, touching and dives to the heart of all matters Irish.

Sitting room at Gougane Barra, Cork

Sitting room at Gougane Barra, Cork

While we stayed at several small Irish-owned hotels, the centerpiece of the journey for me was our time at Gougane Barra. Five generations of the same family have run this classic Irish country house hotel set on a remote, mountain-ringed loch in the middle of nowhere in County Cork.

The owner, Neil greets you in Irish – this is part of a Gaeltacht, a designated Irish speaking region  – as you enter one of the coziest lobbies in the country. There’s a small lounge with a warming fire, and an equally small bar where Neil will pull you a pint of Murphy’s stout. Your only mandate after a day spent walking or cycling is to make it to dinner.

The Lucey family, the fifth generation to run Gougane Barra, Cork.

The Lucey family, the fifth generation to run Gougane Barra, Cork.

The proprietress, Katy, was a chirpy blur between her Aga stove in the kitchen and the dining room that night, using the legendary appliance to produce such delights as a roast supreme of free-range chicken on traditional potato stuffing with crispy thick slab local Irish bacon and rosemary gravy, followed by a most amazing traditional baked apple crumble warmed with homemade custard.

The guest rooms are simple and comfortable, but what they may lack in luxury is compensated for by million dollar views of the loch and the surrounding mountains. You can keep your Egyptian cotton sheets, I’ll take this view and my room any day.

The next morning, we ventured on a wettish walk into adjacent Gourgane Barra National Park, Ireland’s first National Park, which opened in 1964. It was followed by Katy’s cooking demonstration – “We try to do Irish food with a twist,” she told me –  as she made brown bread and Irish stew, two classics but with subtle “twists.” The bottle of poteen – traditional Irish moonshine – that was mysteriously produced and passed around seemed to be an unexpected twist and raised the enjoyment level considerably.

The shepherd and his flock on Kissane Farm in Kerry.

The shepherd and his flock on Kissane Farm in Kerry.

I haven’t spoken about walking to half forgotten stone circles and castle ruins, the frenetic sheepdogs at work on a Kerry farm, the late evening traditional music sessions in Kenmare, and the general sense of “craic” that informs a Vagabond tour. But I will say that it added up to extraordinary discoveries in a country that I thought I knew so very well.

Visit Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland. From $1,340 for seven day trips along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Smart Deals: Travel with Adventurous Joe Coffee to Costa Rica

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What’s the Deal: John Connelly used to head up L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School. Then he started Adventurous Joe Coffee, importing fair trade coffees to the US. On this trip to Costa Rica, he combines both of  his passions.

Details:  On this trip, participants will

  • Jungle kayak on a placid river through the Torteguero National Park amid howler and spider monkeys and a spectacular array of birds.
  •  Enjoying the famed Mawumba eco-lodge at the Torteguero National Park on the Caribbean Sea with its tree frog project.
  • Raft the whitewater of the Pacuare River Gorge.
  • Explore the Rios Tropicales rainforest eco-lodge, which has zip lining through the canopy.
  • Learning about the sustainability initiatives supporting the lodge and the local community
  • Have a coffee farm tour to learn about sustainable practices, the cultivation, harvesting and processing of coffee.
  • April 24- May 3, 2014

Fine Print: $2,050 per person, all inclusive except for airfare and gratuities.

Booking: Adventurous Joe

Notes from Namibia

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Himba people performing a dance at ATWS 2013 in Namibia

Himba people performing a dance at ATWS 2013 in Namibia

By Everett Potter

I am in Namibia, the Africa that I never knew existed, for the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS). This 10th gathering of the ATWS is a mosh pit of ideas and creative energy emanating from tour operators, destination specialists, journalists and others in the world of adventure travel.

Choosing Nambia was a stroke of genius. Located on the southwest coast of the continent, Namibia has the oldest desert in the world and an Atlantic coastline where the waters of the Benguela Current push chilly seas up from Antarctica. It is one of the driest places in the world, a mélange of sand and stone and beating sun, and it defies your imagined version of Africa.

