It’s a coming of age like no other. No longer a teenager, in 2009 Intrepid Travel is cracking open the bubbly and celebrating its 20th year. It’s been quite a ride, so we sent Intrepid’s Eliza Anderson to find out where the idea for one of the world’s leading travel companies began…
“For best mates, Darrell Wade and Geoff Manchester, it all started with a six-month trip across Africa in a converted rubbish truck.
Back in 1988 Darrell and Geoff were young professionals, uninspired by the daily grind and yearning to hit the open road. After taking an Encounter Overland trip from Kathmandu to London a few years earlier, Darrell and his brother-in-law had always wanted to organise their own overland trip. After seeing the film The Gods Must be Crazy they decided to make it Africa.
A co-operative of 14 people was formed, they pooled their money and bought a truck for AU$3,000, parked it at one of their parents’ orchard and spent six months converting it into their home on wheels. Meanwhile Geoff was off travelling in Asia, with the seed of the idea for Intrepid forming. Geoff was one of the first to sign-up for the Africa trip and returned from Asia to help with the vehicle building.
The truck was packed off to London on a Polish ship, where in a freezing blizzard they collected it from the docks and loaded it with half a tonne of provisions. Leaving cold England behind, they boarded a Channel ferry for a fast drive through France and Spain. The rain was relentless as they drove south. With no sign of sunshine and with the truck constantly breaking down, doubt began to set in. However arriving on the African continent in Morocco felt awesome and from here the real adventure began.
Six months of Saharan deserts, Congolese rainforests and the plains of east Africa provided a memorable and challenging experience. One of which was explaining how a truck with Australian registration plates came to be travelling through deepest, darkest Africa.
Travelling with a group of 14 people did not deter Darrell and Geoff from starting their own travel business. The many hours of driving enabled them to fine-tune their concept of group travel, travelling in a way that allowed close contact with local people and experiencing their culture and way of life.
As they travelled they discussed how travelling independently can be so time-consuming; negotiating border crossings, finding hotels, buying train tickets, waiting for local trekking companies to gather enough people for a trek. And how it is so easy to miss hidden gems, like the swimming hole they discovered in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
They discussed the idea of ‘organised backpacking’, travel that would remove the frustrations of independent travel but keep its best elements, with the added advantages that organised group travel can offer, like staying in a family home, knowing a treasure of a tiny back street restaurant or having your boat to a remote island ready to travel on the day you want to depart.
Six months later and back in Melbourne, Australia, truck cab chat had turned into a fully-fledged business concept (who’d heard of a business plan?) and Intrepid Travel was born. Geoff cashed in his superannuation, Darrell loaned money from his parents and they borrowed a typewriter to write the first Intrepid brochure to the first destination – Thailand.
Fast forward 20 years and things are very different. Today, Intrepid takes over 70,000 people to 105 countries around the world. It employs close to 1,000 people in 23 companies on six out of seven continents. But while much has changed, at its essence Intrepid remains the same company it was 20 years ago. Simply put – operating real life experiences that offer great value for like-minded travellers.
It’s been quite a journey for these two best mates, and the best thing is they are still loving sitting in the drivers seat of this exciting adventure!”