Travel For Those Once-in-a-Lifetime Trips, You Need a Travel Specialist

16:55  05 april  2022
16:55  05 april  2022 Source:   cntraveler.com

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Whether you're visiting a destination for the first time or the 15th, in a family of 10 or going it solo, looking to lounge on a beach or preparing to summit Kilimanjaro, there's a travel specialist for you. Here, we show you the extraordinary experiences and logistical feats these industry superstars can pull off.

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. For the full list of Condé Nast Traveler's Top Travel Specialists, please visit cntraveler.com/travel-specialists.

You’re a planning pro who has put together monthlong trips, shuns guidebooks, and can navigate any terrain you find yourself in. You don’t need a specialist... or do you?

“People don't know what they don't know and often don't even realize the experiences or highlights they might be missing in a destination,” says Ariane Henry of Vision Travel. “Just like most of us use a real estate agent to buy a home or a financial adviser to assist with investment decisions, a good travel adviser can help you so much in planning and organizing your next vacation.” When working with well-traveled clients with a “been there, done that” outlook, especially with locations they've visited before, she may need to do some extra legwork—but, she claims, she can add value to any vacation by uncovering something her clients didn't think of, or didn't even realize was possible. “Even those who know Paris and have been to Versailles probably don't know that the hotel Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, exists inside the grounds and offers guests exclusive access and private tours of Versailles and its gardens,” Henry notes.

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Even a trip to well-trodden Italy can be a minefield for someone with celiac, and a travel specialist can help you navigate the culinary terrain. According to Donna Flanigan of Donna Flanigan's Travel by TPI, it's even more important to involve avid travelers, who generally aren't comfortable with someone else totally taking the reins, in the planning process. “I typically put together printable tentative itineraries and then will have the clients come into my office so we can go over every little detail—from restaurant reservations to travel-insurance options—and answer any questions they have.”

An artisan drying incense in Quang Phu Cao, Vietnam © Khánh Phan An artisan drying incense in Quang Phu Cao, Vietnam Exploring Lake Como in a classic Riva Aquarama © Oliver Pilcher Exploring Lake Como in a classic Riva Aquarama

You want a trip that pushes you...but aren't exactly sure how far you want to be pushed

Often, the biggest hurdle in adventure-travel planning is dispelling assumptions. To address the preconceived notion that the polar regions will be way too cold to be enjoyable, Thomas Lennartz of Quark Expeditions asks clients if they like skiing. “Frequently they do, and I compare a day in Antarctica to one on the slopes: You need to be bundled up, but then when the sun is shining and there's no wind, you can sit outside the lodge in your T-shirt. It quickly reframes temperature expectations.” Many feel that adventure travel is only for “the young, the fit, and the outdoorsy,” Lennartz adds. “Or one traveler is interested in going, but the partner doesn't want to, so the challenge becomes getting the less enthusiastic to go outside of their comfort zone.”

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According to Denis Page of Longitude 80, whether a specialist can successfully pull off an adventure always comes down to on-the-ground experience. “There's an expression in New Zealand that goes, ‘She'll be right,’ meaning ‘It should be fine,’ ” says Page. “But not in this business, not at this level.” Which is why he has a steadfast rule: “Never operate an adventure unless you have been there—unless you've met the experts and know how the trip will flow.” There's too much at stake, and things have to be perfect. Like the time he took a couple on a helicopter flight over New Zealand's remote Southern Alps. “The husband was quite sick, and I suspected this was going to be his last trip. We landed on a mountaintop in time for an epic sunset. I cracked a bottle of Perrier-Jouët, handed him two flutes, and said that the pilot and I would be back in an hour.”

Garamba National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo © Tom Parker Garamba National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo

You want to introduce your kids to a destination's history, but you know there will be mutiny if it's all museums all the time

When planning family trips, clients often reach out to specialists with lists of culturally significant sites that they want to expose their children to. But ticking off stops, according to Phyllis Polaner of SmartFlyer, isn't always the best way to make meaningful family memories. There are many experiential paths into a place's culture and history that are often more entertaining and engaging for young travelers. “Even with their vibrant history, paintings and artifacts are often just ‘things’ to kids,” says Polaner, who suggests using theater, scavenger hunts, or activities like sheepherding or falconry as interactive ways to pull kids into a place.