Namibian sand dune

Namibian sand dune

Namibia is a place where “middle of nowhere” takes on fresh meaning, a country twice the size of Germany with a population of about two million people. Emptiness and endless horizons are its stock in trade. In the north are safaris to see elephants in lions. In the south, where I traveled, it’s desert in all of its endless variety, where kudu and springbok and zebra roam.

In Swakopmund, where the ATWS is being held, the wide empty streets have churches with onion domes, bars that pour Weissbier and streets named for prominent Germans, who colonized it briefly over a century ago, when it was German Southwest Africa. Yet you can also order oryx served with monkey gland sauce at dinner and look down its streets, past blocks of Lego-like buildings, and see a massive wall of sand a mile away, a wilderness at the doorstep of order.

In the Tsaris Mountains of Namibia for the Adventure Travel World Summit 2013

In the Tsaris Mountains of Namibia for the Adventure Travel World Summit 2013

There are plenty of ideas to take away from this gathering of the adventure tribe – visionaries like Zita Cobb of the Fogo Island Inn and Tim Cahill, the author and founding editor of Outside, were among the speakers — and I’ll be writing more about this amazing summit in the coming weeks. But the most concise thoughts seemed to flow from travel writer Pico Iyer. In a country where saving the rhino is paramount, a place where poachers have been transformed into protectors, Iyer summed it up by saying that “Just as humanity needs to preserve the wild, it’s the wild that preserves our humanity.”

For more information on Namibia, visit www.namibiatourism.com.na


A Short Vacation from Your Comfort Zone

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By Everett Potter

If you ask me to define adventure travel, I will likely skip a description of a Moab single track trail, Class IV rapids on the Colorado River or a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites. Instead, I’ll cut to the chase and say that after three decades of writing about adventure travel, the best way to describe it is a physical experience that takes you out of your comfort zone (continued here)

Smart Deals: BikeHike Adventures

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What’s the Deal: BikeHike Adventures is offering an early booking incentive for 2013 trips. During the month of October, any two travelers booking the same 2013 trip will receive 25% off one of the bookings.

Backstory: Travelers can choose from any of BikeHike’s 53 active tours worldwide. Trip styles include point-to-point biking journeys, remote treks, and multi-sport samplers. Each trip has an emphasis on cultural connections with locals around the world. BikeHike Adventures is a Vancouver-based global adventure travel company that offers guided tours to 30 destinations worldwide. BikeHike caters to outdoor enthusiasts with a passion to go a little deeper during their travels.

 What You Need to Know: Space is subject to availability (many 2013 departure dates are already filling up) and this offer will expire when the limited space is sold. Limit one per family.

 Booking: Call 1.888.805.0061 or visit www.bikehike.com and use promocode BHAPROMO24.


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The Interview: Irene Lane, Greenloons

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Irene Lane of Greenloons

Interview by Everett Potter

I met Irene Lane at the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS)  in Chiapas, Mexico last autumn and was impressed by her approach to travel. Her company, Greenloons, is both kid-friendly and eco-friendly, and she seems to have found a new niche in the world of adventure travel. I was eager to hear more:

Everett Potter:  How would you define the Greenloons concept?

Irene Lane: Greenloons makes it easy to connect people (families in particular) to meaningful and unique nature-based travel experiences all over the world.  Because we are the only company that solely works with third-party eco-certified tour operators and accommodation providers, Greenloons provides a level of assurance to eco-conscious travelers that these small group vacations not only offer distinction and quality in pristine natural surroundings, but these trips have been independently verified as emphasizing conservation education, respecting local cultural traditions and supporting local communities.

EP: How did you get involved in adventure travel?

