Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

How to Get an Extraordinary Trip: Wendy’s WOW Approach

As a travel journalist and consumer advocate for the past 30 years—first as Condé Nast Traveler’s advice columnist, then as TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate—I’m all too aware of the multifarious travel risks that need to be mitigated as a result of this pandemic.  Whether you need to make an essential trip soon or you’re planning ahead for the post-pandemic future, you’d be wise to use an honest, realistic, highly knowledgeable, extremely well-connected, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer. You’d be even wiser to find and contact that trip planner via the unique WOW approach to trip planning that I’ve created by popular demand from my longtime readers.  It’s the approach used by the travelers who are submitting these trip reviews. And it starts with filling out any one of the trip questionnaires on this website

Starting a trip with my questionnaire is designed to deliver these benefits:

1. Priority status and VIP treatment
2. Unbeatable value for a maximized travel experience
3. My advice from the start of your trip planning and at key stages of it
4. The right to review the trip planner after your trip (your reviews serve as a uniquely useful and empowering resource to our community of sophisticated, frequent travelers)
5. A surprise WOW Moment, custom-designed for you and complimentary, added to every third qualifying trip. 

I can’t monitor your trip if I don’t know about it. That’s why it’s important to fill out my questionnaire at the start of your trip planning. It’s the only way I can watch over your trip from the start to make sure it will turn out as great as it could be.  When you use my questionnaire, that’s how the trip planner knows that I sent you and I’m watching.

To find my questionnaire:
• Go to The WOW List and click on the CONTACT button of the travel specialist you want.  Your answers go directly to that trip planner, as well as to me.
OR
• Go to Ask Wendy.  We can recommend the best trip planner for your specific needs.

Because I stand by my words and my vetting, I will invite you to review your trip afterward here on WendyPerrin.com.  This review system ensures that my recommendations stay up-to-the-minute reliable. It safeguards my reputation by proving I can stand behind my recommendations. That’s what I get out of this. What you get is an excellent trip.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I hire Wendy to plan my trip?
2. What is a WOW trip?
3. Is a WOW trip better than what I can plan on my own?
4. When should I NOT use a WOW List trip planner?
5. Why should I use your questionnaire?
6. Is there a cost to using your questionnaire?
7. Are a WOW List planner’s trip arrangements more expensive than if I plan it myself?
8. Why must I speak (rather than just email) with a WOW List trip planner?
9. How does a trip planner get onto The WOW List?
10. What is Wendy’s “trip support”?
11. What is The WOW List Pledge?
12. What if there’s no trip planner in my price range listed for where I want to travel?
13. How do you test new candidates for The WOW List?
14. Do we want readers to nominate trip planners for consideration and to help road-test WOW List candidates?
15. What are Wendy’s WOW Moments?
16. Is The WOW List pay-to-play?
17. So how do you fund this website and service?
18. I have a question that hasn’t been answered above.

1. Can I hire Wendy to plan my trip?

No.  I’m a journalist on deadline. But I can likely recommend the trip designer you’re looking for. My unique expertise is that I have spent two decades finding, vetting, testing, and monitoring trip-planning specialists for specific regions of the world and types of travel.

It started when I was Condé Nast Traveler‘s advice columnist (1996 – 2014).  As more and more Internet travel-booking sites were popping up in the late ’90s, readers kept asking me the smartest way to book their travels, and I realized they could use a list of the best destination-specific trip planners.  So I combed through my Rolodex (remember those?) and selected those destination specialists with the greatest depth of expertise and connections. Thus was born the magazine’s list of top travel specialists, in June of 2000.  It was literally called “Wendy’s Rolodex.”  It became so popular (and copied!) that I was forced to compile it (and improve it!) annually for the next 14 years.

