Travel agents they are not, Hill insisted.
"We're educators who are in the business of educating people," said the 60-year-old Ardmore resident.
Hill and Eddie Rodriguez, who taught Spanish at Episcopal for 13 years, bought Chill Expeditions in April 2010. Formerly known as Costa Rican Adventures, the business was based in Costa Rica and Berkeley, Calif.
Since the purchase, they have been busy rebranding and reorganizing the business so it better reflects what both men are at their core - teachers.
What Hill and Rodriguez, 48, of Upper Darby, believe distinguishes Chill Expeditions from other travel companies is their commitment to what they call "Eco-Immersion," or experiential learning vacations.
In essence, it's turning a vacation spot into a classroom, with heavily trained guides following the same educational principle of storytelling that formed the basis of Hill's instructional technique at Episcopal, he said. The trips often also involve community service.
Hill said his goal was "to get kids to look at the opportunity as more than just physical or emotional adrenaline. We seek intellectual adrenaline."
That was the same objective he and Rodriguez had when they led groups of Episcopal students to Costa Rica as their teachers.
Those adventures started when an African exchange student in Hill's class suggested a trip to Nairobi. The idea was scrapped when the U.S. Embassy there was bombed along with another in East Africa on the same day in August 1998.
"I said, 'We'll go to Costa Rica,' " Hill recalled. He had never been there, but had met the owner of Costa Rican Adventures at a biology conference once and made a note to visit sometime.
"So I became a client for 13 years," he said, taking groups of Episcopal Academy juniors and seniors. Then came the call that Costa Rican Adventures was for sale.
Hill "wasn't looking for this - I loved teaching," he said, but was intrigued. He called Rodriguez.
"I thought, 'I spent 20 years in the classroom. I'd like to try something else,' " Rodriguez said of taking the leap into business ownership.
In October 2010, Chill Expeditions consisted of four employees: Hill and Rodriguez, plus two guides in Costa Rica. The payroll is now up to 13 - five employees each in Ardmore and Costa Rica, two in Ecuador and one in Spain.
The environmental educator/director of summer programs and a sales and marketing associate/assistant guide are former Episcopal students of Hill's. The communications director is a former Episcopal teacher and school psychologist.
Hill and Rodriguez would not disclose annual revenues, but said Chill Expeditions was profitable. Its trips typically range from $175 to $250 a day, which covers everything but airfare.
While buying a travel company as the U.S. economy continued its postrecession struggle worried the typically unflappable Hill, he found that "with the economic challenges, more and more people are recognizing . . . the value of this kind of education."
Among them is Natalie Mayer, a biology teacher and cochair of the science department at Friends Select, the Quaker college-preparatory school in Center City. This past June, she accompanied 16 students from grades 9 through 12 on the school's first Chill Expeditions excursion.
The nine-day journey to Costa Rica "fit in perfectly" with the school's international program, which last academic year focused on Central and South America, Mayer said.
On the $2,800-per-person trip, Mayer said she watched hard-to-faze teenagers transform into eco-sensitive advocates with deep insights about people and planet that have not faded. Helping them reach their new awareness levels were white-water rafting trips, exhausting hikes and a community-service project to build a farm to protect endangered iguanas.
"By the end, the kids didn't just appreciate a country, they appreciated each other and were more thankful for what we have in this world," said Mayer, who met Hill six years ago when she taught at Episcopal. She was instantly wowed.
"He's very passionate, not just about science, but the world," she said.
That is obvious inside the Chill offices, a travel treat on their own. There's a colorful carved toucan, masks from a variety of Costa Rican villages, and blown-up pictures taken by Hill. One is of the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Galápagos Islands. Another is of that area's spectacular frigate bird, its strikingly red gular sack fully inflated in mating splendor.
Hill, who grew up in Mount Airy, was raised to appreciate and revel in nature. That has taken him to great heights - literally. He has hiked mountain after mountain, including Rainier, Hood, Shasta, and McKinley. So what is his favorite travel destination?
"The Wissahickon," he said. "Something there really centers me. A little taste of the wilderness in an urban setting."
He hopes to one day add Philadelphia to the list of Chill Expeditions' offerings "to give a sense of this city that few experience."
Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @mastrud on Twitter.