Tag Archives: WOW List

Dubai Marina in the United Arab Emirates

5 Unusual Spring Break Ideas for College Students (and Their Parents)

Hi everyone, it’s Wendy’s son Doug here.  A reader asked where to take her 21-year-old for college spring break:

“Hi. This question is for Doug:  I’m thinking about a trip with my 21-year-old son for college spring break in March. Like you, he and I (I’m the Mom) have traveled together all his life. We are looking for your best ideas/suggestions. We’ve traveled to most of Europe. I’m primarily concerned that we only have a week. Can we see Dubai during that short time?  I enjoyed your trip reports and would appreciate your suggestions. Thanks, Rosalind”

I’m happy to help, and Dubai (pictured above) is a fantastic idea for spring break!  In fact, it’s one of my top five suggestions, based on my own experiences.  As a college sophomore, I can tell you that these suggestions are well suited to college students—and kids of all ages. These are destinations where you can get the combination of relaxation and adventure that you want for spring break, plus cultural exploration too.

DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing

This was us dune bashing in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter.  Photo: Timothy Baker

You can easily experience both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in one week!  You can go dune bashing (above is our thrilling 4×4 ride in Abu Dhabi), sandboarding, snowboarding (there’s an indoor ski slope), and still have enough time for the beach. You can drive a test Ferrari, take a hot lap in a Formula 1 car, or ride the world’s fastest roller coaster. Dubai is so technologically advanced that it lets you see and experience what the future will be like, which any college student wants to do. It’s also a big airline hub, so there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.

BELIZE

Two people scuba diving

That’s me earning my scuba-diving certification in Belize. Photo: Timothy Baker

One week is more than enough time to get your scuba diving license in Belize. (That’s me above, following the instructor, during my certification course there.)  On the barrier reef, you can snorkel with stingrays, dive with sharks, adventure into a cave filled top to bottom with lobsters, and explore the Blue Hole. On Ambergris Caye, you can bike or drive a golf cart around the island, and at night you can go to beach bars and sip your favorite drink while sitting in a pool or eat in restaurants with your toes in the sand. You can read about our family trip to Belize here.

PANAMA

Two kids on a boat in Panama.

That’s me and my older brother, Charlie, on a boat in the Panama Canal. Photo: Timothy Baker

Panama is known for its biodiversity. You can hike and zipline through the jungle, see the incredible wildlife by boating down the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most impressive engineering feats (my brother and I are doing that above), visit the Biomuseo designed by Frank Gehry, explore the Old Town, or hit the beach. It’s on East Coast time, so there’s no jet lag to cope with when classes start again, and there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.

WHISTLER, CANADA

Doug watching Charlie riding Olympics bobsled in Whistler, Canada.

When I was in Whistler, I was too small to ride the Olympics bobsled, but I watched Charlie do it. He says it went so fast it felt like a blur. Photo: Timothy Baker

Whistler is a place for thrill seekers and extreme sports lovers. Some of the best skiing and snowboarding to be had are in these world-class mountains less than a two-hour drive from Vancouver. You can also go snowmobiling, ziplining, and bungee jumping in winter. My older brother, Charlie, got to zoom down the 2010 Whistler Winter Olympics bobsled course (I was too small), and he says it happened so fast that it felt like a blur—which is how the world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi felt too—but it was still amazing.

MOROCCO

family picture at dades gorges Morocco

Here, I’m with Mom and Charlie in Morocco’s Dadès Gorges during spring break when I was 12.

You can go sandboarding and ride camels in the Sahara, hike in the mountains, and still have time to go surfing in Essouaira and enjoy a hammam. With its incredible architecture, markets, and cities, Morocco provides many experiences that are Instagram worthy, especially the rainbow of spices they put on their food. And it’s just across the Atlantic Ocean. You can read more about our spring break in Morocco here.

The reviews below from other travelers attest to how well these places work for everyone in the family. Happy spring break!

START A SPRING TRIP

Dubai and Abu Dhabi: “We visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise…”

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard with her husband and grandsons on a private sunset cruise in Dubai.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to the U.A.E. for 10 days. Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, ‘this is really cool!’

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened Sea World. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson. The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. We were definitely able to experience a ‘trip of our lifetime’ for our grandsons and us!” —Diane Thormodsgard

Read more reviews of Dubai and Abu Dhabi trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

Belize: “Relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands…”

empty white sand beach with a few green trees and light turquoise water in Belize

A white sand beach in Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“In a matter of days, Patricia organized a world-class 12-day trip for our family to Belize, with features that kept our three kids (ages 17, 17 and 20) engaged and happy, including climbing Mayan ruins, riding horses, lounging at the pool, and snorkeling. Lots of snorkeling. Christmas Day was spent relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands near the village of Placencia.

New Year’s Eve was spent on a ‘catch and cook’ adventure off the coast of Ambergris Caye with dive master and boat captain extraordinaire Carlos Cordova. We fished for bait, dove for conch and lobster, and went fishing. Then we cooked our catches on the beach. The highlight was ceviche made with fresh conch, lobster and fish. We particularly enjoyed the accommodations at Hidden Valley Wilderness Ranch and Naia Resort & Spa in Placencia. We couldn’t have asked for a better family trip.” —Robyn Smyers

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

Panama: “It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde…”

Old hanging bridge in a rainforest.

Old hanging bridge in the jungle of Panama. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband, 21-year old son, and I had a fabulous time in Panama, organized by Pierre. We stayed in the old part of Panama City—very charming and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Seeing the Panama Canal was the highlight of the trip for us—an absolute must-do for anyone visiting. We also visited Monkey Island (taking a boat next to big ships in the Canal was awesome) and the sloth sanctuary.

We visited Boquete in the mountains for three nights and absolutely loved it. It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde. Highlights there included an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride to the top of Baru Volcano for sunrise and to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, a fun cooking experience with the chef of Ngädri restaurant, hanging bridges, and a tour of a coffee plantation.

We celebrated New Year’s in Panama City at one of the rooftop restaurants with great music and an excellent multi-course dinner and Champagne. Very memorable. All three of us really enjoyed Panama and look forward to going back again.” —Tina Hunt

Read more reviews of Panama trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PANAMA

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Travel Experts Share their Top 6 Tips for Successful Family Travel

The best family trips are fun and deeply rewarding. Successful family travel is about minimizing stress, smoothing out logistics, and keeping everyone in the family happy, from the grandparents to the teens and toddlers. A group of people with different ages, experiences, needs, and desires all traveling together makes for challenges, but when those challenges are overcome, it creates bonding moments and lifelong memories.

Family trips are more popular now than ever before. In 2019, the average number of travelers on a trip planned via The WOW List was three. Today, our groups average seven people. So during our 2024 WOW Week, Wendy, Brook, and Hannah (all moms themselves) had a live conversation and Q&A with several WOW Listers who are experienced family-travel planners as well as parents. Also joining us, to provide the grandparent’s perspective, was Brook’s mom, Susan Crandell. Watch the video below, and scroll down for the top takeaways from our conversation.

Shape global citizens

Wendy has been traveling with her two sons for 21 years, and they’ve been to 60 countries and counting. “Traveling gives your kids a confidence that will serve them well in life,” she said. Meeting people from completely different cultures and finding out you have a lot in common is deeply impactful. It’s how we create global citizens.

“When you model that being a traveler is part of your identity, your kids will pick up on that,” Brook said. In her family’s house, they have a hallway devoted to photographs that Zeke has taken on their trips; every time he walks to his room, he sees Egypt and Iceland and Vietnam and Norway and is reminded of the memories he made in each place. “He also has two world maps on the wall in his room, with pins for all the places he’s visited, the place he’s going next, and his dream destination,” said Brook.

Make friends

When Wendy’s sons were younger, they always brought a soccer ball on their trips. It’s a great connector, as tons of kids around the world love to play—and then you can leave it behind with the kids you meet. My own kids are still quite little, so I love making parent friends in playgrounds wherever we travel. It’s an ideal way to spend time with locals in the fresh air and get intel about more fun things to do with kids.

Wendy’s younger son, Doug, plays public pianos wherever he finds them—train stations, hotel lobbies, on the street, in music stores. It’s a fantastic ice breaker and conversation starter.

Assign jobs to kids

“Get buy-in from everybody, even if you’re the one paying the bill,” Susan suggested. In Iceland, she got her family to go horseback riding with her, something they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen—and then she went out of her comfort zone to ride an ATV, at her grandson’s request. It ended up being more fun than she expected. There’s always going to be compromise when traveling with a group, so it’s vital that everyone gets a say in the itinerary.

Zach Rabinor, on The WOW List for Mexico, took an eight-month road trip to 13 countries from Tierra del Fuego to Mexico with his family: his wife and two sons who were then 10 and 13, and at times joined by his in-laws and his mom, who was 78. His advice is to “involve everyone in the planning process, not just to avoid missteps but to get everyone engaged and excited.” Assigning responsibility to his kids helped them feel invested in the trip. One of his sons loves maps and took charge of directions. His other son, an avid reader, gave historical background and figured out the right tipping protocol in different places.

Seek out hands-on activities

Think beyond museums and landmarks. Brook and her family have “explored caves built by a pre-Viking civilization in Iceland, clambered through a Vietcong hideout in Saigon, and made cheese with a farmer in Norway—that last one wasn’t just hands-on, we were literally up to our elbows in whey!” These are the sorts of adventures that stick with all of us long after we’ve returned home, and the sort of experiences our WOW List fixers are experts at creating.

Jim Berkeley, on The WOW List for Egypt, gave his then-five-year-old son his camera in Luxor and let him follow his own inspiration. WOW List travel experts can also help steer you to guides who are excellent with children, or who even have their own children who might come along and play. “Let kids’ imaginations fly,” Jim says. “That’s what travel is all about—the world is their classroom.”

Schedule smartly

Jennifer Virgilio, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for France, England, Italy, and Switzerland, said that it’s going to be an incredibly busy summer in Europe. The Paris Olympics, Taylor Swift concerts, Wimbledon, the French Open, the Champions League, and the Formula 1 races are just the beginning of events taking over European cities. “It changes the whole landscape as a destination,” Jennifer explained. “If you are going to Paris for the first time, it’s best to wait.” If your heart is set on France and you can travel only in summertime, there are many lesser-known locales outside Paris that won’t be affected by the Olympics.

