Sam Voolstra

Travel for me is immersing myself into a new country and culture, and making a connection with the locals. A good journey for me is a journey that teaches me more about myself and invites me to experience and share the lifestyle of the local people. I also find it important that the money I spend while traveling mostly benefits local communities.

During my work as a tour leader in Asia I always searched for the unique low key experiences for my clients like riding a cycle through a local neighborhood of Beijing, drinking tea in a nomad tent in Tibet, joining the monks in their morning prayers in a small monastery in Nepal, or cooking in a tea house in the Himalayas.

Later I joined The Last Resort in Nepal as a partner. We focussed on international standard adventure activities like Bungy jumping, Canyoning, rafting. But also on being a good neighbor in the remote community close to the Tibetan border. We worked on infrastructure, education, health and employment in the area around the resort with the income from the resort.

Also Pranamaya Yoga, the yoga community I founded in 2010, works to benefit teachers, students and venues. Our yoga retreats for example are held in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The income of using their accommodation goes to food, educational supplies and electricity for the monks. The students get the unique opportunity to stay and experience the monastic life, and the teachers get to share their knowledge and wisdom.

I have worked as a Responsible Travel Nepal consultant for SNV and currently work as a consultant for Columbia University promoting Responsible Travel in Tibet.

What places and activities do you specialize in?

"I specialize in Responsible Travel in Nepal and Tibet. Activities in Nepal I know well are yoga and meditation, retreats, spiritual and cultural tours, white water expeditions and adventure activities. I have trekked most of the major trekking routes and some remoter ones, and can share my experiences. "

How did you get involved in travel?

"I first came to Nepal as a backpacker in the nineties, and loved the country. Backpacking made me really fall in love with travel and I decided to give up my carrier in the Amsterdam art world for a backpack and uncertainty. I travelled back to Asia from Amsterdam on a motorbike, and spend years exploring on public transport, bicycle and by foot. To make money while traveling I became a tour leader for a Dutch adventure company, taking groups to different Asian countries like Nepal, Tibet, China, India, South-East Asia. When living out of a backpack and sleeping in a different bed most nights became a bit challenging I looked for some grounding and found it in Nepal, where I joined as a partner in an adventure resort of friends in 2004. It was not an easy job, I joined in the time of civil war and communication with the resort went via pieces of paper on local transport since we had no phone lines. We somehow managed to slowly grow even in those early difficult years, and built up The Last Resort into the major tourist attraction it is today.

When we had built up a strong local team at The Last Resort I had more time and a great need for quiet and reflection. I found this in yoga. I did a yoga teacher training in India and came back to Nepal, looking for a place to get more yoga instruction. I found out there were good teachers around but all struggling with locations to teach, marketing themselves, sustainability. So I decided to create a space for them to teach and people to be able to find them easily. This was the start of Pranamaya yoga, and it seemed to be the right thing to do since we immediately got interest and students, and the demand for another studio on the other side of town. We now have daily 10 to 15 teachers sharing yoga classes with students from around the world.

Students started asking for ways to deepen their practice and to learn more about this vast subject of Yoga, so we organized first a yoga Saturday, then yoga weekends, and now also yoga retreats. "

Please share a unique travel experience you will never forget.

"My most unique travel experience in Nepal was hiking to and staying at the remote monastery in the Everest region. The first part of the journey was a beautiful drive from Kathmandu into the green low hills and slowly climbing up into the mountains on windy roads. And suddenly coming up of another steep bend I was greeted by a beautiful vista of snow peaks and stupas against the deepest blue sky I had ever seen.

The hike to the monastery first followed a turquoise raging river in a green valley, stopping at small villages for tea, local bread or noodles. Those tea stops where so much fun, playing with the kids and trying to converse with the farmers and traders on route. The small family run tea houses were also my guesthouse at night, sitting in the kitchen while the ladies of the house cooked for me on the fire and sang songs.

And then I reached my destination, the entrance to the monastery were steep steps with prayer wheels moved by water on each side. Each prayer wheel had a little bell and that was the only sounds I could hear besides my footsteps. The monastery existed out of little stone huts for the many meditating nuns and monks living there, and a big pray hall with beautiful statues. I was invited to stay in a comfortable wooden guest room and have my meals in the monastery kitchen. Seeing the nuns cook meals for the whole monastic community was amazing, it was hard work but they were all the time chatting and giggling.

During my time at the monastery I join the morning pray sessions in the main hall, and was fed butter tea and fresh bread. I walked up to an ancient meditation cave high in the mountains above the monastery and imagined what it would be like to stay there for months and sometimes years on end. I visited the local school and hang out in the village, and the slow and graceful pace of life here rubbed off on me and made me calm and peaceful.

I hiked back via a different route, with views of the 8000 meter peaks and over high alpine meadows. And flew back from the regional airport to Kathmandu. An amazing journey, and thinking back at it still now gives me inner peace and a smile on my face. "