Some would argue that the need for a travel specialist (FKA a travel agent) has diminished in the digital era. But travel websites that promise to narrow the world seem to do just the opposite. And although there’s an app for nearly everything, there are still some experiences only a human can make happen. Because while you may now know that you need to go off-roading through the Gobi Desert, we’ll bet you still don’t know who in Ulaanbaatar rents the most reliable ATVs. Think of today’s finest specialists more as CIA operatives: They’ll pull off the impossible, plan a better trip than you ever could (really), and spare you the logistics. Put simply, they’ll nail it and you’ll have a better vacation because of them. Consider these firsthand accounts as proof.
Want to plan your own dream trip—or have someone plan it for you? Get in touch with one of our approved Travel Specialists, who can arrange for VIP treatment at destinations around the globe.
CASE STUDY 1: THE SPECIALIST AS UPGRADER
“We want to spend two weeks in India…and there are 32 of us.”
Kapil Nanda, president and CEO of Infogain, a Silicon Valley high-tech company, called on Bertie and Victoria Dyer at India Beat to coordinate his epic homecoming to India.
“I’m from Delhi, and over the years a group of my friends had expressed an interest in going to India. In all, there were 32 of us—and there was no way I was going to organize that myself. Instead, I turned the planning of a two-week, six-city itinerary over to Bertie and Victoria Dyer. They helped us charter planes from Delhi to Jaisalmer to Udaipur to Delhi— we went to a lot of places that many people can’t get to because the logistics are so tricky. Jaisalmer, for example, is a town in the high desert near the Pakistan border.
“Its only airport is within an Indian Air Force base, so Bertie and Victoria had to make quite an effort to get permission from the defense minister for a private plane to land there. As we were sitting in our plane, ready to taxi, we watched the fighter planes buzz by in a sort of impromptu air show. There, we stayed at a spa/luxury camp called The Serai. All the rooms are beautiful tents—it’s the height of opulence—and in the evenings we’d eat around a campfire. One night, Bertie and Victoria arranged a private fireworks show. In Delhi, we ate at Le Cirque, on the roof of the Leela Palace ho- tel. All the menus were customized, and we often took over the whole restaurant. In some cases, we even took over the whole hotel. In Ranthambore, the tiger reserve, we stayed at the Oberoi Vanyavilas and went on a tiger-spotting safari. We were a fairly discerning group—there were CEOs of high-tech companies and a retired California Supreme Court justice among us—but back home, pretty much everyone agreed: It was truly the experience of a lifetime.”
THE FIXERS: Bertie and Victoria Dyer of India Beat specialize in high-end travel throughout India. From their home office in Jaipur, they’ll make sure you get off the tourist track—but always end the day at a hotel you’ll soon be bragging about to friends (indiabeat.co.uk).
CASE STUDY 2: THE SPECIALIST AS GATEKEEPER
“I’m going to Spain…and I have some specific requests—including tickets to a Real Madrid match. Oh, and I want really good seats.”
Dave Bexfield, founder of ActiveMSers.com, a fitness website for people with multiple sclerosis, on the perks of leaving the planning to a pro.
“I had always wanted to go on a pintxos tour in San Sebastian, but my MS makes it hard for me to stand for long periods. So Virginia Irurita arranged for our on-the-ground guide to get tables at some of the most popular places, like Garbola Bar (we ordered the Spanish sea urchin) and Gandarias (try the sirloin pintxo). This may sound like no big deal, but remember: This is a country where more or less everyone eats tapas while standing.
“And it wasn’t just in restaurants that Virginia was able to make real the near impossible. The highlight of our trip was that she got us access to the sky- box to see Real Madrid play Bilbao at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. It’s tough enough to get tickets at one of the most popular soccer stadiums in the world, but to get the skybox is pretty much out of the question. It was an extraordinary experience: The stadium has an entirely private tier, and the boxes have a volume control button for when the screams become too deafening. A tapas meal is served to you over the course of the game. To cap it off, we got to see Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world, score a hat trick that match. I can’t help but wonder if Virginia had something to do with that as well.”
THE FIXER: Virginia Irurita specializes in tailored VIP trips throughout Spain (madeforspain.com).
CASE STUDY 3: THE SPECIALIST AS MIND READER
“We want to do a big Africa trip…but we don’t even know where to begin.”
Dr. Dan Ellis, an admittedly anxious anesthesiologist in Boston, wanted to go on safari and visit Ethiopia with his husband. They needed help—and reassurance.