But even if, like many families, you’re forced to work around school breaks, there are alternatives to going in summer. For example, Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside the U.S., so it’s a smart time to head to Europe. If you must travel in summer, think about unexpected places such as Canada’s Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland, to escape summertime heat, or Mexico’s Riviera Maya, to swim with whale sharks. Our WOW List experts can help you around crowds and maximize value wherever you go.

Keep it simple

Meg Austin, our expert for Caribbean beach vacations and ski vacations in the U.S. Rockies, highly recommends choosing direct flights whenever possible. Anything you can do to reduce hassle and smooth out logistics is worth the expense. “Don’t overschedule,” she urged. Make sure to build downtime into your itinerary.

All-inclusives are raising the bar on quality food—some even hiring Michelin-starred chefs, Meg reported. Ski resorts are great options for families, and ski resorts in the summer offer fantastic value, with plenty to do.

Pace your itinerary properly as well. “You don’t know how jet lag is going to affect your family,” said Jennifer. Try to stay awake the day you arrive and get to sleep at the time where you are.” Skip ambitious activities for the first morning, to give your group time to decompress after a long journey. Or skip jet lag all-together by traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central or South America.

Some final words of wisdom from Meg: “Always pack your sense of humor and your patience.”

 

We’ve published many stories about how to make the most of family travel over the years. Here are some of our favorites—and most helpful:

Traveling with Grandkids: Tips for a Successful Three-Generation Trip

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

How to Make Friends With Local People When Traveling

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Wendy’s Family Trip to Belize: Photos from the Beach and Sea

European Cities that are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Egypt

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trip to London

5 Ways To Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling: A 12-Year-Old’s Advice

How to Make Sophisticated Travel Destinations Fun for the Whole Family

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Wendy’s Trip Photos from Morocco: An Unusual Spring Break Idea

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental: Tips for Your First Time, or any Time

Summer Vacation at a Ski Resort? Yes, and Here’s Why

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Italy Vacation Ideas for Every Age

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

This Is What Makes Namibia So Cool

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise: Advice From a 12-Year-Old

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

The 2024 WOW List: 96 Top Local Fixers in Countries Worldwide

The WOW List is a collection of exceptionally knowledgeable and well-connected trip planners around the world. They have been rigorously road-tested, based on my decades of experience as a travel journalist and based on the latest trip reviews from travelers who used my WOW approach to ensure an extraordinary trip. In 2023 they quickly found solutions to the travel complications and disruption that arose: They rerouted travelers away from wildfires and floods, kept them cool and comfy amid extreme heat, helped them bypass unprecedented tourist crowds and lines, restored whole days of sightseeing missed because of flight cancellations, and lessened the impact of hotels’ sky-high prices, understaffing, and skimpflation. We know they did this because of your trip reviews. We continue to monitor trips and update The WOW List in real time.

HOW TO GET A WOW TRIP
1. Find the right local fixer for your needs below.
2. Click their CONTACT button and share the details of your dream trip via my questionnaire.
3. Done! The local expert will reach out to you directly and quickly.

START WITH MY QUESTIONNAIRE
• That’s how you get VIP treatment and these WOW benefits.
• It’s how the WOW Lister knows that I sent you and that you will be reviewing your trip. Your trip reviews determine who remains on The WOW List.
• It’s the only way I can advise you and monitor your trip from the most important moment—the conception and initial design.
• It’s the only way your trip will count toward a WOW Moment.

WOW TRIP COSTS AND STYLE
What these local fixers do is custom-tailor a private itinerary exactly to your trip goals and travel style, get you special access to iconic sights, and mastermind all the trip logistics so that you don’t have to. Trips start at about $10K to $15K, depending on your destination and timing.

FOR MORE GUIDANCE
Not sure where to travel or who is the best fit for your specific trip needs and goals? Click to Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation.


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Africa

Egypt
Jim Berkeley, Destinations & Adventures International

Jim 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. After five years in Cairo running the local office of a major travel firm, he started his own company in 1995 to plan trips to Egypt and beyond. Jim’s customized itineraries combine luxury and adventure—he’ll have you sailing down the Nile in a dahabiya one day and lounging by the pool at the Old Cataract Hotel the next—and he has the connections to get you into tombs that are closed to the public.

Read Jim’s Insider’s Guide to Egypt. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Jim
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Morocco
Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui and Radia Tehitahe, Experience Morocco

Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui and Radia Tehitahe: MoroccoAfter earning an MBA from Harvard, Hicham returned to his native Morocco to fulfill his dream of introducing travelers to the best of his homeland beyond the typical tourist routes. Radia is his trusted deputy in their Casablanca office (he also has staff in Marrakech) who will listen carefully to your interests and hobbies and craft a custom itinerary that brings Morocco to life. She can arrange everything from a family-friendly scavenger hunt through Marrakech’s souks to a cooking class in a Berber village to a workshop in metal welding or book binding, and she loves to place travelers in the most atmospheric 4- and 5-star riads that ooze Moroccan charm. 

Read Hicham and Radia’s Insider’s Guide to the Sahara Desert. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Hicham and Radia
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Morocco
Michael Diamond, Cobblestone Private Travel

Michael DiamondThanks to two decades of planning trips to Morocco, Michael designs seamless itineraries utilizing the savviest logistics and most atmospheric luxury riads. He encourages travelers to slow down to match the pace of local life, whether by lingering over a late-afternoon mint tea and people-watching in a bustling Marrakech square or staying up late around the fire at your Sahara encampment while the African stars dazzle above you. His handpicked special-access guides can steer you to the hidden ateliers where you’ll find the highest-quality designs and products at the lowest prices.

Read Michael’s Insider’s Guide to Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains, Morocco. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Michael
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Safaris: Southern and Central Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius
Cherri Briggs, Explore, Inc.

Cherri—who splits her time between homes in Zambia and Colorado—has spent the past 25 years combing the African continent to create unique travel experiences: canoeing the Zambezi; galloping on horseback with zebra and giraffe across the Okavango Delta; scuba diving off Mozambique; and exploring the remote corners of Ethiopia, Gabon, Madagascar, Cameroon, and the Congo Basin. She ensures that clients—both private travelers and groups—enjoy excellent value and a smart selection of lodges and camps in Southern and East Africa. Cherri serves on the boards of several African conservation organizations, and she selects lodges that support local communities and invest in conservation.

Read Cherri’s Insider’s Guides to Namibia Adventures, Zimbabwe, Zambiaand Madagascar. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Cherri
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Safaris: East Africa and South Africa
Dan Saperstein, Hippo Creek Safaris

Dan draws on his vast network of connections to ensure that each safari really is the trip of a lifetime and that each traveler gets the most rewarding safari experience possible for their travel dollar. Based in the New York City area, he is always on call and always making sure that his clients are treated like royalty at every lodge and camp. Parents and grandparents wanting to take young children on safari: Do yourself a favor and have an honest conversation with Dan, who is a father of young kids himself, about which countries and parks are truly the most child-friendly. 

Read Dan’s Insider’s Guides to South Africa Safaris and East Africa Safaris. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Dan
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Safaris: Southern and East 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 cohosting a weekly radio program about wildlife conservation. Later, he coauthored 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 travelers to the lesser-known corners of the continent, such as the wilds of the Congo rainforest (“The Jungle Book come to life,” as he calls it).

Read Julian’s Insider’s Guides to Botswana’s Small Safari Camps and Cape Town and South Africa’s Winelands. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Julian
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Asia

Bali and Indonesia
Diane Embree, Michael’s Travel Centre/Bali Barong Tours

Diane EmbreeDiane’s Bali itineraries typically combine beach time with sightseeing and, if you like, can also include the island’s best hiking, snorkeling, river rafting, or other adventure activities. Her 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 is a pro with the rest of Indonesia too—in case you’re looking to see Borneo’s orangutans or Komodo dragons, 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 with stopovers in Asian gateway cities en route to and from Indonesia.
Note: Diane is retiring and not accepting requests for trips beginning after June 30, 2024. For a different Indonesia recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Read Diane’s Insider’s Guide to Bali. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Diane
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Central Asia, the Silk Road, and Uzbekistan
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. This makes her well suited to introduce foreigners to the stunning landscapes and ancient sites of Central Asia, including all five “Stans.” 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 travelers, and the encounters that she orchestrates with artisans and businesspeople help bring alive aspects of the culture both ancient and contemporary.

Read Zulya’s Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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China: Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan
Mei Zhang, WildChina

Sharing her homeland’s hidden gems has been Mei’s lifelong passion, interrupted only by the years she spent earning her Harvard MBA and working for McKinsey. No matter the occasion—family trip to her native Yunnan province or 50th birthday celebration in Beijing—Mei can filter the seemingly endless options to craft an experience that’s just right, and her close relationships with hoteliers ensure her travelers get the red-carpet treatment. Her private guides and drivers are the best in the business, opening the doors to authentic Chinese culture and steering travelers away from all things touristy.

Read Mei’s Insider’s Guides to Beijing, Yunnan Province, and China’s Big Cities and Small Villages. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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India, Bhutan, Nepal
Sanjay Saxena, Nomadic Expeditions

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. 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.

Read Sanjay’s Insider’s Guides to Agra and the Taj Mahal, Delhi, and Secrets of India. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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India
Bertie and Victoria Dyer, India Beat

Bertie and Victoria DyerWhile living for ten years in Jaipur—where they were married and had their first child—Bertie and Victoria introduced so many visiting friends to their favorite places and people in Rajasthan that it turned into a travel business. They plan 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 she is known for her popular Jaipur bazaar crawl. They now live in England, but their Jaipur office is run by a dedicated team of local employees who have been with the company from the beginning.

Read Bertie and Victoria’s Insider’s Guides to Rajasthan and Mumbai. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Japan
Japanese society relies heavily on personal connections to unlock doors. Japan is also bracingly expensive, with many of the loveliest ryokans and guest houses costing upwards of $1,000 per night (although that does include an extravagant dinner). And because the number of savvy guides with exceptional access is limited, they can command high fees. If you are seeking the right bespoke trip-planning specialist who can deliver the best that Japan has to offer, we can point you toward your smartest options.

