Darrell Wade co-founded the world’s largest adventure travel company. But he still likes his own adventures to be sociable and a little unplanned.
It’s hard to imagine that after a travel career of three decades, there’s any place left that Wade hasn’t been. But we found more than one.
Talking to Wade is like a conversational travel documentary, flashing back to the past, present and future of travel, an insight that can only be gleaned from spending almost two thirds of every year seeing the world.
So where is that as yet unvisited place? The ‘Stans of Central Asia. Namely, Uzbekistan. Not one to sit still, he’s taking a trip there in May this year.
“There are still destinations that are difficult to achieve on your own and you want to have a social group around you. It’s nice to have lunches and dinners with a small group, as in more remote countries you don’t meet people as easily,” Wade says.
Every year he has a few routines, including walking the caminos of Europe, where nothing is planned. He travels with a handful of friends and his wife Anna Wade and when they find somewhere they like, they spend a few nights. Otherwise they’ll get through 25 kilometres of walking before lunch, stay for a few wines if the occasion calls for it, and keep moving.
“On one walk, Google maps said there was a village after 35 kilometres but we got there and there was no village, it started snowing and we were hungry and dressed in shorts,” Wade says.
That style of travel is what inspired Wade and fellow co-founder Geoff Manchester to create Intrepid Travel. Wade and Manchester (known fondly as Manch) started the business 30 years ago, in 1988. Wade was just married and about to start a family and a business. Then the ultimate test came along: a stable job, with a high income.
“It made a lot of sense – nice people, good security, travel, based in Australia. I was considering being a responsible citizen as I drove home. I said to Anna, ‘I suppose I should take it’.” Torn between the risk of entrepreneurship and stability, wife Anna Wade said no.
“You will be a pain in the ass unless you start a business, she said. So I did,” Wade says. Wade is an ideas man, and had been pitching business ideas throughout his 20’s. The idea for the travel company he hatched in Africa with his mate Manch was the only business idea she liked, after various other ideas, including yabby farming.
“When we started it, the hope was that we could build a sustainable career with a business that would pay us a salary and that we’d love it. I thought there was a 90% chance of failure,” Wade says.
Intrepid Travel has now grown to be the world’s largest adventure travel company, made up of four tour operator brands: Intrepid Travel, Peregrine Adventures, Urban Adventures, Adventure Tours Australia, as well as a not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation. Wade himself travels more than half the year, and has some strong opinions as someone who has been ensconced in travel for three decades.
“I hate crowds. I am very sensitive on the overtourism issue. For me if you go somewhere and half the universe is there it sucks the soul out of the destination. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy as Larry in crowds in Shanghai or New York City. Those places are meant to be crowded,” Wade says.
“It annoys me that some of the world’s most beautiful places are becoming overcrowded by tourists, as ultimately the travel industry and local governments are too focused on the short-term benefits of tourism dollars, they don’t think about the long term consequences,” Wade says. Intrepid Travel and its sister-brands design itineraries that use local knowledge to avoid the crowds by altering arrival times and seeing some of the world’s most amazing places that haven’t made it on to mainstream travel bucket lists.
It’s also about going to remote places no one else is travelling to. Wade mentions a trip to Kalimantan, in Borneo, up for sale a decade ago that had the value add of himself and Manch hosting the trip.
“We didn’t get a phone call. No one wanted to go with us,” he says, laughing. Turns out, Wade still hasn’t seen Kalimantan.
So there’s one more place he hasn’t been. Any takers?
Like the sound of small group travel? Find out more about Intrepid Travel.
Hero image by Damien Raggatt.