When I left Condé Nast Traveler and launched WendyPerrin.com in 2014, I was inundated with email from my longtime readers, who were still asking me who to use for their trips. So I put up a WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts and an “Ask Wendy” button.  Colleagues of mine from Condé Nast Traveler, Billie Cohen and Brook Wilkinson, pitched in to help me cope with the overwhelming volume of inquiries. This ultimately led to our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation service and an entire WOW system designed to make sure you end up with the best possible trip.  All of which is to say:  I can’t personally plan your trip, but I can—if you use our questionnaire—give you advice, and the other benefits listed above, to make it WOW.

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2. What is a WOW trip?

 A WOW trip is a custom-tailored, wisely designed, non-touristy, sophisticated, hassle-free trip that maximizes your experience of a place—like these trips that your fellow travelers have recently returned from—and minimizes your risk and unnecessary logistics.

  • It eliminates inefficiencies, crowds, lines, and other headaches and pitfalls.
  • It gets you priority status, insider access, and VIP perks.
  • It may cost more than a trip you plan yourself but is worth it.  It’s value for what you get.

The trip planners on The WOW List deliver such trips.

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3. Is a WOW trip better than what I can plan on my own?

You’re comparing apples and oranges. Some people like to plan their trip by finding and booking each separate component (hotels, restaurants, day tours, vehicles, English-speaking guides) on the Internet. By contrast, the destination-specific specialists who have earned a spot on The WOW List create one-of-a-kind, start-to-finish trips that you can’t find on the Internet—and the whole that they create is bigger than the sum of its parts.  Think of them as trip chefs:  They find, combine, and even create trip ingredients—in ways that you can’t, thanks to their local expertise and connections.  Even if you could buy the same ingredients from the same marketplace,  the meal you cook wouldn’t turn out the same.  That’s because WOW trip chefs leverage their relationships to spice up each day, creating a unique journey, customized to your personal tastes.  They eliminate unappetizing elements (lines, logistics, traffic jams, tourist traps), sprinkle in special touches (behind-closed-doors access, can’t-miss views you would have missed, introductions to noteworthy local people), and sometimes pull off the impossible.

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4. When should I NOT use a WOW List trip planner?

  1. When you’re looking for a low-cost or off-the-shelf product. Here, we define value by how high-quality and personalized your trip is, not how little it costs. There are plenty of websites that can help you find travel deals (though you should beware phony “values”), but this isn’t one of them.
  2. When you’ve already booked most of your trip. To guarantee a world-class experience from start to finish, a WOW List trip designer needs control over your arrangements from start to finish.  The more of your trip you have already booked yourself, the less value you will get by using a human-being trip planner, and the less financial sense it will make to work with one.  Example:  Let’s say you’ve booked your hotels and you need only an English-speaking guide for a couple of days:  If you use a WOW List trip planner to book just the guide, you might be missing out on the hotel perks you could have gotten. You might get a lower-quality guide because trip planners save their best guides for the travelers who are making bigger arrangements. Or, the trip planner may be concerned that what you’ve booked already could negatively impact the portion they would arrange and, therefore, they may be reluctant to work with you at all.  The more of your trip a WOW List trip planner designs and books, the more they can save you wasted time, money, and pitfalls, and grout your trip with special touches.
  3. When you’ve already decided on a detailed step-by-step itinerary. When you know where you want to go, stay, and eat, and you just want someone to book all those components, book them yourself.  Do not use WOW List trip planners as order takers. They deliver the best trips when you give them the freedom to create an imaginative, outside-the-box itinerary that will surprise and delight you.
  4. When all you need is an airline ticket, a hotel room, and a rental car.  You can book those things on your own. The time to use a WOW List destination specialist is when you also want a brilliant itinerary, special experiences, and the savviest local fixers who will save you time and headaches, deliver insider access, and make your whole trip easy and delightful.  You can’t get that on your own.
  5. When you’ve redeemed points for your hotel stays or otherwise already booked your accommodations.  Trip planners do not earn revenue for hotel stays booked with miles/points.  The less you use the charming properties that the trip planner has negotiated special rates and perks with, the less that trip planner can embellish your trip with special treatment.  This means that, if  you use a WOW List trip planner for a trip where they won’t be booking your hotel, you will get less value for what you spend.

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5. Why should I use Wendy’s trip questionnaire?

    1. It’s like a personal letter of introduction from Wendy to the WOW trip planner. It marks you as a VIP traveler.  It tells the trip planner that Wendy sent you and is watching, and that you will be reviewing the trip afterward.
    2. It helps you to articulate your trip goals and needs effectively. This sets you up for a more productive conversation and successful collaboration with the trip designer.  We have spent years figuring out exactly what input on your end will lead to the most efficient and effective conversation (see FAQ #8) and help you determine what the trip planner can do for you and whether they are the right choice for your specific goals and needs.  The questionnaire works!
    3. It’s the only way we can know about your trip in order to monitor it.  Wendy designed this system because, throughout her decades as a consumer journalist, readers have contacted her about the same recurring issues over and over again.  Through her trip-monitoring emails of advice to the traveler, she can provide answers before those issues arise.  She can help prevent the common misunderstandings and mistakes that occur between travelers and trip planners.
    4. You get the benefits outlined in The WOW List Pledge. Every WOW List trip planner must sign The WOW List Pledge (see FAQ #11), promising that they will follow certain best practices that Wendy insists on because they are beneficial to travelers and lead to an excellent trip.  For instance, they pledge to reply to your request within 48 business hours.  They promise to have an in-depth trip-design phone/Zoom/Skype conversation with you (because such a live conversation is critical to a WOW trip—see FAQ #8).  They promise to offer the lowest pricing publicly available.  They promise VIP courtesies and treatment.
    5. You get to review the trip planner after your trip.  We continually monitor our recommended travel specialists in order to ensure they uphold the standards and values that got them onto The WOW List in the first place.  When you return from a trip that we’ve monitored, you’re invited to share your review of the travel specialist, for the benefit of your fellow travelers. These reviews from you help determine whether or not that travel specialist stays on The WOW List.
    6. It’s the only way your trip can qualify toward a WOW Moment on a future trip (see FAQ #15).

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6. Is there a cost to using Wendy’s questionnaire?

No.  There might be someday, but for now, we’re trying to keep our advice and service complimentary.  If you choose to work with a trip planner whom you contacted via our questionnaire, then The WOW List Pledge applies, and that Pledge requires that you get the trip planner’s lowest pricing.  WOW List trip planners are incentivized to comply with this requirement because they want to remain on The WOW List and because they want to get great reviews. If travelers feel they got great value from a trip planner, that translates into great reviews.  If enough travelers feel they did not get value, we remove that trip planner from The WOW List.
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7. Are a WOW List planner’s trip arrangements more expensive than if I plan it myself ?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the destination and type of trip.  WOW List trip planners can save you money via reduced rates that they negotiate with hotels and other travel suppliers at their destinations. They negotiate special benefits and amenities too (e.g., early check-in, upgrades, complimentary meals). At the same time, their arrangements can cost more because they employ the best local private guides whom they have personally vetted, they use the newest cars and safest drivers who know all the shortcuts, they pay to eliminate time-consuming hassles such as lines and crowds, etc. Their trips include special touches and perks that you would not be able to procure on your own—and most of these special touches you won’t know about, or appreciate the value of, until you’re actually taking the trip. Their prices also include the local infrastructure to be able to come to the rescue in an emergency.  So, typically, you’ll pay more than if you booked on your own, but you’ll end up with a more rewarding trip in the end. If your conversation with a WOW List trip planner doesn’t convince you that the value he or she will add to your trip will be worth the higher cost, then don’t use that trip planner. Feel free to ask us for a different recommendation.

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8. Why must I speak with (rather than just email with) a WOW List trip planner?