Ask Wendy

Japan
Andrea Oschetti, Blueflower

Because he lives in Hong Kong and has made Asia his home for more than two decades (he’s Italian by birth), Andrea has regional connections that enable him to offer a broader range of itineraries and price points than you’ll find through most U.S.-based firms. He’s open to arranging relatively short experiences of Japan because he’s accustomed to booking long weekends there for his Hong Kong clientele, and he uses WhatsApp to stay in contact—from a nearby time zone, no less—throughout your trip. He can arrange visits with local artisans, sushi chefs, and bonsai masters, is equally comfortable sending you around rural and urban Japan via train or private car, and is particularly adept at managing groups with disparate interests.

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Andrea
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Japan
Scott Gilman, JapanQuest Journeys

Scott GilmanAfter living in Japan working for Goldman Sachs, Scott launched his own firm to deliver five-star-only journeys into the soul of Japan, peppered with the sorts of experiences that are normally very difficult for travelers to access. He has spent decades cultivating local relationships, hand-picking the savviest guides, and uncovering unusual opportunities that unlock the mysteries of Japan. He and son Jason orchestrate trips for visitors of every age, from children fascinated by samurai swords and manga comics to romantic couples in pursuit of exquisite ryokans with secluded hot springs. They can arrange encounters with experts in pottery, textiles, kendo, taiko drumming, and more. They can even deliver a practice session at a sumo training stable or a dinner with geisha entertainment at a teahouse open only to invited guests.

Read Scott’s Insider’s Guide to Classic Japan. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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The Maldives and the Seychelles
Justin Parkinson, Linara Travel

Justin ParkinsonJustin’s frequent trips to the Indian Ocean over the past 14 years make him uniquely qualified to match you with the specific island, resort, and overwater bungalow that best suit your needs. This is especially crucial in the Maldives, where you’re likely to spend all of your time at a single, private-island resort, and there are new properties opening regularly. In the Seychelles, Justin can help you rent a car to go exploring and point you to the best beaches and hiking trails. Given how many people fly to the Indian Ocean via Dubai, he has become an expert on the United Arab Emirates too and can help you save money there so you can splurge in the islands. 

Read Justin’s Insider’s Guides to the Maldives and the Seychelles. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Justin
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Mongolia
Jalsa Urubshurow, Nomadic Expeditions

A Mongolian-American who splits his time between the U.S. and Mongolia, Jalsa was among the first to offer highly customized trips to his homeland, and he also created one of the country’s original guide-training programs. He pairs travelers with experts—historians, scientists, artists, photographers—who provide a comprehensive understanding of the country’s history, culture, and traditions. Jalsa champions sustainable, eco-friendly travel as a viable alternative to Mongolia’s mining-based economy; he also founded the Nomadic Foundation to expand the impact of conservation and cultural preservation projects run by his team in Mongolia.

Read Jalsa’s Insider’s Guide to Mongolia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Sri Lanka
Miguel Cunat, Sri Lanka in Style

Miguel CunatMiguel, who has been living with his family in Sri Lanka since 2003, provides visitors with insightful, engaging experiences in this logistically tricky but enchanting country. He helps travelers to get off the beaten path without sacrificing comfort or charm, and to meet the colorful local characters who provide a real sense of place (authors, architects, even the Leopard Man). Having watched Sri Lanka undergo so many changes in the past two decades, Miguel is deeply committed to conservation and is certified in Sustainable Tourism by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council; this plays into every recommendation he makes, from the hotels he chooses to the strategies he employs for keeping his travelers far from the tour-bus crowd.

Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos
Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley, Asia Desk

Sandy and Ethan craft tailor-made itineraries that combine five-star creature comforts with authentic local experiences. Both grew up in the region: Sandy graduated from the International School of Bangkok in 1969 while his father was serving in the Vietnam War and has planned trips to the region for more than 30 years; Ethan was raised in Cambodia and is fluent in Khmer. Sandy now splits his time between Saigon and the U.S., while Ethan keeps the office running in South Carolina. They have a vast network of powerful contacts in the hotel industry—which translates into status for you—and a wonderful selection of on-the-ground hosts, all charismatic locals whom Sandy considers family (some of them really are!).

Read Sandy and Ethan’s Insider’s Guides to Thailand, Vietnam, Southeast Asia, Bangkok, and Laos. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
Daniel Fraser, Smiling Albino

Daniel FraserA celebrity in Thailand as the host of several TV shows there, this Thai-speaking Canadian got his start in Asia working for the Thai royal family more than 20 years ago. With that notoriety came the ability to open all sorts of doors that others can’t (private lunches in the homes of famous architects and designers, exclusive tours of Bangkok’s underground art scene). Daniel has a variety of tricks up his sleeve to keep travelers far off the beaten path—whether that’s getting a private monk blessing in Wat Pho, entry to famous landmarks before they are open to the public, or visiting artisans’ workshops that are accessible only by boat. He also has offices in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

Read Daniel’s Insider’s Guide to Thailand Like You’ve Never Seen It. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Australia and Pacific

Australia
Stuart Rigg, Southern Crossings

Stuart RiggStuart has personally tested nearly every lodge, heli-tour, yacht charter, and waterfront restaurant that he recommends. Based in Sydney, he can arrange access to private homes, golf courses, and art collections, and will offer careful guidance on everything from drives through the Margaret River wine region to sailing trips around the Whitsundays. Stuart will point you to the sections of the Great Barrier Reef that are the least visited and most spectacular, and he knows exactly which island properties are best for hyperactive families, spa-loving hedonists, or Robinson Crusoe fantasists. If you’d like to combine Australia with New Zealand, Stuart can collaborate with Auckland-based colleague and fellow WOW Lister Sarah Farag

Read Stuart’s Insider’s Guides to Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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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, he fell in love with the island’s people and their culture. On his many trips since then, he’s explored both the famous islands that attract first-timers and the lesser-known gems his intrepid repeat travelers want to visit—all the while bolstering his vast array of contacts and experiences. Since he books directly with companies in Tahiti—leaving out the U.S.-based wholesalers—his prices are competitive, and his travelers 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.

Read Kleon’s Insider’s Guide to Bora Bora, Tahiti and French Polynesia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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New Zealand
Jean-Michel Jefferson, Ahipara

Jean-Michel JeffersonJean-Michel Jefferson moved to New Zealand in 1998, after a decade-long career with Price Waterhouse, and founded a travel firm to cater to people who want to “go further, deeper, and see things others do not see.” He draws on his encyclopedic knowledge of New Zealand and network of hundreds of hoteliers, restaurateurs, private pilots, ship captains, and noteworthy experts to create itineraries that translate travelers’ wishes into reality—experiences that in many cases you could not possibly arrange on your own. His team can modify an itinerary on the fly to work around uncooperative weather or to satisfy a traveler’s spontaneous desire to either add another location or slow down the pace. He has even helped people with immigration, including interviewing principals at selected schools!

Read Jean-Michel’s Insider’s Guides to Active New Zealand and Queenstown. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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New Zealand and Australia
Sarah Farag, Southern Crossings

A native New Zealander based in Auckland, Sarah works her superb connections—from sheep farmers to helicopter pilots—to open doors for her travelers. She can set you up with a driving itinerary and rental car with stops for scenic hikes, wine tastings, and whatever else you might enjoy, but for those times when you’d prefer not to worry about driving on the left-hand side of the road and be able to lose your eyes in the country’s countless glorious vistas, she has the savviest private drivers at her beck and call. Sarah has pull not just with the country’s top luxury lodges, but also with its guesthouses and even private homes with chefs. And, as a mom of two teenage sons, she is tuned in to what families enjoy most. Sarah can add beach stops in Fiji and other South Pacific islands, or coordinate with colleague and fellow WOW Lister Stuart Rigg to include time in Australia.

Read Sarah’s Insider’s Guide to New Zealand and Australia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Canada

Atlantic Canada: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island
Jill Curran, Maxxim Vacations

Jill was raised in a small fishing community in Newfoundland and is deeply rooted in Canada’s Atlantic provinces. Her customized itineraries extend throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and the Maritime provinces, uncovering secrets that most people miss: the side road with a stunning view, the tiny fishing village where you can chat with locals over tea. Her tours are either self-drive or privately guided, and her personally selected accommodations range from small inns and B&Bs to luxury hotels. One of her specialties is a seaside picnic lunch sourced from local ingredients (think chutney-glazed ham, garden veggies, homemade bread) and prepared in the 150-year-old lighthouse where her grandmother was born.

Read Jill’s Insider’s Guide to Newfoundland and Labrador. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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French Canada: Quebec
Centuries of history, majestic megafauna, indigenous culture, pristine landscapes, and a strong dose of France, all within a short flight (or even a drive) of many U.S. locales: This is Quebec. Browse Montreal’s street art with an internationally acclaimed artist, hop on a seaplane for a picnic on a remote beach, get VIP access to observe whales and black bears in the wild. Click on the button below and we’ll connect you with a side of Canada you’ve never seen before.

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Pacific Northwest: British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies
Sheri Doyle, Pacific Northwest Journeys

Sheri DoyleBased in Seattle and a former corporate attorney, Sheri brings her legal-eagle eye for detail to the itineraries she crafts in Western Canada. 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, and dined at the restaurants she recommends for you. Her preferred rates at top properties can save travelers a bundle.
Note: Sheri is not taking requests for trips less than 90 days out.

Read Sheri’s Insider’s Guides to Seattle, San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula, and California Coast. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Western Canada: British Columbia, Canadian Rockies, Northwest Territories, Yukon
Marc Telio, Entrée Canada

Born in Montreal and now based in Vancouver, Marc is most passionate about helping travelers access Canada’s most remote places, dazzling landscapes, and memorable activities. His favorite itineraries combine beautiful scenery, fascinating wildlife, and local culture with soulful 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 seamless experience. Their tight-knit relationships with top outfitters, guides, and hotels translate to VIP treatment for you. And if you’re looking for kid-friendly adventures, Marc has plenty of ideas up his sleeve—his two kids grew up on scouting trips throughout Canada.

Read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Colombia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Caribbean, Central America, Mexico

Bahamas and Caribbean Yacht Charters
Picture sparkling seas, the waves lapping at your boat, a captain who knows every secret snorkeling spot, toes-in-the-sand beach bars where you can stop for a drink, fabulously fresh seafood—prepared by your private chef—to enjoy at night…. All that can be yours when you charter your own vessel. But of the hundreds that are based in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, which to choose? And how do you know that its crew can make the magic happen, and that its water toys are up to snuff? We know yacht-charter experts who spend a good portion of every year inspecting boats and their crews to find the very best. Tell us what you have in mind, and we can match you to the right specialist for your specific needs.

