Tell me about your background. When did you start traveling?
I started traveling locally right in my backyard which was the worlds largest urban park, the Wissahickon in Philadelphia. It was ( and remains) an amazing green world to explore. Had a lot of adventures there mostly with my neighborhood buddies. My Father’s idea of a vacation was to backpack in a remote wilderness- our favorite was California’s Sierra Nevadas and in particular The John Muir Trail. Back in the early 60s we rarely ran into other people on 10 day backcountry treks. This also turned me on to Bigger mountains and the world above tree line, which we see little of on East Coast. We spent time in most of the West’s National Parks, hiking whenever we could. I ended up getting into Mountaineering and fell in love with the Alps when I spent a summer there in college climbing, backpacking and tenting in remote cow pastures! I had a business right out of college leading student expeditions there. My first trip to Costa Rica which was with the company – Costa Rican Adventures, now Chill Expeditions that I eventually took over after a 35 year biology teaching career, was a profoundly powerful experience for me and the 13 students I led there. So powerful that I ended up bringing another 750 students and 35 colleagues there over the next 12 years! So powerful that when the owners told me they were selling the business I did not blink and switched careers in a nano-second even though I loved my bio teaching gig at a great school. So powerful that my business partner, Spanish teacher Eddie Rodriguez and I have fused our complementary approaches to travel into our unique Eco-immersion concept and never looked back.
What is your travel philosophy?
My travel philosophy as an individual- seek out the stories and turn even potential obstacles into opportunities which is also the bedrock of our approach at Chill Expeditions. We always probe beneath the surface for the underlying great narratives, usually involving local folks, which is the basis for our Story Approach educational platform which then coheres the entire journey. Our Expedition Mentality philosophy is the foundation for creating the strongest and most helpful culture of the group. These complementary philosophies which we fuse on each expedition are the end product of our unusual combined personal background as teachers, coaches, parents, students, clients of this company and Explorers who have spent decades travelling with every kind of group and our own families under every imaginable condition- 5 star, budget, urban high end to wilderness expedition and much in between! We spend a lot of time honing these two pillars as they are what defines the unique approach which differentiates us from anyone else doing this.
What is eco-immersion travel? Why is this approach to travel better than others?
Eco-immersion is a more profound, authentic, connected, informed, unusual, deeper, satisfying and longer lasting experience than any form of tourism, including Eco- tourism. To me Eco- tourism is just straight up tourism in jungle, forest or other verdant settings versus the normal urban tours. Eco- immersion is defined by the people one meets who are connected to their part of the world in ways few tourists- even Eco- tourists ever experience. Our amazing web of locals, wherever we travel is what separates us apart. In fact we will only travel to a country when we have the finest web of such folks on the ground in that part of the world. So far we have that in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Andalucian Spain. Nicaragua and Panama are far along that path. It is these folks in collaboration with our highly trained guides who create opportunities to dive much deeper into whatever it is that appeals to the client (everything we do is customized, whether for schools or families). For some it is adventure, others- biodiversity and wildlife spotting, sustainable/ green solutions, agriculture, community service, science, cultural immersion and Spanish language and experiential learning focused on leadership. Most of our expeditions focus on several key such areas but in any case all of these elements are embedded in a coherent way regardless of the educational travel vision of the client. We are very good both at learning what the client is excited about and really probing to tease that out and as well at educating them about what else is possible… that even the most sophisticated clients had no idea of.
Do you think green travel is a trend that will fade?
Eco- immersion is here to stay. We get astonishing feedback about how much more interesting and intellectually stimulating our form of travel is. Anyone can create emotional and physical adrenaline when exploring the cool places to which we travel. We do too, but We add a tremendous dose of intellectual adrenaline, experientially.
How do you balance travel (and the implicit environmental impact) with your dedication to sustainability?
Few have solved the footprint challenge of mitigating air travel, but on the ground we are extremely sensitive to all aspects of the footprints we leave- biological, biophysical, cultural and economical. We work with collaborators who not only share such a sensitivity, they are exemplars as practitioners. All of our travelers gain an education in this regard. It is a serious focus on every trip. Many carry new insights and practices back home.
What new adventures are you planning?
As mentioned we only travel to those places that offer dramatic and compelling educational and experiential settings…and where we can leverage those better than anyone else by virtue of the web of people we introduce to our clients. Nicaragua is soon to be ready, as is Panama. If we meet the right locals who have insight into not just their backyards but can create a global context for the experience they offer…we are good to go. This takes alot of vetting and a good eye, but it, is great work! Down the Road, we could be going anywhere!
Crawford Hill is the owner and director of Chill Expeditions, an educational travel company focused on cultural immersion. An expedition leader, former biology teacher, and educational innovator, Hill has been guiding students and adults on wilderness adventures since 1974. Over the years, Hill has led thousands of students and families on experiential learning trips to Costa Rica, Belize, the Galapagos Islands, Peru and Spain. Hill revels in the opportunity to be able to work with students and families across the country with the world as his classroom