Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The 2016 WOW List: Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts

Wendy Perrin | January 26, 2016

PROBLEM
You’re planning an important trip to an unfamiliar destination. You want minimal hassle and maximum efficiency—no time-wasting logistical surprises, no battling tourist hordes and lines. You want to experience the destination like an insider. Oh—and those special perks and upgrades reserved for the regulars? You want those too.

SOLUTION
You need a travel fixer with unparalleled on-the-ground connections and expertise—a destination specialist who lives where you’re going, or visits often enough to have an office there, and who holds the keys to the kingdom, including access to the most well-connected local expediters (hardly just “guides”) and the most atmospheric places to stay, with the most to-die-for views. Here is proof that The WOW List works.

IN JUST 2 STEPS
* Find the right Trusted Travel Expert for you via The WOW List (below).
* Click on the Expert’s black CONTACT button to send him/her a Trip Request. That way the Expert knows I sent you—and that I’m watching. You get priority treatment, VIP benefits, and unbeatable value. You also get Wendy’s trip-monitoring service. If you don’t use the Trip Request form, I can’t monitor your trip, nor can you expect special treatment.

OR MAYBE 3
* Can’t find the right Expert for you on The WOW List? Click over to Ask Wendy. I know hundreds of travel specialists and can probably recommend the right one for your situation.


 

 United States | Caribbean and Mexico | Canada | Central America |
South America | Europe | Asia | Africa and Middle East | Australia and Pacific | Cruises | Villa Vacations / Adventure Travel (Biking, Diving, Rafting, and More)

 


United States

Badlands, Alberta, Canada

Badlands, Alberta, Canada. Photo courtesy Marc Telio.

Alaska
Judith Root, Entrée Alaska
Judith has mastered dip-net salmon fishing, camping solo in bear country, and skiing at 40 below.  She can orchestrate complicated itineraries to remote lodges, select the perfect backcountry retreat for a family reunion, set up a rendezvous with an Iditarod champion, or fly you to a glacier for some summer sledding. Her stellar outdoor guides specialize in everything from fly fishing to river rafting to kayaking with whales.  For those booked on Alaska cruises who are in need of first-rate private shore excursions, she can whisk you far from the touristy ports and cruise-ship hordes so you can experience “the real Alaska.”  To book the cruise itself, contact Tom Baker for a large-ship cruise or Ashton Palmer for a small-ship expedition.
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.

Contact Judith

Read reviews of Judith. Read her Insider’s Guide to Alaska. Then contact her to maximize your
experience of Alaska.

American West / Big Sky Country
Caroline Bach Wood
Caroline lives 70 miles from the border of Yellowstone National Park and spent nearly every summer of her childhood next door to Old Faithful, where her father was (and still is) a naturalist for the Park Service. Her meticulously prepared itineraries include driving directions, restaurant recommendations, hiking suggestions, and more, all intended to keep you off the beaten track—inside and outside the U.S. national parks—and lead you to the region’s best-kept secrets. She has tested the best adventure outfitters (from rafting and snowmobiling to horseback riding and fly fishing) and keeps the managers of her favorite lodges on their toes with her frequent visits. 
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Caroline

Read reviews of Caroline. Read her Insider’s Guides to Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons. Then contact her to maximize your experience of
the American West.

Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.
Paul Bennett, Context Travel
Seeking a private guide or a very-small-group tour for an insider’s experience of a city?  Paul Bennett, an award-winning writer for National Geographic and author of several books about architecture and landscape, launched Context Travel in 2003, and today he offers cultural walks in dozens of cities.  Each tour is designed and led by a scholar or specialist—in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics. These professors, chefs, and other noteworthy locals provide exceptional insight and open doors that would otherwise be closed to most travelers. They offer family-friendly walks too, some of which involve treasure hunts.
Tours start at $75 per person; Paul does not book accommodations or make other travel arrangements.

Contact Paul

Read reviews of Paul. Read his Insider’s Guides to New York City and Washington, D.C. Then contact him to maximize your experience of cultural city tours.

California (southern)
Jay Johnson,  Coastline Travel Advisors
Born and raised in Southern California and with offices throughout the state, Jay has a particular fondness for orchestrating out-of-the-box itineraries in his own backyard. He can arrange for Los Angeles Angels tickets right behind home plate, V.I.P. access to Disneyland, a cooking lesson with the head chef at Napa’s Michelin-starred Meadowood resort, glamping among the redwoods—or all of the above.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jay

Read reviews of Jay. Then contact him to maximize
your experience of California.

California (northern), Oregon, and Washington
Sheri Doyle, Pacific Northwest Journeys
Based in Seattle and a former corporate attorney, Sheri brings her legal-eagle eye for detail to the itineraries she crafts all over the Pacific Northwest (in both the United States and Canada) as well as along the northern California coast. Her self-drive itineraries typically run to 20 pages, covering everything from detailed driving directions to activity and restaurant recommendations. Geared to your interests and preferences, each itinerary is a personalized guidebook, and Sheri will have hiked the trails, kayaked the waters, slurped the oysters, and attended the jazz concerts that she recommends for you. She gets preferred rates at many top properties, which saves her clients a bundle.
Trips start at $300 per day for two travelers.

Contact Sheri

Read reviews of Sheri. Read her Insider’s Guides to Seattle and the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula. Then contact her to maximize your experience of
the Pacific Northwest.

 

Disney and Orlando
Susan Kelly, Travel Magic
The seemingly infinite array of hotel, activity, and meal options that Walt Disney World offers can overwhelm anyone. Susan designs the perfect Disney vacation by sorting through the veritable banquet of choices and helping you decide what to put on your plate.  She continuously checks all rates to make sure you pay the lowest possible prices, and she maximizes your time at the parks—and minimizes hassle—by arranging all expedited passes and tackling other logistical concerns in advance. She arms travelers with customized itineraries that include park maps and tips for everything from the best places to view parades to where to meet a favorite character. Whether your plans involve Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Adventures by Disney, Universal, Orlando Aulani (the Disney resort in Hawaii), or Disney Cruise Line, she’s the ticket.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers. To get the most from your Disney experience, plan to spend at least four nights.

Contact Susan

Read reviews of Susan. Read her Insider’s Guide to Disney World, Orlando. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Disney.

Hawaii
Jay Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors
Jay, who is based in the Los Angeles area (see “California,” above), spends six weeks a year in Hawaii, escorting groups of Google execs as well as taking his wife and kids on vacation. His agency sends so many travelers to Hawaii that he has clout with the top resorts—and that translates into perks for his travelers. He can arrange anything from multi-generational family reunions to pull-out-all-the-stops honeymoons, from kite-boarding lessons on Maui to guided hikes across private land on Molokai. Just as important, he pays attention to the little things, down to detailed driving directions to the best fried chicken and beachfront picnic bench on Oahu’s North Shore.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jay

Read reviews of Jay. Read his Insider’s Guides to Maui,  Oahu and the Big Island. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Hawaii.

 

National Parks and California
Marty Behr and Mark Campbell, National Parks Revealed
Lifelong believers in the transformative power of nature, Marty and Mark are on a mission to reacquaint the public with America’s national parks. Focusing on parks west of the Mississippi and in Alaska and southern Florida, they have spent years exploring these wilderness areas, identifying the most experienced guides (some PhDs, others former park rangers), testing lodging options all the way from cushy hotels to backcountry base camps, and meeting the local characters that bring life to each park—and, now, each trip. They also specialize in outdoor-focused trips in California, from redwoods to beach to Sierras. Most of their travelers choose to drive themselves around, detailed itinerary in hand and guides accompanying them when helpful, but for those with far more money than time, Marty and Mark can book chartered planes to whisk groups from park to park. They can even make Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon doable in a single trip.
Custom-tailored trips start at $10,000 for two travelers. Minimum booking amount is $2,500. For bookings between $2,500 and $10,000, you can get a template itinerary with limited customization options (hotels, tours, activities).

Contact Marty and Mark

Read reviews of Marty and Mark. Read their Insider’s Guides to Grand Canyon Like You’ve Never Seen It and Bryce, Zion, Arches: Utah’s National Parks. Then contact them to maximize your national parks vacation.

River Rafting Vacations
Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S.
Mindy has rafted nearly every river in North America, from gentle floats to Class V rapids, and can pinpoint the right experience for you from among the hundreds of options available. Dory trips through the Grand Canyon are the most popular, but did you know there are also rivers you can run via inflatable kayak and stand-up paddleboard?  Trips vary from a few hours to a few weeks; most are group departures (some exclusively for families, adults, or solo travelers), but in many cases Mindy can arrange private trips as well, just for a family or a small group. Most of all, she delights in introducing travelers to some of the last places on earth where you can truly disconnect!
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mindy

Read reviews of Mindy. Read her Insider’s Guide to River Rafting in the American West. Then contact her to maximize your vacation on one of America’s rivers.

 

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Caribbean and Mexico

Rosewood Jumby Bay, Antigua

The beach at Jumby Bay on Antigua. Photo courtesy Rosewood.

Cabo
Julie Byrd, CaboVillas.com
With its natural beauty, wide-ranging daytime activities and nightlife, and genuinely hospitable locals, Los Cabos is an easy getaway, made even easier by Julie Byrd. Her deep roots and intimate connections there save you money and spare you headaches. She knows the resorts like the palm of her hand, but she also has a portfolio of rental properties that include 100 luxurious villas and condos suitable for families, couples, and party-hearty groups of friends.  Byrd and her Cabo-based concierge team are available 24/7 and can arrange everything from fishing and yacht charters to destination weddings and other celebrations.
Hotel bookings start at $100/night in low season. Weekly rentals start at $250 per night in low season (July through September).

Contact Julie

Read reviews of Julie. Read her Insider’s Guide to Los Cabos Villa Vacations. Then
contact her to maximize your experience of cultural city tours.

Caribbean Islands
Lindsey Epperly, Epperly Travel
Lindsey grew up visiting dozens of Caribbean islands on family vacations. Today she can guide you to the best destination and resort for your needs, saving you from costly logistical errors, overbuilt beaches, and cruise day-trippers. She believes that “every island has its own personality” and knows firsthand which are best for unplugging (Turks and Caicos) or adventure (St. Lucia), which appeal to culture and history lovers (the side-by-side French-Dutch mix of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten), and which deserve a better reputation than they currently have (Jamaica). Thanks to powerful industry connections, she gets special benefits and perks for her clients at a wide range of four- and five-star hotels, from “Old Caribbean” estates with a colonial feel to the slick, super-modern hotels that have been springing up lately to family-friendly all-inclusives to hidden-gem romantic retreats. For those wanting to do more than just laze on a beach, she can embellish your trip with snorkel excursions, zip-lining adventures, helicopter transfers, you name it. She has a particular knack for coordinating honeymoons and destination weddings (it’s not easy playing point between Type-A bride and a vendor working on “island time”).
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Lindsey

Read our Insider’s Guide to the Best and Worst Caribbean Islands , and
the Perfect Caribbean Island Resort. Then contact her to maximize your experience of cultural city tours.

Caribbean Diving and Snorkeling
Meg Austin, The Travel Society
Meg is an avid scuba diver who crisscrosses the globe scouting out new dive destinations. She’s logged more than 500 dives, a third of them in the Caribbean and Hawaii. She also knows the ins and outs of the beach resorts at dive destinations everywhere and is fastidious about choosing the property that will suit your skill level and interests. If you want to spend as much time lounging or sightseeing as you do diving, for example, she’ll steer you toward a property that has as much to offer above sea level as below. She enjoys arranging family trips and knows which snorkel and dive spots are best for kids of different ages and abilities.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Meg

Read reviews of Meg. Read her Insider’s Guide to Diving in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Then contact her to maximize your experience of the Caribbean.

