2017 Adventure Lineup with Ashley and Brian

DCIM101GOPRO

Looking back, and moving forward.

Wow, Time flies is right!  Here we are, nearing the end of 2016 and planning the incredible line up for 2017!

Ashley Scanlan and Brian McCutcheon rolled “home” to Nelson this November with trucks and trailers packed to the top, a few thousand more miles on the odometer, and with more air miles than we care to remember. But what a season it was!

I am not shy to proclaim this year as our best season yet (measured by our fun-o-meter)! With a motley crew of fantastic guides, a safari camp that gets more delicious flavor with each passing year, high water, full moons, friends, musicians, and THREE new exploratory trips, we really kept ourselves busy!   I could go through and list all the amazing trips we did, but let’s look forward…

Check out our 2017 line-up so far:

New YearsGalapagos TripSOLD OUT!

New Years – Surf Trip in Mompiche, Ecuador – SOLD OUT!

January 19th – Brian’s birthday in (Nelson, BC?)

Feb 19 –26 Argentina Yoga Retreat in Bariloche (space still available)

March 2 – Party at Ashley & Brian’s new home in Chile! All welcome!

March 3-11 – Mini Trip on the Futaleufu in Chile (space still available)

March 10-18Rafting Trip on the Futaleufu (space still available)

April 10-21Brian and Jorge lead our new premium Costa Rica trip!

April 22-27 – ROAM launches our more wallet-friendly Costa Rica trip

June- August – The Chilko River Expeditions (with new camp and itinerary!) & Bear Camp Multi-Sport Trips are at a premium!

SeptemberBear Viewing is on! Photographers get your spot!

October 3-13 – Africa bound! Zambezi River Explorer (almost sold out)

October 28- November 8Zambezi River explorer

November (6 days) – NEW Capetown Multi-sport & Culture

November (4 Days) – NEW South Africa Safari and Multi-sport

November 20-30 – Office work….. it has to happen sometime

December – Get tropical surf again!

Location, Location, Location

These were the wise words of a retail guru I knew as a young lad growing up in Toronto, Canada.  Apparently these words are also echoed for real estate transactions but the premise clearly did not sink in.  Or did it?

Hosting a Grand Canyon trip for my friend and long-time client, billionaire David Bonderman, he introduced me to his old Harvard Law School grads as a “Canadian with remote and obscure real estate tastes”.  Truly this description fits me well as we most recently purchased a waterfront acreage at the head of Chilko Lake and the Chilko River.  It’s a world-class destination but a 12-hour drive from Vancouver through two mountain passes and does not exactly fit the “convenient location” mantra (but our clients arrive by plane anyways!)

I believe, however, David was referencing (okay, we can say mocking) my affinity for remote beachfront in rural Ecuador.  Three years ago while surfing the Ecuadorian coast with my youngest daughter, Grace,  Ecuadorian surf legend, Leo Govea, took me to the quaintest little beach town called Mompiche.  The minute I set foot in Mompiche, I knew it was my paradise.  Long flat beaches, warm waters and tropic breezes, palm-fringed bays and most importantly an idealistic left-hand point break with multiple sessions and a kid-friendly beach break.

I had surfed with Leo in Montanita, Olon, Canoa and a host of other wonderful places in Ecuador but I had never seen anything so user-friendly with the exception of Hanalei Bay in northern Kauai.

Here’s the difference.  Mompiche has no crowds, very few tourists and the friendliest most accommodating surfers one will ever have the privilege of sharing the waters with.  No aggravating wave crashers.  To the contrary, it was obvious I was an out-of-towner (no one else in Mompiche looks like Chuck Norris) and I was given helpful advice, encouragement and in a few instances better surfers peeled off nice waves and encouraged me to jump on.  But if that’s not enough, the clincher for me was affordable beachfront real estate.  


I don’t think you could buy a parking space in Hanalei for what we paid for a small beach lot and building a 3-bedroom house steps from the water.

In fact, I am certain.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Kauai and the great state of Hawaii.   I would give my left leg to own a beachfront house in Kauai but its not financially plausible and surfing with one leg is too challenging.

