May it be a hidden surf spot in the Azores, dinner in a volcanic crater or a night on San Blas Islands, amongst Kuna Indians – Beyond the Standard will provide the most extraordinary experience possible for sure. We interviewed the founders, Fanni Pataricza and János Benjámin Vértes. Interview!
Approximately ten years ago, Janó set off for a backpack trip to Asia, indefinitely. The locations visited and the experiences gathered here also influenced the foundation and philosophy of Beyond the Standard travel agency later on. How did Beyond the Standard start exactly and when did Fanny join the team?
János Benjámin Vértes: I loved freeride skiing and surfing very much, and these are things you simply cannot do in Hungary. Ten years ago, during my one-year trip to Asia, I started organizing trips for my friends and their friends who had a similar interest. In the beginning, my repertoire included a ski trip to France in the winter, a surf trip to Morocco in the fall and an outdoor camp in Austria mixing all kinds of sports in the summer. Four years ago, when my number one job at the time ended, Fanni and I decided to establish our own travel agency and that this was what we really wanted to do. Since then, we have travelled a lot, every tour we offer is a destination we have tried and tested in depth.
Fanni Pataricza: Janó and I started working together approximately 8 years ago, on a different project. We got together six years ago, and it soon turned out that a job requiring lots of travelling is only worth doing together. On top of it all, I even have a degree in tourism, which came quite in handy when we founded the travel agency.
The Beyond the Standard tours are characterized by extreme sports activities organized on extraordinary locations, such as skiing in Japan, surfing in Sri Lanka, the Azores and the Philippines, off-road motorbike trip in Mongolia or at the Himalayas – to mention a few examples of the special tours you offer. Why these sports and why these locations?
J.B.V.: We would like to see and explore as much as we can from the world, possibly the truly exciting and less touristy places. As there are virtually countless locations of the kind, these sports provide a fairly good filter for selecting the destination, on the one hand, and from the perspective of the company that comes together on each trip, on the other hand. The given sport gives a common platform for every participant, and improving in the given field and sharing our success makes the experience lasting.
The whole project is very personal, we always organize trips to places where we would also like to go or where we think it is worth to go. Taking into consideration that we have been doing this for a long time as a full-time job, the passenger won’t fare badly either.
F.P.: While Janó is a seven times Hungarian freeride champion and is talented and motivated in almost every branch of sports, my interests are much more humane. Janó represents authenticity within the brand, while I represent people-oriented attitude.
The community experience is a dominant part of our tours, it happens many times that the individual passengers get along so much during the trip that later on they apply to the next camp together, as a group of friends. Many people believe that only professional athletes can come or actually come to our tours, but this is not true at all. In the surfing camps, for example, half of the participants are completely beginners, and the program also contains many extra activities other than surfing. We always visit the most exciting sights of the location and we also make sure to get an authentic and complete image of the local cuisine.
What was your first trip together, and what is your most dominant travel experience?
F.P.: The first was a trip to Guadeloupe and Dominica on Janó’s 30th birthday. We haven’t returned to this spot with a group, yet Dominica (not to be mistaken for the Dominican Republic) is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to.
Janó proposed to me on Iceland, so this is the most memorable trip for me, but our trip in Panama and our honeymoon in Peru were also remarkable.
Janó, you mentioned that you gained a lot of experience in problem solving on your Asian trip ten years ago. What was the most extreme situation in the history of Beyond the Standard that you had to solve?
J.B.V.: On the second day of our first motorbike tour to the Himalayas, a civil war broke out in Kashmir, which was the final destination of our trip. From then on, we consulted with our local guide, the local authorities and the Hungarian consul on a daily basis about the situation, which was getting worse day by day. This is an area under Indian control burdened by tensions, but Pakistan would also like to get their hands on it, while the proud locals are fighting for their independence. Several Indian soldiers were killed, a curfew was imposed, and our only chance of getting into the city was a convoy of jeeps starting every midnight, risking an attack by the protesters who threw rocks at the cars. Then on the day before the last, we managed to modify our itinerary and we got flight tickets for everybody. We only informed the group about the change of plans when we had the solution. The biggest challenge was the ten days in between, spent in uncertainty.
Each and every tour of yours is different, but they always give an authentic, life-changing experience – this way, the exact knowledge of the location and building relations with the locals is essential for you, you many times work wit local guides, too. But what happens if you want to organize a tour to a new destination?
J.B.V.: Ideally we travel there by the two of us (and from now on, by the three of us complemented with Jónás, our son who is currently six months old) to explore the place and establish relationships with the locals. These are important everywhere, we don’t organize tours without having adequate local relationships. There were cases when a friend of ours recommended a place and they have already formed the necessary contacts and so regular passengers could join the first tour already – these are always very special trips.
You didn’t spend the lockdown imposed due to the epidemic in the conventional home environment either, but in one of the mountain villages of Austria, in Ramsau am Dachstein. Why did you opt for this solution and why is this place important to you?
F.P.: The idea of closing the border sounded quite bad, and the idea of being locked in a city sounded even worse.
J.B.V.: I have been going to Ramsau to ski in the winter and hike in the summer for twenty years now, it’s the dearest Austrian town for me. The total of two thousand permanent dwellers live in a five kilometer long village at the foot of the 3000 m tall Dachstein glacier, so its hard to think of a better place during a pandemic. Luckily the owners offered the possibility of renting the house we stayed in for a long term, and we jumped right at it. This way, this will be the first BTS basis which the passengers can rent from us all through the year.
You also have more plans for Austria: it seems that Beyond the Standard will expand abroad. What are your future plans?
J.B.V.: We wanted the BTS project to be international from the very beginning, and we also want to organize extreme tours, and it’s not too likely that there would be enough people from Hungary alone to fill these tours. By this we mean a snow mobile surfing tour in Kamchatka, for example. So instead of democratizing our repertoire, we would rather want to find the people who are interested in what we do from a larger audience. By the way, internationality has a positive impact on the atmosphere, too: eight passengers of different nationality participated on one of our best motorbike trips in Mongolia last summer, and they had a fantastic time.
F.P.: To answer your question: this fall we’ll open a travel agency in Vienna, under the name Beyond the Standard, of course, with the same repertoire. We’ll also keep the Hungarian office, but we plan to spend most of our time in Vienna, and we would also like to enroll Jónás to public institutions there. You are welcome to join any BTS tours either here or there!
If you love sports, exploring extraordinary places and experiences beyond your comfort zone, we have some good news: Beyond the Standard has already announced their upcoming trips. This way, you too get to try what it is like to spend your vacay in the Austrian Alps, or to explore closer lands or the Himalayas with motorbikes. For further information, go and check out Beyond the Standard’s Facebook page.
Photos: Gáspár Albert, Zsolt Balássy, Dániel Csepku, Krisztián Tóth