Is there a perfect way to travel? Jeff Bonaldi has been trying to redefine this ever since he took to travel – leading to the setting up his travel company, The Explorer’s Passage. AJAY JAIN interviewed Jeff to understand ‘The Story’ behind one of the most inspirational adventure company on the planet.
What prompted you to set up a travel company?
Six years ago, I was going through an extraordinary amount of change in my life. I was looking for more meaning and connection so I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I loved and what I wanted to do with my life. I have a passion for travel, adventure, and history. So I decided that I would create a company from these three things. The result was The Explorer’s Passage (TEP). I have always been inspired by those people in history that have achieved the impossible against the slimmest of odds. I dreamed of one day partnering with the greatest explorers and visionaries on the planet to take our guests back in time and give them perspective on history’s most extraordinary events.
TEP now operates adventures on six continents and we produce the some of the most innovative and creative experiences in the travel industry. But the most incredible part of this story is that in February of 2018 we are partnering with the legendary polar explorer Robert Swan (the first man to walk to both the North and South Poles) on a special expedition known as ClimateForce: Antarctica 2018 Expedition. We will be taking over 100 people from across the globe to Antarctica, the last great wilderness on earth. It is really amazing to see that this dream I had six years ago is coming true.
What has travel taught you that you would like to share with others?
I often hear people talk about how travel is transformative and that it changes their lives. I do believe that a travel experience can provide you with a window into who you are and what is possible in your life. However, after your trip is over you come back home and after a short amount of time will begin to assimilate back into everyday life. The hard thing is to take what you learned about yourself when traveling and try to move your life towards that person inside that you discovered. If you can do this, I do believe that anything will then be possible for you in life.
As a traveller, what has been the most memorable journey for you to date? What made it so? Do share the adventure and thrills you felt, how it touched you, why you love talking about it etc. If you want to highlight more than one, please go ahead.
I personally can’t get enough of adventure. I try to go hiking or trail running in the mountains any opportunity I can get. Funny that my most memorable journeys in the mountains are the ones in which I get myself in trouble and have to figure my way out. I always learn enormous lessons from these occurrences.
Two years ago, a few of my British and Irish adventure buddies attempted to do the UK National 3 Peaks Challenge. If you are not familiar with the challenge, the goal is to hike the highest peaks in Scotland, England, and Wales – all in 24 hours!! After taking an overnight train from England to Scotland, our first peak to conquer was Ben Nevis. We began the hike at 5:00 p.m. local time and stormed confidently up the mountain. After enjoying the successful summit for a few minutes, some of us decided to trail run back to our van. As the sun began to set, we navigated down the winding and rocky trails in great time. We then boarded our van and headed off to climb Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England, and the next stop on our adventure. 30 minutes into our drive, I started to feel very ill. I’ll save you the unpleasant details but I soon realized that I wouldn’t be able to complete the challenge with the group. We had planned this trip for over a year and I had flown all the way to Europe for it. However, life had different plans for me that day.
Sometimes the unexpected happens on an outdoor adventure. The same goes for life. When life throws you a curve ball, you need to accept it, pivot, and change course. As disappointed as I was that I did not complete the challenge, I do know that the mountains will always be there and I will have the opportunity to come back to climb another day!
When people ask you for recommendations for trips, which ones do you usually recommend? What is special about these?
Hmmm… That is a tough one. Each of our trips are special and we put our heart and soul into researching and planning them so the experiences and story is executed just right. However, if a client comes to me looking for something very unique, I do recommend The Myth of Mustang a lot. It is one of the most fascinating stories and it translates so magically into our adventure tour.
We embed the legend of Guru Rinpoche, also known as the 2nd Buddha, throughout the tour. Guru Rinpoche was an eminent Indian sage called upon by King Trisong Detsen in 760 AD to subdue demonical spirits hindering the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. According to legend, the king’s request spurred a heroic battle as Rinpoche pursued these spirits throughout the Kingdom of Mustang and into Tibet, carrying with him the ‘great truth,’ or dharma, until finally, he prevailed.
What is most extraordinary about this tour is that the legend still lives within the physical world and the lives of the people of Mustang and Nepal to this day. We take guests to caves where there are 1,300 year old wall paintings of the battle between Guru Rinpoche and the Demons. We trek past Buddhist Temples that are on ground shaped like a giant heart, which is said to be the Demon’s heart. Mustang really is one of the most amazing places on the planet.
You work largely in the natural world – one under threat for various reasons. Are there any initiatives or steps that you take consciously so you and your clients travel responsibly? And do your bit to conserve the same for future generations?
In my travels across the globe, I have had the opportunity to witness the effects of climate change firsthand. We incorporate sustainability elements within each of our tours across the globe. However, it became clear to me that we had to do something more. It is for this reason that we are partnering with the explorer Robert Swan on the ClimateForce: Antarctica 2018 Expedition.
