by Gabe Millar
How do the experiences you offer at The Vacation Project (TVP) give travelers a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of the places you operate?
At The Vacation Project, we create unique social experiences that our travelers can enjoy with a group of other like-minded people combined with a sustainable service project that fills a need for the communities we visit. We do this in a number of ways.
First, we partner with a local guide who helps us develop an “off the beaten path”
experience by sourcing places and activities that a typical traveler would not be able to find on Tripadvisor. For example, while in Costa Rica, our travelers enjoyed a private tasting at a new restaurant in San Jose while enjoying a performance by well-known local musicians. The musicians played music that was thought provoking and created dialogue around the current socioeconomic climate in Costa Rica; an experience that likely would not have taken place on your typical Costa Rican vacation. Second, our trips are unique because while they are first and foremost a vacation, we spend a portion of our trip giving back to the destination we are visiting. For this service portion of our trips we try to make sure our travelers are fulfilling the needs of our partner NGOs. On our upcoming trip to Morocco we are taking our travelers to the Atlas Mountains to experience homestays with a local Berber village. Our travelers will help our partner, the High Atlas Foundation assist local farmers with sustainable farming practices and update a local school. Our travelers will also have the opportunity to sit for a concert by musicians from the village. Travelers
may have the opportunity to do a stop in a local Berber village on a day trip out of Morocco, but we will be immersing our travelers in the day to day life of the Berber people and hopefully create introspect for our travelers and a lasting positive impact on the destination we love.
Third, our trips are both environmentally and economically sustainable where possible. We
do our very best to only book our travelers in economically sustainable accommodations such as Osa Conservation in Costa Rica. We also consider our economic impact but working with locally owned hotels such as Posada Ecologica Abuela in Nicaragua and working with local guides native to our destination.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
I am not sure if our travelers understand how much behind the scenes work our local guides put into each trip. They spend hours creating the itinerary with us, confirming
transportation, reservations and any detail that needs to be complete prior to our group’s arrival. Also, while the trip is in session they are always there to answer any question, troubleshoot and have to be quick thinking and flexible should weather or plans not go according to plan. Our local guides are truly the backbone of our trips.
TVP travelers surfing in Uvita.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider a trip with The Vacation Project?
While we like to point out that a TVP trip is a vacation first and foremost, the service based portion is just as important to the whole experience. We want our guests to consider that they may be pushed a little bit out of their comfort zone while they are planting trees in the rainforest or staying with a Berber family in the mountains. However, it will be this portion of the trip that leaves the biggest impression and best memories.
What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?
Plain and simple – headlamps. Each of our trips involves some sort of walking in the dark
and you will be grateful to have packed this simple but handy device.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
The rise of sustainable travel. I think that many people (myself included) don’t really
consider the true environmental impact of my travels. I think that while people are traveling more and taking more plane rides at least they try to offset their carbon footprint by staying in more environmentally friendly hotels and searching for experiences that re-connect them with nature.
TVP Volunteers and Osa Conservation staff replanting trees in the rainforest.
Tell us about the term “holistic travel” and what it means to you.
To me, “Holistic Travel” means having a complete and total travel experience. A holistic travel experience is one where I visit a new destination in a way most travelers don’t, making new friends and genuine connections and somehow leaving the destination no worse than how I found it. By connecting with the destination in this way I can reset my mind and what is important to me and re-enter my hectic life recharged with purpose.
What is one insider’s tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
I mentioned above that TVP trips might push you out of your comfort zone and I think that is important. Whether you are traveling with TVP or not, in order to have a more person or experiential vacation you need to allow yourself to try something you might not try at home, connect and meet new people and at the end of the day just be grateful for having the opportunity to have the experience in the first place.
What is one strategy or philosophy that has been critical in the launch of this new endeavor?
From the get go we agreed that our trips would be highly curated, and we have stuck by
that. We currently only offer trips to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Morocco and any destination that we add will be as carefully and meticulously planned and executed as these three have. By spending so much time creating each experience, we are able to ensure that our travelers understand the essence of TVP and want to come back for more.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful? I try to be authentic and positive in my interactions with others. Because I am not trying to be someone that I’m not or waste energy on negative thoughts, I can use that energy to put my best foot forward in work and relationships with people and focus on what is important to me and
accomplish my goals.
Rescuing baby sea turtles for release into the ocean.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
On our latest trip to Costa Rica we invited a traveler who had not experienced many trips that weren’t luxury vacations. We tried our best to make sure she was comfortable, and we could tell she tried her best to accept that she was out of her comfort zone and make the best of the experience. We truly weren’t sure what her post travel review would say but it ended being the most heartfelt review we have seen to date. While she admitted that she was uncomfortable in her surroundings at times, she appreciated having to push her boundaries, make new friends and looks back on her total TVP experience as a fulfilling and memorable vacation.
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