Dan Austin has a passion for family travel. That’s true not only of the trips he’s been offering for over two decades at Austin Adventures but in the very company he’s created. It’s a bona fide family business with his wife and two grown children, born from his adventures with them along the way.
Austin Adventures takes people on hiking, biking and multisport adventures around the world, in South and Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. They were once known as Austin-Lehman Adventures and along the way, they have bought smaller companies like Euro-Bike & Walking Tours and been bought themselves by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, before being bought back by Austin. They were twice named the World’s Best Tour Operator by the readers of Travel + Leisure.
“The focus on family started in 1996 when I got into the business,” Austin explained from his home in Billings, Montana. “My daughter Kasey was 5 and my son Andy was 4. We started doing family trips to Yellowstone and Kasey came along with me. I was trying to create trips to the park that were unique for families. Other tour operators were taking adult tours and putting a family sticker on them. The kids spent the next 12 years jumping on and off family trips with me. They were my crash test dummies.”
In 2019, Austin Adventures has new trips in Botswana and Portugal’s Algarve. But it’s in the American West where the company cut their teeth and made their mark. They’ve drilled down on National Park adventures and currently offer 32 different trips to such parks as Arches, Canyonlands, Glacier and of course, Yellowstone.
“I’m always excited about Yellowstone, it’s been our #1 seller for 30 years,” Austin says. “You can combine rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. Especially hiking, which allows you to get away from crowds. There’s something like four million visitors to Yellowstone every year. Give us 15 minutes and we’ll get you away from all those people. The average person spends six hours in Yellowstone, and five and half of those hours are spent in their car. We spend four or five days in the Park and we’ve reserved the best rooms in Old Faithful Lodge and Lake Yellowstone Hotel. We know how to maximize your time in the park.”
Austin has kept his kids in the loop all these years, and they bring a youthful fervor and vision to this boutique travel business that takes a few thousand people on exotic adventures around the world every year.
“When we went to build a new family trip to Alaska, I remember asking, ’What do you think about this, Kasey?’” Austin recalls. “When they were old enough, they guided during high school summers and then guided in their summers between college semesters.”
The company remains a family affair. Austin’s wife Carol has worked in sales at Austin Adventures for the past two decades. Kasey has been operations manager at Austin Adventures for the past seven years and in 2014, Outside magazine named her the #1 Family Guide in the world. Andy guides high-end trips for Austin Adventures and shoots many of the company’s photos, with 28,000 plus followers on Instagram. It’s a good gig.
“At the moment, Andy is rafting in Bali where it’s 80 degrees,” Austin says. “Meanwhile, it’s minus 5 here in Billings.”
“Croatia is not new but it’s exploding,” Austin says. “It a multisport like the lion’s share of our trips. It’s about sea kayaking, biking, hiking and drinking a lot of Croatian wine. We have a new trip to the Azores, which is in vogue, and a new program in Baha, swimming with whale sharks. In 2020, we’ll be returning to New Zealand for the first time in 20 years.”
Austin says that 45% of their business is repeat business and another 20% are referrals from alumni. About 60% of their trips are family travel. But in the end, it always comes back to Yellowstone.
“I’ll bet we put more families in Yellowstone than anyone else,” he says. “It’s our most popular trip. I call it our gateway drug for adventure travel.”