What great international experiences have you had 
that aren’t available at home?

by Eliza Myers 16. August 2013 23:06

We asked our staff, "What great international experiences have you had 
that aren’t available at home?" Here is what they had to say!

"One thing you just don’t find in America very often is a group of monkeys hanging out in the shade near a 400-year-old mausoleum. This incredible encounter happened to me in India, a country with many alien experiences for Americans, including its distinctive cuisine, traffic and occasional snake charmer. At the Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah in Agra, I not only got to marvel at an elaborate tomb that became the precursor to the Taj Mahal, but also got an up-close encounter with about 15 monkeys who regarded me with little concern as I snapped photos."

— Eliza Myers,
Online Editor

"Long dinners! I know it sounds simple, but at home I always feel rushed. Even on a domestic vacation, I don’t want to linger over dinner because I feel like its rude to take up a table when another party could be seated. Our international friends embrace and encourage spending the time to relax, socialize and fully enjoy the food as an experience."

— Stacey Bowman,
Director, Advertising Sales

"My family lived in Germany for four years when I was a young child, and I was in awe of the beautiful castles and Old World architecture throughout the country, sights that you definitely don’t see in America. I returned to Germany a few years ago and took a river cruise with Avalon Waterways down the Rhine River. It was just as impressive to me as an adult as I remembered it from my childhood."

— Kelly Tyner,
Director, Sales and Marketing

"I know it’s not for everyone, but my favorite international travel memory will remain walking the streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, by myself while on liberty from the USS Elmer Montgomery in 1973."

— David Brown,
Art Director

"A dozen or so years ago, a few of us went clubbing at a very haute disco on the Champs d’Elysee in Paris. A local VIP walked us past dozens of people in line and got us in. Last and only time I ever partied like a rock star in Paris."

— Mac Lacy,

"Walking on the Great Wall of China fulfilled a lifelong dream for me. I remember looking at pictures of the Great Wall in atlases when I was a child and wondering what it would be like to see it one day. In 2011, I found myself overwhelmed by the feeling of standing on the wall outside of Beijing, experiencing one of the world’s most amazing human feats firsthand."

— Brian Jewell,
Executive Editor

"Obviously, a Kenyan safari will generate amazing experiences not available in the United States, such as seeing the “big five” — lion, African elephant, cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros  — in their natural habitat, viewing Mount Kilimanjaro in fading daylight, taking a hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti and going inside a mud hut in a Maasi village.

"Among my many other distinctive international experiences are England’s Stonehenge, Amsterdam’s canals, market day in a small Italian village, Roman ruins in the south of France and dining on salmon cooked on the deck of a small cruise ship in British Columbia’s Princess Louisa Inlet. My most poignant international experience was looking out over D-Day’s Omaha Beach from the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France, with its row after row of white crosses and Stars of David."

— Herb Sparrow,
Senior Writer


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Staff Soundoff

Why does international travel matter?

by Brian Jewell 24. July 2013 00:23

Why does international travel matter?

We have such a wealth of great places to see here in the United States. Our country enjoys a diversity of cultures, histories and natural landscapes that is rivaled by few other places on earth. The old domestic tourism mantra “See America First” encourages us to spend our free time and travel dollars exploring our home country, and there are enough great experiences in America to keep even avid travelers occupied for years. So why is it important to travel abroad?

Pose those questions to 100 people who have traveled overseas, and you’re likely to get 100 different answers. Travel is inherently personal after all, and every traveler’s reaction to new places, people and experiences will be personal as well. This means that everyone will see the value of his or her own international travel experiences through a slightly different lens. One thing is certain, though: Nobody who has ever gone abroad will tell you that international travel isn’t worth doing.

Of course, I can’t speak for all of those people, but I can tell you about some of my personal motivations for traveling outside of the United States. Going abroad introduces me to the people of the world and reminds me that I am a citizen not just of my country, but of the entire globe. Meeting African tribesmen, Chinese housewives, Polish students, Mexican dancers and Jordanian nomads demonstrates how wide and diverse the human race and its cultures are. And yet, every one of those encounters underscores something deeper: Although many things differ between nations and races, many more things unite us in our common humanity.