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Belize
Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson, Absolute Belize

A Londoner who gave up the rat race to settle in the tropics (Rachael, who now lives on the coast) and a Belizean who still resides in her hometown (Patricia, who’s based near the jungle), this dream team designs custom-tailored itineraries that capture Belize’s natural and cultural wonders. From scuba diving and sport fishing to Indiana Jones–style cave adventuring, they know how to keep the adrenaline flowing. Patricia spent several years working at some of the country’s luxury resorts, so their travelers get special attention there, and they can mastermind everything from private-yacht charters to Champagne picnics beside a waterfall to helicopter flyovers of the Great Blue Hole.

Read Patricia and Rachael’s Belize Insider’s Guide: Azure Waters, Green Jungle. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Cabo
Julie Byrd, CaboVillas.com

With its natural beauty, wide-ranging water- and land-based activities, and genuinely hospitable locals, Los Cabos is an easy getaway, made even easier by Julie. 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 private rental properties that includes more than 100 luxurious villas and condos suitable for families, couples, and groups of friends. Her Cabo-based concierge team is available 24/7; they can arrange everything from fishing and yacht charters to private chefs and in-villa celebrations.

Read Julie’s Insider’s Guides to Los Cabos Villa Vacations and Los Cabos Beach Vacations. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Caribbean Islands and Dive Vacations
Meg Austin

Meg is exceptionally well-connected among the who’s who of the travel world, an accomplished diver who has scoped out every Caribbean reef, and a mom of recent college grads, so she is an excellent solution for active family trips. Her longstanding friendships on select Caribbean islands—specifically, Anguilla, Antigua, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Nevis, St. Barts, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and Turks and Caicos—as well as on Mexico’s Riviera Maya on the Caribbean Sea, translate to special treatment for her travelers.

Read Meg’s Insider’s Guide to the Scuba Diving in the Caribbean and Bahamas. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Costa Rica
Irene Edwards, GreenSpot

Irene Edwards on a zip lineA native Costa Rican, Irene arranges trips to her country that marry sophisticated luxury, cool nature experiences and adventure thrills, 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 eager to arrange meaningful, one-on-one experiences with the locals. (You might even get invited to her mother’s home for a cooking lesson.) 

Read Irene’s Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Luxury Eco-Travel. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Costa Rica
Priscilla Jimenez, Costa Rica Expeditions

Priscilla JimenezCosta Rica’s wildlife has fueled Priscilla’s own explorations of her homeland, and it’s on display in her itineraries featuring the country’s national parks and volcanoes. While her own family’s trips lean toward active adventures involving mountain biking, hiking, canyoneering, and whitewater rafting (Priscilla’s got two energetic sons), she is just as fluent in the options for romance and serenity on blissful beaches. In a place where distances are short but the infrastructure weak, Priscilla is smart about utilizing private drivers, helicopters, and chartered or scheduled flights to make the most of your time.

Read Priscilla’s Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Adventure. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Cuba

Yes, you can still travel to Cuba. Legally and privately. The Cuba experts we know have worked in the country for years and are well connected to artists, musicians, historians, TV personalities, and the best privately-owned boutique B&Bs, casas particulares, and paladares. They can have you learning the secrets of a perfect mojito from a local bartender, enjoying a night out at a pop-up jazz club, bird-watching on a day trip into the countryside, and strolling Havana with a former architect or journalist (who now earns more as a private guide).

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Mexico
Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico

Zach RabinorAn elite guide in Mexico for more than two decades, Zach learned everything about what sophisticated travelers really want there but can’t easily find, then founded his own travel firm to deliver exactly that. Currently based in New York City, Zach spent many years living in Mexico with his wife and two sons; he still travels there regularly to cement his insider connections across the country’s wide array of coastlines, colonial cities, wildlife reserves, beach resorts, historic haciendas, private villas, ancient monuments, award-winning kitchens, and thrilling activities (he’s a big surfer). His deep relationships with local hoteliers, communities, and fixers of all kinds translate into room upgrades, special-access visits, and off-the-beaten-path experiences that travelers wouldn’t know about otherwise.

Read Zachary’s Insider’s Guides to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Cityand the Riviera Maya. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua
Pierre Gedeon, Costa Adventures

Pierre, a Frenchman whose adopted home has been Central America for more than 20 years, orchestrates multi-country itineraries that maximize efficiency in Panama and Nicaragua—places that are still relatively undeveloped—and in Costa Rica. Trips can feature adventure activities from soft to strenuous (think river rafting, horseback riding, ocean or mangrove kayaking, volcano hiking); a romantic Caribbean beach escape; bird watching and other wildlife pursuits; visits to archaeological sites, colonial towns, and native villages; a focus on three of the region’s most popular exports—coffee, chocolate, and cigars; or all of the above. 

Read Pierre’s Insider’s Guide to Nicaragua. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Cruises and Yacht Charters

European Barge Cruises
Ellen Sack and Caroline Klein, Barge Lady Cruises

Chartering a canal barge (ideal for groups of 4 to 12 adults) or booking individual cabins on such a vessel (for 2 to 4 travelers) is slow travel at its best: You get to glide along centuries-old canals and waterways through the bucolic European countryside, covering just a few miles a day between excursions to vineyards, villages, castles, markets, and local artisans’ studios. Ellen Sack, the original Barge Lady since 1985, daughter Caroline Sack Klein, and individual-cabin specialist Juana Pfadt will level with you about the pros and cons of each itinerary, as well as the cuisine, service level, and sightseeing possibilities on offer for each vessel. The warm welcome their travelers receive onboard is testament to their close relationships with the vessels’ owners.

Read Ellen and Caroline’s Insider’s Guide to France’s Waterways. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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European Rivers and Luxury Cruises Worldwide
Tom Baker, Cruise Center

Tom Baker has sailed on more than 250 ships in over 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. 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, Amadeus, Scenic, Tauck River, Uniworld, and Viking, and with ocean lines Celebrity, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Windstar.

Read Tom’s Insider’s Guides to Alaska Cruises and Mediterranean Cruises. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Expedition Voyages
Ashton Palmer, ExpeditionTrips

Ashton spent nearly a decade as an expedition leader, guide, naturalist, conservationist, Zodiac driver, avid bird-watcher, and photographer in the last wild places—Antarctica and the Arctic, as well as the Galapagos, the Amazon, and the South Pacific. Realizing that travelers desperately needed unbiased guidance on every expedition line and ship, he founded a travel firm in order to provide just this. Now, he and his staff work tirelessly to match travelers with the right small-ship expedition trips, and he has traveled to Antarctica more than 50 times and spent a collective three months in the Arctic. And because of his relationships with the top cruise lines and tour operators, he often secures preferred rates or other perks.

Read Ashton’s Insider’s Guides to Antarctica Cruises, Arctic Cruises, and Small-Ship Alaska Cruises. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Luxury Cruises Worldwide
Mary Jean Tully, Cruise Professionals by Tully Luxury Travel

Mary Jean TullyMary Jean sends an enormous amount of business to the more high-end cruise lines—Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, Oceania, Viking, Azamara, Cunard, Holland America, Celebrity, Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection, Ponant, Scenic, and Aqua Expeditions among them—and thus is able to secure the best cabins (often as an upgrade) and procure generous onboard credits for her travelers. She has plenty of pull with five-star hotels too, which comes in handy when she’s making pre-and post-cruise land arrangements. When she’s offline in Africa—she is seriously committed to wildlife preservation—or sailing on the coolest new ships in remotest Asia, ask to speak with her trusted deputy Cheri Ozimac.

Read Mary Jean’s Insider’s Guides to Asia Cruises and Africa Cruises. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Yacht Charters
Picture sparkling seas, the waves lapping at your boat, a captain who knows every hidden cove, quaint villages to explore by day, fabulously fresh seafood—prepared by your private chef—to enjoy at night…. All that can be yours when you charter your own vessel. Maybe it’s a sailboat on the Dalmatian Coast, a catamaran in Tahiti, a bareboat charter in the Caribbean, or a mega-yacht on the Great Barrier Reef. But of the thousands out there, which craft and crew to choose? We know yacht-charter experts who spend a good portion of every year inspecting boats and their crews to find the very best. Tell us what you have in mind, and we can match you to the right travel specialist for your specific needs.

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Europe

Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland
Gwen Kozlowski, Exeter International

Gwen KozlowskiGwen has been masterminding custom trips for independent travelers to Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and other parts of Eastern 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 train and driving 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, she prides herself on knowing 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 VIP treatment at the most atmospheric four- and five-star hotels.

Read Gwen’s Insider’s Guides to Austria, Hungaryand the Czech Republic. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg
Tom Stinglhamber, Brilliant Ideas

Thomas StinglhamberBased in Antwerp and fluent in Dutch, English, French, and Portuguese, Tom started as a hotel concierge and now treats travelers to that same white-glove service as he crafts Benelux itineraries combining city sights and countryside charm. It’s a compact region (Amsterdam is an hour’s drive from his office), so he knows the right people to make your trip special, whether that’s a master Cicerone (a beer sommelier) who can guide you through a tasting of Belgium’s finest brews, a Michelin-starred chef who will cook only for you as you cruise privately through Amsterdam’s canals in a luxuriously refurbished 19th-century boat, or a renowned chocolatier who treats you to a praline workshop in his private atelier. Accommodations are most often in stylish, independently owned boutique hotels, along with the odd medieval castle that has been transformed into a romantic overnight haven.
Note: Tom cannot take requests for trips that start before September 2024. For a different Benelux recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Read Tom’s Insider’s Guide to Belgium. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Croatia (plus Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia)
Ala Osmond, Exeter International

Ala OsmondThanks to frequent trips to the former republics of Yugoslavia during the nearly two decades she spent in the hotel industry in Europe, Ala excels at crafting itineraries that combine the coastal must-sees (think Dubrovnik and Kotor) with historic gems (think Sarajevo and Split) and the picturesque countryside in between—all while avoiding tourist traps, navigating travelers around the cruise-ship crowds that plague the coastal cities, and wisely negotiating border crossings. Charming 5-star and 4-star hotels are a focus for her: She’s always up on the latest openings and will warn you away from the more run-down boutiques.

