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Chumley Cope: Explore Up Close

Since 2004, our South Carolina travel company, Explore Up Close, has guided trips for thousands of people in South Carolina and the Southeast. Explore Up Close trips are designed for small groups of 5 - 14 travelers, which make for a uniquely intimate and immersive travel experience. Our signature small group trips feature local history and culture, private historic site visits with local experts, and excellent regional dining and boutique hotels, often in historic venues and buildings.

When the pandemic first struck in March 2020, the tourism industry shut down completely, and our business was no exception. However, we realized that we had a unique advantage: our "bread and butter" had always been exploring the backroads and hidden stories of South Carolina. Why not continue to showcase those places, and provide inspiration for future travel close to home, in our newly socially distanced world?

After cancelling our upcoming March 2020 group trips (to Charleston and Beaufort, SC, respectively), we decided to find a creative way to continue to share our passion for South Carolina historic and cultural sites with our clients and partners. We launched our Virtual Travel series – designed to safely promote education and exploration of South Carolina’s off-the-beaten track places, stories, and historic sites during the pandemic. Our Virtual Travel consisted of weekly emails (with photos and written content), and short Virtual Travel videos that we filmed in rural, remote parts of South Carolina. The isolation of these places made them safe for us to visit for filming purposes, and also lent themselves for easy, socially distanced exploration for individuals once travel restrictions within South Carolina began to ease. We shared this content with our email list of over 1,000 people. Soon, we were providing educational and inspiring content that introduced viewers to South Carolina’s historic inns, rich Gullah heritage, Revolutionary War sites, African-American heroes, trailblazing Southern women, long-forgotten local streetcars, and more.

Our Virtual Travel series evolved into our online membership program: The Corps of Discovery, named after Lewis and Clark's famous expedition. Later in 2020, we began hosting "virtual" monthly presentations on Zoom for our members, with diverse topics that ranged from Appalachian railroad history to South Carolina's early face vessel pottery, in partnership with the South Carolina State Museum. Our next upcoming event in April 2021 is a virtual guided tour of Drayton Hall, with ticket sales that directly benefit Drayton Hall and their preservation work.

Inspired by our Virtual Travel content series, we also created and taught online courses (a total of 12 class sessions) for South Carolina residents and enthusiasts that focused on sharing itineraries for “backroads travel” in South Carolina.


We taught two separate courses, that were offered to members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ Furman University and Wofford Lifelong Learning. Our course participants numbered over 200 people, and it was a delight to hear from our “students” about their socially distanced exploration and day trips that they took, inspired by our course. One person wrote to us, “I have lived in South Carolina for 15 years and didn’t know about many of the places you highlighted. I can’t wait to visit some of the towns and special sites you covered.”

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