Those kinds of personal encounters often help bridge gaps between nations and cultures that sometimes appear to be at odds. The more I travel, the more I come to understand the subtleties of our world and the more I value people who live in places far from my own home. Mark Twain observed this transforming power of international travel. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” he wrote in “The Innocents Abroad.” “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

At The Group Travel Leader, we’re big believers in the power of international travel. Everyone on our staff has spent time abroad, either on work, study or vacation. Several of us have been fortunate to spend extended periods in foreign countries, giving us a love of travel that we carry into our daily work in the tourism publishing business.

With that in mind, we created an International Travel issue of the magazine with features on some of our favorite foreign destinations, as well as tips on taking your travelers to some of the world’s most famous festivals and events.

We hope you will consider planning an international trip for your travel group. There’s a big world out there full of adventures and unforgettable experiences waiting for you. Take a trip abroad, and you’ll find your own reason to treasure international travel.

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Travel Thoughts

Interesting sidelights

by Bob Hoelscher 15. May 2013 20:07

Plenty of ice to go around (the River Duchess)

I spent almost the entire month of March traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines…SeaDream Yacht Club (SeaDream II) on the Upper Amazon River in Peru and Columbia, plus Vantage Deluxe World Travel (River Splendor), Viking River Cruises (Viking Aegir) and the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (River Duchess) on the rivers and waterways of The Netherlands and Belgium. 

Although my detailed reports on these programs will appear in our publications during the coming months, I thought it might be of interest now to share a few unusual occurrences I encountered along the way.

1.     I went through TSA screening at Miami International Airport soon after the notorious Congressional “Sequester” that promised layoffs of numerous federal employees. Immediately after going through the multi-million dollar, full-body screening equipment, all male travelers were being frisked by a TSA employee. The only conclusions one can draw from this situation are (a) the expensive electronics we have all funded either don’t work, or (b) TSA personnel previously accustomed to standing around were now being given unnecessary duties to make them look busy in an apparent attempt to avoid staff reductions.     
2.     Speaking of fancy electronics, US Airways’ deluxe boarding pass “reader” (complete with conspicuous flashing lights) allowed a Copa Airlines passenger bound for Panama City, Panama, to board my flight to Charlotte. It also boarded another passenger assigned to a seat that didn’t exist.

3.     Kudos to South American airline LAN for exceptionally clean and well-maintained aircraft. They also served a very tasty and filling dinner in coach, quite unusual in a time when tasteless, 99¢-TV-dinner-sized meals are the norm. United Airlines earned my “chutzpah” award by following a video presentation boasting of their celebrity chefs, flight kitchens and exciting new menus with a coach meal featuring the same nondescript “chicken or pasta” entrees they served a generation ago aboard DC-8s.

4.     I witnessed the captain (who will remain nameless) of one of the ships I cruised upon this month badmouthing his competition in front of several media representatives, on more than one occasion. This is just about the most unprofessional behavior in which a travel company employee can be engaged, so I hope that his employer sets him straight. Furthermore, if something does appear to be lacking or wrong with an industry supplier’s product or service, it is the responsibility of an unbiased media (people like me) to disseminate that information.

5.     In between a morning excursion and an afternoon concert of Amsterdam’s world-renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, I stopped off at a McDonald’s in a residential neighborhood for a burger to tide me over until dinner. Needless to say, it was startling to see the restaurant’s counter employees (apparently legally stoned) stumbling around aimlessly in a daze like zombies, and accomplishing very little in the process. I left hungry after standing in line for 15 minutes and getting no closer to placing my order.

6.     If you thought that winter had long since worn out its welcome here in the U.S., take a look at the accompanying photo which I took in Hoorn, The Netherlands, on the seventh day of spring, Tuesday, March 26.

7.     I am not a big fan of the fancy duvets (“comforters” to us Yankees) that are seemingly very popular these days atop beds in European hotels as well as on numerous cruise ships. Not being a small person, I have found that these padded “appliances” usually end up in a heap on the floor during the night, leaving my bulk uncovered.  Thus it was indeed a pleasure to find some of the most luxurious, high quality bedding I’ve ever snuggled underneath, tucked firmly under my mattress aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess. See the photo for a “happy camper” preparing for a night of restful sleep.