Cuba
David Lee, Cultural Cuba
David travels to Cuba nearly every month, leading private and small groups on cultural-exchange missions and nurturing his on-the-ground relationships. He specializes in creating one-of-a-kind trips for up to ten people, a size that ensures access to the small private restaurants, intimate music venues, and behind-the-scenes experiences that larger groups or big-bus tours cannot access. He can get you into the best hotels in Old Havana—the perpetually sold-out favorites with rooftop pools and 360-degree views—and arrange a seamless visit that can be done in a long weekend, with a quick flight from Miami, three days in Havana, and a day in the country, either at the beach at Varadero or exploring tobacco plantations. David has tapped into the country’s underground art scene, and his trips include visits to renovated mansions-cum-art galleries, special unadvertised music performances, and private art studios. He selects his guides for their willingness to give an honest assessment of daily life in their native country, opening the eyes of visitors to what it means to be a Cuban in Cuba.
Trips start at $3,900 per person (based on a group of 6 and up), double occupancy, for four nights and include your hotel room (a junior suite at one of the two top hotels), a full-time driver and guide, all activities, all meals, and alcoholic beverages with meals.

Contact David

Read reviews of David. Read his Insider’s Guide to Cuba. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Cuba.

Mexico
Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico
A guide in Latin America for more than two decades, Zach founded Journey Mexico in 2003. The New York City native lives in Puerto Vallarta and spends about a quarter of the year traveling around Mexico—from its well-known resort locales to its hidden corners—testing out the country’s wide array of hotels, activities, restaurants, and sites. His deep relationships with local guides, communities, and hoteliers often translate into room upgrades, special-access visits, and off-the-beaten-path experiences that travelers wouldn’t know about otherwise. He prides himself on finding new and exciting ways to visit even the most touristy and crowded locales.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Zachary

Read reviews of Zach. Read his Insider’s Guides to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and
the Riviera Maya. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Mexico.

St. Barts
Peg Walsh, St. Barth Properties
Peg spends half the year on St. Barts, inspecting hotels and vacation rentals for her carefully curated portfolio.  She knows not only every nook and cranny of these properties, but also every beach, cove, restaurant, shop, and activity on the island. Travelers have access to her concierge team for arranging car rentals, villa provisioning, dinner reservations, and a wealth of other services. 
Hotel bookings start at 320 euros/night. Weekly villa rentals start at $2,130.

Contact Peg

Read reviews of Peg. Read her Insider’s Guides to St. Barts Villa Vacations and St. Barts Beach Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of St. Barts.

 

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Canada

canoeing at whistler british columbia

Whistler may be British Columbia’s most famous ski resort, but it’s also an ideal destination for summer activities too.

Alberta and British Columbia
Marc Telio, Entrée Canada
Born in Montreal and now based in Vancouver, Marc is most passionate about helping travelers discover Canada’s wildest places, most jaw-dropping landscapes, and most thrilling activities. His favorite itineraries combine unusual outdoor excursions (think grizzly-bear sightings and heli-hiking) with character-rich accommodations (think luxury tented camps and sumptuous wilderness lodges). Marc and his team are like special-ops agents—pros at logistics, taking into account weather patterns, tides, seaplane schedules, and dozens of other details to ensure a hassle-free backcountry experience. Their tight-knit relationships with top outfitters, guides, and hotels translate to V.I.P. treatment for you.  And if you’re looking for kid-friendly adventures, Marc has plenty of ideas up his sleeve—he regularly brings his wife and their two kids on scouting trips.
Trips start at $750 per day for two travelers.

Contact Marc

Read reviews of Marc. Read his Insider’s Guide to British Columbia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Canada.

British Columbia
Sheri Doyle, Pacific Northwest Journeys
Based in Seattle and a former corporate attorney, Sheri brings her legal-eagle eye for detail to the itineraries she crafts all over the Pacific Northwest (in both the United States and Canada) as well as along the northern California coast. Her self-drive itineraries typically run to 20 pages, covering everything from detailed driving directions to activity and restaurant recommendations. Geared to your interests and preferences, each itinerary is a personalized guidebook, and Sheri will have hiked the trails, kayaked the waters, slurped the oysters, and attended the jazz concerts that she recommends for you. She gets preferred rates at many top properties, which saves her clients a bundle.
Trips start at $300 per day for two travelers.

Contact Sheri

Read reviews of Sheri. Read her Insider’s Guides to the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula and Seattle. Then contact her to maximize your experience of
the Pacific Northwest.

Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Maritime Provinces
Jill Curran
Raised in a small fishing community in Newfoundland, Jill knows the secret spots that most people miss throughout the Atlantic Provinces—from the side road with a stunning view to the tiny fishing village where you can chat with the locals over tea.  Her custom culinary itineraries might have you catching Shediac lobsters (and learning how to properly eat them) or digging clams and cooking them on the beach. Her wildlife adventures include hiking through moose and caribou country, kayaking past puffins and gannets, and spotting right whales in the Bay of Fundy.  One of her specialties is a seaside picnic lunch sourced from local ingredients and prepared in the 130-year-old lighthouse where her grandmother was born.
Trips start at $2,000 per person for a six-day self-drive itinerary, including accommodations, car rental, and various activities.

Contact Jill

Read reviews of Jill. Read her Insider’s Guide to Newfoundland and Labrador. Then contact her to maximize your experience of the Maritime Provinces.

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Central America

Mombacho and Lake Nicaragua

Mombacho and Lake Nicaragua. Courtesy Nica Adventures

Costa Rica
Irene Edwards, GreenSpot.travel
A native Costa Rican, Irene arranges trips to her homeland that marry sophisticated luxury and ecological sensitivity. She knows which high-design jungle lodges, stylish beach resorts, and adventure outfitters prioritize not just comfort but a commitment to preserving the culture and environment. She is always eager to arrange meaningful, one-on-one experiences with the locals. (You might even get invited to make tortillas by hand with Irene’s mother in her home.) 
Trips start at $360 per night/double occupancy.

Contact Irene

Read reviews of Irene. Read her Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Luxury Eco-Travel. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica
Michael Kaye and Natalie Ewing, Costa Rica Expeditions
Widely recognized as the man who pioneered eco-tourism in Costa Rica, Michael was the first tour operator to bring white water rafting to the country, in the 1970s, and became an early advocate of sustainable travel practices throughout the region. After living in Costa Rica for the past forty years, he knows all the best river runs, hiking trails, and hidden beaches, not to mention the finest wildlife guides in the business. Natalie, the company’s chief guest-satisfaction officer, works closely with guests and guides to ensure seamless logistics and delightful surprises throughout.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Michael and Natalie

Read reviews of Michael and Natalie. Read their Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Adventure. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Costa Rica.

Nicaragua
Pierre Gédéon, Nicaragua Adventures
A Frenchman whose adopted home is Nicaragua, Pierre orchestrates itineraries that maximize efficiency in a country that’s still relatively undeveloped. Trips can feature adventure activities from soft to strenuous (think kayaking, sand boarding, horseback riding, even volcano hiking); a romantic beach escape; bird watching and other wildlife pursuits; visits to archaeological sites, colonial towns, and native villages; a focus on three of the country’s most popular exports—coffee, chocolate, and cigars—or, in many cases, all of the above. His fleet of late-model, air-conditioned vehicles are helmed by friendly, knowledgeable drivers and guides who love to break up the travel time and show clients the real, authentic Nicaragua, away from the tourist traps. Thanks to Pierre’s frequent visits to his preferred hotels, he knows exactly which room to book at each property.
Trips start at $240 per day for two travelers.

Contact Pierre

Read reviews of Pierre. Read his Insider’s Guide to Nicaragua. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Nicaragua.

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South America

Gaucho on horseback, Argentina

Gaucho on horseback, Argentina. Photo by Aldo Sessa

Argentina, Chile, Patagonia
Sweeping expanses of pampa interrupted by jagged granite peaks; vast lakes framed by snowcapped volcanoes; a desert with places so dry that no rain has fallen during recorded history. The sheer diversity of landscapes across Chile and Argentina—and the remoteness of their most iconic elements—can leave you at a loss for how to execute a journey to the wilder parts of this region, and how to tap into the rich culture often overshadowed by these jaw-dropping vistas. That’s where the right regional specialist comes in: They can break up long overland journeys with a stop for mate at a gaucho outpost, work the airlines’ inconvenient hub-and-spoke systems to your advantage, pinpoint the hidden-gem luxury lodges and estancias-turned-B&Bs that best suit your budget and logistics, and connect you with the savviest guides to act as your local friends and fixers. 

Contact Wendy

Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay
Maita Barrenechea, Mai10
The daughter of an Argentine ambassador, Maita spent years living abroad—in Paris and Washington, D.C.—before settling back home in Buenos Aires. Eager to introduce the rest of the world to her favorite finds in South America, she founded a company that arranges the gamut—from hiking and fishing expeditions in Patagonia to beach-chic getaways in Punta del Este to shopping sprees in Buenos Aires. Maita is passionate about providing travelers with those authentic, one-of-a-kind encounters that make for the happiest travel memories. She handpicks her guides, hiring only those with the right balance of knowledge and charisma, and is particularly fussy about hotels: Whether it’s a luxury estancia in the Pampas or an eco-lodge in Tierra del Fuego, she’ll detail all the pros and cons.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Maita

Read reviews of Maita. Read her Insider’s Guides to Buenos Aires and Argentina’s Wine Country.  Then contact her to maximize your experience of Argentina.

Brazil
Martin Frankenberg, Matueté
A former tech executive and Brazil native who is based in São Paulo with an office in Rio de Janeiro, Martin opens doors in his country that nobody else can—such as to his portfolio of exclusive Rio apartments, snazzy beach villas, and private farmhouses throughout the country. He orchestrates bespoke itineraries throughout the country, but is particularly known for offering the most magnificent custom-tailored experiences of the Amazon in existence.  In addition to cultivating relationships with the region’s top hoteliers and convincing anthropologists and biologists to moonlight as guides, he holds a spare set of keys to many of the finest private yachts in the Amazon, which he regularly charters for his travelers for the ultimate adventure.
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.

Contact Martin

Read reviews of Martin. Read his Insider’s Guides to Five-Star Brazil: The Best Things to See and Do and the Brazilian Amazon. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Brazil.

Brazil
Paul Irvine, Dehouche Travel
Paul’s love affair with Brazil inspired him to ditch his career in London’s financial industry and open Dehouche Travel in Rio de Janeiro. Today, with a second office in Buenos Aires, the company handles custom travel arrangements to most of South America, but Paul is most passionate about planning vibrant itineraries that incorporate as much of Brazil’s nature, sea, and culture as possible. He’s constantly zipping around the country digging up intel on the hottest new hotels, hidden beaches, and wilderness adventures, and checking in with his carefully chosen team of guides, drivers (cars and speedboats), and private-jet pilots. His relationships with hotel honchos often translate to upgrades and gifts for his travelers. And although Paul likes to leave flexibility in his itineraries to allow for spontaneous moments, his staff is also on hand 24 hours a day to attend to any client’s need.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Paul

Read reviews of Paul. Read his Insider’s Guides to Rio de Janeiro and Trancoso. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Brazil.

Colombia
Eric Sheets, Latin Excursions
Eric has lived in six Latin American countries—he was exposed to the region from an early age by his globetrotting American father and Ecuadorian mother—and today he’s based in Miami and Ecuador. His company was born out of organizing trips for business colleagues, and today he arranges everything from custom itineraries that highlight Colombia’s different local cultures to family reunions, exotic honeymoons, and even villa vacations, not only in Colombia but also in neighboring countries Panama and Ecuador. Travelers have their own private guide and vehicle—to allow maximum spontaneity and flexibility, not to mention rare access to places most travelers don’t see—and stay in top-drawer hotels that share Eric’s commitment to sustainability. 
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Eric

Read reviews of Eric. Read his Insider’s Guides to Cartagena, Colombia, and Panama. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Colombia and Panama.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
Allie Almario, Myths and Mountains

Allie’s fascination with wildlife conservation, photography, and indigenous cultures has taken her on adventures spanning all seven continents and 70-plus countries, but for the past 26 years a strong focus has been wildlife and cultural tours in Latin America. As the former executive director of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, she’s got more than a dozen trips to the Galapagos Islands under her belt. In fact, she’s currently editing and consulting on the newest version of the bestselling guide to the region, The Galapagos Islands: The Essential Handbook for Exploring, Enjoying and Understanding Darwin’s Enchanted Islands.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Allie

Read reviews of Allie. Read her Insider’s Guides to Quito and the Northern Andes and the Galapagos Islands. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Patagonia
Tom Damon, Southwind Adventures
An experienced trekker and expedition climber, Tom specializes in outdoor adventures throughout South America. He’ll point you to the best hiking trails—for every skill level—at Machu Picchu and in Patagonia, and the most thrilling jungle adventures in the Amazon. Whether you opt for a private expedition or a small group tour, Tom will ensure you’re in the company of highly trained, highly personal English-speaking guides. As for accommodations, he knows the best-of-the-best wilderness lodges and prime camping spots. If you’re looking to cross borders or link multiple regions, Tom is a pro at making the trip seamless, dodging crowds and logistical hassles and making it all run like clockwork.
Trips start at $900 per day for two travelers in Machu Picchu and $1,250 per day for two travelers in Patagonia.

Contact Tom

Read reviews of Tom. Read his Insider’s Guides to Patagonia and Machu Picchu. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Chile, Ecuador, Peru, or Patagonia.

Peru and Bolivia
Marisol Mosquera, Aracari
A native Peruvian, Marisol shucked a career in the financial world to fulfill her long-held dream of providing international travelers with authentic, first-class experiences that support local communities.  From her base in Lima, she works with a network of prominent historians, archaeologists, artists, and dignitaries to deliver privileged access to people and places throughout the region. Guests experience insider status at every destination they visit. Marisol and her team excel at crafting bespoke journeys for families, culture connoisseurs, adventure seekers, and honeymooners.
Trips start at $750 per day for two travelers.

Contact Marisol

Read reviews of Marisol. Read her Insider’s Guide to Peru for Food Lovers. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Peru and Bolivia.

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Europe

Duomo Florence Italy

The Duomo in Florence, Italy. Photo courtesy Brian Dore.

Amsterdam, London, Prague, Rome, and other cultural capitals
Paul Bennett, Context Travel
Seeking a private guide or a very-small-group tour for an insider’s experience of a city?  Paul, an award-winning writer for National Geographic and author of several books about architecture and landscape, founded Context Travel in 2003, and today he offers cultural walks in cities throughout Europe.  Each tour is designed and led by a scholar or specialist—in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics. These professors, chefs, and other noteworthy locals provide exceptional insight and open doors that would otherwise be closed to most travelers. They offer family-friendly walks too, some of which involve treasure hunts.
Tours start at $87 per person. The company does not book accommodations or make other travel arrangements.

Contact Paul

Read reviews of Paul. Read his Insider’s Guides to Rome and Amsterdam. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Europe’s cultural capitals.

Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland
Gwen Kozlowski, Exeter International
Gwen has been masterminding custom trips for independent travelers to Central Europe for more than a decade. She’s based in the U.S. but heads to the region at least twice a year to suss out new hotels and restaurants, test driving and train routes, and add to her ever-growing list of local experts—from museum curators to pastry chefs to artisanal vodka makers—who provide access and insights that you could never get otherwise. Unflinchingly honest and obsessively detailed-oriented, she prides herself on knowing exactly where to find the best food—and drink—in every town from Innsbruck to Budapest to Krakow, and she has such strong relationships with local hoteliers that her guests frequently receive preferential rates and VIP treatment at the most atmospheric four- and five-star hotels.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Gwen

Read reviews of Gwen. Read her Insider’s Guides to Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Eastern Europe.

Croatia and Slovenia
Mariana Fisher, Exeter International
While growing up in Prague, Mariana spent many summers on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, which to this day is her favorite destination in Eastern Europe—in equal parts for its beautiful scenery and its fantastic food (she likens the Croatia of today to Italy 20 years ago). Mariana has spent nearly a decade designing trips to the region, working with small farmers, local artisans, and museum curators to create authentic experiences that are far from the tourist traps. She speaks Czech, English, French, Spanish, and Hebrew, and understands Croatian and Russian as well—so she can teach you how to pronounce Plitvice and Rovinj like a local. Mariana is also an expert in Eastern European Jewish history; she has master’s degrees in Hebrew and in Spanish Philology and Literature.
Trips start at $700 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mariana

Read reviews of Mariana. Read her Insider’s Guide to Croatia. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Croatia or Slovenia.

England, Ireland, and Scotland 
Jane McCrum, In Any Event
Jane’s speciality is providing exclusive access to the United Kingdom’s and Ireland’s most prestigious events and enviable addresses. She’ll score you prime seats at Wimbledon, get you into Prince Charles’s gardens at Highgrove, and set up private visits to any number of royal residences, from Buckingham Palace to Highclere Castle (better known as Downton Abbey). You’d be wise to let Jane suggest a few things to do: She can arrange V.I.P. entry to events that are so insider-y you may not have heard of them—say, a rowing regatta or a black-tie music festival in the countryside—but that may end up being the high point of your trip. As for accommodations, Jane is a stickler for charm over flash. She gets great rates at fabulous London hotels but, for something unforgettable, ask her to book you a few nights in the countryside at one of her favorite historic manor homes—all privately owned and exquisitely maintained.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jane

Read reviews of Jane. Read her Insider’s Guide to London. Then contact her to maximize your experience of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

England, Ireland, and Scotland
Jonathan and Preston Epstein, Celebrated Experiences
If you want to be filled with wanderlust—and jealousy—follow Jonathan’s Instagram feed. Between the picture-perfect Cotswold cottages and the Michelin-starred Scottish restaurants and the grand Irish castles, you’ll wish you could hide inside Jonathan’s suitcase on his next trip. The next best thing? Let him and his dad, Preston, arrange your itinerary, including the most scenic drives between all those fairytale properties and otherwise-hard-to-book restaurants. You’ll benefit from the duo’s close relationships with colorful hoteliers and star chefs, not to mention their friends all over the U.K. and Ireland—from whiskey distillers to crystal cutters to cashmere sweater weavers. Of course they can also snag tickets to special events (including Wimbledon and Premier League Soccer).
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jonathan and Preston

Read reviews of Jonathan and Preston. Read their Insider’s Guides to Killarney and County Kerry, IrelandScotland, and the Cotswolds. Then contact them to maximize your experience of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

England: London Apartment Rentals
Madelyn Byrne Willems, London Perfect
Wishing you could live like a local in a charming flat in a top location? Madelyn will match you to the right neighborhood and apartment, then set you up with an itinerary, a driver to pick you up at the airport, expert guides if you like, and insider tips galore. Her hand-picked apartments are all in excellent condition and furnished with fine amenities such as high-thread-count linens, plush towels, modern kitchen appliances, heavenly beds, and a supply of drinks and snacks to tide you over until you can get to the grocery store.  Unlike an à la carte listing site with thousands of rentals, her team knows its properties well and can answer questions about local transport, quality of beds, kind of coffee machine, whether guests can control heating, and so on. Each party is met by a greeter who gives a thorough orientation and leaves behind his or her phone number, along with a thick file containing all the information a guest could possibly need.
Weekly rentals start at $1,950 in low season (one-bedroom apartment suitable for 2 guests) and most range from $2,350 to $6,000 during the high season (for one to five bedrooms).

Contact Madelyn

Read reviews of Madelyn. Read her Insider’s Guides to London Vacation Rentals and Paris Apartment Rentals. Then contact her to maximize your experience of London.

France
How can you not love a country with a thousand castles and as many different types of cheese? France is the world’s top ski destination, its leading wine producer, and its number-one art mecca. But France isn’t always easy. For starters, it’s expensive, and when it isn’t pricey, it is often mediocre.  And finding the right travel specialist for France is a tricky business. There is a range of options, and while most are expensive, Wendy can point you to the one best suited to your specific needs.

Contact Wendy

France
Jack Dancy and Simon Aplin, Trufflepig

Brits who live in Burgundy’s ancient wine capital of Beaune, Jack (who is Trufflepig’s co-founder) and his colleague Simon Aplin (who heads up Trufflepig’s France trip-planning division) help independent travelers experience the best of what’s off the beaten track in France and beyond. Their fingers are on the pulse of what’s new and exciting yet still under the radar, as well as what’s old and magically atmospheric that most travelers miss. They expertly tailor itineraries to your particular tastes and interests, whether those include wine tasting in Burgundy, chateau-hopping in the Loire Valley, hiking in the Dordogne, or road tripping through all of it—and then on into Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. They’ll ensure that you stick to the most scenic roads, sleep in the most charming and unusual accommodations, dine in the most authentic local eateries, and meet interesting people along the way. Simon used to run a French ski lodge, so he’s got great contacts in the French and Swiss Alps too. And they both have kids, so they know first-hand how to tailor itineraries to families’ needs. 
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jack

Read reviews of Jack and Simon. Read Jack’s Insider’s Guides to Paris for Food Lovers and Burgundy. Then contact them to maximize your experience of France.

France and Monaco 
Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs

When you need something special for a trip to Paris, Jennifer waves her magic wand, et voila. She can make the line at the Eiffel Tower disappear, snag front-row seats for Fashion Week, or turn a seven-hour layover into a holiday. Her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door (or the train car if you’re arriving in Paris on the Eurostar) and includes fast-track entry through immigration and customs to a waiting car—particularly helpful if you have small children, mobility issues, or lots of luggage. While Jennifer is best known for her à la carte concierge services—not just in Paris but in London (where she used to live) and Rome (where she currently lives, married to the general manager of one of the city’s most illustrious hotels)—her background in the airline and hotel businesses, and her stable of stellar guides (experts in a variety of fields), enable her to flawlessly execute elaborate multi-day itineraries as well. Her reach extends throughout France to Monaco, where she can get you tickets to the Ferrari pit during the Grand Prix or provide you with a well-stocked private yacht off the coast, and beyond Rome to the rest of Italy, where her fleet of cars with English-speaking drivers can get you seamlessly from point A to point B.
Prices start at $170 for expedited entry at the airport; multi-day, custom-tailored trips with all the trimmings start at $950 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jennifer

Read reviews of Jack and Simon. Read Jack’s Insider’s Guides to Paris with Perks . Then contact her to maximize your experience of France.

France Villa Vacations
Annie Flogaus, Just France
Annie focuses on only 200 or so handpicked, guaranteed-to-delight villas and apartments around the country. She and her team speak fluent French and personally know every one of the villa owners—which translates to special treatment for you. So comprehensive is their knowledge of each property and neighborhood that they can tell you which appliances are in each kitchen (French press or espresso machine, electric or gas stove) and precisely how long it takes to get to the nearest bakery. Annie herself knows the views from every bedroom and the best restaurants in every village. No matter where or what you rent–whether it’s a farmhouse in the Provençal countryside, a seaside villa on the Côte d’Azur, a chateau in the Loire Valley, a stone cottage in the Dordogne, or a pied-a-terre in Paris—Annie can arrange every last detail, including car rentals, in-house chefs, babysitters, tour guides, and train trips. 
Weekly rentals start at $3,000; most range from $5,000 to $12,000 in the high season, depending on number of bedrooms.

Contact Annie

Read reviews of Annie. Read her Insider’s Guide to France Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of France.

Germany
Did you know that Germany has 20 castles you can sleep in?  A hop-on, hop-off rail pass that lets you explore the entire country as well as seven of its neighbors?  Two hundred long-distance cycling routes, many of them family-friendly?  A Bavarian “Beer and Castle” trail that is just one of more than 100 well-signposted and intriguingly themed scenic drives?  Add bargain-priced hotels and car rentals, and you can see why this is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in Europe. And yet, even in Germany, hiring the right fixer can make sense—to ensure you end up in the most sumptuous of those 20 castles, for instance, or in the one that’s right for you, with the room with the best view.  How to find the Germany travel planner who’s best?  Contact Wendy.

Contact Wendy

Greece
Christos Stergiou, TrueGreece
After growing up in Athens and on the island of Patmos, Christos spent a decade in the United States, earning an MBA from Stanford Business School and working at a Boston consulting firm. He then returned home to found TrueGreece, a boutique travel company catering to those independent, luxury-loving travelers who want to see the country’s highlights and hidden treasures with minimal hassle and through the lens of a real insider. Besides booking chic island hotels, Christos can arrange week-long sailing trips and villa rentals. He receives rave reviews for his guides, especially the ones who will accompany you to the ruins in Athens and Delphi and breathe life into all those ancient stones. And then there’s the round-the-clock staff at TrueGreece to act as your personal concierge and help smooth over any last-minute wrinkles (those notoriously unreliable ferries, for one).
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Christos

Read reviews of Christos. Read his Insider’s Guides to SantoriniAthens and Mykonos. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Greece.

Iceland
It’s like another world—in all the best ways. Everywhere you turn, you’re accosted by awesomely spectacular landscapes—in some cases, more like moonscapes—that are so unusual you won’t find them in any other country. The adventure activities are just as unconventional—from volcano diving and puffin spotting to glacier hiking and geothermal-pool-hopping. The challenge of planning a vacation there is also unusual. First, Iceland is surprisingly expensive. (It’s cheap to fly there, but once you’re there, prices sting.)  Second, tourism to Iceland has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, causing demand—for accommodations, activities, all-terrain vehicles, glacier adventure guides, etc.—to outpace the supply, creating sell-out conditions and driving prices even higher. Third, the tourism infrastructure is geared to mass-market group package tours. Wendy can point you to those few Iceland specialists who deliver private, custom, truly WOW experiences—as part of a smart, efficient itinerary enhanced by expert guides who will take you to thrilling places you could never find or access on your own—but be prepared to spend a minimum of $1,600 per day for two travelers. If you can stomach that, contact Wendy.

Contact Wendy

Italy
Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers, Concierge in Umbria
Opera singers who divide their time between Italy and the United States, husband-and-wife team Brian and Maria Gabriella design imaginative itineraries throughout Italy that cater to a range of budgets—from moderate to high-end—and focus primarily on gastronomy, art, architecture, archaeology, and history. Maria Gabriella, who has a background in art history as well as opera, is an Ambassador of Italian Culture for Perugia’s Università per Stranieri. Brian, a former chef, worked at several New York restaurants before embarking on an international career as an operatic baritone, now an occasional side gig. Together with their team of charming and terrifically knowledgeable guides and drivers, Maria Gabriella and Brian give their clients an intimate experience no matter where they go in Italy, from Rome’s most iconic landmarks to the hidden-treasure hill towns of Tuscany.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Brian and Maria

Read reviews of Brian and Maria. Read their Insider’s Guides to VeniceFlorenceUmbria and Tuscany. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Italy.

Italy
Andrea Grisdale, IC Bellagio
Armed with decades of experience in Italy (she lives on Lake Como) and the vast list of contacts in her little black book, Andrea can open the doors that are closed to most people (not, alas, George Clooney’s) and satisfy most any request. She interviews travelers in depth to gain a thorough understanding of their travel fantasies, preferences, and pet peeves, and uses that knowledge to craft an itinerary that pairs you with the perfect hotels, activities, guides, and even drivers. A bilingual former guide herself, Andrea knows every time-saving trick for seeing the most famous monuments while also squeezing in the hidden gems. She and her team have the clout to pull strings and ask for favors at Italy’s best hotels, and they have a track record of coming to the rescue 24/7 should the need arise.
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.

Contact Andrea

Read reviews of Andrea. Read her Insider’s Guides to the Amalfi Coast and Italy’s Lakes Region. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Italy.

Italy: Sicily
Marcello Baglioni, Agave Travel Creative

Marcello spends half his time in Sicily, the other half in Los Angeles (where he was born to Italian immigrants). While running a school for Americans studying in Sicily, he found himself planning trips for the students’ visiting families—and thus Agave Travel Creative was born. His own fascination with Sicily derives from the island’s important historic location at the crossroads of numerous Mediterranean cultures (Roman, Arabic, Spanish, Norman, to name a few), all of which left their mark on the region’s unique food, wine, culture, and language. He excels at forging deep personal connections and can arrange a hike up Mt. Etna with a volcanologist, a market tour and cooking class with a chef, a visit to Greek ruins with an archaeologist, a private lunch at an herb farm, or a tour on a lovingly restored sailboat, all hosted by passionate locals whom Marcello considers family. From five-star palaces to rustic farm stays, he is so plugged into the hotel scene that he knows which rooms will accommodate a wheelchair or, in the small properties, a late sleeper.
Trips start at $900 per day for two travelers. 

Contact Marcello

 Read reviews of Marcello. Read his Insider’s Guide to Sicily. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Sicily.

Italy Villa Vacations
Mara Solomon, Homebase Abroad
Crafting one-of-a-kind villa vacations is Mara’s way of sharing, directly and personally, the insights she has gained from her long love affair with Italy. Preparation is her mantra, and there is no limit to the number of hours she’ll spend on the phone organizing your trip. For two decades she has been hand-picking the most authentic and magical homes in Italy, inspecting them seasonally, and strengthening her close relationships with the owners (she speaks fluent Italian, of course). Adept at helping large families and small groups, Mara will build you an itinerary based on a property matched to your group’s unique set of interests, preferences, and energy levels. The result is a carefully calibrated itinerary that eliminates nasty surprises and maximizes relaxation and engagement. Mara helps newcomers make the most of their experience and guides returning travelers to lesser-known points of interest and people embedded in local culture. All guests have the benefit of being brought into Mara’s personal circle of friends and colleagues: chefs, winemakers, artisans, drivers, farmers, guides, and the like—people she knows and whom she feels you will enjoy.
Weekly rentals start at $8,000 in low season.

Contact Mara

Read reviews of Mara. Read her Insider’s Guide to Italy Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Italy.

The Netherlands
Everybody knows Amsterdam is a strong dose of fun and culture, but to experience the best of the Netherlands, you need to dig further. Rotterdam, the capital’s hipper cousin, is a world leader in cutting-edge architecture and design, and Utrecht is home to the country’s largest collection of medieval art—just to give you two examples of the many other cities worth visiting. Then there’s all that gorgeous countryside, with its acres of tulips, timeless fishing villages, and miles of cycling paths. To make the most of your time in the Netherlands, you need someone who can design a smart itinerary and arrange the local encounters that make a trip really special. How to find the right Netherlands trip designer? Contact Wendy.

Contact Wendy

Norway
Jan Sortland, Norwegian Adventures
From his home base in Oslo, Norway, Jan specializes in fully guided, custom-tailored adventures into the lesser-known regions of the country. His imaginative itineraries often involve seeing the Northern Lights or sampling the best Nordic cuisine, but he can also arrange activities you may not have known were possible, from sea kayaking around fjords to reindeer sledding to fishing in the Arctic Ocean to building your own snow cave—and sleeping in it. His expert team of drivers and guides go to great lengths to ensure you get a fulfilling and authentic experience. (Scroll down to “Scandinavia,” below, for recommendations of travel planners for more independent and self-drive trips, and for other Scandinavian countries.) 
Trips start at $1,600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jan

Read reviews of Jan. Read his Insider’s Guide to Norway. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Norway.

Portugal
See “Spain and Portugal,” below.

Romania
If your word-association-game answer to Romania is “vampires,” it’s time you learned a lot more about the country. Did you know that it’s home to the largest area of contiguous forest in central Europe, filled with brown bears, lynx, and wolves?,  That it’s dotted with 13th-century UNESCO World Heritage-recognized villages? That Prince Charles fell so in love with the Romanian countryside that he bought two centuries-old properties there—both of which you can overnight at when HRH isn’t visiting to admire the wildflowers? Trouble is, even Romanians get lost finding their way around, and star ratings rarely tell you the whole story when it comes to the hotels. That’s why it’s so helpful to use a Romania travel specialist who will keep you on the right path, introduce you to the people who will make their country come to life, and point you to the accommodations that deliver the best experience (probably more having to do with garden-fresh meals than thousand-thread-count sheets).  Tell Wendy about the trip you have in mind, and she can connect you with the right Romania expert to make it happen. 

Contact Wendy

Russia
Greg Tepper, Exeter International

Soon after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Greg established himself as a leader in high-end, hassle-free, independent travel to Russia and Eastern Europe. Today he has offices in Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Prague, and London. He and his team troubleshoot everything for you—they even pre-book all museum visits so you can skip the lines—and negotiate upgrades and other perks at the best hotels in the country. Thanks to his extensive connections on the ground and friends in high places, he can also get you inside Russia’s most exclusive venues that are off-limits to the general public. Think the Grand Kremlin Palace, where Russia’s president entertains visiting heads of state, and the Hermitage’s storerooms, which contain four-fifths of the museum’s possessions, including not-to-be-missed imperial carriages and Romanov treasures.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Greg

 Read reviews of Greg. Read his Insider’s Guides to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Russia.

Scandinavia
Scandinavia has a larger-than-life draw: the dramatic fjords of Norway, the impossible-to-get-into restaurants of Denmark, the 30,000 otherworldly islands of the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden. But with all that big food and big scenery comes big prices. Scandinavia is one of the most expensive places in the world. And surprisingly, that high price tag often doesn’t guarantee luxury. Five-star hotel standards in many areas are much lower than what you’d expect, and traveling from one region to the next can be a complicated puzzle that requires many modes of transportation. That’s why you need help to make the most of your time and money. There is no one perfect Scandinavia travel planner. But if you contact me, I can point you toward the person best suited to your particular needs.

Contact Wendy

Spain and Portugal
Virginia Irurita, Made for Spain
Spanish-born Virginia Irurita left a decade-long career in banking in London and Madrid to found Made for Spain in 1999. By popular demand, she recently expanded her scope to include Portugal too—a natural fit, given that she speaks Portuñol (a mix of Spanish and Portuguese). She has a little black book thick with the names of local experts—museum curators, architects, chefs, flamenco dancers—eager to show you their little corners of the Iberian peninsula. She can guide you to the country that is best for your needs (Spain is more child-friendly, Portugal is less expensive) and mastermind trips to the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza too. Virginia has a particularly keen interest in wine and winemaking. So keen, in fact, that she bought herself a vineyard on the banks of the Duero River. Her bespoke itineraries are wide-ranging: A one-day cruise shore excursion, a month-long honeymoon, a corporate retreat in the wine country, a cultural tour for museum benefactors—all are within her purview.
Trips start at $550 per day for two travelers.

Contact Virginia

Read reviews of Virginia. Read her Insider’s Guides to MadridBarcelonaAndalusia, and The Algarve, Portugal. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Spain and Portugal.

Spain and Portugal
Joel Zack, Heritage Tours Private Travel
Joel is a Fulbright Scholar, architect, historical preservationist, and co-author of two books about Morocco. He founded Heritage Tours Private Travel 20 years ago when he saw the need for more smartly designed, culturally rich journeys in Morocco, Spain, and Portugal. His extensive travels, scholarly research, and work abroad have allowed him to build a unique Rolodex of local experts and specialists in a variety of fields, enabling him to offer you exclusive experiences such as learning the secrets of port making from the best vintners in Porto, cooking with top chefs in the Douro Valley, exploring famous landmarks after-hours (so as to avoid the hordes), meeting with interior designers and prominent architects…you get the idea. For trips that combine Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in one fell swoop (read Joel’s Insider’s Guide to Marrakech)—Joel is the ticket.
Trips start at $575 per day for two travelers.

Contact Joel

Read reviews of Joel. Read his Insider’s Guides to Porto and the Douro River Valley and Seville and Andalusia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Spain and Portugal.

Spain Villa Vacations
Mary Vaira, El Sol Villas
A former government intelligence analyst, Mary is expert at gathering information and reading between the lines. These skills have helped her curate a portfolio of well-located, user-friendly villas and apartments throughout Spain—and to match you to the right one for your needs, whether that’s a family vacation in Barcelona, sightseeing in Andalucia, or beach time on Mallorca. A fluent Spanish speaker, Mary knows which villages are overrun with tourists and which are delightfully unspoiled, as well as the practicalities of getting around efficiently via air, rail, and road.
Weekly rentals start at $3,000 in low season.

Contact Mary

Read reviews of Mary. Read her Insider’s Guide to Spain Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Spain.

Turkey
Karen Fedorko Sefer, Sea Song Tours
Karen has lived and worked in Istanbul for the past 14 years and has four offices across Turkey. Her local connections—from museum directors to star restaurateurs to powerful hoteliers to the country’s culture ministry—enable her to get you rooms in “sold-out” hotels, introduce you to shop owners who can show you their special wares not displayed to the public, and create one-of-a-kind experiences (private meal at Topkapi Palace, anyone?). When you’ve got limited time—and who doesn’t?—her intimate knowledge of the country helps you make the smartest use of it, and she is on the ground and on-call to answer questions and fulfill special requests. If you need a cruise shore excursion—say, to Ephesus—she’s the ticket; with her guides, you’ll steer clear of the cruise-ship crowds and see the hidden gems they don’t.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers in Istanbul and $1,200 for two on the Aegean Coast.

Contact Karen

Read reviews of Karen. Read her Insider’s Guides to Istanbul and Turkey’s Aegean Coast. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Turkey.

Turkey
Earl Starkey, Sophisticated-Travel
Turkey has been Earl’s second home since he first ventured to Cappadocia twenty years ago. He opened Sophisticated-Travel in 2002 to offer travelers tailor-made luxury itineraries with a wider array of cultural and culinary experiences than were typically available at the time. He now lives half the year in Istanbul but is constantly criss-crossing the country to stay abreast of the latest hotel, restaurant, and gallery openings and to collect even more uniquely Turkish experiences that other travel firms don’t offer—say, a private cooking lesson in the home of a noted chef or access to a normally off-limits ancient ruin. Earl knows that a guide can make or break a trip, and he is known for handpicking only the savviest, all of them highly educated, personable, and accomplished in their own right.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers in Cappadocia and $800 for two in Istanbul.

Contact Earl

Read reviews of Earl. Read his Insider’s Guides to Istanbul and Cappadocia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the U.S.

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Asia

Aman Summer Palace, Beijing.

Aman Summer Palace, Beijing.

Bali
Diane Embree, Michael’s Travel Centre/Bali Barong Tours
Diane has been visiting Bali annually for the past 28 years and knows every rice paddy, temple, and hotel. Her moderately priced to high-end itineraries typically combine beach time with sightseeing and, if you like, can also include Bali’s best hiking, snorkeling, river rafting, or other adventure activities. Diane’s greatest pleasure, though, comes from arranging for travelers to meet with locals—medicine men, artisans, rice farmers—and to participate in traditional Balinese ceremonies that most visitors can’t access on their own. Diane can help with other parts of Indonesia too—in case you’re looking to see orangutans on Borneo, visit the Toraja ethnic group in Sulawesi, explore ancient relics at Lake Toba in Sumatra, or make a side trip to Borobudur on Java—as well as stopovers in Asian gateway cities en route to and from Bali.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Diane

Read reviews of Diane. Read her Insider’s Guide to Bali. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Bali.

Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal
Antonia Neubauer, Myths and Mountains
Founder of the award-winning travel company Myths and Mountains, Antonia “Toni” Neubauer has spent the past 30 years exploring Asia, focusing on the culture, crafts, religions, and natural environments of the places she visits, and forging and cementing close relationships with communities there. Her vast network of loyal friends and experts on the ground means you get a warm welcome as well as unique, meaningful experiences far from where other tourists go. Whether you want to plan a Burmese wedding, learn how to make a mandala or understand Bhutanese architecture, or spend time with a Nepali Mothers’ Group, you’re guaranteed an imaginative and immersive experience. Toni is dedicated to making a positive contribution to the countries in which Myths and Mountains operates; as of fall 2015, READ Global, the renowned nonprofit she founded, has built 79 libraries in Nepal, Bhutan, and India.
Trips start at $365 per day for two travelers.

Contact Antonia

Read reviews of Antonia. Read her Insider’s Guides to Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal.

China
David Allardice, Eastern Journeys
A self-confessed China junkie who has been living there for 25 years, David left both Scotland and a career in banking to follow his passion and establish Eastern Journeys, a boutique company specializing in private journeys throughout China, including Tibet and Hong Kong. David works with a wide range of budgets and is reliably candid about which itineraries, sights, or hotels are overrated and not worth your time or money. He’s particularly skilled at managing the complicated logistics of traveling around the region but is also happy to help travelers interested in booking just day trips in key cities (he has a diverse network of local and very charming private guides). He particularly enjoys organizing family trips: He’ll have you and your kids visiting kite-making shops in Beijing, then flying your new purchase on the Great Wall.
Trips start at $750 per day for two travelers.

Contact David

Read reviews of David. Read his Insider’s Guides to Hong Kong and China 101. Then contact him to maximize your experience of China.

China
Mei Zhang, WildChina
Sharing her homeland’s hidden gems has been Mei Zhang’s lifelong passion, interrupted only by the years she spent earning her Harvard MBA and working for McKinsey. No matter the occasion—family trip or 50th birthday celebration—Mei can filter the seemingly endless options for clients to craft the experience that’s just right for them. A Beijing resident who grew up in Yunnan province and has particular knowledge of Guizhou and Szechuan provinces too, she has close relationships with hotel and restaurant owners and makes sure that her clients get the red-carpet treatment. Her guides and drivers are the best in the business, opening the doors to authentic Chinese culture and steering travelers away from the crowds, the expected, and all things touristy.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mei

Read reviews of Mei. Read her Insider’s Guides to Beijing, Yunnan Province, and China’s Big Cities and Small Villages. Then contact her to maximize your experience of China.

India
Sanjay Saxena of Destination Himalaya
The son of a brigadier general in the Indian Army, Sanjay was born in New Delhi and grew up living in numerous places throughout India. He began mountaineering and rock climbing in the high Himalayas at age 15, and since 1979 has led groups on trekking, climbing, touring, and safari trips not only in India but in Tibet, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. In 1992 he and David Breashears co-led the first western descent of the Brahmaputra river—a 250-mile whitewater rafting trip that was filmed for the BBC series “Classic Adventures”—and in 2001 he led the first Western group to journey overland from Kunming to Lhasa along the “southern road.” It’s no surprise that Destination Himalaya has been chosen by National Geographic Adventure as one of the “Best Outfitters on Earth.” Committed to running trips that are ecologically responsible and culturally sensitive, Sanjay has been named an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” and recognized by the Dalai Lama for the community projects he has created in South Asia. Travelers benefit from his rare combination of deep insider knowledge and talent for creating unique, intellectually engaging itineraries to both traditional and remote destinations.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Sanjay

Read reviews of Sanjay. Read his Insider’s Guides to Agra and the Taj MahalDelhi and Secrets of India. Then contact him to maximize your experience of India.

India
Bertie and Victoria Dyer, India Beat
Bertie Dyer fell in love with India at age 12 and has spent as much time as possible there since. He and his wife, Victoria, lived for ten years in Jaipur, where they were married and had their first child. India Beat grew out of their desire to introduce visiting friends to the people and places they love in Rajasthan, and today the company specializes in unique trips tailored to individual interests—a type of travel experience that is rare in India, where most tours emphasize ticking off as many main sites as possible. Bertie’s areas of expertise include Moghul architecture, wildlife photography, and Indian history. Victoria’s passions include yoga, Indian cooking, and textile design—and her knowledge of boutiques and bazaars has made her Jaipur shop crawl one of India Beat’s most popular tours. Bertie and Victoria recently returned to England to have their second child, and they now spend their time traveling between their home in India and the UK. Their Jaipur office is run by a dedicated team of local employees who have been with the company from the beginning.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Bertie and Victoria

Read reviews of Bertie and Victoria. Read their Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan and Mumbai. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Rajasthan and Mumbai.

Japan
Scott Gilman, JapanQuest Journeys

After seven years living in Japan working for Goldman Sachs—and raising three children there—Scott launched JapanQuest Journeys to deliver the sorts of experiences that most travelers to the country find very hard to access. He has now spent decades cultivating local relationships, tapping knowledgeable guides, and uncovering unusual opportunities that unlock the mysteries of Japan for visitors of every age, from children fascinated by samurai swords and manga comics to romantic couples in pursuit of cherry blossoms and secluded hot springs. Operating from offices in both Washington, D.C., and Tokyo, he custom-tailors trips to your interests and can fill them with up-close and personal encounters with experts in pottery, textiles, kendo, taiko drumming, and more.
Trips start at $1,600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Scott

Read reviews of Scott. Read his Insider’s Guide to Classic Japan. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Japan.

Japan, the Philippines, and Asia’s Most Exotic Islands
Lorenzo Urra, Global Nomad
When your goal is to go well off the beaten path in Asia without sacrificing five-star creature comforts, Lorenzo’s your guy. Originally from the Philippines and based in Hong Kong, he flies 120,000 miles a year, scouting out Asia’s most unspoiled and unusual experiences; in the Philippines alone, he’s visited more than 400 of the country’s 7,107 islands. He has encyclopedic knowledge of Asia’s exotic islands, pristine beaches, authentic accommodations, and hot spots on the rise. He can charter a crewed luxury sailboat in which you can explore the remote Mergui Archipelago in Burma or the stellar scuba-diving sites of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Islands. In the Philippines, his travelers can walk among spectacular rice terraces that have been tilled for two millennia, and later pull in nets and share moonshine with local fishermen. In Japan he makes the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route a plush experience, with luggage transfers between ryokans and a trekking guide/translator (a necessity in this remote but beautiful corner of the country). Nothing that Lorenzo arranges is canned, and he’s honest about when you need his services and when you don’t. He also has a curated portfolio of enchanting beachfront villas on islands in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and beyond, as well as multi-bedroom homes near Japan’s premier ski areas.
Philippines trips start at $800 per day for two travelers; Indonesia trips start at $1,000 per day for two; Japan trips start at $1,600 per day for two.

