Blazing travel trails
What started out as a travel bug has turned into a thriving company – and career – for two local grads who have made it their mission to introduce people to some of the most thrilling activities, awesome natural wonders and exotic adventures the world has to offer.
Whether that be hang gliding over Rio de Janeiro, riding elephants bareback in Thailand, learning to surf in Costa Rica or embarking on a sunrise volcano hike in Bali, TJ Hermiston and Graeme Barker have unearthed some of travel’s best kept secrets with the intention of sharing them with others.
The friends founded Beach Travellers eight years ago, after graduating from Elgin Park Secondary and exploring parts of Southeast Asia. Hermiston travelled in the region for half a year, and was joined by Barker for close to two months.
“We came back and we were like ‘this changed our lives,’” Hermiston said. “We were both looking for our passions. We thought, ‘what if we could change other people’s lives like that?’”
The 26-year-olds – who knew each other when they were kids and reconnected in high school – “dove in head first,” using money they had saved to materialize their vision of an adventure-travel company that reflects a backpacking experience by taking clients off the beaten path, but also provides the security and convenience of a large tour operation.
“We had a lot of trial and error,” Hermiston admitted, noting they kept their plans under wraps until the business was incorporated and its website launched.
They appealed to local post-secondary students at first, before embarking on a three-month road trip across Canada and doing presentations at universities along the way.
“We worked as hard as we could,” Hermiston said. “I think the reason it succeeded is we were so passionate about travel and people.”
Beach Travellers’ first trip came in summer 2004, when it brought six people to Thailand to experience some of the places Hermiston and Barker discovered during their own journey.
Seven years later, the company is hosting 35 trips annually in Thailand, Bali, Brazil and Costa Rica – with their sights on expanding in Central America and Africa – and has had 450 travellers so far this year alone.
With a head office in Edmonton, the company employs 45 staff, including guides.
While Hermiston and Barker don’t go on the trips themselves, their research of future Beach Travellers destinations entails them scouting foreign locations for interesting attractions.
They build relationships with the locals, Hermiston said, and choose accommodations that are locally owned and operated.
The one-of-a-kind itinerary they create – which often includes charity work, such as volunteering at an orphanage – is optional for travellers, Hermiston noted.
“It has that freedom of making it their own.”
Trips range from 12 to 36 days, and travellers – who are now coming from all over the world – are between the ages of 18 and 35.
The journeys are meant for anyone who has “that desire to travel and get off the beaten path to discover the world, who sometimes don’t have the means or the courage to do it,” Hermiston said, noting one of the company’s newest offerings is a Northern Thailand extension in which participants stay with hill tribes. “We do stuff that people don’t ever get to do.”
But the most rewarding aspect of the project is seeing people’s lives change, just as Hermiston and Barker’s were after their own adventure.
“We’ve seen so many people’s perspectives change and personalities bloom, and I think that’s a huge reason why everyone in the organization does this,” Hermiston said. “We get fulfillment every time we see it.”