In recent years, adventure learning companies have focused on quantity versus quality in regards to their programs. As a trip leader, I’ve seen it too often.
In a rush to increase destination offerings, for a wider audience, many of the experiences are often not in context with the purpose of the trip. The result is that after a week-long program the guest remembers they participated in some fun things, but are not exactly sure how they grew as a person. If they cannot successfully answer this, then how is your company unique? And, why should they return?
An easy way to help guests grow, and nurture them for joining future trips, is to keep all of the travel program’s experiences in context with a big idea. In short, what is the big idea you want your guests/participants to remember? Think of a big idea as a unifying theme for the trip. All of the site visits, excursions, and explorations on the trip should gravitate around this big idea.
It is very easy to build a program around generic information, which is what most tourism companies do (see photo below). It is more challenging to design an adventure learning travel program around a unifying message where all of the experiences (walks, food, guest speakers, site visits, etc) are in context with a big idea. When travel experiences are in context, guests remember they had fun, but also their discoveries.
All lifelong learning travel managers wrestle with one idea: how to craft a transformative travel program.
The most common approach is to select a topic (such as the topic of fire, or destinations such as the topic of Crater Lake), and then build the program around that.
This seems simple enough, yet why then are so many travel programs such a continuous source of frustration and ambiguity for those designing the program, even for those who have to craft messaging and then market the travel program?
The problem arises because the topic is often associated with the travel program’s theme.
Themes should not be thought of as nouns (subject, place, or event), think of them as being a verb (interpretive).
Another way to think about a theme is to answer, “What is the big idea I want participants to remember?”
A multi-day program built around the topic of “Fire” now becomes:
Theme: “Discover how fire helps forge every aspect of our life.”
Sub-themes might include homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).
A week-long bus/hiking/rafting program with the topic of “Visit Central Oregon” transforms into:
Theme: “Exploring Oregon’s dynamic geology allows for first-hand discovery and connection to one of the most fundamental forces of nature, in both its creative and destructive roles.”
An active hiking program with the topic of “Exploring Crater Lake” evolves into:
Theme: “Crater Lake’s breathtaking beauty, seasonal weather extremes, and distinguishing natural and cultural features, combined with a variety of recreational opportunities, provide visitors with abundant chances for discovery, reflection, and inspiration.”
Creating a theme in this light focuses all of the activities and interactions around a single idea; it helps the program designer and the trip leaders focus on what is relevant while bringing the program to life.
Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.
The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former ownerâ€™s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fishermanâ€™s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fishermanâ€™s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of the building’s military history.Â The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out.Â A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostelâ€™s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Donâ€™t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostelâ€™s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
All of the above-mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.
I’m an outdoor guide because traveling and nature experiences can be powerful teachers. Here is one such story about how an encounter with a whale helped others (and myself) to grow.
Two dozen people slammed themselves onto the starboard railing of our small whale-watching vessel. It listed uncomfortably sideways as people gawked. Just feet away, a baby gray whale –the length of a long kayak– floated in the rough surf. Its large black eye seemed to study each of us. Everyone was absorbed in the experience. They had forgotten their discomfort in the previous hour and a half. Up until then, it had been a bad day to be on the water: we had not seen a whale – not one! Our ship sickeningly rolled side to side in the deep troughs, the smell of diesel and vomit permeated our nostrils, cold January weather nipped our skin, the sky was oppressively overcast and the wind-chapped our lips. Worst of all was seasickness. I heard participants simultaneously cursing my name as they barfed over the boat’s edge. Some made multiple trips to the side. As they staggered back, a sick yet relieved look crossed their faces. I received several vexing glances. The words were blazed in their eyes, “Why did you make me come out here?”
It was a hard day of whale-watching. My camera had broken too, then again maybe it was for the best. This was the first whale-watching tour that I had organized for a group and it was going horribly. I secretly wanted this trip to be over, to slink home and erase it from my memory. I wanted the trip participants to forget about it, too.
When the young whale appeared the trip was born anew. A marine biologist shared her commentary: the mother was likely on the seabed feeding and would be returning shortly. The juvenile was not lost, just hanging out at the surface.
Amazingly the whale stayed parallel with our ship for about twenty minutes. Then several hundred feet away from a large mass the size of a city bus rose to the surface. She dramatically announced herself by ejecting a plume of air in a geyser-like spray. This was the mother! The smaller whale joined her and they swam off together.
The people were seasick and green in appearance and happy to return to port. I had organized the outing as a way for overscheduled tech workers to connect with their families in the outdoors, but had I inadvertently turned more people off that helped? This was the first of several trips where unexpected situations and hardships caused me to question my outings and slowly I became disillusioned.
