I’m packing up – gear, computer, electronics, shorts, sunscreen…and I’m thinking about our trips.  We leave for the annual Learn Scuba Chicago pilgrimage to the Florida Keys this weekend.  (I think we made a wise choice moving the date back a few weeks – reports are high 80’s and low waves – perfect!)  And then I ponder – Why we travel?

I believe there are two general types of scuba travelers.  Some people like to travel to warm, tropical destinations to spend time with certain people and maybe get a little scuba.  Others travel to dive.  Often, this latter class enjoys socializing, meeting new people and maybe even travelling with someone(s) in particular.  Usually, when people book travel with a group, they may seek the latter, but end up with the former type of atmosphere.  Let me elaborate.

My experience in my youthful days of group travel usually included a theme: scuba diving, skiing, rafting, etc.  Each time, I enjoyed the stated activity, but rarely spent time with the group that brought me.  Maybe I hung out with a few friends, or just did my own thing, but the common events were few and far between.  Starting with the lodging, we would arrive at a hotel and scatter to our rooms.  Maybe we would bump into each other at the pool or restaurant, but group activities outside the theme were rare.  So, when we would hit the boat, or the slopes, or whatever, there was not much to start socializing from – and we would stray.

When I started our travel club at Learn Scuba Chicago, I wanted something different.  As a NFP, we are a large volunteer group that generally enjoys spending time together.  Our trips are designed to encourage that camaraderie – whether you are staff or guest.  We decided to rent villas, estates and mansions.  As a result, we found that people tend to mingle.  Over the last couple trips, despite having acres of area indoors and out, pools and pool tables, TVs and stereos, our travelers tended to clump together.  Whether huddled around a computer checking out pictures and videos from our underwater adventures or working the kitchen in harmony better than most restaurants, everyone drifted among groups of each other.  And when we hit the boat, we became a well-tuned group, enthusiastic and social.  I cannot begin to share pride I developed from listening to the other scuba operators compliment our group.  It’s amazing.  (I worked in the tropical dive industry for several years – I get why they are so surprised.  Still, I’m also amazed.)

We are always trying to be different. Not to be different. But to break existing molds and try new things in search of the perfect recipe.  A few years ago, we started experimenting with local trips that included camping and scuba diving.  We endured some rain, some cold, some challenges – but discovered that these adventures were really exciting.  We tweak, we adjust and now we travel in swarms to camp and sing and play and cook — oh yeah, and scuba dive.

When I started Learn Scuba Chicago about seven years ago, I didn’t have a vision.  As we grew and changed and expanded, that vision has become much more clear, while ever expanding.  We still have many ideas to develop and conquer – like our own pool facilities, large scale programs for kids and a permanent program for the Vets – but we have made large strides.  One of the more senior staff members said the other day that he had become impressed about how our organization is really coming together.  He doesn’t understand that understatement in his words.  We truly have become greater than the sum of our parts.

For me, one of things that I’m proudest of is our travelling.  Whether it’s the regulars we see often, the staff that helps bind our group together or the new faces ready to try our experiences – each and every trip has been a great success and a testament to what we stand for.  So, as I pack for the Keys, I cannot help but smile. not for tropical destination soon to follow, but for the excitement of another week filled with friends, new and old, and the stories to come.

You should join us – I think you will be happy you did.

I’ll try to bring back some sunshine and remembers, Bubbles Up!

Capt Bob