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And of course it's important to take realistic stock of your family's needs (a child who naps at home is still going to need a nap abroad) and keep in mind the very basic but oft-forgotten principle that children want to play. For Nathan Drane of Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel, this meant working in plenty of bike riding during a trip for a family of six to Cambodia and creating opportunities to interact with other kids, like arranging a cooking lesson at the home of a Cambodian family with similarly aged children.

Cruising through northern Thailand’s Chiang Dao district © Chris Shalkx Cruising through northern Thailand’s Chiang Dao district The 16th-century Amer Fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan © Chris Schalkx The 16th-century Amer Fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan

You want to take a special trip with your partner, but you're not sure you have the time or money for anything more than an adults-only resort

Worrying about your budget when planning a romantic getaway is not romantic, but it is common. According to April Schmitt of Divine Destination Weddings and Honeymoons/Travel By Divine, it's one of the biggest stressors—and points of contention—for partners. Couples, she notes, often take destinations off the table prematurely for this reason. “Many clients don't realize how far their budget will take them, so I probe and find out all of their travel dreams. Often I can get creative, like by combining a safari and an island stay for a honeymoon, or adding a stopover in a place they'd like to revisit one day, like a night in Amsterdam en route to a week in France.” There's a lot of pressure around trips that are meant to commemorate or revitalize a relationship, and deciphering what each partner deems romantic is a challenge. To address a common issue—one person wants to relax together while the other wants to go exploring hand in hand—Schmitt suggests an every-other-day schedule: pool time or a spa visit at the hotel one day, an excursion the next, and repeat.

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And of course good romance-travel specialists have more than just a bottle of chilled Champagne up their sleeves. When couples are going between cities, like Florence and Rome, Schmitt will turn the travel day into a custom experience by arranging a driver who will stop at a winery for a tasting or at a scenic spot for a picnic. For Kara Bebell of The Travel Siblings, romance and over-the-top moments are synonymous, and she prides herself on planning things that clients wouldn't dream of asking for. “We've privatized the royal Mughal Gardens at the Taj Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and secured the Louvre for a proposal in front of the Mona Lisa. ” Not to mention the wedding reception her team planned at the seventh Earl of Erne's Crom Castle in Northern Ireland—with the earl in attendance.

Floating in Israel’s Dead Sea near Ein Bokek Beach © Katerina and Yinon Floating in Israel’s Dead Sea near Ein Bokek Beach

Food informs all of your trips, and itineraries are built around restaurant reservations, but now you want to go deeper into a place's flavors

A culinary adventure can shed new light on a well-loved destination. Instead of visiting Italy's top restaurants (again), travelers can “watch the birthing of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from copper vats as the sun rises in Gainago di Torrile, or be introduced to vintners in Sicily who age wine in terra-cotta amphorae,” says Peggy Markel of Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures. For Markel, it's about creating an element of surprise: “I love to take people down dirt roads to places where they might not expect to find a true taste of a place.” Like ingredient sourcing in tiny Rajasthani villages or going on a camel safari along Morocco's west coast and buying sea bass for fish tagine from a lone fisherman. For Alex Wix of Wix Squared, the most successful culinary trips connect travelers with the land. “Farm-to-table experiences always resonate with clients,” Wix says, “and introducing travelers to a local farmers market and encouraging them to eat things they wouldn't in their own countries takes them deeper into a place.” Wix notes that there are secrets and stories behind every ingredient that, when told by local farmers and purveyors, reveal a lot about a destination.

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You have already done a reunion in a 10-bedroom villa and want to up the ante for your next multi-gen vacation

The trick to handling all the moving parts in a multigenerational trip, says John Montgomery of Landed Travel, is to work with one–and only one–member of a family. “Usually there's sort of a trip sponsor or organizer who is entitled to the last word,” he adds. But that doesn't mean there's only one itinerary or agenda at play. “Throughout a given day, we'll provide options targeted to different ages, desired levels of activity, and tastes. Then, in the evenings, the family will come together around a memorable meal and some shared experience,” Montgomery says. Elaine Baran of Esprit Travel & Tours takes a similar approach. “One of the things I do is try to make sure that there's at least one special activity for each person on the trip so that they have something to look forward to and know that they've been considered in the planning.”

