A trip of a lifetime

Jodi Nelson’s Twin Cities-based company Play it Forward Adventures combines her passion for traveling and volunteering.

She organizes trips that pair outdoor adventures with service projects in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, Nepal and Peru. The tagline for her company is “adventure travel with a moral compass.”

“I think combining the two pushes people outside of their comfort zone — emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally,” she said an interview in the fall before she embarked on a trip to Nepal, her most ambitious adventure to date.

In October, Nelson led a group of eight — most travelers from the Twin Cities — on a journey to help build a sewing room for women rescued from sex trafficking. After the construction work, the group went on a nine-day trek on the Annapurna Trail in the Himalayas.

Nelson and her crew spent the summer fundraising for the sewing room. They secured nearly $10,000 for the project. When they arrived in Nepal they helped lay the foundation for the building. After the returned from their trek, the sewing room was complete and they got a chance to attend a special ceremony where women at the rehabilitation center were each presented with a sewing machine.

“When you read about the sex trade it is one thing, but when you are there to meet and see the women it is something completely different,” Nelson said during a recent interview.

While the Play it Forward Adventure group was working on the sewing room, seven women were rescued from sex trafficking. Most women at the rehabilitation center were between the ages of 14 and 20.  

Working in the sewing room is designed to be a therapeutic experience for the young women.

“The women start by making their own clothing because when they arrive they only have the clothes on their back,” she said. “They build their self worth back up and they become seen as valuable — they have a valuable skill to contribute.”

While the sewing room was the biggest project Nelson’s company has tackled on a trip, the Himalayan trek was also the most challenging and intense adventure.  

Robert Johnson, 58, one of the travelers to Nepal, said the experience was life changing.

Johnson, a neighbor of Nelson who also went on a Play it Forward Adventure trip to Guatemala last February, was the oldest person on the Nepal trip. During the trek, he lost 16 pounds.

“If they wanted to build another sewing room, I’d sign up tomorrow,” he said. “If they wanted to do that trek again, I’d run and hide.”

Juliette Jordal, a Loring Park resident who also went on the Nepal trip, said she was inspired to sign up for the experience to “get off the beaten path and connect in some more personal, substantial way.”

“A trip like this reminds you that there’s plenty to do all around the world — so many places in need,” she said. “When you do a little, not nearly enough, you realize there’s so much left to be done. I’m eager to get back out there.”

To learm more about Play it Forward Adventures, visit pifadventures.com.