Property ownership in Ecuador is not difficult.  Since acquiring our waterfront, we have helped other friends buy on the beach and get them started with construction of their dream beach homes.  Here’s the cool part – my friend Leo, now a proud father – has been able to give up running a dilapidated hostel and is our main-man on our house development (but is still there to teach surfing).  We are employing a number of people in the community and using local bamboo and wood products in a sustainable fashion.

A developer I am not.  

Instead we are just trying to secure all the property in our stretch of the beach to keep out any prospective resorts or towers from going up and, in my opinion, ruining the character of the beach and fishing village.

Location, Location, Location is true… but it is all a matter of perspective. 

ROAM Down Home

With all the discounting going on in the travel business, I was starting to wonder if I was missing something?  My adventure travel colleagues have been laughing at me because I am concerned our industry is becoming commoditized by the Internet.  They suggest I just need to drop prices on our trips in order to combat the slow economy and weather the storm.  Certainly our volume of travelers are down but its our most elaborate and subsequently expensive trips that are still selling best.  Others suggest I “trim some fat” cutting back on services that we provide to shave some costs.  

What to do?

   After much consideration and number crunching – and no matter how clever I try to be – I cannot justify what I would chop out of our existing Chilko River trips, for example, in order to make it cheaper and hopefully a more attractive “price point”. 

 Do I fly guests to Williams Lake and bus them 4 hours to save 200 bucks each on charter airplanes?  Will that make our trips more appealing?  Or how about driving 11 hours from Vancouver instead of flying at all?  Then I had an epiphany…

I cannot make the trip less expensive because all the existing components are crucial.

What about trimming our profit?  Our margins, which my accountants will back me up on this, are so atrocious that I am already in the “labour of love” or even worse “lifestyle job” category.  So shaving profits is clearly not an option unless I want to live in one of our tents.

So the dilemma continues…

My theory is that if your trip is of great quality then people will travel to great ends to participate.  This is true in places like Patagonia or the Himalayas so to appease both trains of thought, we are launching a new series of trips.  

 ROAM Down Home

These are not discounted versions of our existing adventures but rather less expensive trip alternatives in similar or new locales.  Our newest surf trip in Ecuador is one of them.  It is a great program and utilizes wonderful accommodations like the Canoa Beach House as well as excellent guides. 

However the nature of these trip plays to more self-directed opportunities for travelers (that is marketing speak for less included).  People can even choose to rent our properties and do everything else themselves (that’s financial speak for making something but doing less).  The options for additional upgraded services, if required, are plentiful but not included. 

In Peru, 90 percent of our existing clients are opting for the most expensive hotel components on our 2 week lodge-to-lodge trek.  Its an outstanding program worth every penny.  We would never compromise what we believe it the best way to visit Machu Picchu.  But what about all the others who do not travel with us because of costs?  
Presto, ROAM Down Home offers a classic Inca trail camping trip with an active tour of the Sacred Valley or river rafting option.  No five star hotels or lodge-to-lodge trekking on this trip but an excellent valued experience and the ROAM attention to quality and amazing guides. 

Closer to home, we are developing a circuitous 14-day BC Whitewater Explorer trip.  World-class whitewater on a number of BC’s best waterways combined with fun party nights in Whistler.  Sure there’s a bigger time commitment for traversing across southern BC (instead of charter flights) but we hope to attract a younger demographic or those with more time.  

 Our new camping-based Chilko Multisport offers 7 days of activities for less than $2000.  We still have the elegant Lodge at Chilko as our mainstay but many folks love to camp and soak up the great outdoors. 

In the Kootenays, we have the new Nelson Waterfront for vacation rentals or fully-guided multisports offering tremendous value in the marketplace.  Our new Lodge at Mabel Lake sleeps 28 people and is about as cozy and down home as a lodge can get at a price most people can afford.   

Lets be clear, our deluxe departures and custom trips are continuing to grow and are the heart and soul of ROAM.  But at the same time we have recognized that our guests are coming to travel with us in multi-year cycles. 

We believe it is a good idea to have other options to satiate their travel needs whether they are going to college or putting kids through college, starting a family or looking for a family reunion spot, starting their first job or planning their retirement. 