Read Ala’s Insider’s Guide to Croatia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Croatia
Jay Ternavan, JayWay Travel

Jay makes travel to Croatia—and beyond to other parts of Europe—more affordable via a wide range of accommodations, including boutique hotels, B&Bs, and sea-view apartments. He knows where the trains and ferries are convenient and reliable, where it’s easy to drive yourself, and where you’ll save time and aggravation by hiring a private driver. For sporty families, he can arrange everything from biking to canyoning, and if you’re near the coast, he’ll be sure to include time on the water, be it by sailboat, kayak, or ferry. He’s also knowledgeable about wine, thanks to a previous career in the wine industry, and can tell you which boutique wineries, even those that don’t export widely to the U.S., are worth a visit. Jay is headquartered in New York but has staff based in much of Mediterranean, Central, and Eastern Europe.

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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England and the British Isles
Travelers bound for the United Kingdom and Ireland seek a broad array of experiences for which there is a broad array of sources. Do you need a castle in the countryside for a 50th birthday party or a manor home for a family reunion near the university where your kid is in college? A week of hiking in the Cotswolds or meeting the most interesting local characters in the hidden pockets of Ireland? The more specific you can be about your trip goals, the better we can direct you to the right fixer for your needs.

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England, Ireland, Scotland
Jonathan Epstein, Celebrated Experiences

Jonathan EpsteinIf 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 his suitcase on his next trip. The next best thing? Let him arrange your itinerary, including the most scenic drives between all those fairytale properties and otherwise-hard-to-book restaurants. Although he’s based in the U.S., you’ll benefit from his 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. 

Read Jonathan’s Insider’s Guides to Killarney and County Kerry, IrelandScotland, and the Cotswolds. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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England, France, and Italy
Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs

Jennifer is currently based in London and has also called Rome and Paris home—all the while building her outstanding connections to charming boutique hotels, hard-to-get-into restaurants, and expert private guides. She can make the line at the Eiffel Tower disappear, snag front-row seats for Fashion Week, or get you an after-hours tour of the Tower of London. Jennifer is equally deft at planning itineraries for families—she’s taken her own daughter all over Europe—as she is for high rollers (she’s a private-jet broker too). For those flying commercially, her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door and includes fast-track entry through immigration to a waiting car.

Read Jennifer’s Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Read France Trip Reviews
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France
Philip Haslett, French Promise

Philip HaslettPhilip crafts elegant, bespoke itineraries through the hidden pockets of France that, sadly, most travelers miss. The reason he knows so many charming villages, country lanes, waterways, and cowpaths—not just in his homebase of Provence but throughout the country—is the many years he spent captaining both hot-air balloons and luxury hotel barges. He can unlock the Palace of the Popes at night, helicopter you in to hike with shepherds in the Pyrenees, or ensconce you in a chic beachside villa whose guest list looks like the Oscars seating chart. Bear in mind that many of the sights he’ll recommend are so hidden that you’re better off using one of his English-speaking driver-guides than renting a car and attempting to navigate on your own.

Read Philip’s Insider’s Guide to Provence and the French Riviera. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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France
Michael Eloy and Alex Zglinski, Trufflepig

Michael Eloy and Alex ZglinskiMichael and Alex grew up in France’s famed regions of Provence and Burgundy, respectively. Today, they sprinkle their local connections throughout their itineraries, helping independent-minded travelers—especially those who want to rent a car and explore on their own—to experience the best of what’s off the beaten track in France. Their in-depth itineraries will ensure that you drive the most scenic roads, sleep in the most charming and unusual accommodations, and dine in the most authentic local eateries. They can also help you combine France with Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy, or Switzerland.
Note: Michael and Alex are not taking any more requests for trips starting before June 2024. For a different France recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Read Michael and Alex’s Insider’s Guides to Paris for Food Lovers and Burgundy. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Germany and beyond (Austria, the Netherlands, Scandinavia)
Claudia Schwenger, Trufflepig

Claudia returns to her native Germany regularly to ensure she’s on top of the latest intel. She specializes in highly detailed self-drive and train itineraries for independent-minded travelers and will map out for you the most scenic driving, hiking, cycling, train, and ferry routes, and even where to bobsled or ski for a couple of days. She can point you to the best castles to sleep in along the Rhine, hire the latest-model Porsche for your tour of the Bavarian Alps, connect you with a World War I historian, or get you past the lines in the Keukenhof Gardens. 
Note: Claudia cannot take requests for trips that start before September 2024. For a different recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Read Claudia’s Insider’s Guide to Bavaria, Germany. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Greece
Certain Greek islands, especially those visited by cruise ships, can be a mosh pit in high season, and the logistics of getting between islands can be surprisingly complicated. The right expert can steer you to the most reliable ferry operators, ensure there’s a taxi to pick you up at the pier, even arrange for private boat rides to secret islands. There are hundreds of Greek islands to choose from, of course—each with its own unique character—and the right expert can design an itinerary with just the right combo of ancient history, modern culture, near-empty beaches, sleepy villages, pulsating nightlife, or whatever it is that you want most. Tell us via the button below, and we’ll help as best we can.

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Greece
Jacoline Vinke, Trufflepig

Jacoline, who has lived in Athens for more than two decades, literally wrote the book on travel in Greece (three of them, in fact, including Jacoline’s Small Hotels in Greece). Her research for those volumes has taken her to every corner of the mainland and just about every inhabited island. Call on her when it’s your second or third—or tenth—trip to Greece and you’re ready to focus on the most charming spots that everyone else misses, including the hidden-gem boutique hotels and guesthouses where you’ll be on a first-name basis with the owner. 
Note: Jacoline cannot take requests for trips that start before September 2024. For a different Greece recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Greece
Mina Agnos, Travelive

Mina has been visiting Greece since childhood and is particularly keen to help travelers when it’s their first trip to the country (or sometimes, to Europe). These days she divides her time between Athens and Florida, regularly road-testing an array of islands, experiences, and accommodations so she can help you see the country’s iconic sites while navigating its tricky logistics. Her knowledge of reliably good places to stay extends to rental villas, yacht charters, and an organic agritourism farm in the Peloponnese where you can pick olives, stomp grapes, and make pastries with the village ladies. Mina has two teens, so she is especially helpful to families.

Read Mina’s Insider’s Guide to the Ionian Islands. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Iceland
Iceland has awesome landscapes and unusual adventure activities, from volcano diving to geothermal-pool hopping. But it is surprisingly expensive, and soaring tourism has caused demand—for accommodations, activities, all-terrain vehicles, glacier adventure guides, etc.—to outpace supply, driving prices even higher. What’s more, the country’s tourism infrastructure is geared to mass-market group tours. For the right local fixer to deliver a private, custom-tailored itinerary with unique experiences, click on the “Ask Wendy” button below.

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Iceland
Chris Gordon, Icepedition

Chris GordonChris’s trips combine jaw-dropping landscapes with cushy places to stay, from high-design hotels to friendly guesthouses, and he can arrange for you to spend your days kayaking among icebergs or soaking in secret hot springs. Iceland has a very high standard of living, and locals’ time comes at a high cost, but for the right price, he can also have you listening to family sagas in small fishing villages and foraging with famous chefs. Chris usually has travelers rent a car and drive themselves using his clear, Wifi-enabled route-finding. Just before departure, he mails you a set of day-by-day directions and regional guides; the printed itinerary may feel old-school to some, but his recommendations of specific beaches, waterfalls, and roadside turnouts for self-guided days are smartly curated.

Read Chris’s Insider’s Guide to Iceland Adventures. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Iceland, Denmark, and the Faroe Islands
Mads Tange Christensen, Nordic Star

Based in Copenhagen, Mads travels frequently throughout Denmark and its territories (e.g., Greenland and the Faroe Islands) to stay abreast of the latest offerings for his travelers—like a candlelit dinner inside the Stone Age collection at Copenhagen’s National Museum, or a private cruise aboard a former royal yacht. When it comes to Iceland, adventure is Mads’ forte, from river rafting to horseback riding to glacier walking, but it can be made soft enough to please grandparents on a multigenerational trip. He works with elite driver/guides who own safe, luxe vehicles that can venture into Iceland’s rugged backcountry.

Read Mads’s Insider’s Guide to Off-the-Beaten-Path Iceland. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Ireland
Travelers bound for Ireland seek a broad array of experiences for which there is a broad array of sources. Do you want to hike the trails of Killarney National Park, stroll through Galway with a local musician, meet artisans and farmers in the countryside, overnight in an 800-year-old castle, or rent a Georgian manor home for a family reunion? The more specific you can be about your trip goals, the better we can direct you to the right fixer for your needs.

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Italy 
Andrea Grisdale, IC Bellagio

Andrea, who is based on Lake Como, can open doors that are closed to most people. A bilingual former guide, she knows all the tricks for tailoring a trip to your fantasies while avoiding your pet peeves, and for reducing logistics and saving time at the most well-known sites while also squeezing in the hidden gems. Andrea has the clout with Italy’s finest hotels to pull strings and ask for favors, and her team has a track record of coming to the rescue 24/7 should the need arise. Save her for extra-special trips where you are splurging on five-star hotels and VIP excursions—e.g., wedding anniversaries and surprises for elite travelers.

Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guides to Amalfi Coast and Italy’s Lakes Region. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Italy 
Luisa Grigoletto, Trufflepig

Born in the Veneto, Luisa now lives in Rome—she is co-author of The 500 Hidden Secrets of Rome—and is well-connected in Italy’s art-history realm. Once a fixer for foreign journalists, she’s a pro at gaining insider access for her travelers, especially at museums and the Vatican. Luisa is a proponent of renting a car in the less jammed parts of the country and will provide driving itineraries with plenty of interesting stops, such as little family-run olive oil estates in Tuscany or off-the-beaten-path villages in Puglia. She can also orchestrate multi-country itineraries that involve France, Croatia, Spain, Austria, Germany, Greece, and elsewhere in Europe.

