Travel can drastically alter the trajectory of someone’s life.
Just ask Virginia Beach resident Jacquie Whitt, who also believes if it is done correctly, travel can change the way people think.
Through her local company that delivers distinctive journeys for travelers to South America, Whitt is on a mission to help people discover new surroundings. But the co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel also wants improve the world we live in — one trip at a time.
A majority of the trips to Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia that she coordinates revolve around service projects and giving back to the communities that host her clients. Adios Adventure Travel may be a small company but she has a big vision behind it.
“Travel is the key to solving so many problems around the world,” Whitt said from her Virginia Beach office. “There are real people out there who are really suffering and there is no advantage to prolonging that. Travel and tourism — especially in fragile places like the Amazon jungle — are the only things that compete with the damaging issues that these communities face everyday.”
The Columbus, Ohio native believes that exposing travelers to different cultures will only help the chances of people solving their problems together.
Whitt’s company is currently planning a service project where volunteers will stay in Callipata, Peru for a week to help construct three-sided mud-brick shelters for livestock that her company’s porters and their families desperately need to survive.
“We are not one of those ‘get a quick photo of Machu Picchu and then go home’ kind of companies,” said Whitt, who has lived in Virginia Beach since 1991 and started AAT nearly eight years ago. “We lift the heavy rocks and we like looking underneath. Sure, we want people to have a mind-blowing experience but we also look after our own. And we want to make a difference.”
The project to help the company’s porters has been going on for the past two years. The next trip will take place June 27 through July 3, 2017.
AAT is also unique because the other co-owner is Vidal Jaquehua, whose family had strong ties to the Inca Empire before it was destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th century. He is a licensed Peruvian guide who lives and works out of the company’s other office in Cusco, Peru.
“I gave up my law career in order to start this business,” the 42-year-old Jaquehua said. “Because I love showing off my country and my people with our culture and traditions.”
Peggy Meder, of Norfolk, who booked a trip to Peru through Adios Adventure Travel, appreciates the knowledge about locations she didn’t even know existed.
“Being a traveler versus a tourist, I enjoy immersion into the culture to get as close to the real deal as I can,” Meder said.
The company remains small but has continued to expand since they became licensed in 2008.
Over the years, Whitt and Jaquehua have assembled a team of local guides and service providers who arrange small private trips to all the big places many tourists to the region desire: Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, the Amazon Rain Forest, Galapagos Islands, Bolivia Salt Flats and Patagonia.
The business relationship between the co-founders started almost a decade ago when Whitt, a then-suburban soccer mom in Virginia Beach, decided to take her teenage son and some of his private school classmates on a trip to South America.
It started with a visit to Machu Picchu and then they went on to northern Peru where the students participated in a service project. Whitt’s son, Keenan, became ill during the excursion and had to recover inside a small motel outside a country village, but even that experience did not leave a bad taste in her mouth.
Jaquehua was a tour guide for the group and Whitt, who had never even visited South America before the trip, was so impressed with the Peruvian that she returned several more times over the next two years with different groups. Each time, requesting Jaquehua as the guide.
Jaquehua eventually asked Whitt if she would like partner up and start a travel company.
“We had no idea what laid before us — the topsy-turvy life that was about to happen,” Whitt said. “I went from a typical suburban life with my husband and two kids to now owning a travel company that specializes in trips to South America.
“It’s safe to say that first trip to Peru in March 2007 was a life-changing adventure.”
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