With travel recovering rapidly from the COVID-19 pandemic, active and adventure travel has been one of the strongest sectors. Americans have started new outdoor activities like biking and hiking, which have seen exponential growth during the pandemic, and now they want to take that on the road. At the same time, many have realized that life is unpredictable and that having great travel experiences now, rather than “one day,” is important. Bucket List trips, from safaris to epic hiking trails like the Tour du Mont Blanc, have also seen jumps in bookings.
Many of the leading tour companies specializing in these types of trips are reporting record bookings, and travelers are booking large active travel trips until late 2023, a year and a half later. Active and adventurous travel is my favorite type of travel, but these trips can be expensive and require an upfront commitment, so it’s important to choose wisely. The knowledge and personalities of individual guides are key to your enjoyment, and with complex logistics, often in remote or exotic locations, you need to use an organization experienced in this type of planning and execution. Powerful networks of local contacts bring you the best, most unique and charming accommodations, the best meals along the way, and immersive and unforgettable local experiences.
With summer the prime travel time, and many Americans starting to plan their travel backs now, I’m dedicating June to spotting themes and talking with the women who run some of the best tour operators in the business. After all, the majority of travel and booking decisions are made by women, so whether you’re traveling alone, with other women, or with your spouse, friend, or partner, you may appreciate these women’s perspective on what will make your trip the best. The first entry was Butterfield & Robinson (read here). Today I introduce Gray & Co.
Carrie Gray is the founder and owner of Gray & Co. , widely recognized as the industry’s most luxurious active travel tour company, specializing in cycling, hiking and multi-sport excursions. This is because, unlike the competition, they do not offer any catalog itineraries or scheduled group tours whatsoever. Every trip they take is fully customized and tailored to their clients based on when they want to travel, where they want to travel, what kind of physical and non-physical activities they want to do and how much of each. Every preference from food to cultural interests to group composition is taken into account, and every excursion is meticulously directed by a high ratio of staff to traveling guides and support vehicles. This is especially suitable for diverse groups such as those with widely varying activity levels or multigenerational family outings. It also makes Gray & Co. One of the few top choices for serious mountain bikers, and something that most major cycling tour operators skip. Probably the smallest company ever to win Travel + Leisure Magazine The world’s best tour operator (for all classes, not just active travel), makes too Condé Nast Travelers Readers’ Choice and Expert Lists, and has received accolades from many publications including Rob’s report And the far. While her client base skews to the wealthy, Cari Gray has proven time and time again that you get what you pay for.
“From my first memory of growing up in the wilds of Canada, I loved exploring the world with my itinerant parents who took me to all six inhabited continents. After law school I did my legal practice for a job at Butterfield & Robinson where I spent the next decade cycling and hiking and exploring the best of the world.Gray & Co. began in 2009 when we rapidly grew the niche to specialize in luxury travel for travelers who prefer private jets.At Gray & Co., we take customized experiences and activities to new heights.We have wonderful travelers asking us where to go. When they shoot their planes or yachts full of toys.”
Q: Have you noticed a growing interest in active travel among women travelers in the past few years?
A: Wellness has gained momentum for both men and women over the past few years, from yoga to hiking and more. The pandemic has taken people out of the gym or studio and empowered/directed them to the great outdoors, from hiking trails to bike trails to kayaking and so much more. Women are great travelers and appreciate the way we prepare them to win – they are flexible, curious, passionate, and fun!
Q: Have you done anything as a company to encourage or facilitate women’s travel?
a: Most of our guides and planners are women, and since all of our trips are customized, we can really cater to the activity specifically for our travelers. It’s funny – men are more likely to overestimate their athletic abilities, and women are more likely to underestimate them. Therefore, we always keep this in mind and make sure that women have all the options and flexibility to do whatever they want and are able to – with plenty of support of course!
Q: Almost all of the guides and staff are women. This is unusual, so why?
a: As we specialize in crafting private tours around the world, we employ multilingual, sporty, highly qualified and helpful team members. We also offer a very flexible work environment. As a result, we have a hard core in Gray & Co. Since we started in 2009 most of them are women!
Q: What trends have you seen recently or anticipate in the future in terms of types of travel or who is traveling?
A: We see husbands, boyfriends, soldiers, girlfriends – all of the above. They come to us because they know we can cater to all ages, abilities, interests, and more. It’s about the best balance of time together, separating the time – crafting the days but also making sure there are plenty of options and flexibility.
We’ve also seen a trend towards wanting to reconnect with friends and/or family around the world.
Q: What are the hot destinations now that are still going on?
a: At the moment, there are a variety of destinations that we find attractive to women:
After they’re at home or bound by a pandemic, they want to go to those famous places they’ve seen or read about: the trails of Machu Picchu, the fauna of the Galapagos, the windswept landscapes of Patagonia, the towers of Tuscany, the bakeries of Paris and more. Some adventurous people have decided to go further than where they regularly go, so Croatia, Greece, Iceland and Norway are all in bloom.
Domestic travel is still very hot. Travel within the US has been better appreciated due to the pandemic, and road trips are still fun! Women love the many new and up-to-date spas and spas. There are more and more new outdoor health and wellness options, especially on the East Coast, such as Blackberry Mountain, High Hampton, and the new Southall Farm.
Wine regions continue to thrive for tourism. Just look at the explosion of new options in Napa (The Madrona, Stanly Ranch, etc.), as well as Santa Ynez, Willamette Valley in Oregon, etc. Los Olivos, Bishops Lodge, Alta Gracia). Guest ranches are also popular with women and families, and are on sale everywhere this year, from the Ultimate Ranch in Brush Creek, Wyoming to Three Bars Ranch in British Columbia.
Q: What does your company do to make travel as great as possible – what makes your company special?
A: We take Custom/Special/Bespoke to the highest levels possible in our tour planning and production. Our Producer Guides and local experts review all aspects of the trip before travelers arrive – meet hoteliers, chefs, yoga instructors, massage therapists and local experts and re-examine the bike paths or hikes beforehand. We are always looking for something new or original and unique/exclusive of experiences, events, meals, get-togethers, etc. Once the journey begins, our team keeps all of these things running smoothly, easily focusing on the weather or changing preferences. They are there to make sure choice and flexibility remain paramount!
Q: Do you have any advice for planning a trip or choosing a flight or destination?
A: In order to better control the pandemic, it is important to travel with COVID tests and EMED tests in your hand luggage in case of delays or travel changes. Make sure you get plenty of your prescriptions in case you get home late.
If you’re traveling with kids, make sure you rest, fly early in the day, and choose hotels with pools, places to roam, good kids’ menus or room service.
Consider transfers between points on your itinerary. We always try to keep it to a minimum so that travelers are on bikes, trails, trails, exploring and learning as much as possible. When you have to move, make sure your vehicles, planes or helicopters are spacious and comfortable. Good planning makes a big difference!
Q: Any other ideas that you think would be of use to active travelers or women?
a: Exploring the world just got easier and safer for women. There are more bike lanes within cities and across countries. When we first started cycling in Australia a decade ago, no one was riding a bike on Barossa, Kangaroo Island, or Margaret River – now there are bike paths and trails everywhere! Advances such as e-bikes are opening up new areas and distances and creating inequalities between couples and friends. Cycling is becoming a higher place, and this applies to all types of cycling. More and more trails and caminos are identified and marked for hikers: now it’s easier to hike in Kumano Koda, Japan or Iwate, Tasmania. There are new trails in Cinque Terre, Alpe Adria, etc. We have some women navigating the Via Francigena in Tuscany from Florence to Siena – amazing!