Because, in the 20 years that I’ve been monitoring and scrutinizing feedback from travelers, I’ve learned that the single biggest factor affecting the outcome of a trip is the initial conversation between traveler and trip planner.  If you want a truly custom-tailored trip, it’s essential to have a live, in-depth conversation, preferably via video call.  Such a conversation gives the trip planner a nuanced understanding of your specific trip goals and needs and what would delight you. It also eliminates the misperceptions and disconnects that can easily mar a trip. This trip-design conversation should be with the specific person named and listed on The WOW List (not just any old employee).  These WOW Listers are very busy and frequently traveling, and many who are company founders/owners don’t speak with travelers anymore as a general rule. But when I put someone on my WOW List, the prestige is great enough that they agree to speak personally with “Wendy’s travelers.”

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9. How does a trip planner get onto The WOW List?

A trip planner earns a spot on The WOW List via the testing process detailed below (see FAQ #13).   We’re constantly testing a new crop of travel specialists to determine whether or not they warrant inclusion on The WOW List.  We’re always improving the List, by listening to feedback from travelers who use it, gathering nominees from our readers who understand the standard we insist on, and scouring the travel industry worldwide.

The WOW List is not static.  It changes all the time because we are always road-testing new travel specialists who come to our attention.  We send travelers to them, collect and publish those travelers’ trip reviews afterward, and then use those reviews to determine who belongs on The List.

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10. What is Wendy’s “trip support”?

When you use our questionnaire, it enrolls you in our trip support:  We’ll watch over your trip planning from start to finish, sharing important advice via email at key stages of the process. I designed this system because, throughout my decades as a consumer journalist, readers have been telling me about the same recurring issues over and over again, and I can provide insight and answers before those issues arise.  I can help prevent the common misunderstandings and mistakes that can occur between travelers and trip planners and that can spoil a trip.

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11. What is The WOW List Pledge?  

The WOW List is comprised of destination specialists, trip designers, and local fixers who have earned a spot on the List after a rigorous test for the specific location or type of travel they are listed for (see FAQ #13) .  They must also sign a Pledge agreeing to abide by these requirements:

1. I will reply to Wendy’s travelers, within 48 business hours of receiving their questionnaire, to schedule a phone appointment or video call.

2.  I will personally meet by phone/Zoom/Skype with each traveler sent by Wendy because I understand that an in-depth, live conversation (not just an email exchange) is essential to an extraordinary trip. (See FAQ #8 for why.)

3. I will extend my lowest pricing to the travelers who come through Wendy’s questionnaire.  I understand that Wendy’s system was designed so as not to increase costs for the traveler and, in fact, so as to save the traveler money in many cases.

4. I will extend any and all VIP courtesies and benefits that I am able to provide. I will make Wendy’s travelers top-priority clients.

5. I will make every effort to reduce Wendy’s travelers’ financial and health risks in light of Covid. I will detail the measures I am taking to protect their health, and how my booking, cancellation, and postponement policies will help protect their financial investment.

6. I will update Wendy frequently regarding the trip-planning status of the travelers she refers to me, so that she can send emails of advice to the traveler at specific times and stages of the trip planning.

7.  I understand that The WOW List is a list of people, not companies. The WOW List logo applies to me specifically and not to others in my company who are not on The WOW List.

8. If my WOW List designation is revoked, I will stop using the WOW List logo—from any and all years—in my marketing immediately. 

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12. What if there’s no WOW List trip planner in my price range for where I want to travel?

If you ask us, we may be able to recommend someone more affordable. Sometimes we are in the process of testing someone who is more affordable (see FAQ #13).   But remember that some countries are far more expensive than others. Also remember that The WOW List is a list of the best people out there; they provide trips you can’t buy elsewhere, and the prices they charge are considered a great value by your fellow travelers who have experienced the trips first-hand.  Furthermore, nowadays there is no viable business model for inexpensive human-being travel agents. If you want an inexpensive trip, book through a deals website.
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13. How do we test new candidates for The WOW List?

We are constantly road-testing destination-specific travel specialists, local fixers, and other trip designers who come highly recommended by your fellow sophisticated travelers.  First, we evaluate these candidates to determine whether they meet our high standard and have a good chance of ultimately earning a spot on The WOW List. Then we send travelers to them and monitor those trips closely, staying in touch with the travelers and asking them to review their trips afterward.  Eventually, if we receive enough stellar feedback about the WOW List candidate, then we conclude that the travel specialist has earned a spot on The WOW List. This testing process takes at least a year and more typically two or three years—because it takes that long for enough trips to get planned, booked, taken, and reviewed publicly, so that there is no doubt in our minds that the trip planner merits The WOW List.
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14. Do we want readers to nominate trip planners for consideration and to help road-test WOW List candidates?

Yes!  Hundreds of trip planners have asked to be considered for The WOW List, and dozens of readers have asked for distinct specialties that are not on The WOW List yet (usually because we’ve never found anybody good enough in those specialized areas, despite years of searching).  We want to fill these gaps, if possible.  So, if there is someone whose trips you have experienced first-hand and whom you recommend for The WOW List (even if you see others already listed for that region), let us know. If you have used at least three of our recommended people and thus have a clear first-hand understanding of the standard and level of service they represent, and you would like to be a road-tester, let us know.
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15. What are Wendy’s WOW Moments?

On every third qualifying trip you take, you’ll get a gift of a WOW Moment. This is our way of thanking you for helping us fine-tune our evolving WOW system. It’s also how we incentivize travelers to submit their trip reviews within three months of returning from their trip.  The WOW Moments rules are here:  Wendy Wants to Amp Up Your Trip!
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16. Is The WOW List pay-to-play?

I’m a journalist and would never jeopardize my reputation, and all the years I’ve spent building up the trust and credibility that my readers and sources depend on, by publicly recommending a weak travel planner, no matter how much they wanted to pay me.  My name, and the standard of travel I stand for, are worth a lot more than that.  Besides, if The WOW List were pay-to-play, there would be 5,000 travel agents on it.

Getting onto The WOW List is like getting into a top college:  You need to pass a series of challenging tests.  Once you’re admitted, it means you’re the best of the best, and in our case, it means a trip planner becomes part of the WOW pool from which Wendy feels confident making her recommendations. (See FAQ #13 for how trip planners get approved for The WOW List.) There is no application fee, and there is no way to pay to bypass the test.  After approval, if the trip planner would like to purchase a marketing package that includes a special logo they can use to let people know they’ve been accepted (the same way proud parents buy a college bumper sticker), then we make that available to them for a fee.

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17. So how do you fund this website and service?

Perhaps we should charge for our advice, but we are journalists who have spent decades informing as many people as possible, regardless of the size of their wallets, and that is what we believe in.

So we have worked very hard to create a site that is self-sustaining, that enables us to continue sharing our honest advice, and that puts each traveler’s needs and bottom line first and foremost.  We accept advertisers, host conferences with sponsors, and earn speaking fees.  Trip planners who pass our rigorous WOW List test (see FAQ #13), as evidenced by the stellar trip reviews they earn, become approved for The WOW List.  Once approved, they may pay for a marketing package that includes the right to use The WOW List logo in their own company’s marketing materials.  If you decide that a trip planner we’ve recommended is a good match for your needs and you opt to work with that trip planner and buy a trip, then after you return we may (or may not) receive a referral fee.  In cases where we do, the fee does not impact your trip cost (see The WOW List Pledge).  To get a sense of the standard to which we (and our readers) hold WOW List trip planners, you can read these reviews.

To protect the traveler’s bottom line, we require every WOW List trip planner to sign The WOW List Pledge, ensuring that “Wendy’s travelers” will not pay one cent more when using our questionnaire and receiving our trip monitoring.  And the value that travelers receive shows through in their trip reviews. If we receive complaints that a WOW List trip planner is not delivering value for the money, we remove that person from The WOW List.
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18. I have a question that hasn’t been answered above.

Ask it here so I can answer and add it to these FAQs.
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