We think their is a place to ROAM for everyone.  ROAM Down Home is a new direction for us and we hope to broaden our appeal.  Two years ago I traveled with a pediatrician who owned the largest cigarette chain store in Wyoming .  He wanted to open up funeral homes so he would be “truly vertically integrated”.  Really.   I don’t think we want to take it to that extreme but do believe we can be more responsive to our guests’ needs at any point in their lives.  My marketing friends call it a “price point strategy” and my dad always reminds me that you get what you pay for.

That being said, we are excited to offer some great trips at great prices, without compromising ourselves or our exisiting product.  Happy Travels from the Crew at ROAM

   

  

 

Family Travel is Not a Dirty Word

No rant needed from me this week as I think this letter from one of our guests speaks volumes about why families should travel and in particular with us 🙂

Dear Brian

We have been back for a few weeks and we’ve been re-living all the great moments.  Unfortunately, we only have 2000 photos so we have to go by memory for some things!  Now that life is finally settling back down, I’ve had a chance to get the photos organized and pull this package together for you.  Where to start…

First – Thanks for organizing the trip, arranging Ashley to be our guide (and allowing us to become like a volunteer marketing team for ROAM)

Second- Prior to this trip, if we asked our kids for their idea of a perfect vacation the answer would always involve some combination of Mickey Mouse and a Mexican beach (with a swim up bar).  Now they want adventures!  This is excellent.

Third – You have created a great family-friendly program for us.  If you are not marketing this aggressively, I’d say you should be.  For sure, you are more than welcome to use any or all of our pictures on your website, in brochures…whatever you like.  We had a series of experiences that kept surprising us.  The trip truly exceeded all expectations.  At the start of each day, we’d say that we didn’t know how we’d be able to top the amazing things we saw and did the day before.  Then over dinner each night, we were honestly able to say we had indeed raised the bar again.

Fourth – How are we supposed to improve on swimming with sea lions, hiking in Vulcan Chico, soaking in hotsprings in the Andes, rafting the headwaters of the Amazon, snorkeling with sharks, rays and turtles, watching dolphins dancing on our bow wake in the moonlight, looking for bugs on night hikes, seeing marine iguanas on the beach where we were building sand castles, riding horses amongst volcanoes and glaciers, seeing giant tortoises, watching boobies dive all around the boat, standing on the equator, seeing a baby hammerhead swim circles around the boat, staying in haciendas and jungle lodges, and sleeping on deck so sea lions could wake us up.  We’ve been ruined!

Fifth – What a treat to meet your crew, Ashley, Juan Fernando and Arturo as they are all EXCELLENT – great people and great fun.  You were right that we would love Ashley.  She was perfect in everyway and went way beyond the call of duty to be sure the kids and adults were having a wonderful time.

Sixth – Visiting the Ecuadorian mainland is totally under-rated experience.  It should be on the world’s top ten list.  The people are spectacular, the scenery is unbelieveable, the food was great, the price was right and its not touristy.  We were so focused on the Galapagos that we had not spent much time anticipating the second part of our amazing trip.  It was fantastic.

Seventh – It woudln’t have been an adventure if Harry hadn’t fallen off a horse, Catharine hadn’t fallen off a bike, Elizabeth Anne hadn’t been bitten by a dog and I had not broken a toe (I think) as it is not as straight as it used to be.  Those were some of the memorable moments.  Very cool to say ” I fell off a horse in Ecuador”

Eighth – It was fun to see places that we remembered from the website and your daughter’s photo album.  It was not hard to imagine you and the girls chilling out on the beach at Isabela.  In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to relocate to Isabela!  But Beto’s margaritas (especially the second one) should come with a warning label.

Ninth – we appreciated all your help and intimate knowledge about the areas.  It was great to get advice from a parent’s perspective as well as your naturally adventurous side

Tenth – We are looking forward to planning our next ROAM Vacation

Thanks
The Armstrong Clan
Bob, Elizabeth-Anne, Harry, Alison and Cookie

Being Chuck

Over the last 2 years a very strange phenomenon has been occurring.  It’s not something totally foreign to me as it was pointed by my grandmother 20 years ago, however, it has resurfaced with a vengeance.  It’s not something I embraced initially but I have begun to understand it better over time.

