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An escape from the concrete jungle

  • Story Highlights
  • Urban Escapes NYC offers trips aimed at the young and thrifty
  • Day trips out of New York start at about $60; company also offers trips abroad
  • Urban Escapes NYC founder, 25, was a stock trader before starting company
  • The company was able to break even within six months, founder says
By Nkechi Nneji
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Summer excursions seem out of reach to many struggling young professionals, and the faltering economy isn't helping. But one New York City company, offering trips aimed at the young and thrifty, is capitalizing on the urbanite's desire to get away -- and finding success despite the downturn.

Hike participants meet in Manhattan to travel north of the city for a day's outing.

A group of Urban Escapes NYC hikers stops for a snack during an expedition in New York's Harriman State Park.

As a slightly broke young professional myself, with a taste for adventure but living in a very expensive city, the idea behind Urban Escapes NYC was intriguing. The company offers an array of activities -- from short hiking, sky diving or canoeing trips to international journeys that combine various activities.

On the company's user-friendly Web site, I scrolled through the offerings. There were trips ranging from one-day hiking or fruit-picking excursions priced at around $60 to $800 weeklong international expeditions. The average trip includes ground transportation, the cost of the activity, guide fees, equipment rental and meals.

Jumping out of planes put the company's founder and CEO, Maia Josebachvili, 25, on the path to becoming a business owner. While attending Dartmouth College, Josebachvili developed a passion for sky diving. To pay for the pricey dives, she began to lead trips for her friends and her friends' friends. Soon she realized that the people she was guiding were outside of her original social network, and an idea began to emerge.

After graduating from Dartmouth and working as a trader on the New York Stock Exchange, Josebachvili decided working in the concrete jungle was not for her. At 24, Josebachvili started a business out of something she had been doing for years during college -- leading outdoor adventure trips.

The company launched in early 2008, just months before the economy tanked. "I started to wonder if this is really going to work," Josebachvili said.

But with trips designed with budget and value in mind, the suffering economy did not stunt the business. Josebachvili said the company was able to break even within six months.

The business relies on social networking avenues for promotion, and word spread rapidly. It also quickly developed a reputation as a great way to meet people and make new friends.

"I was the market," Josebachvili explains, "My friends were the market. Anyone just out of college working on Wall Street didn't have the time to plan and research the trips. There is no shortage of those kinds of people in New York."

After perusing the site, I rather nervously picked a $59 six-mile hike. This may not sound so cheap, but after factoring in the planning of the trip, transportation, gas, experienced guides and a post-hike discount at a local restaurant, the value becomes apparent. I hadn't been hiking in years and still am sadly out of shape. My imagination ran wild with images of young, sporty folks racing up high peaks as I huffed and puffed behind. Terrifying.

After a rainy start to the morning, our upbeat guides for the day, director Bram Levy and guide Roget Lerner, drove a group of 12 north of the city to Harriman State Park. They encouraged us to get to know each other and joked that we would be quizzed on it later.

Waiting to get into the van, I asked a man standing next to me why he was on the trip. "I moved from San Francisco a year ago," public relations professional Michael Lindenberger said. "I need some trees."

After an hourlong drive, we arrived at our hiking destination. Levy and Lerner checked our sneakers, water supply and told us a bit about how the day was going to unfold. And then we began the hike.

Throughout the day, there was lots of laughing, squealing and helping each other over rocks and through slick patches of mud. I was surprised how quickly a team mentally developed among the group. We were all strangers, but after a day of hiking, I knew everyone's name, profession and a good deal more. And this was no accident -- the guides were deliberately networking and bonding us together.

Jen Badali, a city transit planner, was on her third trip with Urban Escapes. "I went by myself my first hike," she said. "It was fun to get away and do something different." She said she still keeps in touch with people she met on the other excursions. "I made some good friends out of it," she said.

At the end of the day, sweaty, sore and smiling, I realized why Urban Escapes NYC was defying the recession. With a plethora of affordable outdoor excursions, cheerful guides and a youthful mindset, the company was the ideal destination for an urban professional with a slim wallet.

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