I stopped leading nature adventures.
Fast forward five years.
I was at an outdoor market selling youth-in-nature backpacks. A man approached and we talked for a minute, then he said, “Hey, you’re that guy who led the whale-watching trip.” He briskly shook my hand and said, “Thanks.” I wondered if we were talking about the same excursion. He told me about that day, I listened with interest and then in dismay. He and his mother-in-law despised one another, and for spite, they created ever-increasing hardships for each other, often to the detriment of family members. One day, he saw my whale-watching trip advertised and suggested a pleasant outing for the entire family. But his coyness was masked with a desire that his mother-in-law have a miserable experience. In fact, she hated that whale-watching trip and wanted nothing to do with him again. To his glee, she stopped visiting altogether! Eventually, her lengthy absence spoke to his better nature and he felt guilty for his childish behavior.
Almost a year later she returned for a holiday visit. The conversation at the dinner table was palpable; everyone in the room knew the two were enemies. As the serving plates moved about she looked at him and said, “Remember that whale-watching trip?” He suspected a trap but replied, “Yes.”
She looked directly at him and with a heartfelt voice said, “Thank You.” The man’s mind was blown.
She shared her story:
The mother-in-law suspected the man invited her along so she would get sick on the boat, but she went anyway. It was a most unpleasant time. But, when she viewed the whale up close and looked into the creature’s eye, she saw there was something there, and something awakened in her. She returned home to southern California and was anxious to the point where sleep was difficult. She spent more time outside and took long walks. She started to walk to the store. Her walks became hikes and she asked her friends to join her, but they were “too busy”, so she went by herself. Later she joined a local hiking club. On these outings, she saw hills and valleys near her house that she had never seen despite having lived in the area for decades. On one hike in the Mojave Desert, she saw a magnificent vista and it inspired her to make a big decision. She decided to visit a location she had always dreamed of since she was a child: The Gyeongbokgung Palace in South Korea. Then she announced to the family around the table, “I’m leaving for Seoul in three weeks.”
The man was shocked and ashamed. After dinner, the two of them had a heart-to-heart talk. The trickery and malice evaporated and they started to heal their relationship. Several weeks later the mother-in-law traveled to Korea and had a wonderful trip. In the months that followed, she visited the family more often and the two of them started to go on short walks, then longer walks. They both enjoyed being outside, even having deep conversations. A year later, they had become friends and hiking buddies. The entire family was happier and everyone was even talking about an overseas trip.
The man finished telling me his tale. Before disappearing into the crowd he said, “Thanks again for the great trip!”
His story was an elixir for me, it helped to renew and strengthen my own passion for connecting people with the outdoors. I started to organize and lead trips once again. Fifteen years later I’m still going strong.
I guide because travel and being in the outdoors teach things that we can only learn by experience. Guiding is at that nexus, the point between being in the now, learning, and living; and it is best shared with others who seek it.
The Sanborn Park Hostel is a beautiful historic log house hidden among the coastal redwoods of Sanborn Park County Park near Saratoga, California. Sadly, after a 30-year run, the hostel recently closed its doors. Shown above is how it appeared at the time of the closing in 2010. Below is how it appeared in its heyday – in the late 1980s and early 90s.
This hostel was a friendly place to stay for backpackers, international travelers, bicyclists, Scout troops, church groups, students on field trips and families who needed a weekend away from the frantic pace of Silicon Valley.
Visitors could explore miles of trails in the 3,688-acre park, discover a nearby section of the San Andreas Fault, enjoy a short hike to a Nature Center, take a picnic to a nearby winery or enjoy a cookout under a grove of redwood trees.
The Hostel always provided programs and trips to help â€˜tell the storyâ€™ of the local area for those who were curious. Like the park and the redwoods around the building, the hostel also has a story.
For hundreds of years, the local area was visited by native Ohlone people. Signs of their acorn grinding mortors can be found on monolithic rocks that now form an entry to Hostel grounds. The Grizzly Bear once lived in this park. Forests of old growth redwood trees blanketed the hillsides; several large redwood stumps eight feet in diameter are still in the woods if you know where to look.
In 1908 the Honorable Judge Welch built a large log style summer cottage. He named it, â€œWelch-Hurst.â€ The name was derived from his name and the word Hurst, meaning woods or a grove. The Judge planted several orchards in the area. He also had a vineyard. He turned a nearby sag pond (sag ponds are natural pools found along the path of the San Andreas Fault) into a picturesque pond with a small island, footbridge, waterfalls, and large lily pads. The pond was home to fish, frogs and an assortment of ducks and geese.