Read Luisa’s Insider’s Guide to Rome. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Italy, France, England 
Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs

Jennifer is currently based in London and has also called Rome and Paris home—all the while building her outstanding connections to charming boutique hotels, hard-to-get-into restaurants, and expert private guides. She can make the line at the Eiffel Tower disappear, snag front-row seats for Fashion Week, or get you an after-hours tour of the Tower of London. Jennifer is equally deft at planning itineraries for families—she’s taken her own daughter all over Europe—as she is for high rollers (she’s a private-jet broker too). For those flying commercially, her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door and includes fast-track entry through immigration to a waiting car.

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Italy and Switzerland
Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers, CIU Travel

Call on Maria and Brian when you want the ultimate culinary tour of Italy, or to be matched with charming and terrifically knowledgeable private guides and drivers who have keys to doors you wouldn’t even know how to look for, let alone open. Maria has a background in art history, Brian is a former chef; they met as professional opera singers. Through this husband-and-wife team, you can gain entrée to noteworthy winemakers, charismatic artisans, secret private gardens, and the like. Maria and Brian have a home in Umbria and love to show travelers that region’s hidden charms, but they are equally comfortable making arrangements everywhere from the Amalfi Coast to Lake Como—as well as farther north into Switzerland; Brian is an enthusiastic hiker and skier who’s tested out many Alpine slopes and trails.

Read Brian and Maria’s Insider’s Guides to Venice, Florence, Umbria, and TuscanyCheck Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Italy: The Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera 
Anna Merulla and Emanuela Raggio, BeautifuLiguria

Anna and EmanuelaItaly’s northwestern region of Liguria is best known for the picturesque villages of the Cinque Terre, star-studded Portofino, and the port city of Genoa. What many travelers don’t know about—but should—are Liguria’s colorful hilltop towns, its hiking trails with breathtaking coastal views, and its family-run agriturismos. That’s where Anna and Emanuela, who are based in Genoa, come in. They make sure that their travelers visit the Cinque Terre in the opposite direction than the cruise-ship day-trippers do, to avoid the crowds. In the hills above Portofino, they can introduce you to artisanal producers of wine, olive oil, honey, and beer. And to help you work off all those calories, they’re ready with plans for biking, kayaking, snorkeling, and other active pursuits.  Anna and Emanuela can also assist with the rest of northern Italy except the Dolomites. 

Read Anna and Emanuela’s Insider’s Guide to The Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Italy: Puglia
Antonello Losito and Alison Pike, Southern Visions Travel

Puglia’s spectacular Adriatic coastline makes it the hot new alternative to the traffic-clogged Amalfi Coast a couple of hours to the west.  Antonello, a Puglia native and former professional cyclist, roams the region’s rural villages finding and creating unique experiences, while Alison, a Brit who has lived there for more than a decade, will interview you in order to design a custom itinerary. If your aim is to burn off as many calories as you ingest, Ali will balance hikes and bike rides with stops at a local farm for a burrata-making session, or at an olive grove for an oil tasting with a family who’s been in the business for generations. If you want adventure without the sweat, she can arrange hot-air balloon rides, sailing trips, and self-drive itineraries along roads that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Read Antonello and Alison’s Insider’s Guide to Puglia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Italy: Sicily
Marcello Baglioni and Matteo Rota, Agave Travel Creative

Marcello and MatteoWhile running a school for Americans studying in Sicily, Marcello found himself planning trips for the students’ visiting families—and thus his travel business was born. Matteo, meanwhile, has hospitality in his blood: Raised in his family’s restaurant in St. Moritz, he’s been known to moonlight upon occasion—when restaurateur friends need a break—in the front of the house and show off his food-and-wine cred. Together they can arrange anything from a hike or donkey ride on Mt. Etna with a volcanologist to a market tour and cooking class with a chef, a visit to Greek ruins with an archaeologist, or a tour on a lovingly restored sailboat, all hosted by passionate locals whom they consider family.

Read Marcello and Matteo’s Insider’s Guide to Sicily. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and beyond in Eastern Europe
Greg Tepper, Exeter International

Greg has extensive connections, and friends in high places, throughout Eastern Europe, but he is especially well-connected in the former Soviet republics, from the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) to the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia). He and his team troubleshoot every aspect of your itinerary through these countries whose rural areas are filled with old-world tradition, medieval charm, and picture-postcard natural settings, and whose modern cities brim with technological innovation and emerging foodie scenes.  Not only can Greg and his team ensure you skip the lines at popular castles and palaces, but he can also get you inside the most exclusive venues that are off-limits to the general public.

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Malta
Jason and Damon Camilleri Allan, Exclusively Malta

Jason and Damon Camilleri-AllanFrom accessing private residences of nobility to meeting members of the Knights of Malta, brothers Jason and Damon can unlock doors in Malta that you couldn’t find on your own and probably didn’t even realize exist. Damon is based in London and Jason lives in Canada; both are citizens of Malta, where their mother was born and where they have a team on the ground. They can add a few nights in Malta onto a trip elsewhere in Europe or custom-tailor an elaborate, week-long exploration of the islands’ deep history. They work with a range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to locally-run boutique properties and classic Mediterranean palazzos that you can have all to yourself.

Read Jason and Damon’s Insider’s Guide to Malta. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Norway
Torunn Tronsvang, Up Norway

Torunn’s passion is to show travelers a more authentic and sustainable side of Norway. Her trips focus on getting people out into the country’s stunning landscapes via mountain bike, kayak, dog sled, or even hut-to-hut overnight hikes. Her preferred accommodations include stilted log cabins, lakeside yurts, tent igloos, and a renovated lighthouse: cozy places where you’re hosted by the owners and introduced to the local culture and traditions. Torunn likes to include food experiences (harvesting, foraging) and indigenous experiences in Sápmi (the land of the Sámi people) in her itineraries, and she is savvy about mixing different forms of transportation (trains, rental cars, private drivers) and choosing between public ferries and private boats. 

Read Torunn’s Insider’s Guide to Wild NorwayCheck Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Norway and Scandinavia
Jan Sortland, Norwegian Adventures

From his home base in Oslo and additional office in Stockholm, Jan specializes in custom-tailored adventures into the lesser-known regions of Norway and beyond. 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 in glacial lakes to spending the day with reindeer herders to fishing in the Arctic Ocean to building your own snow cave—and sleeping in it. In Denmark, he can orchestrate a public audience with the queen; and in Sweden he can get travelers onboard the famous 17th-century ship the Vasa—an honor usually reserved for royalty and heads of state.

Read Jan’s Insider’s Guide to Norway. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Portugal and Spain
Gonçalo Correia, Tours for You

Gonçalo CorreiaGonçalo, who lives in Lisbon, knows every nook and cranny of Portugal the way only a native who’s spent years guiding travelers around the country can. He brings that level of detail to his custom itineraries, specializing in the hidden gems—the wineries with excellent bottles for less than $10, the seaside villages that aren’t crowded with day-trippers. He is happy to book a wide range of accommodations, from small-town B&Bs to 5-star palaces. The special-access arrangements he can make—say, visits to famous monuments after they’re closed for the day and the crowds are gone, or a cooking class with the owner of an Alentejo manor house—enhance a trip without adding too much to its cost. For trips that include Spain, he works with colleague Pablo Calvo, a WOW List specialist for Spain.
NOTE: Contact Goncalo only for trips that start more than 60 days from now. If you need a different travel recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Read Gonçalo’s Insider Secrets of Portugal. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Romania
Raluca Spiac, Beyond Dracula

Raluca Spiac portraitIn Raluca’s hands, you’ll gain a full appreciation of her native country’s beautiful landscapes and its culture charmingly stuck in an earlier era, when people organized their lives around the seasons. Assisted by her trusted deputy Laura, Raluca will show you the best of the Carpathians’ forested peaks, ideally seen on foot or horseback; Bucharest’s curious combination of Art Nouveau and brutalist architecture; the Danube Delta’s rich avian and aquatic life; and 13th-century UNESCO World Heritage-recognized villages and churches. You can even spend time with some of the many traditional village craftspeople whom Raluca and Laura have befriended, likely ending up in their attic looking through old photographs.  

Read Raluca’s Insider’s Guide to Romania. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Spain and Portugal
Pablo Calvo

Pablo CalvoPablo was born in Spain, studied art history at university there, and worked in museums until he realized that he wanted to help travelers craft their entire trips, not just a single stop along the way. His network of connections ensures he can help reserve tables at the most sought-after restaurants in San Sebastian, arrange private flamenco lessons in Madrid, or get you into the hidden-gem wineries in La Rioja. Rather than the fanciest hotels, Pablo prefers the charming, one-of-a-kind 4-stars with a great location—and, in the countryside, a location that’s easy to find in a rental car. For trips that include Portugal, he works with his Lisbon-based colleague Goncalo Correia, WOW List specialist for Portugal. Pablo covers mainland Spain only, so if you’re headed to the Balearic Islands (e.g., Mallorca and Ibiza), the Canary Islands, or Gibraltar, write to Ask Wendy.

Read Pablo and Gonçalo’s Insider’s Guides to Spain’s Basque Country and Portugal. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Spain and Portugal
Virginia Irurita, Made for Spain and Portugal

Virginia IruritaBorn and raised in Spain, Virginia has a little black book thick with the names of local experts—museum curators, architects, chefs, flamenco dancers—eager to show you their corners of the Iberian peninsula. Her bespoke itineraries extend to the Balearic Islands, the Azores, and Madeira too. Virginia has a keen interest in wine and winemaking, and she is well-connected in the foodie world. Virginia’s savvy local drivers and clever guides will save you considerable time and hassle. If you prefer to rent a car and drive yourself, click to Ask Wendy for a different recommendation.
NOTE: Contact Virginia only for trips that start more than 30 days from now. If you need a different travel recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Read Virginia’s Insider’s Guides to Madrid, Barcelona, Andalusia, and The Algarve, Portugal. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Spain: Andalusia and Southern Spain
Iván Ricoy, Genuine Andalusia

Iván Ricoy - Genuine AndalusiaIván is a born people-person—so much so that he left behind a good engineering job to show travelers the authentic side of Andalusia, his beloved home region in southwestern Spain. He now designs trips throughout Spain, including the Balearic Islands—Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera—and Gibraltar. On a trip planned by Iván, you’re as likely to share paella at a family gathering, or visit a traditional olive-oil mill that’s been in the same family since the 18th century, as you are to learn the history of the Alhambra. His charisma also opens doors into wineries, pottery workshops, even aristocrats’ palaces. 