IL: I’ve had the good fortune to live in 5 countries and travel to 28 more.  My parents instilled in my brother and I a love of travel, culture and nature, which I think I’ve passed on to my son, who at 7 years old, has already been to 13 countries and can regale stories about each of them.  Ultimately, my son was my inspiration to start Greenloons.  When I appreciated the potential that ecotourism had for creating teachable moments or moments that captured his interest whether it was a cultural tradition, wildlife habitat, or explaining the fragility of an ecosystem, I wanted to be able to offer that opportunity to all families.  I also wanted these travel experiences to be as authentic and environmentally responsible as possible.

You never know who you’ll meet when you travel. Courtesy of Greenloons.

EP: What led you to start the company?

IL: I started Greenloons in May 2010 while completing my Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Management and after I realized that there was a lot of misinformation about ecotourism and very little transparency about the industry.  I wanted to help travelers work with tour operators and accommodation providers that have gone the extra mile in terms of environmental accountability, social responsibility, and economic transparency.  Greenloons does this by educating travelers about eco-certifications, providing practical tips and information about eco-travel, and offering eco-certified vacations around the world.  Travelers can share their stories and concerns about ecotourism on our forum boards and we are in the unique position to be able to share this feedback with international organizations, such as the Rainforest Alliance and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, which are responsible for strengthening international eco-standards.  With Greenloons, you have an effective ecosystem of customers, suppliers, regulators and non-governmental organizations all working toward authentic ecotourism.

Young conservationist. Courtesy of Greenloons.


EP: Has it always had a strong eco-focus?

IL: Yes.  Given that tourism is the largest industry in the world, the potential of ecotourism to alleviate poverty, conserve wildlife and habitats, bring greater cultural understanding, and of course affect climate change is very large.  I think when given the choice, people want to travel responsibly.  Until Greenloons came along, it wasn’t as easy for eco-conscious travelers to figure out how to choose vacations in which the suppliers were not just talking the talk, but walking the walk when it came to exemplifying the foundational components of ecotourism.

EP:  How would you define the essence of a Greenloons trip — how does it differ from what your competitors offer?

IL: Unlike other travel aggregators that have their own (and not necessarily standard) ecotourism criteria, Greenloons works directly with smaller operators who have obtained independent verification and recognition that their trips are socially responsible, environmentally sustainable, and economically supportive of local communities.   We don’t directly run these trips.  Rather, we easily connect you with these small operators who are focused on running high quality, comfortable, conservation-focused trips that allow small groups of travelers to connect with the land, the people, the wildlife, and the culture of the area.  Our goal is that everyone in the Greenloons Community establishes a deep connection with the places they are visiting and that we help to raise the younger generation to be globally responsible citizens.

In Alaska with Greenloons. Courtesy of Greenloons.

EP:  Why should someone choose a Greenloons trip over that of another operator?

IL: If you are looking for the opportunity to travel with like-minded individuals who enjoy unique travel experiences with naturalist guides, prefer supporting local communities, and demand personalized service, I would invite you to check out www.greenloons.com and be inspired for your next vacation.

EP:  How would describe your typical travelers?

IL: Our clients are well-traveled (in other words, they’ve been there and done that) and, instead, are looking for unique experiences beyond what the guidebooks cover.  They don’t want to be part of a crowd and don’t want to be hurried from one stop to the next.  They want experienced guides who are knowledgeable and personable, and they feel good knowing that the money they are paying for the vacation is going directly toward supporting local communities.  Finally, they want their children to have a memorable, educational and safe travel experience, while also having a really fun time as a family.

EP:  Any new destinations for Greenloons this year?

IL: This year, we are featuring some phenomenal trips throughPrince William Sound(Alaska),Croatia,Newfoundland,Patagonia(Chile), Galapagos (Ecuador), andSweden.  So far, they’ve proven to be very popular with clients.

EP:  Where are you scouting for future trips?

