I’ve just returned from the Adventure World Travel Summit (ATWS) in Lugano, in the sunny canton of Ticino in Switzerland. One of the best things about attending the ATWS, which is a yearly event organized by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, is meeting new, emerging and lesser-known adventure travel companies. Many are quite small and specialize in one corner of the world or offer a unique style of travel that larger, more mainstream operators don’t. These small tour operators share their knowledge and passion for their destination and manage the logistics and details for each trip, offering competitive prices. Here are five companies worth checking out.
Upplevelsebolaget may be a challenge to pronounce but simply put, the company offers outdoor adventures in West Sweden and beyond, from sea kayaking and hiking to mountain biking, climbing and ski touring, among other activities. “Sea kayaking among the thousands of islands in West Sweden is ideal because there are no currents and no tides in the Baltic, it has a gentle coastline and the waters warm in summer,” says Joakim Hermansson, who founded the company in 1994. A typical trip can be a three-day sea kayaking excursion called “Weather Islands Kayak Luxury,” three days of sea kayaking with accommodations at an inn on the island of Storö. In winter, the company goes further afield, offering alpine ski touring trips to Norway, Morocco and Japan.
Hinoki Travels designs customized journeys to “reconnect you to your senses and the natural world “while also supporting local communities. Founder Bethany Betzler divides her time between Chiang Mai, Thailand and Michigan. She creates trips that deliberately move at a slower pace, pinpoints lesser-known locations in a destination, and ensures that each trip has a reduced ecological footprint. Bhutan was her inspiration for creating Hinoki Travels, and she works with other destinations in Asia, such as Ladakh in Northern India and the colonial hill station of Darjeeling. In North America, she’s chosen destinations such as Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Dominica in the Caribbean. Ultimately, these trips are “custom retreat experiences designed to reduce stress and spark creativity.”
Norway Adventures specializes in customized travel and small group trips in Norway, offering hiking, kayaking, and backcountry skiing and snowshoe tours. Husband and wife Rogier and Anne van Oorschot create group trips that can be as small as seven guests. The promise is to have you experience off-the-beaten-path Norway, staying in farms and cabins in remote areas. For example, their “7 Day Fjord Hiking Holiday Norway trips explores some of the country’s beautiful and rugged terrain. The hikes can be along the Atlantic coast, white sandy beaches, or high sea cliffs, away from touristed areas, with van and ferry transportation. Accommodations include cabins where the guide prepares evening dinners. Priced from 15,650 NOK (approximately $1.482 pp).
New Zealanders Mike Harris and Shannon Walker are the founders of KODO, which creates adventure trips in Japan. They offer customized trips that make a deep connection with the culture. One itinerary is from walking the UNESCO-recognized Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range. Another is hiking through the Kiso Valley along a preserved section of the Nakasendo, the path that linked Kyoto and Tokyo during Japan’s feudal period. Other trips focus on spending time with the Yamabushi, the mountain priests of Japan.
Founded in 2015 by LeAnn and Brandon Morris, Flashpacker Connect offers small, affordably-priced group trips in the wilder parts of the world, trips that you won’t find from the major tour operators. Consider “Bolivia: Amazon Jungle to the Salt Flats”, a nine-day trip for $1,600 per person. It’s one of many South American adventure trips that they offer. In Asia, they have a variation on the bucket list trip to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Called “Everest Basecamp with Three Passes,” it’s a challenging 19-day trek on the so-called three-pass circuit, and it’s priced from $2,100.