The author ready for a good night's sleep

Interesting People

by Bob Hoelscher 15. May 2013 20:05

John Harwood

Among the many nice folks I met in March, the following particularly stood out:

1.    John Harwood, a multi-talented Brit who resides in Manaus, Brazil…botanist, author, poet, troubadour and a member of SeaDream II’s Expedition Team

2.    Carl and Judy Eben from San Francisco: Very experienced world travelers and simply one of the nicest couples I have ever been fortunate to meet

3.    Myriam Hembrechts, lecturer aboard Vantage’s River Splendor, who appeared to know more about the subject of Belgian chocolate than would be thought humanly possible 

4.    Neil Oliver, archaeologist, BBC Television personality, and Viking River Cruises lecturer, who gave a fascinating presentation on the history of the Vikings

5.    Rik Sprengers, Cruise Manager aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess: The embodiment of cordiality, knowledge and customer service after 11 years on Europe’s rivers and waterways

Carl Eben (on Monkey Island, Colombia)

Myriam Hembrechts

Rik Sprengers

Interesting Places

by Bob Hoelscher 15. May 2013 19:56

The Leticia Fish Market

What would the travel industry be without unique places to visit? Sometimes it is the unexpected out-of-the-ordinary destinations that stand out in your mind after a trip.

Here are just a few of the gems I discovered during March while traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines to the Amazon River in Peru and Columbia and to the rivers of The Netherlands and Belgium.

1.    The Leticia Fish Market in Columbia is where I learned that, contrary to popular belief, residents along the Amazon River actually eat a lot more piranhas than the other way around.

2.    The Enkhuizen Museum in The Netherlands’ is the picturesque answer to Mystic Seaport, Old Sturbridge Village or Colonial Williamsburg.
3.    Museum Het Schip (The Ship) on a Viking River Cruises excursion is a fascinating example of social housing and Amsterdam School architecture dates from the beginning of 20th century.

4.    The Grand Café Horta in Antwerp is the site of a outstanding dinner gala and entertainment included for participants in Vantage’s Naming Ceremony and pre-inaugural cruise of River Splendor.

5.    De Doelen, Rotterdam’s performing arts center looks like an ugly box on the outside, but oh what aural pleasures await inside! The center boasts incredibly fine acoustics for a thrilling Rotterdam Philharmonic concert.

Enkhuizen (Zuiderzee) Museum

Museum Het Schip

Grand Cafe Horta

A most interesting fellow traveler

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:44

All of us (hopefully, at least) have a few friends that we can always count on to “be there” whenever we need them. I am fortunate in that my best friend, Graydon “Gig” Gwin, has also been gainfully employed in the travel industry, so we have a lot in common professionally and have been able to regularly supplement each other’s knowledge in our particular areas of interest. 

Our relationship goes back four decades to the early 1970s, when we both worked at the incentive and meeting travel giant, Maritz Travel Company in suburban St. Louis. Although I am now semi-retired, Gig still owns the largest retail travel agency in the “Gateway City,” which specializes in both corporate and upscale vacation travel. But what makes him really unusual is that Gig is one of but a handful of individuals who have visited every single country on the face of the earth (all 320 some-odd of them).

Extensive travel has definitely made Gig into the type of character that makes it a challenge for those he meets to determine whether or not he is pulling their legs, as telling entertaining tall tales has become a Gwin specialty. Even after 40 years of experience, I’m still regularly surprised and amused by some of the things he says and does to complete strangers on the street in foreign lands!

Since Gig’s wife Terrie is not nearly as enamored with being on the road, we have frequently traveled together to places as diverse as Egypt, France, New York City, the Texas Hill Country, South America and Antarctica. Gig has authored an award-winning book entitled Travel Dreams Sold Here – Crafting an Extraordinary Vacation, for which I was privileged to write the chapter on America’s National Parks. This book for leisure travelers is available at amazon.com.

He has also done a substantial amount of travel writing for respected newspapers and magazines, so secondary writing careers are something else we have in common.  Furthermore, he currently serves as a regular guest host for a travel-oriented, nationally syndicated radio program heard in 125 markets. As a speaker, he has entertained over 200 businesses and organizations, so if a truly interesting fellow is needed to liven up a conference or meeting, Gig is certainly worth your consideration.  He can be reached at www.gwins.com/gig or (314) 571-6937.

Gig listening to a presentation at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland

At the Budĕjovice Budvar Brewery, Česke Budĕjovice, Czech Republic

Taking a break during evening exploration in Bordeaux, France

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