Travel "Designers" Are Taking Over Luxury Getaways

A growing desire for experiential and immersive adventure is the answer for many modern travelers wanting to roll up a sleeping bag rather than roll back luxury bedding. I'm one of them. I want more than the one off experience in the vast white mist of the Antartic tundra, or the visceral survival hammock camping near the Darien Gap. I want (and have) done them, but I want to experience it again and again. I want to it to be a lifestyle. So, I became my own travel designer and then started doing it for others. And I'm not alone.

Andrew Collins, an outback adventure motorcycle guide, shares "As a guide, I’m either riding ahead of the group scouting the route and making sure our clients are okay on the trail, or bringing up the rear in our massive 4×4 support vehicle.  This truck serves as our “life support system” carrying food, fuel, tools, and a satellite connection to civilization." This is just a normal day for Andrew. Sound like a life of real adventure? It is. 

Your Epic Adventure Needs An Expert

*Photo credit Zegrahm Travel

Expedition leaders and adventurers seek out off beat living because they can live and play in the adventure rather than visiting it once a year on holiday. They are usually certification and knowledge junkies because being versatile allows them to tap into more opportunities around the world. And let's be honest I'm talking about myself her. 

I studied business, marketing, fitness, and wellness therapies. I became CPR certified, then USCG STCW, water rescue, yoga, fitness and WFR certified. I positioned myself for opportunities to travel, and live in other countries, and jump on solo trips whenever possible. I spent time on international networking jobs sites, forums and groups, and continually looked for unique ways to travel and pitch brands my ideas. I had to get somewhere more "exotic". My first overseas contract was 18 years ago in Costa Rica, where I became a local luxury expert about the region and soaked in the new backdrop.

Travel Advisors are usually experts in a certain region or product, and work with individuals and groups to highlight your skills and unique requests. Want to go to the ethereal island of Socotra, Yemen and immerse yourself in remote desert cultures, or take a private jet to the worlds tallest glacier south of Chile? The new travel designer works to find the best options for places like Afganistan, (yes really), or Iran (again for tourists). Or offer you the best in worldwide ultra marathons in the Sahara, wellness therapy and adventure in Bali, ultimate culture  in the Okavango Delta,or the middle of the ocean on a super yacht - all while saving you money.

The money for these "designers" time is made from the vendors they work with and whom they've applied to promote. That's like eliminating the fee from your personal trainer, while still getting the ultimate fitness results. 

You can crowd source pretty much everything, including your travel. But do you really want to? I've always had a slight aversion to following the herd. In this case, the herd being online travel reviews and opinions solely from my social media feeds or Trip Advisor reviews. Too many people tend to repeat popular opinion and follow the madness of crowds. I'm looking for the next uncomfortable, "comfortable" adventure travel location. 

The Adventure Traveler (and expedition guide) Profile

Earlier this year, we took a group of luxury adventurers through the Arroyo's of Baja's islands, and swimming with Whale Sharks (just a giant goldfish) off the coast of La Paz. Then we took another group through the cultural immersion on the island of Molakai, Hawaii and hiked and ate with the last real indigenous family of that region. On to April and we were in Bali with a group of wellness adventurers seeking solace and transcendence in a way, and we delivered. I haven't been home more than three months in the past year, and I'm o.k. with that. I schedule in down time to slow travel around locations I visit and live like a local. 

Becoming your own adventurer may look very different from the journey I took. The adventure travel addict could be anyone. Certainly many times, not who you would expect. The dedicated traveler works with travel designers because they want the best, and many times the locations they (or I ) want to travel to are dangerous for solo navigation or require you to be with a guide. Having a local fixer who will give you that full movie experience you most likely would not have found on your own, is priceless.

So who is the adventure traveler? "Adventure tourism has grown alongside a global uptick in travel so it’s only logical that the future of the adventure travel market is largely dependent on whether activities and sports become popular among the growing number of tourists from China and India." says Samantha Shankman, of Skift Travel. The market it ready, and more Chinese and Indian travelers are onboard.