Contact Lorenzo

Read reviews of Lorenzo. Read his Insider’s Guide to the Philippines and Off-the-Beaten Path Japan. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the Asian islands.

Maldives and Seychelles
Lindsey Wallace, Linara Travel
After discovering it was nearly impossible to find reliable, up-to-date travel intel about the Indian Ocean islands (Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius), Lindsey Wallace founded Linara Travel in 2003. He’s now an expert on each of those destinations and is especially adept at matching travelers to the island, hotel, and overwater bungalow—even butler, massage therapist, and dive instructor— that best suit their needs. He’s become an expert on the United Arab Emirates and Oman too (see Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and, with help from friends in high places, carves out exclusive rates and perks so you can live like a king in these otherwise pricey places. He visits these countries about six times a year, building and cementing the relationships that make all this possible.

Trips have a three-night minimum and start at $420 per day for two travelers in the Seychelles and $480 for two in the Maldives.

Contact Lindsey

Read reviews of Lindsey. Read his Insider’s Guides to the Maldives and Seychelles. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the Maldives and Seychelles.

Mongolia
Jalsa Urubshurow, Nomadic Expeditions
A Mongolian-American who grew up in New Jersey, Jalsa founded Nomadic Expeditions in the 1990s, using the proceeds of his successful construction business to bring tourism to a place—Outer Mongolia—that was once synonymous with the end of the earth. He was among the first to offer highly customized trips there, and also created one of the country’s original guide training programs. Jalsa doesn’t simply design itineraries that cross off sights on a checklist; he pairs travelers with experts—including historians, scientists, artists, and photographers—who give visitors a comprehensive understanding of the country’s history, culture, and traditions. Now splitting his time between Mongolia and the U.S., Jalsa has been an advisor to all seven of Mongolia’s prime ministers and two of its presidents, a role in which he champions sustainable, eco-friendly travel as a viable alternative to Mongolia’s mining-based economy.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jalsa

Read reviews of Jalsa. Read his Insider’s Guide to Mongolia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Mongolia.

Sri Lanka
Miguel Cunat, Sri Lanka in Style
A Spaniard who has been living with his family in Sri Lanka for the past ten years, Miguel co-started his boutique travel company in 2005 to provide visitors with insightful, engaging experiences in his adopted homeland. He and his 22-person staff design itineraries based on the company philosophy of “traveling in style.” For Miguel that means getting off the beaten path without sacrificing comfort or charm, and meeting the colorful local characters who provide a real sense of place (authors, architects, even the Leopard Man). The goal is for you to return from your trip “feeling rested, relaxed and pampered, if that’s what you seek, but also fulfilled and stimulated.” Having watched Sri Lanka undergo so many changes in recent years—since the country’s civil war ended in 2009, there’s been tremendous economic growth and a steady rise in tourism—Miguel is deeply committed to conserving the island’s natural and archaeological treasures, which brings to bear in every recommendation he makes, from the hotels he chooses to the strategies he employs for keeping his clients far from the tour-bus crowd.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Miguel

Read reviews of Miguel. Read his Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Sri Lanka.

Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
Andy Booth, ABOUTAsia Travel
An Oxford-trained physicist, Andy Booth traded London for Siem Reap nearly ten years ago, intending to improve Cambodia’s educational system; the best way to earn funds to do so, he wagered, was to dive into the country’s burgeoning tourism industry. Today, 100 percent of ABOUTAsia’s profits are plowed into local education, mainly through purchasing school supplies and paying the salaries of English teachers. Assisted by Ethan Crowley, an American raised in Northeast Cambodia (with the perfect Khmer to prove it), Andy excels at helping travelers connect with leading academics and friendly locals in Cambodia and Laos, while avoiding the tourist crowds. He’s even conducted surveys to measure minute-by-minute tourist flow around the Angkorian ruins, using the data to calculate the timing and routing that will make for the least-congested experience. When Andy recommends a dish in a restaurant, it’s because he ate there on Wednesday and it was superb—not because it won some award a year ago. He holds the post of British Honorary Consul and wrote the well-regarded Angkor Guidebook, a coffee-table-worthy tome. He can also arrange seamless travel throughout Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, as well as layovers in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Andy

Read reviews of Andy. Read his Insider’s Guide to Ankgor Wat and Siem Reap without the crowds. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Sandy Ferguson, Asia Desk
Sandy was raised in Asia, attended high school in Bangkok, and in 1976 was one of the first guides to accompany travelers to the newly opened People’s Republic of China. He later returned to Thailand to open a tour company, establishing offices not only in Bangkok but in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia too. Now based in Atlanta, Sandy and his team craft tailor-made itineraries that cater to individual tastes and interests and make the most of your precious time. He knows what works best for travelers, and, just as important, what doesn’t. Asia Desk has a vast network of contacts in the hotel industry, translating into special treatment for his clients, and maintains complete control of every detail of a trip, right down to handpicking every guide—all dynamic locals whom Sandy considers family (some of them really are!). They are expert in—and passionate about—their destinations and turn what would otherwise be a great trip into a trip of a lifetime.
Trips start at $900 per day for two travelers, with a minimum booking requirement of $5,000 for land arrangements for two or more travelers.

Contact Sandy

Read reviews of Sandy. Read his Insider’s Guides to ThailandSoutheast Asia, and Bangkok. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Andrea Ross, Journeys Within
During the ten years she lived in Cambodia, Andrea founded Journeys Within and traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia, opening additional offices in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Her network keeps her up-to-date on the newest and best hotels, restaurants, and experiences, and her close relationships with the region’s hotels ensure that her clients get the best rates and the best care, regardless of their travel budget. She specializes in family, experiential, and philanthropic travel, and founded the nonprofit organization Journeys Within Our Community, which operates education and poverty relief initiatives in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Andrea meets with each of her guides every two years to ensure that they offer the highest caliber of service, and is proud of the philanthropic opportunities that Journeys Within offers to travelers who want to make a difference to the communities that they get to know when they travel.
Trips start at $200 per day for two travelers.

Contact Andrea

Read reviews of Andrea. Read her Insider’s Guides to Cambodia, Angkor WatVietnam and Laos. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Southeast Asia.

 

Uzbekistan and the Silk Road
Zulya Rajabova, Silk Road Treasure Tours
Zulya grew up in Uzbekistan (her hometown, Bukhara, is one of the legendary cities of the Silk Road trading route) and has lived in the U.S. since 2003, making her well suited to introduce foreigners to the stunning landscapes and ancient sites of Central Asia, including all five “Stans.” Her expertise with languages (in addition to Uzbeki and English, Zulya speaks German, Russian, and Farsi) set her on a path in tourism: She started out as an interpreter and guide for journalists, diplomats, and heads of state visiting Uzbekistan. Her personal contacts at museums, exhibition sites, and performance companies translate to exclusive access for her clients, and the encounters that she orchestrates with artisans and businesspeople (taking advantage of the region’s legendary hospitality) help bring alive aspects of the culture both ancient and contemporary. To make sure that every trip lives up to her savvy travelers’ standards, Zulya focuses on not just arranging for superlative guides and comfortable hotels and homestays, but also handles the potential logistical hurdles of travel to this region, such as border crossings and visa procurement.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Zulya

Read reviews of Zulya. Read her Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Uzbekistan and the Silk Road.

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Africa and the Middle East

elephants at water hole safari photo

Photo by Susan Portnoy, theinsatiabletraveler.com

Egypt
Jim Berkeley, Destinations & Adventures International
Jim, who lived in Cairo for five years while heading up Abercrombie & Kent’s regional office, jokes that he’s a frustrated Indiana Jones, which is why he’s spent much of his career scrambling around the ancient temples and pyramids of Egypt. In 1995 he founded Destinations & Adventures International (DAI), which plans trips worldwide, but Jim’s specialty is still his beloved Egypt. His customized itineraries combine luxury and adventure—he’ll have you sailing down the Nile one day, and lounging by the pool at the Old Cataract Hotel the next. One of his favorite spots is in the remote Siwa Oasis, where the mudbrick rooms are lit by oil lamps and the nightly feasts would please Cleopatra herself. Most important, Jim and his team are meticulous about keeping their clients away from crowds (not to mention out of harm’s way). DAI’s all-knowing guides and drivers are armed with smartphones and keep one another constantly informed about any protests, so they can reroute as necessary.
Trips start at $650 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jim

Read reviews of Jim. Read his Insider’s Guide to Egypt. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Egypt.

Israel
Joe Yudin, Touring Israel
After graduating from Boston University, Joe moved to Israel and was drafted by the Israeli Defense Forces, where he served as a paratrooper. He then received a master’s degree in the Land of Israel Studies program at the University of Haifa, and he and his family now live on a kibbutz in northern Israel. But he gained his travel chops by working as a guide, and, based on everything he learned about what sophisticated travelers to Israel really want, he founded Touring Israel. Joe takes great pleasure in helping travelers understand the country’s complicated politics and history by introducing them to locals from varied backgrounds, including Muslim and Jewish journalists, politicians, even an expert on the Tel Aviv fashion scene. He likes to keep his itineraries delightfully unconventional—under his care, you might camp in a Bedouin tent, bike through the Negev desert, or take part in the excavation of 5,000-year-old ruins—and he handpicks the most charismatic guides. For travelers skittish about traveling in the region, Joe and his team are on hand 24/7 to field questions and make any necessary last-minute changes to travel plans.
Trips start at $450 per day for two travelers.

Contact Joe

Read reviews of Joe. Read his Insider’s Guides to Jerusalem and Israel. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Israel.

Morocco
Michael Diamond, Heritage Tours Private Travel
His itineraries are seamless and his hotel choices unsurpassed, but what really sets Michael apart are the local experts and specialists in a variety of fields whom he can introduce you to: Imagine taking a Moroccan cooking class with a top chef, or hearing the country’s ancient tales recounted by apprentice storytellers who are trying to revive this oral tradition. Michael takes advantage of Morocco’s diversity of influences, sending travelers for breakfast at a fine patisserie and then tea in a remote village up in the High Atlas Mountains, or bargaining for antique ceramics deep in the souks and dining at a hip vegan restaurant that same evening; striking the right balance is about getting to know each client personally. Travelers call his desert treks, with sunset camel rides and luxury tents replete with running water, “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences. Although based in New York City, Michael has spent dozens of trips to Morocco collecting a stable of English-speaking private guides who are particularly charismatic and companionable, and he always follows along as his clients’ trips unfold to facilitate any spontaneous changes in plan. His team members (also NYC-based) are experts in Spain and Portugal, so consider them a one-stop shop for journeys that combine these countries.

Trips start at $875 per day for two travelers.

Contact Michael

Read reviews of Michael. Read his Insider’s Guide to Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Morocco.

