News & Views

Excerpts from the Ashland Daily Tidings
February 16, 2007

The Reluctant Pilgrim
Ashland-based travel company sends people on adventures abroad

By Chris Honore

It doesn't take much effort to call up images of the ugly American traveling in a foreign country; bulging wallet, digital camera grafted to midsection, a guide book in hand, and a truckload of expectations regarding comforts, meals and accommodations.

Perhaps it's unfair to rely too heavily on such a stereotype, but without question, traveling abroad for most Americans is a challenge at best. Not only is language always the foremost issue, but finding transportation, meals and housing can be a riddle inside of a puzzle. For the neophyte visitor, the new milieu can seem overwhelming; the response is often referred to as culture shock.

Ashland resident Steve Scholl, owner of Imagine Adventures, believes it possible to travel in faraway lands and not leave a large and often frayed footprint. Further, that it is possible to arrive in a place so distinctly different and blend in to the point that being the quintessential tourist is not an issue.

"First I think it comes down to intentions and imagination," said Scholl. "What I try to do is help people in my groups prepare for the trip, providing information about country, culture, religion and such, prior to departure." He makes a point of knowing who the prospective pilgrims are, and what they hope to gain from the trip. If possible, he meets with each one before departure. "We seek out a specific type of individual, one who is independent and who wants more than a tourist experience. And I emphasize that people should travel light-light luggage, light expectations."

The first thing Scholl does upon arriving in a country is to form small groups of one to four people from the larger touring group of 10 to 20. He also creates opportunities for his fellow-travelers to meet the locals in their homes, or spend time sharing together. While hotel and vehicles are arranged by Imagine Adventures, Scholl offers discussion groups touching on local culture and politics which enhances what is now a hands on experience. "I try and soften the tourist dimension so that people who travel with Imagine Adventures get to a place such as Morocco and can experience it on a deeper level, more closely and far more personally."

Scholl calls this new mode of tourism "spiritual or intentional travel," or "spiritual wayfaring." He acknowledges that it is impossible to turn back the clock to an earlier time of great spiritual wanderers such as St. Francis, Chuang Tzu, or the Sufi dervishes who are perhaps, Scholl says, the finest examples of spiritual travelers that can be studied. "But we can try."

Scholl attended the 2005 World Sacred Music Festival, which, he said, "embodied so many positive ideals about cultural and spiritual dialogue. I fell in love with the form of a music festival being at the heart of a spiritual-cultural group tour."

Scholl will be leading a group of pilgrims to the World Sacred Music Festival, June 1-15, in Fes, Morocco and from June 18 to July 2, Imagine Adventures will travel to the Gnaoua Music Festival in Essaouria, Morocco.