Here's what it looks when you want to be a professional expedition leader or extreme travel adventurer. This applies to both the guides and the travelers. Looking to score? Here's a few starters. 

  • Start with “less extreme” jobs and internships in sports/tourism, like coaching, assistant guiding or teaching a sport to kids. Or to build yourself up for fitness adventures, start with a local marathon, obstacle race, or hiking trails in your area. Then start planning.
  • Get as many vehicle licenses and outdoor certifications as you can, this will drive new adventures opportunities. Not always necessary for the traveler, as you are put in the the capable hands of your guide.
  • Practice mock outings with friends or improvising.  Adventure travel is about having a plan A, B, and C, and never letting your traveler know it. Staying calm, logical and positive when things go haywire, or an emergency arises is a key skill. Travelers, this type of calm letting go of what you can't control will make your adventures a lot more enjoyable.
  • Want to test it out?  For practice on your next short outing or vacation buy a one-way flight somewhere interesting and see how you fare. Making plans along the way, nothing pre-booked, and log your adventures. 
  • Go to sporting/outdoor events and trade shows. The new blend of product and tour trade show options include the Outbound Pursuit Seires a hands on interactive adult summer camp. The traditional doesn't fly anymore, get in there and try it.
  • Get as much medical training as you can, including wilderness emergency and survival training. As a guide your clients expect it, and you should be prepared. If your adventure travel has a specific niche, you should hand out there. Some of the most creative adventures both for the adventure guide, and the traveler happen over casual outdoor hangouts, or networking. Find your tribe. 
  • Most of all be committed to the lifestyle as a guide or traveler. These are not day trips, or one offers, these are lifestyle pursuits. And it is worth it. That means living and breathing adventure. Knowing what is going on in travel, trips, trends and the industry. If you're the traveler and you have a plan for your next outing, dream it, because travel designers are there to handle it.

If you're looking to really make a career change from the trenches of your office cubicle or are just starting out and have tenacity oozing from your pores. A good start is the International Tour Management Institute, or the International Wilderness Leadership School. Both respected, long standing agents in their field, leaving behind a theory only focused classes to real dirt under your nails training. Mostly? It's just putting yourself out there, trial by fire, and absorbing all those travel skills with small jobs, contracts, internships, personal travel and pure resilience. 

The adventure travel market continues to evolve and themed getaways top that. This isn't your Disney theme. I'm talking about birders looking for the rarest species, shark fanatics seeking deep blue frenzies, fitness seekers changing their bodies on the world's tallest peaks, living with Mongolian sheep herders or camo-ammo travel retreats to launch rockets and drive tanks. Yes, they are all available. 

For example, a trip to Australia’s isolated Kimberley region is coordinated with the lunar calendar so guests can see the region’s astonishing tidal horizontal waterfalls.

This is a thing. The know how, timing, seasons, expedition leaders and logistics of making a truly unforgettable experience happen takes - well a travel designer.

Personal Adventure Designers And Your Travel Future

*Photo credit Nicole/

The appetite for expeditions is widening from curious twenty somethings to adventurous fifty somethings. I like to take a commanding role in my life, and my travel. I don't know about you but I'd be ready if a space pod dropped out of the sky and was selling tours to whisk me to the bottom of the ocean, and then (for an extra price) a translucent pod venture through the hot magma fissures of our planet.

Off the path experiences will continue to dominate the travel industry, if not only out of personal curiosity to do something that's not another overshared Instagram experience. Sometimes I've been on adventures with people who have waited their whole lives for the experience, other times I'm with people who do a major expedition every few months. But I get to help make those memories either way.

My next personal adventure in the works is to participate in (and complete) the Marathon des Sables, a ten day, 250 km "race" through the Sahara in 2020 and then the planning of 5 months country hopping. 

If you'd like to join me along the way, I love meeting travelers on the road and the sharing adventurers. Contact travel lifestyle designer and wellness coach, Liz at

If you're looking for a curated adventure week with us, join us in Mexico in August 2019, or on a private island in Belize, 2020. Both are very limited.