IL: I just came back from traveling through the eastern part of Ecuadorwhere I found some really amazing travel experiences and will be going to Poland in a few months to scout for some more trips.  In addition, I’m always on the lookout for additional trips right here in the United States.  However, eco-certified accommodation providers and tour operators are not as easy to find here as they are in other parts of the world, which I find so interesting and hope that I can help change.

EP: With all of your travels, where do you find your center of gravity?

IL: While I’m traveling, meditation keeps me on an even keel by helping me to remember that there are stories and a wonderful, natural world out there that people should know more about.  However, in general, it is my husband and son who keep me balanced and centered.  Sometimes, I am able to bring them with me on my travels, while other times I cannot given work and school schedules.  When I cannot, my absolute favorite family time is when I can share all the pictures, videos, awe-inspiring moments, and funny stories with them and share in the lively discussions!

For more information, contact Greenloons

Everett Potter is Editor-in-Chief of Everett Potter’s Travel Report

The Interview: Brian Morgan, Adventure Life

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Brian Morgan in the salt flats of Bolivia.

By Everett Potter

A couple of months ago, I attended the Adventure Travel World Summit in the charming colonial city of San Cristobal in Chiapas, Mexico. This yearly gathering brings together some of the best and brightest minds — and companies — in the adventure travel world. One of those I was fortunate to meet and talk with was Brian Morgan, a young guy from Montana who’s built a dynamic travel company called Adventure Life. They focus on South America, Central America, and Antartica, offering great trips at a very competetive price point. But also with some deep cultural immersion. Their adventure cruises go all around the world. I recently had a chance to learn a bit more about Morgan and his company.
Brian, how did you become an adventurous traveler?
Growing up in a rural community was great fun.  On summer days, we just ran and explored as far as our bikes would take us.  It was safe and secure, and I think such a background gives a person a sort of fearlessness.  Once I hit college and discovered the world was a very big place, I couldn’t wait to experience as much of it as possible.  That led me to different exchange programs with a year in Russia and then a year in Ecuador.  Everywhere I went, I met amazing people from all walks of life, and I loved that interaction when two people from different cultures come together.  I guess the “how” had a lot to do with growing up and being told to be back in time for dinner – what happened between lunch and dinner was all up to me.

An expedition cruise with Adventure Life in Antartica

How did Adventure Life start?
After my second time living overseas, I had decided I wanted to make it in Montana.  So, I came home and started looking around for work.  But I was a recent graduate and I wanted and interesting career, not just a job.  While I’m searching high and low across this giant state, I couldn’t help but tell people all about my travelers in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and my earlier adventures in Russia.  It finally dawned on me, I needed to figure out a way to pay my rent and take people with me around the world.  Of course, after that inspiring idea, the blood and sweat had to be sacrificed, and I found out that the adventure travel industry required long hours in front a a computer, on the phone, and learning to manage and motivate others to help you do that.
How would you define the essence of an Adventure Life trip—how does it differ from what your competitors offer?
I think it comes from two essential starting points – the first that initial inspiration for starting the company – sharing with others the serendipitous experiences that I had while living overseas; and the second is my belief that to travel responsibly mean traveling locally.  The guest host code that the Greeks talked about is alive and well on our trips, and this provides a rich experience for everyone involved in the tourism equation.