In addition to activities and interests, there are the unique circumstances of traveling with a wide range of ages. “Varying energy levels are always a challenge. Older adults often prefer a steady pace, while kids have bursts of energy throughout the day that need to be factored in,” says Baran. A travel specialist will also be able to suggest group activities that can accommodate family members with functional needs. “For one trip, I had three generations, and the grandfather was blind, so I created experiences that took into account other ways of interacting with the environment,” recalls Baran. “For instance, I suggested a very early morning visit to a bamboo forest, which is normally swarming with tourists, so that instead of all the chatter, he could hear the rustling of the bamboo in the breeze.”

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Swim break along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast © Oliver Pilcher Swim break along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast

You've heard “custom travel” thrown around, but when you say you don't want a cookie-cutter trip, you mean it

When it comes to planning hyper-bespoke experiences, it's not “what you know but who you know,” says Gerald Hatherly of Abercrombie & Kent. This is especially true, he notes, in a place like China, where it's imperative to have an extensive on-the-ground network when trying to execute anything off the beaten tourist path. For an American client who was passionate about Chinese art, Hatherly was able to deliver the ultimate viewing experience. “Our client asked to see a painting from the 11th century that's kept in the vaults of the Forbidden City. We have a good friend who, at the time, was in charge of museums in China, and after months of conversations, we were able to transfer the painting to a private room for the client.” And, as demonstrated by Hatherly when trying to secure the charter of a certain historic train for another client, after “who you know” comes “what you're personally willing to do.” “In order to finalize the arrangement, I had to attend a banquet we organized to thank the railway authority. During the meal, these old-school bureaucrats asked me to get up and sing and dance. I somehow got through it, and I can laugh about it now!”

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Plus, the most “extra” trips our experts have ever planned

Most surprising trip:

“We arranged a one-day birthday adventure in Bangkok for a group of expats. The suggested theme was ‘storybook fantasy,’ and wow, did they raise the bar! They all arrived dressed up as elves, Santa Clauses, fairies, superheroes, and villains. From there we cruised the old town in three-wheeled tuk-tuks on an Amazing Race–style scavenger hunt.” Daniel Fraser, Smiling Albino

Most fun trip:

How to Curate a Perfect Travel Wardrobe That Works in Any Destination, According to a Fashion Expert

  How to Curate a Perfect Travel Wardrobe That Works in Any Destination, According to a Fashion Expert Dressed to jet.

“We took about 40 clients on a large yacht and dropped anchor in Cannes during the film festival. All the men dressed up as bodyguards and walked behind the superbly dressed women. It caused excitement and confusion among the paparazzi, who started following us around town!” Richard Turen, Churchill & Turen Ltd.

Priciest trip:

“We recently confirmed a $350,000 12-night journey through Rwanda and Kenya for a family of five. Between suites at One&Only Gorilla's Nest, helicopter transfers, the private Bush Villa at Cottar's, private charter flights throughout, and multiple gorilla-trekking permits in Rwanda (at $1,500 a pop), the costs quickly added up!” Scott Simpson, Exeter Safari Company

Trip that felt like the biggest victory:

“Arranging multiple dives to the wreck of the Titanic, which took place last summer after many years of planning and patiently waiting—and in the midst of a pandemic!” Elizabeth Ellis, Blue Marble Private

Trip I'm proudest of:

“The first clients I had travel after the start of the pandemic went to Morocco. It wasn't a particularly difficult or unique trip, but they put their full trust in me, and in Artisans of Leisure, and we delivered. Since then, they have already planned three more. It felt really good to get back on that horse and make people happy again.” Mike Korn, Artisans of Leisure

Trip I copied:

“I organized a journey for eight wonderful couples who were cycling by day and cruising by night aboard two luxury catamarans. They commenced in Corsica and concluded on Sardinia with an on-land stay at Hotel Pitrizza. The experience inspired me to hire a similar cat for an exploration of Sicily's Aeolian Islands and the Amalfi Coast with dear friends the following summer.” Georgia Yuill, Butterfield & Robinson

A version of this article appeared in the April 2022 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.

How to Curate a Perfect Travel Wardrobe That Works in Any Destination, According to a Fashion Expert .
Dressed to jet.

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