How we create our Expeditions
By David Mannix – Co-Founder, Arcadia Expeditions
Arcadia’s unique small group expeditions venture to some of the most exotic places on earth. My Co-Founder David Adams and I are often asked how we design our trips and indeed, how we choose our destinations. In this article, I will endeavour to explain how our expeditions are created – tracing the journey from story ideas to the finished itineraries you see on this website.
At our very first company meeting, David and I sat in front of an empty whiteboard in his home office and began the process of writing down all the story ideas we had for our expeditions. Some were born from casual chats over a beer or via random emails, most had been stored away in the recesses of our minds for years, often decades. Others were trips David had done as a photojournalist and film maker.
We decided from the onset that, unlike other travel companies, who choose a destination first and then create the itinerary, we would instead start with the story. Everything else would follow from that.
Above all, we were determined to tell stories that had never been told in this type of travel format before – stories that fascinated us and that we felt needed and deserved to be told.
Even now, when an Arcadia staff member brings a new expedition idea to the table, the first question they are asked is “What’s the story?”.
We took turns in what was essentially emptying our minds and before we knew it, I looked at the long columns of stories ideas, turned to David and said, “We need another whiteboard”. We had filled the whiteboard with dozens of stories that covered every continent. Where did these stories come from and how did we determine which of these became an Arcadia expedition?
The answer to those questions lies in the personal experiences of David and I.
Each of the stories on our list were connected to us in some way through the lives we have led individually. The expeditions that made the cut from that list were chosen because the stories and the destinations are what we know best. For myself, I have spent a large part of my career in the travel industry living and working in various locations around the world. This life as an expat has shaped a number of our expeditions.
For example, having spent 4 years running a large travel business in Vietnam, I developed a fascination for the modern history of the country and spent much time trying to make sense of what I was seeing in my adopted hometown of Hanoi. I would read countless books on Vietnamese history and was lucky enough to meet some Vietnamese veterans who gave me an entirely different perspective on my ‘Western’ view of the countries decades of conflict. It made sense to create a Vietnam expedition for Arcadia focusing on confronting that conventional ‘Vietnam War’ narrative and exploring in-depth the realities of events on the ground in order to better understand the country today.
For David, years spent as an adventurer, photo-journalist and documentary maker took him to a host of fascinating and remote countries. For David’s ground-breaking documentary ‘Alexander’s Lost World’, he spent much time exploring Afghanistan and Central Asia, tracing the conquest of Alexander and gaining a deeper understanding of the various civilisations that have come and gone. It was an easy decision to draw on David’s passion and experience in the area in deciding that our story idea for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan was a strong one and should make the cut as an Arcadia expedition.
Other stories were chosen from deeper connections. We feature two expeditions based on the lives of writers and poets that have had important influences on our lives. When David was young, his parents used to read him stories by Rudyard Kipling. Since that time, the adventures found in such legendary tales such as Kim and The Jungle Book have stayed with him and inspired his own travels. For myself, I learned about the life of the mystical poet Jalal al-Din Rumi through a book, The Forty Rules of Love, that was given to me by my wife when we first met. The works of Rumi have been with me ever since. It is from these experiences that the stories for our expeditions Kipling’s India and Rumi and the world of mystical Sufism were born.
After our story idea has been selected, we undertake an intense period of research and development to bring the story to life and gradually begin to craft the itinerary. This takes many months and can involve pouring through obscure history books, late nights tracking remote archaeological sites on Google Earth and talking with experts all around the world.
Importantly, we like to get on the ground to undertake research trips where possible so that we can make the right contacts to make our expeditions exceptional.
We inspect hotels in each destination, talk to operators, try out restaurants and meet with experts to curate the very best exclusive experiences for our groups. On a recent research trip in the north of Morocco, I met with a number of architects, designers, art gallery curators and chefs face to face that will all play an important part in our Moroccan Art of Living expedition. David was on the east coast of Kenya in late 2019 researching some of the stops on our Swahili Sinbad expedition, meeting with local people to plan a sailing trip that has never been crafted before.
A story cannot be told effectively without a good storyteller. We search far and wide for the very best subject matter experts to lead our expeditions, approaching and interviewing multiple candidates until we find the best person to narrate the story. Once selected, we work with the Expedition Leader to refine the itinerary further. We use their personal contacts and on-the-ground experience to make improvements to the itinerary and set up the expedition in a way that allows them to showcase their passion.
We then work with our trusted operators in country to make our idea a logistical reality. Often, we have had relationships with these operators for many years and most have become personal friends. As local people who were born and bred in these destinations, they add yet another layer of expertise to improve our itineraries.
Importantly, as part of our responsible business philosophy, we want to make sure that as much money as possible generated from our expeditions stays in the destination.
We aim to work with local guides and smaller, family-run destination management companies that can provide us with the attention to detail we need to run what can be very complex itineraries.
Where possible, we avoid using large international chain hotels, and instead work with locally owned properties. We like to include communities in our itineraries that are off the tourist trail, allowing an injection of cash into areas that are often overlooked and in need of development.
Each of the itineraries you see on this website has gone through this exhaustive process. We are proud of our creations and rest assured that we have many more stories to tell, stories that bring a fresh perspective to the world’s most fascinating places.