RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — Robert Gilligan of Ridgewood wanted to explore the world, but he didn't want to do it alone.
So he started Gilligan's Adventures, a group dedicated to connecting people with other travelers who wanted to see and do interesting things.
Twenty years later, Gilligan's Adventures has become a lifestyle. Strangers from across the state go on trips they've never dreamed they'd take.
Some have called the experience life-changing.
"(Gilligan's Adventures) has really saved me," said Sharon Gallen of Airmont.
"It completely changed my world."
Gallen discovered the group after Google searching for things to do. A young widow, she found it difficult to find social outings that weren't tied to online dating.
She arrived at her first adventure with Gilligan's group by herself, skeptical that she'd stay longer than a few minutes. She quickly found a group of friends and stayed.
"Everybody’s in a place — maybe coming out of a divorce, a retirement," Gallen said. "Everyone is very welcoming."
Gilligan says he's always had a need for adventure.
"I’ve always had the adventure explorer gene in me."
Gilligan, who planned trips as a high school teacher, started the adventures with friends, and friends of friends.
Eventually, they blossomed into larger groups of people hailing from Paramus, Saddle Brook, Park Ridge, Hackensack, Fort Lee and Rockland County.
The trips were coordinated through an email list and now Gilligan's Adventures is now planned through a Meetup group.
Gilligan tries to post plants a month before the excursions occur, but the international trips require planning months ahead.
Some love that they can take a trip without having to plan the details.
"I'm not paying the tolls, or getting directions. We just get on the bus," said Maywood Middle School teacher John Stallone.
"It's a stress-free, fun time. All you worry about is having fun."
One of Stallone's favorite trips was the Blaze Pumpkin Tour in Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County. A total of 7,000 pumpkins were carved into houses, monsters and architecture and lit up at night.
"To be able to go on trips with my whole family and do something with them is life changing for me," Stallone said.
Gilligan is happy with the progress of the group. Next year he's planning trips to Iceland, Scotland and Madagascar.
But he has more on his mind than more extravagant locations.
"There’s so much we could do with this," Gilligan said. "It’s a great movement of energy doing good things together."
He continued to say that maybe the group could be used for philanthropic purposes based on the positive energy that exudes from each outing.