United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai)
Lindsey Wallace, Linara Travel
A place like the U.A.E. can be tough for a traveler to grasp and penetrate—but not if you’ve got Lindsey pulling strings for you. He founded Linara Travel in 2003, after discovering it was nearly impossible to find reliable, up-to-date travel intel about this swath of the world—including the Indian Ocean islands (see his Insider’s Guides to the Maldives and Seychelles). Lindsey’s now an expert on these destinations and returns six times a year to negotiate preferred rates and access that nobody else gets. He can arrange entry into Dubai’s exclusive clubs, unusual desert adventures and safaris, and unique experiences that enable you to live out your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies without putting too big a dent in your wallet.
Trips have a three-night minimum and start at $350 per day for two travelers in Abu Dhabi and $400 for two in Dubai.

Contact Lindsey

Read reviews of Lindsey. Read his Insider’s Guide to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the United Arab Emirates.

Safaris: East Africa
Linda Friedman, Custom Safaris
Based in Maryland, and with an office in Kenya, Linda has been on more than 100 safaris and travels to Africa four times a year (she even speaks Swahili). Whether you choose to track gorillas in Rwanda or follow the annual Great Migration in the Masai Mara, Linda will make sure that you optimize your time and resources. She knows which over-the-top camps have antiques and rainfall showers, which tents have the best views, even the names of the tent stewards who see to guests’ needs. Her particular passion is the nomadic traditions of the Maasai; she has been interviewing Maasai elders for more than ten years, and loves to arrange authentic cultural interactions. Each year, a portion of Custom Safaris’ profit is allocated to educational scholarships for students in Kenya.
Trips start at $1,300 per day for two travelers in Kenya and $2,000 for two in Rwanda and Uganda.

Contact Linda

Read reviews of Linda. Read her Insider’s Guides to The Great Migration in Kenya & Tanzania and Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda and Uganda. Then contact her to maximize your experience of East Africa.

Safaris: East Africa and South Africa
Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein, Hippo Creek Safaris
As a young girl growing up in the Bronx, Nina Wennersten spent as much time as she could at the nearby zoo dreaming of the day she would travel to Africa. Her dream became a reality nearly forty years ago, and she founded Hippo Creek Safaris not long thereafter. Today, Nina is as passionate about Africa as she was at the beginning, and her love of the continent is shared by her son and business partner, Dan Saperstein. The two know that most travelers will only take one safari during their lives and they work tirelessly, drawing on their decades of knowledge and vast network of connections, to ensure that each trip really is the trip of a lifetime. They are always on call and will do whatever is required to make sure that their clients return home having had an unforgettable safari.
Trips start at $1,400 per day for two travelers in East Africa and $1,600 for two in South Africa.

Contact Nina and Dan

Read reviews of Nina and Dan. Read their Insider’s Guides to South Africa Safaris and East Africa Safaris. Then contact them to maximize your experience of East Africa and South Africa.

Safaris: Southern Africa
Cherri Briggs, Explore
Cherri has had an appetite for adventure and a love of wild places since she was a child riding horses and hunting rattlesnakes on a remote cattle ranch in Nevada. She founded Explore Inc. in 1992 to offer unique African travel experiences that include canoeing Zambia’s Lower Zambezi River and running with zebra and giraffe on horseback across Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Cherri has homes in Botswana, Zambia, and Colorado and a deep first-person knowledge of even remote corners of southern Africa. She books directly with service providers, cutting out middlemen to ensure that her clients get great value and that Explore has complete control of itineraries, from beginning to end. Cherri has worked in conservation for decades and has served on the boards of several African conservation organizations. She works only with lodges that practice the best conservation practices and support local communities. In 2013 she was appointed Honorary Consul to the USA by the Government of Zambia, and in 2014 she became the first non-citizen to be appointed to the Botswana Tourism Organization.
Travel arrangements start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Cherri

Read reviews of Cherri. Read her Insider’s Guides to Namibia Adventures, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Then contact her to maximize your experience of African safaris.

Safaris: Southern Africa
Julian Harrison, Premier Tours
Fluent in Afrikaans and Zulu, Julian was born and raised in South Africa, where he spent the early part of his career establishing his safari bona fides by working as a ranger in KwaZulu-Natal and co-hosting a weekly radio program about wildlife conservation. Later, he co-authored Fodor’s African Safari, giving him the chance to show off his extensive knowledge of every park, lodge, and safari camp in southern Africa. He knows exactly where to go—and when to go—to make the most of your time and money, and takes great pleasure in introducing his clients to the lesser-known corners of the continent, from the remote reaches of the Namibia-Angola border (home to one of his favorite camps) to the wilds of the Congo rain forest (“The Jungle Book come to life,” as he calls it).
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers in South Africa and $950 for two in Botswana. To experience true Botswana luxury, expect to spend at least $1,600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Julian

Read reviews of Julian. Read his Insider’s Guides to Botswana’s Small Safari Camps and Cape Town and South Africa’s Winelands. Then contact him to maximize your experience of African safaris.

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Australia and Pacific

Sydney Opera House. Photo courtesy Tourism Australia.

Sydney Opera House. Photo courtesy Tourism Australia.

Australia
Stuart Rigg, Southern Crossings

Stuart plans tailor-made travel to Australia, covering the length and breadth of the continent. The native Brit loves Oz so much he’s now a citizen and Sydneysider and has personally tested nearly every property, heli-tour, yacht charter, and waterfront restaurant that he recommends. Stuart has the pull to arrange access to private homes, golf courses, and art collections, but his itineraries aren’t just for high flyers. He can work with a range of budgets, offering careful guidance on everything from self-drive itineraries through the Margaret River wine region to sailing trips around the Whitsundays. As for the Great Barrier Reef, Stuart has failsafe strategies for steering clear of the masses, and he knows exactly which island properties are best for hyperactive families, spa-loving hedonists, and Robinson Crusoe fantasists.  If you’d like to incorporate New Zealand into your trip, Stuart can do it seamlessly, as he has an office and business partner, Tom Ricketts, in New Zealand. 
Trips start at $560 per day for two travelers.

Contact Stuart

Read reviews of Stuart. Read his Insider’s Guides to Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Australia.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea
Lynette Wilson, Destination World
Lynette has been traveling to Fiji for more than 35 years; six years ago, she moved there for good (which means she’ll cheerfully answer your phone calls at 3:00 a.m. her time). As a resident, she knows how to add all sorts of local color to your trip, as well as which resorts, small-ship cruises, or private villas will best suit your wishes—and she loves to pair old-fashioned beachside R&R with scuba diving and snorkeling, river rafting, mountain biking, surfing, and other adventures. She also arranges trips to her native Australia, plus New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers in Fiji and $1,000 for two in Papua New Guinea. 

Contact Lynette

Read reviews of Lynette. Read her Insider’s Guides to Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea) and the Cook Islands
Kleon Howe, The Art of Travel 
When Kleon first sailed to French Polynesia more than thirty years ago, as part of an 11-year circumnavigation of the globe, he fell in love with the island’s people and their culture. He goes back several times a year—both to the more famous islands that attract first-timers and the lesser-known gems for his intrepid repeat clients—each time bolstering his vast array of contacts and experiences. Kleon sees each trip as a puzzle, with the traveler’s desires and interests as the pieces and his broad knowledge of the region as the blueprint to fit them together. Since he books directly with companies in Tahiti—leaving out the U.S.-based wholesalers—his prices are competitive, and his clients get free services and amenities at virtually every hotel. As an experienced sailor and diver, Kleon knows the best locations and outfitters for those activities too.
Trips start at $940 per couple per day.

Contact Kleon

Read reviews of Kleon. Read his Insider’s Guide to Bora Bora, Tahiti and French Polynesia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of French Polynesia and the Cook Islands.

New Zealand
Jean-Michel Jefferson, Ahipara
After a career with Price Waterhouse that spanned nearly a decade and ultimately took him to Moscow, Jean-Michel Jefferson and his wife, Karen, moved to her native New Zealand 13 years ago to start their family. They founded Ahipara shortly thereafter, to cater to travelers who want to “go further, deeper, and see things others do not see.” Following in-depth consultations with clients to discuss their timeframes, budgets, objectives and interests, Jean-Michel draws on his encyclopedic knowledge of New Zealand and his network of hundreds of guides, hoteliers, restaurateurs, private pilots, ship captains, and others to create itineraries that not only exceed expectations but leave clients wanting to come back for more. He can work within most travelers’ budgets and prides himself on being able to modify an itinerary on the fly to work around uncooperative weather conditions or to satisfy a traveler’s desire to add an activity or destination or to slow down the pace.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jean-Michel

Read reviews of Jean-Michel. Read his Insider’s Guides to Active New Zealand and Queenstown. Then contact him to maximize your experience of New Zealand.

New Zealand
Donna Thomas, New Zealand Travel Inc.
Donna loves New Zealand with a passion and works with travelers to create trips that are tailored to their individual interests and preferences. In the 35 years she has been sending travelers to New Zealand, she has never replicated an itinerary. She has nurtured such close relationships with the country’s hoteliers that they treat her clients like family, offering extra attention, upgrades, and other perks. She arms all of her travelers with an annotated atlas before they embark on their trips—and marks their driving route to show precisely where to stop en route to, say, enjoy a gorgeous vista, try the country’s best fish ‘n’ chips, taste artisanal cheeses, or get gasoline. In addition to Donna herself, a concierge and golf concierge are on call to answer questions, troubleshoot, and provide everything you need to have a flawless trip.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Donna

Read reviews of Donna. Read her Insider’s Guides to Affordable New Zealand and Bay of Islands. Then contact her to maximize your experience of New Zealand.

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Cruises

The Star Breeze

The Star Breeze. Photo courtesy Windstar Cruises.

European Canal Barge Trips
Ellen Sack, Barge Lady Cruises

Known as The Barge Lady, Ellen has been a broker of European barge cruises for almost thirty years; she currently represents more than fifty vessels that ply the canals and smaller rivers of France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, and Germany. She knows each of these barges and waterways down to the smallest details—the crew, the cuisine, the sightseeing excursions—and is honest about the pros and cons of every itinerary. Her website is full of useful information, including sample menus and Ellen’s own photos from her trips. The warm welcome that her travelers receive onboard is testament to her personal relationships with all the vessels’ owners. Overseeing these travelers’ trips from beginning to end, Ellen also books city hotels and train tickets. For multigenerational and other large groups, Ellen can arrange a barge charter, with activities customized to individual interests.
Trips start at $675 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Ellen

Read reviews of Ellen. Read her Insider’s Guide to European Canal Barge Cruises. Then contact her to maximize your experience of European canal barge trips.

Expedition Cruises
Ashton Palmer, ExpeditionTrips
Infectiously enthusiastic about small-ship cruising, Ashton Palmer spent nearly a decade as an expedition leader, guide, naturalist, conservationist, Zodiac driver, avid bird-watcher, and photographer in the last great wild places: the Arctic, Antarctica, the Amazon, and the South Pacific. And these are not just fleeting trips: He has traveled to Antarctica more than 50 times and spent a collective of three months in the Arctic. In 1999, Ashton founded Expedition Trips in Seattle, where he and his 16-person staff work tirelessly on matching travelers with the right small-ship expedition trips everywhere from the Galapagos to Papua New Guinea to the Russian Far East, and of course, the two poles. Ashton provides unbiased guidance on every line and every ship. He’ll be the first to tell you when a two-week trip to the Arctic may not be your cup of tea, and when a specific ship or cabin just isn’t worth the extra expense. And because of his relationships with the top cruise lines and tour operators, Ashton often secures preferred rates or other perks (such as shipboard credits or a bottle of wine). He’s also a big proponent of independent exploration and will give you all the tools to help you find your own way whenever possible.
Trips start at $650 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Ashton

Read reviews of Ashton. Read his Insider’s Guides to Antarctica Cruises,  Arctic Cruises, and Small-Ship Alaska Cruises. Then contact him to maximize your experience of small-ship expedition cruises.