Read Iván’s Insider’s Guide to Southern Spain. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Sweden, Finland, and Scandinavia
Leigh Landis, Exeter International

Leigh LandisBased in the U.S., Leigh excels at trips that pair several of Scandinavia’s vibrant cities with its breathtaking countryside. She’ll have you museum-hopping in Stockholm and Copenhagen, strolling quaint seaside towns, taking scenic train rides, and cruising the Norwegian fjords. She’s adept at organizing family trips (her teenage daughter has accompanied her to Scandinavia several times), keeping everyone happy while kayaking through dramatic fjords and learning about Viking culture. Her well-connected local guides can get you backstage at national theaters and opera houses, and into the kitchens of some of Scandinavia’s most famous restaurants. 

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Switzerland and Road Trips Through the Alps
Nina Müller, Cosa Travel

Nina MuellerThis Swiss native’s network of connections runs deep. She can arrange dinner in a castle, tickets to exclusive music and film festivals, and entrée to personal art collections. In the Alps, she plans trips that include hikes with Saint Bernard dogs and introductions to how cowbells are made and traditional Appenzell costumes embroidered; elsewhere she adds plenty of iconic Swiss elements, such as chocolate- and watch-making workshops, or even a romantic dinner of raclette warmed over a candle inside a cave. Overnight accommodations on her itineraries range from family-run inns and alpine farms—where you can help milk the cows—to private chalets and 5-star grande dames.

Read Nina‘s Insider’s Guide to the Secrets of Switzerland. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Turkey
Karen Fedorko Sefer, Sea Song Tours

Karen has lived and worked in Istanbul for more than 20 years and has offices across Turkey. Her local connections—from museum directors to star restaurateurs to powerful hoteliers to the country’s culture ministry—enable her to gain all manner of special access. She can introduce you to shop owners who will show you their special wares not displayed to the public and create one-of-a-kind experiences. 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’d like to charter a gulet on the Turkish coast, she’s the expert.

Read Karen’s Insider’s Guides to Istanbul and Turkey’s Aegean Coast. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Turkey
Earl Starkey, Sophisticated-Travel

Turkey has been Earl’s second home since he first ventured to Cappadocia 20 years ago. He can arrange many uniquely Turkish experiences that other travel companies 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 understands that a local guide can make or break a trip, and he is known for handpicking only the savviest, all of them highly educated, personable, accomplished in their own right, and attentive to their charges’ safety.

Read Earl’s Insider’s Guides to Istanbul and Cappadocia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Middle East

Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the Arabian Peninsula
Nick Rhodes, Arabian Lux

Nick lives in Dubai, operating trips throughout the United Arab Emirates, as well as in Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Maldives. Thanks to the volume of business he does, he has special rates with the best hotels in the region—both brand-name and those lesser-known—but for him the most important trip elements are the experiences that only his connections make possible: a high-fashion photo shoot in the desert, a visit to a camel farm, or dinner in a presidential palace. Nick is equally comfortable arranging a weeklong Arabian adventure or a quick city stopover on your way to an African safari. His 24-hour concierge service tends to travelers’ needs on the ground.

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Egypt and Jordan
Jim Berkeley, Destinations & Adventures International

Jim 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. After five years in Cairo running the local office of a major travel firm, he started his own company in 1995 to plan trips to Egypt and beyond. Jim’s customized itineraries combine luxury and adventure—he’ll have you sailing down the Nile in a dahabiya one day and lounging by the pool at the Old Cataract Hotel the next—and he has the connections to get you into tombs that are closed to the public.  If you want to combine Egypt with Jordan, Jim can make it happen in the smartest possible way.

Read Jim’s Insider’s Guide to Egypt. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and beyond, incl. Central Asia
Jonny Bealby and Dan Waters, Wild Frontiers

Jonny Bealby Dan WatersJonny has spent decades adventuring in the Middle East and Central Asia—he’s even written books about his epic journeys through Afghanistan and by horse along the Silk Road. His right hand, Dan, has traveled extensively in Jordan, Oman, Iran, Israel, and Palestine. Now based in the U.K., they deliver multi-country itineraries that get you under the skin of the world’s exotic frontiers, while ensuring your safety throughout. They are eager to immerse you in the local culture via overnights in village homes or desert camps, but are also well-acquainted with the most magnificent 5-star properties. By day, they’ll introduce you to semi-nomadic families of shepherds and their goats in Jordan, or get you to the tallest dunes in Oman’s Empty Quarter at sunset.

Read Jonny and Dan’s Insider’s Guide to Oman. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Israel
Joe Yudin and Jonathan Rose, Touring Israel

Joe Yudin and Jonathan RoseAfter graduating from Boston University, Joe moved to Israel and served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces, then gained his travel chops by working as a guide, quickly becoming one of Israel’s best. After learning what sophisticated travelers to Israel really want that wasn’t being offered, he founded his own travel company, hiring his fellow guides who are Israel’s most charismatic and in-the-know. He also hired his army buddy Jonathan Rose, who works alongside Joe sketching out itineraries for their travelers. They break down Israel’s complicated politics and history by introducing travelers to locals from varied backgrounds, including Muslim and Jewish journalists, famous chefs, local graffiti artists, even an expert on the Tel Aviv fashion scene. They can arrange all manner of special-access experiences (our favorite is the chance to take part in the excavation of 5,000-year-old ruins), as well as side trips to Petra, Wadi Rum, and other iconic sites in neighboring Jordan.

Read Joe and Jonathan’s Insider’s Guides to Jerusalem and Israel. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Morocco
(see Africa, above)

Turkey
(see Europe, above)

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South America

Argentina, Chile, Patagonia, Uruguay
Maita Barrenechea, Mai10

Based in Buenos Aires and the daughter of an Argentine ambassador, Maita has superb connections throughout Argentina, Chile, Patagonia, and Uruguay (where she has a second home). She can make pretty much anything happen and is passionate about providing travelers with those authentic, one-of-a-kind encounters that create the happiest travel memories. She 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.
NOTE: Maita is currently not accepting credit cards. If you want a different recommendation, CLICK HERE

Read Maita’s Insider’s Guides to Buenos Aires and Argentina’s Wine Country. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Argentina, Chile, Patagonia, Peru, Ecuador, and beyond
Tom Damon, Southwind Adventures

An experienced trekker and expedition climber, Tom specializes in outdoor adventures and active family travel throughout South America. He’ll point you to the best hiking trails—for every skill level—near Machu Picchu and in Patagonia, and the most thrilling jungle adventures in the Amazon. Wherever you’re headed, he’ll ensure you’re in the company of highly trained, highly personable English-speaking guides. If you’re looking to cross borders or link multiple regions, he’s a pro at making the trip seamless, dodging logistical hassles and making it all run like clockwork.

Read Tom’s Insider’s Guides to Patagonia and Machu Picchu. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and beyond
Paul Irvine, Dehouche Travel

Paul’s vibrant itineraries incorporate as much nature, sea, and culture as possible; from his home base in Rio, he regularly digs up intel on fabulous new hotels, hidden beaches, and wilderness adventures. His connections across the continent open doors for his travelers—imagine bottling your own blend with a winemaker in Mendoza, or taking a privately owned 50s-era Chevrolet for a road trip in Uruguay—and his relationships at the hottest properties often translate to upgrades for his travelers. 

Read Paul’s Insider’s Guides to Rio de Janeiro and Trancoso. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Chile, Argentina, Patagonia
Jordan Harvey, Knowmad Adventures

Jordan’s contacts—winemakers, true-blue gauchos, indigenous families—give travelers an authentic experience of southern South America.  He loves juxtaposing the several sides of Chile—the driest desert in the world, the temperate rainforest, and the vast Patagonian landscape—and combining awe-inspiring lodges with remote agritourism enterprises. His background as a wilderness guide gives him an edge in picking the best adventure experiences, from stand-up paddle boarding on blissfully empty lakes to horseback riding past jagged peaks and icy glaciers.
NOTE: Jordan is not taking requests for trips less than 60 days out. For a different travel recommendation, CLICK HERE.

Read Jordan’s Insider’s Guide to Chile. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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 Colombia
Boris Seckovic, Amakuna

Based in Medellin, Boris is constantly traveling the length and breadth of Colombia to discover and develop new opportunities for his travelers, from paragliding in coffee country to stargazing in the desert with an astronomy professor. He can arrange for you to cook alongside a cutting-edge chef, visit an Amazon lodge that works hand-in-hand with the community, explore Bogota’s gallery scene with an art expert, or road-trip between indigenous villages and UNESCO-quality pre-Hispanic sites. He is well-connected at the country’s handful of boutique hotels; for larger parties that want some room to spread out, Boris also has a portfolio of private homes and fincas, some of which aren’t available to the public.

Read Boris’s Insider’s Guide to Bogotá, Colombia. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Peru
Allie Almario, Premier Tours

Allie’s passion for wildlife conservation, photography, and indigenous cultures helps explain her fascination with the Galapagos Islands. As the former executive director of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, Allie has a bead on which ships operate sustainably and support local conservation efforts—and which don’t. She can pinpoint the best luxury ship (or land-based lodge) for your needs and can even acquire a private guide (for a price) if you prefer private shore excursions. 

Read Allie’s Insider’s Guides to Quito and the Northern Andes and the Galapagos Islands. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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Peru and Bolivia
Marisol Mosquera, Aracari

A native Peruvian, Marisol chucked a career in the financial world to become a pioneer in experiential travel to Peru and Bolivia; she also plans trips that combine the Galapagos with either country. Her network of prominent historians, photographers, chefs, museum directors, and fashion designers delivers privileged access to people and places throughout the region. Call on her if you want to explore the hidden pockets that most travelers miss, from the oldest city in the Americas to a little-known protected reserve next to Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats.

Read Marisol’s Insider’s Guides to Secrets of Peru, Bolivia: The Salt Flats Are Just the Beginning and Peru for Food Lovers. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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USA

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 with few other guests, select the perfect backcountry retreat for a family reunion, set up a rendezvous with an Iditarod champion, or fly you to a glacier for summer sledding. Her outdoor guides specialize in everything from fly fishing to river rafting to kayaking with whales. Note: She does not book Alaska cruises. For a small-ship expedition cruise, which is the best way to see the coastline and wildlife, contact Ashton Palmer. For something more affordable—which means a large ship—contact Tom Baker.