Snorkeling and paddling in Belize with Adventure Life

Why should someone choose an Adventure Life trip over that of another operator?
Well, I like to think we’re the best.  Well, of course, that depends on what a person is looking for.  We pride ourselves in two things.  From the first moment you call us, we strive to provide exceptional service.  We start out by listening to our customers, asking them about their wishes, needs and dreams about the trip they are planning.  Then, it’s our job to work with the customer to create that trip they have envisioned.  The second item is our close personal relationships with the people that will be hosting our guests around the world.  Our partners are not simply suppliers and contractors.  They are close personal friends.  Heck, many of my employees have watched our partners raise families alongside their own.  That sort of close familiar relationship translates into a warm welcoming environment for our guests in the various exotic locales we work.  I think this is the sort of experience that sets us apart.
What sorts of changes – in terms of both travelers and adventure travel — have you seen since you started bringing people around the globe?
It may just be me, but I feel like the world has become a smaller place.  It is so easy now to get to almost anywhere, and people around the world seem so welcoming.  Part of this is flights, but a lot of it is technology too.  I meet someone or our guests make friends while traveling, and we’re keeping in touch via Facebook or whatever. Now, we share pictures not only of great adventures, but of holiday dinners with family and graduations.  This is with people halfway around the world from different languages, cultures, religion.  It’s fascinating.  I think this change has also driven people to ask for experiences that facilitate discovering and creating these sorts of relationships too.  For me, these are some of the best changes in travel, and we’re happy to be part of this change.

Falkland Island penguins

Okay, name three places where you’d gladly drop everything and go this afternoon for an extended stay?
Antarctica, Arctic, and Buenos Aires.  Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife – and then there’s great food and tango in Buenos Aires.
What destinations are new for Adventure Life this year?
We are excited to add new destinations.  Most of the time, we are listening to our travelers who are returning home and asking them where they want to visit next.  This gives us insight into what our travel community is looking for and provides inspiration to develop new itineraries into new regions for the “next best trips”.  We are starting 2012 with some fresh ideas. Like a sea kayaking trip along the Peninsula Valdes of Argentina for upclose whale-watching in a serene and calm environment.  Uruguay is sometimes referred to as the “bullied sibling” between Argentina and Brazil, but there is a lot to offer in this country that mixes remote coastlines with huge sea lion colonies, historic estancias — ranches — for horseback riding, the jetset crowd in Punta del Este, and a burgeoning wine industry. At the Uaxactun Ruins in Guatemala, we have developed a trip for travelers interested in being in Guatemala to celebrate the end of the Maya calendar.  On Dec 21, 2012, our travelers will camp at the Uaxactun Ruins, a site twelve miles miles from Tikal that is known as a Maya astronomical observatory with its architecture helping to calculate the solstice and equinox with the sun’s positioning.  No apocalyptic predictions here, just a celebration in a unique place for a special cultural experience.  This trip is part of our Festival Series . We’re also  offering cruises on the Irawaddy River in Myanmar — Burma.

Locals in Peru

Where are you scouting for future trips?
Mexico and Brazil are in my sights.  They are both huge countries with enormous diversity.  Myself and a couple of my most experience co-workers have already been researching Mexico for the past six months and we figure we have another six months of research ahead of us before  we dare offer trips there.  We take our role as destination experts very seriously which means hundreds of hours of research on the ground, in the pages of guide books, and online before we send a single guest to a new place.  Brazil will be just as intense, but we won’t turn our attention there until we feel good about our knowledge of Mexico – viva Mexico!
With all of your travels, where do you find your center of gravity?
Family and friends.  No matter where I am, if I’m with my family or my closest friends, I feel centered.
Where do you think adventure travel is going – less adventure and more creature comforts? Or the reverse

I hear this debate in the industry and many say that it is for more creature comforts at the expense of adventure, but really, I don’t see it as simply more comfort or more adventure or a tradeoff.  What I see is that people are better informed than ever.  Often they are also better traveled than ever.  And this combination means I have to do my job better than ever by being aware of all the different activities, hotel, food, and transportation options in a place.  I really see Adventure Life as a concierge company where we’re responsible for matching our knowledge of a place with a guests travel vision.  We can’t simply send people to a place on a set tour.  We have to take time to understand our guests, and we have to constantly be researching existing places as well as new ones.  Then, our job is to create the right trip for each traveler.
Visit Adventure Life for more info.
  Everett Potter is editor in chief of Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Follow him at @everettpotter. Reach him at everett@everettpotter.com

Active Travels: Austin-Lehman Family Adventures

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Biking with Austin-Lehman in the Canadian Rockies

