As a traveler, I’m in a transition zone. I used to just show up in place with a backpack, a Rough Guide and not much else. The planning was always vague because anything else defeated the point: Tomorrow, who knew?
Organized trips were too expensive, anyway. I could bop around Europe for months on what an outfitter charged for a week. Sure, those “tourists” slept better, ate better and saw more “things.” But they also had schedules to keep and little chance for getting to know anyone outside the bubble of their fellow American travelers. There was never room for a spontaneous float down the Danube.
Adventure travel outfitters generally don’t lose sleep over me because the better returns come from the well-off 55-year-old with the cash for a wild family vacation and the Machu Picchu Extension. Things are changing, though. We children of the baby boomers have a touch more money now and, strangely, not as much time. We’ve outgrown the grubby backpacking bit and become more fond of letting someone else handle the details. We still want our freedom, though. We need outfitted trips for people who hate outfitted trips.
Few companies, if any, have gone as far to meet these needs as one that came online in November. It’s called Yomads, as in “young nomads,” and is a consortium of adventure travel operators in Europe and Australia that has dedicated itself exclusively to the 20- to 40-year-old set. They’re so sure of knowing what transition adventure travelers want that once you go over the hill, you can no longer join the trips.
The first Yomads trips, of which there are now about 20, depart March 8 for destinations in Asia like China, Cambodia and Laos. No reviews exist yet on any of them so it’s impossible to know how they’ll go. The descriptions do speak my language, though. There is no mention of any “easy walking paths” but a warning that the trips “can be tough,” which I take as a taunt. Some might still find the trips expensive – about $1,200 to about $2,800, excluding airfare and some meals – but they are not budget-blowers and promise the “freedom to live in the moment.”
“The trips are primitive when needed and luxurious when possible,” said Gert Nieuwboer, the director of SNP, a Dutch adventure travel company that created Yomads with three other outfitters based in Switzerland, Sweden and Australia. (The latter, World Expeditions, has offices in Canada to handle North America bookings.) That means you sleep in clean but basic hotels and eat in modest restaurants or on your own.
The idea for Yomads came about four years ago, when Nieuwboer noticed something that plagues many adventure outfitters on both sides of the Atlantic. SNP’s core clients had aged with the company since its founding in 1984. Instead of rugged backpacking trips across Corsica, they wanted gourmet cycling tours and family safaris. Too few young travelers were replenishing the ranks from below, and the demographic chasm for SNP had grown so acute that Nieuwboer said he could almost predict the day his last clients would do their final trips with him.
“Young people don’t want to be on tours where everyone’s wearing floppy hats,” he said. “As a company we had to adapt.”
To do that, Nieuwboer and his colleagues conducted a series of two-hour interviews with 20- and 30-something Dutch travelers, asking them to rank aspects of a trip that were important to them, such as “being in nature” or “touring a museum.” They frowned upon descriptions like “gentle paths” and perked up at “rugged.” It was clear they wanted a lot of flexibility, variety, international encounters, and to stay off the beaten track.
No one knows whether Yomads will succeed, not even Nieuwboer, but it’s a fine experiment in the meantime, critics concede. Sooner or later, we travelers in the gap may transition into the outfitted trips our parents love, floppy hats and all.