Apparently I look like Chuck Norris…

I couldn’t be lucky enough to look like Brad Pitt or George Clooney.  No, instead it’s the martial arts movie man also known as Walker, Texas Ranger.  I would have been OK with it if it stopped at a cameo fight appearance in “Return of the Dragon” or B-grade cult classic “Delta Force” but really…Texas Ranger? 

Don’t even get me started about “Lone Wolf McQuade”

As stated earlier, almost 2 decades ago I was visiting my grandmother donning a beard (me, not my grandmother) when she told me to shave as I looked like that “hoodlum” Chuck Norris.  The reference didn’t sink in nor did I really see the resemblance at that time but I was impressed grandma even knew who Chuck was.  I once was accused of looking like the Honeycomb Kid (on the cereal box) but Chuck is a lot shorter and a frankly older than yours truly.

In 2009, it reared its ugly head again – in a diner in Kamloops, British Columbia.  Predominantly a mill town, the diner was a place where it was plausible the patrons owned Chuck Norris VHS box sets.  Our waitress told me her co-workers thought I looked like Chuck Norris.  Without hesitation, and for those who know me you will not be surprised, I told her I was Chuck Norris.  She fist pumped and enthusiastically shouted “I knew it”.  After signing a menu for the diner wall, we enjoyed our complimentary meal and left the restaurant with a good chuckle. 

Perhaps knowing that you look like Chuck Norris leads one to carry his subconscious persona?  Nah just kidding… but the recognition did start to escalate soon after as Ashley and I made our way to Africa to run the Zambezi and climb Kilimanjaro.  In our first airport, a few security people joked that I looked like Chuck and we moved through unencumbered.  It wasn’t until  Victoria Falls trying to catch a charter flight to Hwange National Park that dividends stared to flow.  We had recovered the lost bags of another guest and were trying to get the overweight load through a backlog at the check-in desk. 

I was told that one bag was allowed and there were no exceptions.  I tried to explain the additional bags belonged to a 70-year old woman but was not making headway.  This is when “Being Chuck” became very helpful.  One of the intervening supervisors was convinced I had traveled with them before.  I assured him that I had not but was scouting the region for future business.  He was persistent and asked me why I looked so familiar?  Seizing the opportunity, I told him I was Chuck Norris, Texas Ranger and reached across the counter with a firm handshake.

He was so pleased to have a Chuck flying with his airline that we were escorted past security and straight out on to the tarmac.  The excess bag issues were as far behind us as the rest of the tourists waiting in the massive line up.  Being Chuck certainly had some advantages (although I’d still rather look like George Clooney). 

 Two weeks later on Kilimanjaro, the porters would fight each morning over who would carry my bags.  We also noticed our tent was pitched in prime locations at every camp.  I realized that this could present a problem for our paying guests and tried to get our lead trekking guide, Festo, to break it to them gently that I was not Chuck Norris.  The porters refused to believe him as they had been bragging to other groups of porters and would not retreat.  The word is that Chuck Norris films and shows are the rage these days on buses in Zimbabwe.  Who knew?

Later in early 2010, I was also identified as Chuck when traveling through Argentina.  We became further beneficiaries by not being hassled in markets or late-night on the streets Buenos Aires as well as special treatment in hotels, restaurants and shops.  New arrivals to our Futaleufu trip were skeptical of our claims until they all received 25% off their purchases at a local leather shop. 
  
In Mendoza, I made a comment to Ashley about a group of men who were ogling her in high heels and shorts as we were headed out for dinner.  Much to both of our surprise, they yelled “Hey Chuck” and were all very pleased when I waved in acknowledgment (Ashley also wishes I looked like George Clooney or Brad Pitt!).  That aside,  the ultimate success in this phenomenon was when I missed a connection in Buenos Aires recently.  The nice folks at American Airlines rescheduled me on a Miami flight a few hours later but warned me it was oversold and unlikely I would get on.  When asked if I get told I look like Chuck Norris, I said I was Chuck.  Despite having a Canadian passport with my name on it, I was immediately confirmed and upgraded. 

The benefits of Being Chuck are growing everyday.  So much… I feel obligated to purchase a Total Gym in Chuck’s honour.   With no assembly required, easy storage, convenient payment plans and a money back guarantee how could I go wrong?

Cheers,
Canuck Norris