Large and Small Higher-End Ships
Mary Jean Tully, Cruise Professionals by Tully Luxury Travel
Mary Jean sends an enormous amount of business to the higher-end cruise lines—Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, and Windstar among them—and is thus able to secure the best cabins (often as an upgrade) and procure generous onboard credits for her clients. Her pull with Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton comes in handy when booking pre- and post-cruise extensions too. Mary Jean knows top tour guides in every port of call and will offer candid advice on where to save and where to splurge on shore excursions; hers often come in cheaper than the cruise lines’ offerings. She has an especially deep connection to Africa—where she’s committed to wildlife preservation—and to Asia, where she counts Myanmar and Angkor Wat among her favorite places.
Trips start at $250 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Mary Jean

Read reviews of Mary Jean. Read her Insider’s Guides to Asia Cruises and Africa Cruises. Then contact her to maximize your cruise experience.

Large, Affordable Ships and River Cruises
Tom Baker, Cruise Center

Tom Baker has sailed on more than 250 ships in nearly 50 years. From Alaska to French Polynesia to the Panama Canal, from the Douro to the Rhine to the Danube, if an ocean or river ship docks there, chances are he’s been—more than once!  First Tom helps each traveler pinpoint the right ship, cabin, and itinerary (his encyclopedic knowledge of the pros and cons of different cabin types on different vessels will astound you). Then he advises on which private guides, group shore excursions, and flights will best suit your needs.  He has particular clout with river lines AmaWaterways, Crystal River Cruises, Uniworld, and Viking, and with ocean lines Celebrity, Celestyal, Crystal, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Windstar. Tom was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Cruises start at $150 per person per day.

Contact Tom

Read reviews of Tom. Read his Insider’s Guides to Alaska Cruises and Mediterranean Cruises. Then contact him to maximize your cruise experience.

 

Luxury Small Ships
Leslie Fambrini, Personalized Travel Consultants
A 30-year veteran of the cruise industry—she started out working for Royal Viking Cruise Line—Leslie has seen most corners of the world while aboard more than 125 (and counting) ocean and river sailings. She personally matches each of her discerning clients to the right ship, cabin, and shore excursions—the latter often private tours that involve special access, such as a photo op with Pope Francis. The volume of business she does with deluxe lines such as Crystal, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Sea Dream, and Cunard means that she has contacts who can “pull a magic rabbit out of a hat” just for her travelers.
Trips start at $700 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Leslie

Read reviews of Leslie. Read her Insider’s Guide to European Luxury Cruises. Then contact her to maximize your experience of luxury cruises.

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Villa Vacations and Rentals

Villa di Torno, Lake Como

Dining outdoors at Villa di Torno, Lake Como. Photo courtesy Homebase Abroad.

Cabo Villa Vacations
Julie Byrd, CaboVillas.com
Julie Byrd is convinced that Los Cabos, at the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, scores a traveler’s hat trick: stunning natural beauty, wide-ranging daytime activities and nightlife, and genuinely hospitable locals. Byrd’s portfolio of properties includes a range of more than 100 luxurious villas and condos suitable for families, couples, and party-hearty groups of friends. Her frequent trips to Cabo mean that she has deep roots and intimate connections there—you might even think she lived there, given all the Cabo intel in her Twitter feed (she actually lives in Santa Cruz, California).  Byrd and her Cabo-based concierge team are available 24/7 during every client’s trip. In addition to villa rentals, they can arrange fishing and yacht charters, ground transportation, destination weddings and other celebrations, and guided tours. A foodie at heart, Byrd has strong opinions on everything from locals-mostly taquerias to fine dining. (For a firsthand account of renting a house through Cabo Villas, read How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental.) 
Weekly rentals start at $250 per night in low season (July through September).

Contact Julie

Read reviews of Julie. Read her Insider’s Guide to Los Cabos Villa Vacations and Los Cabos Beach Vacations . Then contact her to maximize your experience of Cabo.

France Villa Vacations
Annie Flogaus, Just France
Annie has owned Just France for ten years, but has intentionally kept the company small, focusing only on 200 or so handpicked, guaranteed-to-delight villas and apartments around the country. She and her team all speak fluent French and personally know every one of the villa owners. So comprehensive is their knowledge of each property and neighborhood that they can tell you which appliances are in each kitchen (French press or espresso machine, electric or gas stove) and precisely how long it takes to get to the nearest bakery. Annie herself knows the views from every bedroom and the best restaurants in every village. No matter where or what you rent–whether it’s a farmhouse in the Provençal countryside, a seaside villa on the Côte d’Azur, a chateau in the Loire Valley, a stone cottage in the Dordogne, or a pied-a-terre in Paris—Annie can arrange every last detail, including car rentals, in-house chefs, babysitters, tour guides, and train trips. 
Weekly rentals start at $3,000; most range from $5,000 to $12,000 in the high season.

Contact Annie

Read reviews of Annie. Read her Insider’s Guide to France Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of France.

Italy Villa Vacations
Mara Solomon, Homebase Abroad
Crafting one-of-a-kind villa vacations is Mara Solomon’s way of sharing, directly and personally, the insights she has gained from her long love affair with Italy. Preparation is her mantra, and there is no limit to the number of hours she’ll spend on the phone organizing your trip. For two decades she has been hand-picking the most authentic and magical homes in Italy, inspecting them seasonally, and strengthening her close relationships with the owners (she speaks fluent Italian, of course). Adept at helping large families and small groups, Mara will build you an itinerary based on a property matched to your group’s unique set of interests, preferences, and energy levels. The result is a carefully calibrated itinerary that eliminates nasty surprises and maximizes relaxation and engagement. Mara helps newcomers make the most of their experience and guides returning travelers to lesser-known points of interest and people embedded in local culture. All guests have the benefit of being brought into Mara’s personal circle of friends and colleagues: chefs, winemakers, artisans, drivers, farmers, guides, and the like—people she knows and whom she feels you will enjoy.
Weekly rentals start at $8,000 in low season.

Contact Mara

Read reviews of Mara. Read her Insider’s Guide to Italy Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Italy.

Spain Villa Vacations
Mary Vaira, El Sol Villas
Mary was once a government intelligence analyst, so she’s an expert at gathering information and reading between the lines. These skills have helped her curate a portfolio of well-located, user-friendly villas and apartments throughout Spain—and to match you to the right one for your needs, whether that’s a family vacation in Barcelona, sightseeing in Andalucia, or beach time on Mallorca. A fluent Spanish speaker who once lived in Spain and now visits at least twice a year, she knows which villages are overrun with tourists and which are delightfully unspoiled, as well as the practicalities of getting around efficiently via air, rail, and road.
Weekly rentals start at $3,000 in the low season; most houses are $6,000 per week and up.

Contact Mary

Read reviews of Mary. Read her Insider’s Guide to Spain Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Spain.

St. Barts Villa Vacations
Peg Walsh, St. Barth Properties
Peg Walsh, who founded St. Barth Properties in 1989, spends half the year (December through May) on St. Barts and the other half on Cape Cod and at her company’s Boston-area office. Since St. Barth Properties represents villas on only this one small island, everyone on the team knows the island and inventory intimately. The company’s portfolio includes nearly 200 properties that range from beachy-casual bungalows to chic hillside homes and Architectural Digest-worthy estates. Peg re-inspects them all regularly to ensure they meet her strict standards, so she has an encyclopedic knowledge of each house’s features and amenities: which have heated pools, athlete-worthy gyms, the best wintertime sunset views. Every client also gets Peg’s nine pages of Helpful Hints, advising on all aspects of a St. Barth vacation—from warning people about taking the ferry from Sint Maarten (rough seas) to tipping guidelines—and outlining special perks at certain restaurants and on some excursions. When she’s on St. Barts, Peg hosts a weekly cocktail party for clients at one of the island’s hottest beachfront bistros.
Weekly villa rentals start at $1,970.

Contact Peg

Read reviews of Peg. Read her Insider’s Guide to St. Barts Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of St. Barts.

 

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Adventure Travel

Bike Trips and Walking Trips
Tyler Dillon, Butterfield & Robinson
It was while living in Asia that Tyler learned the joys of traveling by bike or on foot: seeing a new place at slow speed, stopping whenever you please, no tour-bus windows between you and the locals, smelling the markets you pass by—in sum, having a real experience of a destination. After transitioning from English teacher to bike-tour guide, Tyler lived out of a suitcase for five years, hopping between cycling seasons in Asia, South America, and Europe. He now designs private biking, walking, and hiking trips from B&R’s headquarters in Toronto but still hits the road every few months, scouting the perfect combination of reasonable biking or walking distances between sights (his trips are more about getting a sense of place than burning through miles), lightly trafficked roads and trails, and the best rooms in the most interesting hotels. His trips range from lodge-to-lodge treks in the Alps to gentle tramps through the English countryside to bike loops around iconic wine regions. He takes care of all the logistics and, for travelers who prefer not to have a guide along, will provide a GPS pre-loaded with each day’s route (including stops where you’ll be welcomed into a private home for a cup of tea, or to meet with a local artisan). For those who want a private guide, Tyler seeks out not professional guides or expert cyclists, but creative types who light up a room; often he finds them working at local NGOs.
Trips start at $750 per person, per day.

Contact Tyler

Read reviews of Tyler. Read his Insider’s Guide to Bike Trips and his Insider’s Guide to Walking Trips. Then contact him to maximize your experience of biking.

Diving and Snorkeling
Meg Austin, The Travel Society
Meg is an avid scuba diver who crisscrosses the globe scouting out new dive destinations. She’s logged more than 500 dives, a third of them in the Caribbean and Hawaii. She also knows the ins and outs of the beach resorts at dive destinations everywhere and is fastidious about choosing the property that will suit your skill level and interests. If you want to spend as much time lounging or sightseeing as you do diving, for example, she’ll steer you toward a property that has as much to offer above sea level as below. She enjoys arranging family trips and knows which snorkel and dive spots are best for kids of different ages and abilities.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Meg

Read reviews of Meg. Read her Insider’s Guide to Diving in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Then contact her to maximize your experience of the Caribbean.

Rafting Trips
Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S.
In her more than 20 years working at O.A.R.S, Mindy has rafted just about every river in the American West—from the lush Rogue River in Oregon to the arid, red-rock canyons of the southwest, from gentle floats to Class V rapids—as well as dozens of rivers overseas, as far-flung as Chile and Morocco.  Armed with that first-hand knowledge, she works hard to find the right trip for every client—and there are many options: Though it’s perhaps best known for dory trips through the Grand Canyon, O.A.R.S. operates more than 100 trips around the world, ranging in length from a few hours to a few weeks, all using top-notch equipment (including inflatable kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on many rivers), highly experienced guides, and local and organic food whenever possible. Most of the company’s offerings are group departures (some exclusively for families, adults, or solo travelers), but in many cases Mindy can arrange private trips as well. Most of all, she delights in introducing travelers to some of the last places on earth where you can truly disconnect.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mindy

Read reviews of Mindy. Read her Insider’s Guide to River Rafting in the American West. Then contact her to maximize your experience of river rafting.

 

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*While these Trusted Travel Experts are road-tested and well-respected, and I have known them for years, I don’t make any representation as to their financial stability or the suitability of their arrangements. I am connecting travelers with travel planners, and can help during the travel-planning process, but I cannot be held responsible or accept any liability for what happens after that. As always, to protect yourself, pay with a credit card and buy third-party travel insurance.

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