By Steve Jermanok

As an adventure travel writer, I’ve been paid to bike around the Big Island of Hawaii, sea kayak the Fijian islands, dive the Great Barrier Reef, and paddle the Allagash River during a memorable foliage. Then I had my first child and the canoes, skies, and other outdoor paraphernalia started to collect dust in the basement of my suburban Boston home. Going stir crazy one summer day, I called my dad who gave me the sage advice to integrate family into my work. The next thing I know I’m going up and down the hills of Vermont with my toddler on the back of my bike. Like many parents, I began to realize that I don’t have to give up my passion simply because I have little ones. It was time to introduce my kids to the real me. Now I travel with Jake, 14, and Melanie, 12, as much as possible without getting scolded by their teachers. And they’re the ones teaching me a thing or two about every sport they try.

This coming summer, we’re already booked on a six-day multisport trip with Austin-Lehman Adventures in the Canadian Rockies. ALA is known for their guided family trips to the most stunning locales across the globe, from Costa Rica to Alaska, Africa, and yes, the Canadian Rockies. In the Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise region, we’ll trek with crampons across the Athabasca Glacier, whitewater raft down the Kananaskis River, and bike through the tall cedars and pines on the Evans Thomas path. Another highlight is the 64-mile drive through the peaks and deep swaths of forest on Icefields Parkway. Elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, maybe even a bear or cougar can be seen as you make your way to the largest ice cap in the Canadian Rockies, the Columbia Icefield, on the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks. At night, we’ll be staying at Baker Creek Chalets, along a quiet stream smack dab in the center of the snowcapped summits.

Visit Active Travels

The Interview: Bespoke Travel with Trufflepig

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Climbing Striding Edge in the Lake District, England. All photos courtesy of Trufflepig.

By Everett Potter

In the late 1990’s, I traveled through Morocco with Butterfield & Robinson, the Canadian biking and walking company. On this trip, I met an engaging young guide named Greg Sacks. Shortly thereafter, I met another bright, adventurous B&R guide named Charlie Scott. After they spent years taking well-heeled travelers around the world on myriad adventures, they left B&R to do their own thing. They called it Trufflepig and simply put, it’s custom travel taken to its logical conclusion: nothing is off the shelf, everything is meticulously planned, in destinations that would try the patience of Job. To get you jazzed, this Toronto-based company (with an outpost in Paris) has one of the most beautiful and understated  travel websites I’ve ever seen. I sat down to chat with Charlie Scott at breakfast at New York’s Balthazar restaurant not long ago before he was off to parts unknown.

Trufflepigs: (L to R) Greg Sacks, Jack Dancy and Charlie Scott

Everett Potter: Charlie, let’s start with obvious question: why do you call it Trufflepig?

Charlie Scott: It just seemed the perfect metaphor to explain what we do. A truffle pig is a passionate beast with an instinctive nose for finding precious things that are difficult to find. The pig leads the hunter deep into the woods, they sniff around, and figure out exactly where the hunter needs to dig in order to unearth a truffle (the fungal variety, not the chocolates) hidden deep in the dirt. We do the same thing. But instead of the forest, it’s an overload of options. And instead of a truffle, it’s a meaningful and memorable travel experience.

EP: Am I correct in saying that the origins of Truffle Pig lie in Butterfield & Robinson?

CS: Very much so. The three of us who started Trufflepig (Jack Dancy, Greg Sacks and myself) all cut our travel teeth at B&R. We guided, we researched, we trip planned, we took photos, we got completely and irreversibly hooked on exploring the world. It was a remarkable place to learn and a great place develop our own sense of travel. If you strip away the trips, the brochures, the bikes and walking sticks, B&R is simply an approach to travel. We share a similar spirit.

