Why “Insider” Experiences and Cultural Immersion Speak to Me

By AdventureWomen Ambassador Annie Childs

As I have had the wonderful opportunity and privilege to travel with AdventureWomen both as a guest and more recently as an Ambassador, I can honestly say I cannot imagine traveling with any other company.

AdventureWomen truly offers the best in adventure travel experiences, rich in both cultural immersion and opportunities to discover the “inside track” of a destination. These adventures leave one with not only new and wonderful friends, but with lasting memories of wholly seeing, feeling, and experiencing a country or another U.S. state.

But it all starts with the people.

AdventureWomen groups are full of intelligent, funny, intrepid, and kind women who often form lasting friendships from the first opening dinner on. On every trip, new travel buddies are discovered, and AdventureWomen friends from past trips reconnect. And every day, whether on a train or a bus or during a meal, future AdventureWomen trips are discussed!

Then there are the spectacular local guides, who have a nuanced understanding of AdventureWomen’s standards and values. AdventureWomen and its local partners go to great lengths to collaboratively plan every detail of every trip. The careful thought that goes into the pacing of activities on trips is unparalleled. The guides have done their homework and are always ready to adjust the schedule as needed. And I am continuously impressed, from Easter Island to Siberia to Switzerland to Alaska, with the appreciation the guides have for each guest. At the Bridger Bowl ski clinic, the instructors tell us that the AdventureWomen guests are their favorite visiting ‘group’ of the winter season!

But it is what happens between the guides, guests, and the people we encounter along the way as we explore other cultures that is truly the most magical. These spontaneous moments, which connect us so quickly and powerfully, are astounding, intimate, cherished moments of cultural immersion.

One example of this happened in Vietnam. The bike ride outside of Hanoi along the dikes of the Red River, with Dan and his extraordinary team of helpers, was beyond memorable. After biking for hours winding through small villages and along even smaller dikes, we circled back to dine at Dan’s home. Dan’s family prepared the most delicious Vietnamese meal we ate on the whole trip. The ability to spend time in a private home, to be honored and appreciated guests of a local family, to meet their friends and taste this delicious meal, together, was unforgettable. Our AdventureWomen group was so fortunate to have shared this experience together with Dan, his family, and his friends.

My sister, who joined me on our Vietnam trip, was also truly impressed by the focus on women-owned businesses. We visited a lovely shop selling goods made by the women-only Cuc Handmade Project, a collective of local women immigrants making handicrafts to earn a living wage and provide for their families. Later, our visit to the Buddhist Monastery in Hue became unexpectedly extraordinary when the very private Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, spent almost two hours sharing her thoughts and life experience with us. Profound.

A magical moment for my AdventureWomen guests in Switzerland occurred in the wee hours of the morning as we witnessed the alpine transhumance when local farmers, dressed in traditional costume, led belled and bedecked cows (and dogs, goats, and children) through town on their way to high mountain pastures. None of us will ever forget our early morning mad dash to get downstairs (in our pjs) and out the door of our small hotel to witness the marvel of this centuries-old Swiss tradition.

On Easter Island, our guide, Josie Nahoe Mulloy, was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. She is the granddaughter of the archeologist William Mulloy, who worked with Thor Heyerdahl. As the daughter of an American father and a Rapa Nui mother, Josie offered personal memories and insights about Easter Island’s history we could never have dreamed of learning without her firsthand experiences and local knowledge. At another point, a local guide offered us the option of a longer hike around a remote, rarely traversed volcano instead of the scheduled hike. As we trekked through the rocky outcrops of volcanic hills, I felt farther away from humanity than ever before. I felt the sweep of history and was in awe, every step of the way, that any one individual could ever have survived on this remote island, let alone an entire civilization.

In Siberia, we were guests at a private dacha, near Lake Baikal, where our host had invited her best women friends and former colleagues from Irkutsk to join our lucky AdventureWomen group. The commonality between us was immediate as we shared experiences as working women, mothers, wives, daughters, and new friends, all translated by our wonderful guides, Katya and Olga. Mostly, we just laughed. We were so relaxed with each other that six of our AdventureWomen guests stripped down and got naked for the true Russian experience, the banya, including being ‘beaten’ with birch branches. Wonderful, relaxing, and completely hilarious!

I have made wonderful women friends on my AdventureWomen trips – from Canada to Indonesia, from Chile to Switzerland, from Vietnam to Russia, as well as from every time zone in the U.S. It is an honor to be part of this exceptionally excellent organization!