In a small, nondescript office in a Vancouver strip mall on Fourth Plain Road, you’ll find the Friesen family business. It’s a business centered on making people’s travel dreams come true. This family has been providing ever-expanding travel opportunities to grateful travelers for three generations.
The Friesen Legacy of Travel
Dan Friesen, his wife Linda and daughter Dani provide the family core for the business, Walking Adventures International (WAI). Dan’s father George founded the business on his passion for travel. He discovered that walking is the oldest form of travel, and he believed it to be the purest.
WAI had its beginnings 50 years ago when George, a high school history and foreign language teacher, began organizing and directing tours to Europe in the summers. In 1989, he started basing all of his tours on the winning combination of motor coach sightseeing blended with two to four-hour walks.
This concept grew in popularity, and, in 1992, his son Dan, current owner of WAI, joined him to help expand the WAI travel philosophy to new areas of the planet. WAI now offers an up-close and personal style of travel to more than 60 different destinations on all seven continents.
A Sense of Adventure, Paired with Meticulous Planning
When I was conducting interviews for this article, I had to track Dan down in faraway Burma, where he was exploring the villages and countryside with a small group of traveling “adventurers.” These were people who wanted to go on the first WAI tour offered in a region, to be surprised and, at times, to remain flexible.
Following their adventures on this “High Adventure Tour” via Facebook provided an insight into the culture and the color of Burma. I also could see why Dan inherited his late father’s passion for travel. Together with Scott Isom, another WAI guide and a local guide, the group was following twisting alleyways in little towns and watching the villagers go about their daily lives. They were also learning a bit of history.
Dan wrote about the trip, “We’re smitten with Burma, and our guide says he is learning to call it Myanmar since that is now the name accepted by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize-winning prime minister of Myanmar.”
Motor Coach Travel, Paired with Relaxed Walking
Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, Dan’s daughter Dani explains the model that has made WAI successful. “As we’ve taken our message of walking blended with motor coach travel farther afield, we’ve continued to slow our travel pace and look for ever more creative ways to use walks to connect with the culture, history and scenery of our destination. It slows us down and gives our senses a chance to connect with our surroundings,” she shares.
Walking Adventures International generally offers two to six miles of walking per day, sometimes combining shorter walks in various locations or offering one longer route. The goal is to create routes with local points-of-interest, scenic highlights and cultural experiences. And, since they travel from point to point via motor coach, they can cover quite a bit of ground on their travels.
The variety of trips put on by WAI and offered in their annual catalog is extensive. The itineraries are thoroughly researched personally by Dan and his small staff of guides. Once a trip is planned, the tour involves a number of experts (sometimes even four people), two WAI guides (the standard), one national guide and one city-specific, step-on guide.
Travelers are immersed in the culture, history and natural beauty of a region when traveling in a way that brings them back for more. Yes, they will see the important points of interest, but they always encounter the unexpected, the out-of-the-way gems in a country.
WAI tours become a traveling family, and people get to know each other well. WAI realizes this and plans a huge reunion in a fun location every five years so their travelers can get together for walks, travel activities and social events.
The Future of Walking Adventures International
Dani, who provides marketing support and customer service for the business, also inherited the passion for travel. She may not travel as much as she’d like, but her eyes light up when asked about where she dreams of going. She quickly ticks off her favorite, and yet to be experienced, WAI trips. “I think Wales and Cornwall look beautiful. I’d like to go on our traditional ‘Alpine Europe Adventure,’ and Africa and India would be exciting to explore.” Dani lived in Indonesia for a period of time, teaching English as a second language.
With Dan out of the country, I turn to Linda, his wife, who also works in the WAI office. I ask about the future of the company. She explains that her husband travels between a quarter and a third of the year. She shares, “He’d like to guide tours a bit less and do some writing. And, he really enjoys the exploration side of the business and loves planning new tours.” She adds that all the travel has put Dan in the position of being able to see the world as a whole, to compare cultures, draw parallels and have a deep understanding of the people of the world, their history and faith traditions.
Walking Adventures International offers an up-close and personal style of travel to more than 60 different destinations on all seven continents. For more information, see the Walking Adventures International website. And be careful – their tours and passion for travel can be contagious.