26 years ago, the ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau gave Robert Swan a 50-year mission to save Antarctica from the realities of climate change. Jacques urged Robert to engage young people and promote the use of renewable energy. Since, Robert founded the 2041 Foundation and dedicated his life to the preservation of Antarctica through the promotion of sustainability practices.
In November 2017, Robert Swan will make one last trip to the South Pole with his son Barney on the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC). Rob and Barney will ski 600 miles by using only renewable energy, a feat which has never been done before. They want to show the world that if they can survive in the most inhospitable place on the planet on renewable energy that this can be done anywhere on earth.
One month after their return, in February 2018, we will join forces on this historic expedition to Antarctica. Rob and Barney will hope to inspire those on the voyage to return home and become climate champions.
What more needs to be done so our natural, cultural and social heritage is preserved for the future? Focus on areas and regions you work in.
Preserving the history and culture of the places we travel to is so critically important. As an industry, I feel that it is important to give back to the local communities to help them in this effort. We currently have a partnership set up with a local foundation in Mustang where we donate a percentage of profits from our tours for preservation work. My goal long term is to have a similar arrangement for each of our tours across the globe.
Which are your signature trips that you market? Why should everyone consider this as a must-do? You can share information on one or more such trips. And you can add links where people can get more information to make a booking.
As I mentioned before I do feel that each of our trips are very special. So let’s focus on our most popular trip, the trip that will change your life, and the one with the most fascinating story.
Our Most Popular Trip – The Path of the Sun
The Story unfolds along the mythical Path of the Sun as you step back in time and follow in the footsteps of the Incas on their holy journey to honor Inti, the God of the Sun. Travel through the Sacred Valley amidst the majestic Andean mountains en route to the world wonder of Machu Picchu.
The Path of the Sun
Classic 4 Day Inca Trail Trek
We do the Inca Trail / Machu Picchu adventure a little different than other companies. The Inca believed that they were descendants from the Inti, the God of the Sun. We focus on the theory that the Inca Trail aligned with The Path of the Sun’s rays which the Inca used to honor Inti.
Trip That Will Change Your Life – Climate Force: Antarctica 2018
The Story of our planet has lasted billions of years, and the reality of climate change has the power to radically reshape our future. The need for massive action to combat this issue has never been more important. Antarctica represents both our past and future within its ice. If the ice sheets keep melting at the current rate of deterioration, the sea levels will rise and the disastrous effects will be felt on a multi-national scale. Join our team on this special voyage that equips leaders with resources and actionable solutions to become a part of a global force of change.
ClimateForce: Antarctica 2018
Antarctica & Argentina
Zodiac Cruises & Day Hikes
I first met Rob 6 years ago and his example of living a life with purpose and passion served as an inspiration to me to start this company. It is an absolute honor to be partnering with Rob on such a special project.
Most Fascinating Story – The Myth of Mustang
Your adventure to Mustang is riddled with mysterious adventure as the saga of the Second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, unfolds before you. Journey deep into the Himalayas and discover a remote land draped with faded prayer flags and The Story of a leader who changed the course of history over 1,200 years ago.
The Myth of Mustang
4 Day Trek
I remember the first time I learned of the story of Guru Rinpoche and the demons. I was at a café in Princeton, New Jersey while reading the New York Times. My eyes fell on a story featuring a great battle between demons intent on preventing the spread of Buddhism and a heroic sage named Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, also known as the Second Buddha. I was hooked and a year later hopped onto a plane to Nepal to learn more about the story and create this tour.
About Jeff Bonaldi, Founder & CEO – The Explorer’s Passage
Jeff Bonaldi is the Founder of The Explorer’s Passage, an innovative travel company that integrates history with adventure. Jeff’s passion for storytelling came as a teenager, when, during visits to some of America’s oldest universities, he found himself enamored by the European-influenced architecture, and by visionaries like Albert Einstein, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson who walked the grounds decades before. Determined to “redefine the perfect way to travel,” he has spent years accumulating and curating the skills and experiences that now serve as the foundation for The Explorer’s Passage. At the heart of his Jeff ’s philosophy, of course, is The Story – the historical element uncovered through extensive research and woven seamlessly throughout each of TEP’s adventures. The Story, he believes, is what launches travel into the realm of transcendent, leaving travelers invigorated, enriched and enlightened. Jeff has climbed, canoed and galloped through nearly 30 countries on six continents. He has come a long way since his college campus touring days, and yet, his mission remains singular: to create the most immersive, transformative, and spine-tingling travel experiences in the industry.
What is The Explorer’s Passage?
The Explorer’s Passage (TEP) is an historical based adventure travel company offering world class adventures across the globe. Each adventure offered by The Explorer’s Passage tells a unique story, and provides guests with the opportunity to step back in time into the boots of some of the world’s most profound explorers, leaders and luminaries whose courage, virtue and vision have changed the course of history. This element of the TEP experience, which we simply call ‘The Story’, unfolds seamlessly throughout your travels, bestowing on you a newfound appreciation and understanding of the people and places we visit.
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