Q&A with Adventure Travel Company Founder Cody Bliss
Travel can mean different things for different people. For some, it might be as simple as a quick overnight jaunt to the Laurel Highlands to sleep on the ground. For others, it may require room service and pampering in some luxury resort. For Cody Bliss, founder of Beyond the Map, it's all about experience. It's about getting away from guide books and tourist traps to fully immerse yourself in a culture or environment. Throughout the year, 3 Rivers Outdoor Company will be partnering with Beyond the Map for a range of both regional and international travel opportunities. We sat down with the Pittsburgh native to talk about his company's approach to travel and our joint Costa Rica trip planned for April.
What is adventure travel?
For us, it kind of ties into our name “Beyond the Map.” We wanted to offer adventure travel opportunities for a broad spectrum of people. It sounds kind of cliché, but everybody has their own “beyond the map.” For some people that may be just getting on a plane and traveling internationally. For some people it might be summiting a 14er. We recognize that everyone has these different objectives that they're trying to reach. Adventure is sort of different for everyone.
For us, adventure travel – the outdoor recreation and the adventure component – really is a vehicle for broader objectives we're trying to accomplish. What we're ultimately trying to do is offer a transformative travel experience. We want something that isn't necessarily just a vacation but really stays a part of your life. Something that impacts you and can potentially shape your life later on.
What would you say sets you apart from other travel companies?
I would say what sets apart most are our experiences in general. I take great pride in finding experiences that are really out there that someone couldn't just open a guide book and find. We try to find the most unique things.
We tend to say we offer experiences not vacations. There's a meaning or intent. Costa Rica is a good example. We like to offer a multi-dimensional experience. Instead of just going rafting – what we do instead – we found this really cool little village that you can only get to by hiking in. It's not on a map. We only know about it from the people we've met. It's not until day 3 that we even step into a raft. Our people have this really (culturally) immersive experience beforehand.
How do you pick a destination?
There's one of a few ways it can happen. One of the ways it can happen is that it's somewhere we've been to before. Or we will go by a suggestion. We travel to each destination first.
Why Costa Rica?
I feel like a lot of people have a view of Costa Rica that's one way. It's zip lines, it's tourists, it’s a yoga retreat, it's resorts and so forth. I think some people may have this view of Costa Rica that it's done. “Where's there adventure left to be found in Costa Rica?”
One of the things that I love to do is to show people that there's a whole side of Costa Rica that is still unexplored, that's still off the grid and wild and exciting and unique, that kind goes beyond the typical tourist trail. I think that's one call for people that just want to see a side of a country that 99 percent of people that go to that country will never see. There are people that are from that country that don't see the places we go to. It truly is a unique experience.
What are some of the highlights of that trip?
The number one highlight for me – the one that stands out the most for me – we met a local family that owns this land. You backpack up into the rain forest or the jungle a few miles and then you reach this area where there is this 320-foot cascading waterfall sort of in this gorge. As you continue past the waterfall the path goes behind the waterfalls and there's this little cavern cut out back there. We actually spend the night in that cavern behind the waterfall. It’s always the highlight of people's trip. It's the highlight of my trip. It's essentially a second home for me. I get those stomach butterflies every time I first see the waterfall. It’s just a spectacular made for Hollywood location. We camp behind the waterfall. There's a bunch of activities we do in the area – bonfires, cliff jumping – it's this amazing ambiance.
Some other highlights would be backpacking into the local village and really just being immersed in the culture a while, getting to explore the area – rafting, caving and spending an evening at the coast.
Who should go?
CB: I would say anyone that enjoys doing a wide variety of activities, also anyone that's interested in getting a really authentic experience in Costa Rica. It's one of those trips that when you're a kid and you have those visions of what adventure is. I know that word is over used nowadays, but it truly has that fun you're a kid exploring and adventuring around Costa Rica sort of feel, which is really fun. It's not super hardcore anything but just a lot of really fun everything.
What would you recommend in terms of skill level or experience required going into this trip?
The way we say a lot of trips are run is that they are open to anyone that has an adventurous spirit. We took an 82-year-old to Iceland ice climbing and we took a 1-year old to Iceland before, so the whole range.
Generally, people that are comfortable being outdoors. They're comfortable walking for extended periods of time, and they really just have the adventurous spirit and a willingness to explore their own comfort limits and comfort zones.
What kind of distances should they be ready to cover?
CB: One of the more strenuous things we do is a 3-hour, basically straight up hike through the jungle with light packs (day packs). Anyone that can handle that would be fine. (Much of the gear is portaged to the destinations.)
What should people know going into the trip?
I think the only thing is that this trip isn't designed to be a luxury trip. It's designed to get out there. I think the one thing to note is that sometimes to get to the most unique and authentic places it requires a little bit of work. That means that you sacrifice a few things (comforts). We stay in places that are sort of sustainable ecofriendly places. A lot of those places don't have air conditioning, a lot of those places don't have hot water for showers. There's things to prepare yourself.
It's funny, you tend to warn people of these things so much, and then when we have reflection activities, during these reflection activities, people say the things they would be miserable without – cell phone service, electricity, hot water and air conditioning – it's amazing how much they enjoy being without those things.