In the 1950s a man named Pick lived in the log style house. Mr. Pick had discovered Uranium in the west (Wyoming or Colorado) and sold his claim to the U.S. military earning several million dollars at the time. With part of his fortune, he bought â€œWelch-Hurstâ€ and he renamed it â€œWalden West.â€ The name was derived from the book, â€œWalden,â€ by author, philosopher, and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau.
Pick added a number of buildings in the area including a small complex of buildings that housed early IBM employees and possibly helped to incubate some thinking that led to modern Silicon Valley. Today, the buildings of Walden West provide outdoor education programs for students.
In the 1960s and 70s, the house rapidly passed between several owners and the structure was in serious decline. In 1970s Sanborn Park was being expanded and the old house was purchased by Santa Clara County. Estimates at the time to renovate the deteriorating Welch-Hurst house was estimated at half-a-million dollars, too much for county coffers, and the house was scheduled for demolition.
In 1979, as destruction seemed imminent, the volunteers of the Santa Clara Valley hostelling club stepped forward with a box of hand tools and $460 in the bank to finance their reconstruction project. They were given the go-ahead. Year-after-year volunteers completely rebuilt and refurbished the Judgeâ€™s old home. In the main house, they preserved the original rock fireplace and the beautiful madrone and redwood staircase (shown). They also reconstructed the old carriage house turning it into a modern building with beautiful pine ceilings and wooden floors – all the time using as much wood from the original structure as possible. Tax dollars were never used to restore Hostel. This effort was entirely self-funded.
The hostelâ€™s â€˜Golden Ageâ€™ was in the late 1980s and the early 1990â€™s when the Hostelâ€™s 39 beds were completely booked.
After the horrible events of 9/11 in 2001 international travel plummeted. Seeing a backpacker from Europe was a rare sight. American travel also declined during this time as a strained U.S. economy, lessening vacation time for families, increasing insurance costs and a host of other reasons impacted travel and the Hostel. These forces slowly took their toll and Sanborn Park Hostel closed in 2010.
When the hostel closed the price to stay for one person was $14, the lowest overnight fee at any hostel in the United States.
The County has no plans for the historic Welch-Hurst building which the Hostel rented from the Parks Department. The refurbished one-hundred-year-old house will likely be boarded up and forgotten. The building is on the Registry of National Historic Places.
I have many fond memories of the hostel. While in college I worked as a â€˜Houseparentâ€™ at Sanborn Park Hostel. At the time I wanted to travel, but could not; working at the Hostel provided an opportunity for the travelers to come to me. The Hostel provided me with rich opportunities to learn about different cultures and to meet a wide variety of people. During this time I met thousands of people and some special travelers from Australia, New Zealand, and Austria became life-long friends. One wonderful woman traveling from overseas eventually became my wife.
At times the hostel had a â€˜magic.â€™ One such time involved an evening sitting in front of the large stone fireplace in the living room. A small but bright fire burned. About fifteen people, of all ages, some from overseas, sat on the sofas. We talked about the world. At one point someone brought out some sweet crackers, then someone else made tea for the group. We all talked late into the evening about ideas, places to travel and shared stories. It was an evening that fed the soul. This might sound odd, but if you find yourself in such a setting ask how people sing â€˜Happy Birthdayâ€™ in their native language. It is a great way to make friends and end an evening with a smile.
In the 30 years as a Hostel, 157,460 people stayed as overnight guests. This number included visitors from 99 foreign countries and all 50 states. Foreign travelers accounted for 20 percent of the total visitorship; that is roughly 31,500 visitors who chose to explore and experience America.
Four points are especially noteworthy about Sanborn Park Hostelâ€™s 30+ year run.
The work to refurbish this historic 100-year-old building was done entirely by volunteers.
Not one penny of public money was ever used to refurbish or operate the building â€“ it was entirely self-funded.
During the hostelâ€™s entire history, it had the lowest overnight fee of all US hostels, only $3 in 1979 to $14 when it closed.
In the 30 years of being a Hostel that 157,460 overnight visitors stayed here; with visitors from 99 foreign countries and all 50 states.
The organization who started Sanborn Park Hostel will continue their famous monthly pot-luck and slide show dinners on the last Thursday of the month at the Saratoga Community Center. Plus, some of the resources from Sanborn Park Hostel have been used to further Hostelling along Californiaâ€™s Central Coast. So in a sense, although the Hostel is gone it will continue in spirit.
It is sad to see the Hostel go, but the Hostelâ€™s newsletter said it with dignity, â€œClosing the Sanborn Park Hostel is bitter-sweet, but birth and death are both natureâ€™s ways.â€
To learn more about hostelling visit these sites: