Outdoor Observer

Ventura-based adventure travel companies build connection to nature and confidence

By Alex Wilson 05/31/2012

Ryan Lofgren was inspired to share his love of travel and experiencing new cultures when he took his first solo trip to Central America after graduating from college. Now he’s fulfilling his dream by working for an established Ventura-based company that organizes educational trips and retreats for schools and other groups, and has founded his own adventure travel company for teenagers called The Wild Traveler.

He says embarking on a 10-week solo adventure to Central America that led to his life’s calling was daunting at first. “I get down there and start learning that I need to keep myself safe, and making sure I keep my belongings to myself because there’s a lot of theft down there,” says Lofgren. “It would have been nice to have started in a program similar to what I’m offering.”

In 2004 he moved from Washington state to Ventura to work as field staff for the environmental education company Naturalists at Large, which organizes custom trips to numerous locations like Catalina Island, Joshua Tree National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. During 2009 he started The Wild Traveler, leading Hawaii camping trips for groups of up to a dozen 13- to 16-year-olds.

“We take teenagers out to threatened or endangered places, or places where they have threatened or endangered cultures, and take part in adventure activities like scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, hiking, whitewater rafting as well as service projects,” says Lofgren.

The 17-day Hawaii trip he organize includes several days of camping at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island as well as five days of surfing lessons and scuba diving certification in the Kona Coast area. Travelers later fly to the island of Kauai, where they hike the stunningly beautiful Na Pali coast and work on service projects with native Hawaiians, performing habitat restoration and learning to harvest traditional foods. “The culture’s alive. You have to move out of the tourist zones to find it, but it’s still there if there’s native Hawaiians practicing their traditional ways and eating their traditional foods,” says Lofgren. “We actually help out on harvesting taro, which is what they use to make poi, which is the staple of the ancient Hawaiian diet.”

He’s now also offering a 14-day Wild California trip, including a four-day backpacking excursion along the Lost Coast, whitewater rafting on the American River, surf lessons in Santa Cruz and a service project at Natural Bridges State Beach.

Lofgren says the kids who take the trips have fun and make lasting friendships, but learn more important lessons as well. “The biggest thing these kids get out of it is, they become more confident, they gain leadership skills, problem solving skills, and they do it in a place where they can safely step out of their comfort zones and try new things around people their own age,” says Lofgren.

He also hopes it instills his love of traveling. “A lot of these teens have not traveled much and it just opens their eyes to new cultures and new places,” says Lofgren. “Kids learn how to travel, and they learn outdoor skills as well, so that they can do this on their own in future years for their own personal adventures.”

Kids whose families’ financial situations can’t accommodate travel are offered a chance to apply for scholarships to cover part of the cost.

Lofgren has created a website at www.thewildtraveler.com, and more information about booking custom excursions with the other company where he works is at www.naturalistsatlarge.com.

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