“After one particularly harsh New England winter, we knew we wanted to thaw out on safari. I’d read about things like the star beds in Kenya, but I had no idea where to start. Some friends had said, ‘You’ve got to be careful in East Africa because some might not look kindly on gays.’ But I thought, ‘At least with David Rubin we’ll be taken care of.’ I talked to David for an hour, and I knew instantly that we’d work with him. Talking to him was like talking to an old friend. I didn’t have to explain things. We booked a safari at the Exeter River Lodge in South Africa, and it was fabulous—everywhere we went, doors would open, and we were always upgraded to suites. I didn’t realize this at the time, but David had sent over our preferences; I just thought they happened to stock our favorite wines. They knew what I wanted before I did.
“Since my husband and I had had our first date at an Ethiopian restaurant in Houston, we also wanted to go to Ethiopia. David sent us to Hawassa, at the mouth of the Nile, and Lalibela, where we saw the rock-hewn churches. We did a coffee ceremony in a house overlooking Lalibela. David really tailored the trip to us—it wasn’t a super-high-end, ultra-luxury experience. But that was okay. We like it a bit more authentic. David also suggested we do a gorilla trek in Rwanda, and I’m so happy he did. We stood right next to these massive creatures that look right back at you, trying to make sense of you. It was pretty awesome.”
THE FIXER: David Rubin at DavidTravel specializes in luxury experiences, and he can assure safe world travel, even in challenging destinations or circumstances. He knows which hotels have gay owners, and he can hook travelers up with English-speaking gay guides upon request (davidtravel.com).
CASE STUDY 4: THE SPECIALIST AS TIME-MAXIMIZER
“We’ve got only 12 hours to see Dubai.”
Kay Hartzell, a retired Coast Guard commander now living in Maryland, on how her go-to specialist made the most of a lengthy layover in the Middle East.
“We’d taken a cruise to Australia and New Zealand, and our flights were on Emirates, so coming back, we went from Melbourne through Dubai to D.C. We had a long layover in Dubai, and we figured we could take the rapid-rail in from the airport. I’ve worked with Linda Allen at Cruises by Linda for 20-plus years, so we talk a lot. Toby Snyder, in Linda Allen’s office, said, ‘Let me look into this.’ The tour guides were right there to pick us up, and we spent the entire day in Dubai. We went to the spice market and the gold shops, and took a cruise on the creek in a water taxi that went from the old city to the new part, where we saw the high-rises. Then they got us back to the airport—it was seamless. Our luggage was checked through to D.C., so we didn’t even have to deal with that. It was such a neat way to get a taste of the city.”
THE FIXER: Linda Allen of Cruises by Linda specializes in getting as much out of your vacation as possible. She is an expert on big-ship cruises—where the best cabins are and what to do onshore (cruisesbylinda.com).
CASE STUDY 5: THE SPECIALIST AS MIRACLE WORKER
“We want to go really, really far off the grid.”
Randal Quarles, a Salt Lake City–based private equity investor and former under secretary of the Treasury for domestic finance, on planning a father-son expedition to Nepal.
“I wanted my 15-year-old son to see a part of the world where people seek to maintain their connection to tradition and religion in the face of modern pressure. Our first thought was to explore Mount Kailash, in western Tibet, but the Chinese government was clamping down on permits. Catherine Heald at Remote Lands suggested Mustang, on the bor- der of Nepal and Tibet. Bureaucratically, it’s easier to get into Mustang, but it’s more remote than most of Tibet—until a few years ago, there wasn’t even a road into it. You enter through the Kali Gandaki Gorge, which is the deepest river gorge between two of the tallest mountains in the world, and then you move into this moonscape that is dotted with small villages along the mountainsides. There are only about 7,000 people in the area but many monasteries and Buddhist shrines.
“The capital, Lo Manthang, is right near the Tibetan border, so you hike from Jomsom up toward Lo Manthang at a pace that takes a week or so. There, Catherine arranged for us to have an audience with the former king, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista. He’s fairly old and doesn’t meet with a lot of people anymore—and he speaks a version of Tibetan that only royalty use, so he would talk, his factotum would translate into the local Tibetan, and our innkeeper would translate that into Nepali for our Sherpa, who would then translate into English. We asked about how life had changed in Mustang during his reign, which was very long, and about his hopes for his people. Jigme Dorje’s principal concern is the preservation of the culture, and he asked for our help in providing additional funding for the hospital there, which we have been doing since our visit. It was a great way to end our visit to what’s been called ‘the last forbidden kingdom.’”