Seeing Victoria Falls, Zambia, from an ultralight with Trufflepig

EP: How large is Trufflepig, the company? I get the sense that the “office” is virtual and that you’re all on your smart phones in two-seater aircraft on different continents, seeking remote spots for your clients.

CS: There are nine of us who work full time at Trufflepig–most on the ‘Farm’ (yes, we actually call it that) in Toronto, and a couple at our tiny outpost in Paris. And then there are a number of Pigs (independent guides, writers, photographers, and friends) in the field, who help us with our digging and delivery. All of us travel often (sometimes in small planes), keeping our research fresh and growing our relationships.

EP: How would you characterize the Trufflepig approach to adventure travel and how does it differ from the competition?

CS: Are you sure you want to get me started on this? Our approach is to genuinely know what we’re talking about, treat our clients like friends, and not shy away from having an opinion. When it comes to putting trips together, we select ingredients that have an extra measure of character and offer an extra shot of quality. While our trips tend to be somewhat to very high-end, we don’t choose hotels, restaurants, guides (or anything) on price. We pick the people and places that we personally like, and that we feel will deliver a true sense of the place. Sometimes those things cost a fortune, other times they don’t. I don’t feel I can fairly comment on the competition–it’s so hard to separate the steak from the sizzle.

Fording the Aconcagua River in Chile with Trufflepig

EP: Is this strictly bespoke travel we’re talking about?

CS: Yes

EP: Give me an example or two of trips you’ve done for Truffle Pig clients?

CS: Our trips are literally all over the map. Since every trip is made from scratch, we never quite know what’s going to happen when the phone rings. About this time last year, I got a call from a Scottish guy living in Germany. He wanted to take his family (including a 5-year old daughter) on a no-holds-barred trip around the world. Two months later they were on a plane to Hong Kong, and for the next six months we arranged every inch of their adventure–every hotel, every transfer, every everything. Because there was so much planning involved (they ended up visiting something like 18 countries), and they wanted to keep things flexible, the itinerary was rarely finalized more than a few weeks ahead. It was like fighting a forest fire. But they were incredibly game for anything and trusted us to make decisions. It was silky smooth and they had an amazing time. On another recent call, we had a client ask if we could arrange a mountain biking trip in Guatemala. He was supporting an archaeological dig of an ancient Maya city deep in the jungle and wanted to spend a couple of nights there with a dozen friends. There are no hotels in that neck of the woods so we built them a luxury tented camp, with proper beds, private toilets and solar showers (in their tents). We had the canvas safari tents custom-made in New Hampshire, scouted new bike routes by helicopter, found a shaman to conduct rituals in the jungle, and basically went half-mad trying to pull it off. But we did. These are two extreme examples of what we’ve done. The reality is that most of our trips are 1-3 week journeys for regular people looking for a smart itinerary with a thoughtful, creative twist.

Captain Charisma, India

EP: You’ve been in this business for some time. How do you see adventure travel changing, in an increasingly frenetic world dealing with recession worries and lack of free time?

CS: I guided my first trip in 1994. In those days – did I just say that? — scheduled departure, group trips were the norm for tour operators. People weren’t really thinking of custom trips as an option. But now, everyone wants their trip, their way, on their dates. Why wouldn’t you? The world is only going to become more bespoke, and I suspect travel companies and everyone else will get better and more efficient at delivering in this way. In turn, that’ll make things more affordable and time-efficient for travelers–just as we find out we have and even less time.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

EP: Any new destinations for Truffle Pig this coming year?

CS: Always. We’ve got some research planned for Israel, Syria and Zambia. And I’ve just stated working on a ridiculously uncivilized winter trip in the Yukon.

EP: What places remain on your personal travel wish list?

CS: Don’t laugh.  Chicago — I know, it’s borderline fraud.  And Newfoundland, Argentina, and Myanmar.

Waterside lunch at Mali Zaton, Croatia

EP: When you’re not working, where do you find your center of gravity?

CS: Neck deep in antique markets.  The scruffier the better.

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