Read Judith’s Insider’s Guide to Alaska. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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American West and National Parks
Melissa Ladvala, West Bench Adventures

From Alaska to Texas, and especially her home state of Montana, Melissa has spent years exploring America’s national parks out West. She’s sussed out the most eye-popping routes, the most efficient logistics, the smartest lodging options all the way from cushy hotels to backcountry base camps, the savviest special-access guides (some PhDs, others former park rangers), and the local characters who bring life to each park and can show you things you’d otherwise never know to look for. Beyond and between the national parks, she designs road trips that might incorporate stops to explore quieter state preserves, meet a Native American storyteller, or walk through a vineyard with the winery’s owner—and she loves to get people just slightly out of their comfort zone, whether that’s a gentle float or Class IV whitewater, an easy hike, or a thrilling mountain-bike adventure.

Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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California and Hawaii
Jay and Dani Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors

Jay and Dani spend six weeks a year in Hawaii, escorting groups of Silicon Valley execs as well as vacationing with their teenaged daughters. Their agency has significant clout with the 5-star resorts—which translates into perks for their travelers—but they also book rental homes when that’s the smarter choice for the group. Living in Los Angeles and with offices throughout California, they can also orchestrate out-of-the-box itineraries in their own backyard.

Read Jay and Dani’s Insider’s Guides to Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

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California and the Pacific Northwest
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 as well as along the northern California coast. Her self-drive itineraries typically run to 20 pages, covering everything from detailed 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, and slurped the oysters she recommends for you. Her preferred rates at top properties can save travelers a bundle.
Note: Sheri is not taking requests for trips less than 90 days out.

Read Sheri’s Insider’s Guides to Seattlethe San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula, and the Perfect California Coast Road Trip. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Sheri
Read Trip Reviews

Disney and Orlando
Michelle Allen, Travel Magic

The seemingly infinite array of hotel, activity, and dining options that Walt Disney World offers can overwhelm anyone—and don’t get us started on the Genie+ system. Michelle will design the perfect Disney vacation by learning the details of your group (which characters you want to meet, how scary a ride your kids can handle), 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—even if a discount appears after you’ve booked—and maximizes your time at the parks by strategically planning your Park Pass reservations to align with requested meals, character meet-and-greets, and fireworks shows, all while minimizing hassles.

Read Michelle’s Insider’s Guide to Disney World, Orlando. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Michelle
Read Trip Reviews

Ski Vacations in the U.S. Rockies 
Meg Austin

Meg has been skiing in Colorado since she was five, including a stint as an instructor. She lives in Vail and also knows Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Jackson Hole, Keystone, Telluride, and other resorts like the palm of her hand. She will gauge your group’s experience level and use her local connections to put you not just on the right mountain, but in the right hotel room, condo, or house with prime access to the ideal runs. Flustered by your family’s mix of ability levels and interests? Her private guides can help you avoid the lines and ski a variety of terrain—and if not everyone is a hardcore skier or snowboarder, Meg also knows where to find the best snowmobiling, snowshoeing, yoga, and spa treatments.

Read Meg’s Insider’s Guide to Skiing the Rocky Mountains. Check Wendy’s pricing tip.

Contact Meg
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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 trip 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.

Wendy and sons at the Pont des Arts in Paris

European Vacations for Winter School Breaks

Hey everyone, Doug Baker here, Wendy’s youngest son. Mom used to take us to Europe during our winter school breaks (such as Paris, above) when I was growing up. Now, I’m a college sophomore, and when my friends talk about where we should go for March break, I tell them Europe—and not just to avoid the summer rush.

Europe feels more authentic to me in winter. It’s easier to be part of the local scene. The weather might be colder and the days shorter, but there are so many fun activities, opportunities, and foods that are totally different from what you will find in summer.

A lot of people ice skating on an ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Photo: Doug Baker

In winter, I’ve ice-skated on rinks from little town squares in Brussels and Bratislava to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (above). It’s a great way to meet local people! In winter, I’ve tried hot chocolate as thick and rich as a melted chocolate bar everywhere from Demel in Vienna to the ski slopes of Spain, and street food such as piping-hot kürtőskalács in Budapest, schupfnudeln in Germany, and this in Salzburg:

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria.

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria. Photo: Tim Baker

In winter, you must spend more time indoors, but museums and castles are more fun when you have them to yourself. I was able to do a scavenger hunt with my brother inside the Centre Pompidou in Paris that took us through every floor of the museum, and in Bratislava there was nobody in the ancient church, so I was able to play one of the world’s oldest pipe organs.

Most of all, people are much nicer to you in winter because the tourist crowds aren’t there to annoy them. It is much easier to have conversations and build connections with the local people. One more thing I tell my college friends when they suggest the stereotypical spring-break spots (and maybe I shouldn’t share this with their parents): The drinking age is 18 in Europe!

You’ll find more—and more serious—reasons to experience Europe in winter in the traveler reviews below. First up: A 19- and 16-year-old get educated in Eastern Europe about the Holocaust and Ukraine.

START A WINTER TRIP

Eastern Europe: “Making pierogi with Marta in her home…she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war…”

Travelers making pierogi in Krakow.

The Nury family learn how to make pierogi. Photo: Traveler Doug Nury

“The current state of our world is disheartening. Our March 2023 travels (arranged by a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent) took us to Israel as tourists, never imagining that seven months later, Israel would be at war with Gaza. Since October 7, our family regularly discusses the conversations we had with our two tour guides, Daphne (Israel) and Isla (West Bank) about the conflict and how both of them want a peaceful but fair solution. Through our vast international travel experiences, our family has learned to seek as many perspectives as possible, particularly from non-US citizens on domestic and international issues. As a result, we jumped at the opportunity for Gwen to plan an Eastern European trip over Christmas, not only to enjoy the Christmas traditions and markets, but also to hear the views of Europeans very close to the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague's Strahov Monastery.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague’s Strahov Monastery. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury

In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day—the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display—will forever be tattooed on my brain.

Following Auschwitz, we drove back to Krakow and met Julie at the Krakow History Museum, which is located at Oscar Schindler’s factory, for a tour of Krakow before, during and after the Nazi occupation. The museum is well done and definitely worth visiting. Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home. While rolling out dough, adding the fillings and pinching the pierogi before dropping it into the boiling water, she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war and is concerned about the conflict due to the proximity of Poland to Ukraine.

My husband and I hope that this trip punctuated the importance of visiting historical relics and learning from experts at the site about past events instead of watching a YouTube video for our teenagers (ages 19 and 16). It’s also essential to engage with people worldwide to gain insight on their perspective of US leadership and diplomacy.” —Beth Nury

Read more reviews of Eastern Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO EASTERN EUROPE

Italy: “On our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild!”

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome.

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome. Photo: Shutterstock

“There were six of us: me, my husband, our three children (15, 13, 10), and my mom. It was a lovely time to be in Rome because, while still busy, it was not anything like what we would have experienced in the summer months. The weather was perfectly moderate for walking around, between 55° and 60° most days. Jennifer listened so closely to what our interests were and how we wanted to divide up the trip between time in and outside of Rome. She developed the perfect itinerary, even paying attention to timing of morning excursions so as not to start too early after a late night.

While we enjoyed all of our excursions, the ones we enjoyed most were not the main tourist attractions. Collectively, we all loved the cooking classes: one a pizza and gelato class, and the other a pasta and tiramisu class. Perfect for all six of us! Our other favorite excursions were Pompeii, Villa Adriana on the way to Tivoli, and our day spent in the Jewish neighborhood and former Jewish ghetto. I was extremely pleased that Jennifer’s team only works with Jewish guides in the Jewish neighborhood. I think that is a very important detail. Having all private tours made it easy to adapt tour and timing to all of our needs, which is particularly helpful with three kids/teens.

Timing worked out that on our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild! My husband and oldest son are HUGE sports fans. Even though the rest of us are not as much, it was still really terrific to be part of an event that is so important to European culture.” —Aimee Kleiman

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ITALY

Norway & Copenhagen: “We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks…”

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta.

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Ryan Ogg

“My husband, Ryan Ogg and I (Kate Ogg), and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28 through January 6. Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago).

It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture.

Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm, we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs.

It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and king crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.” —Kate Ogg

Read more reviews of Scandinavia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SCANDINAVIA

Paris: “A trip fit for royalty…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“We had three weeks to plan a Paris trip with our adult children after our Israel trip was canceled. Jennifer, a WOW planner through Wendy Perrin, created a trip fit for royalty. We stayed in a gorgeous, boutique hotel in the Marais district and had private car and tour guides for the Louvre, Versailles, Chateau, Jewish and History Tours. We saw the Eiffel Tower with a private tour, the Dior Exhibit at the Foundation Giacometti, we had an amazing time.

Our WOW Moment started with a car picking us up at noon, taking us to an unknown destination which was a fabulous restaurant, Shabour. The owner told us that since we couldn’t go to Israel, this was a Jerusalem-Paris dining experience. We sat at the bar to watch the chefs prepare a delicious, fun, memorable lunch. It was awesome.

We had a concierge service at the airport on both ends, making it easy to maneuver. I can’t say enough about Jennifer and her staff who gave us a perfect trip in such a short period of time. We have traveled the world with Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. It is the best way and the only way we travel.” —Adrienne Goldberg

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PARIS

Austria & Czech Republic: “The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave…”

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above.

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above. Photo: Julius Silver

Gwen planned a wonderful Christmas week in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Both hotels—the Sans Souci in Vienna and the Andaz in Prague—were great choices. Both were near the center but in a quieter area. The rooms, staff and breakfasts were lovely.

Our private guided walking tour of Vienna was enjoyable. The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave. A truly interesting and unique experience. The food tour was fun and enjoyable: We went to five different locations and got to sample different Viennese specialties. We enjoyed the outstanding museums and lovely shopping streets. We loved the tour of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. Another day we took a train to Bratislava and were met on the platform by the guide who showed us this interesting city.

The train to Prague was easy. We walked everywhere in Prague—Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square. The Strahov Monastery library and Prague Castle complex were impressive. We were so lucky that the line to the remarkable St. Vitus Cathedral was quick and we got to see it. The Lobkowicz Palace is a treasure—we could have spent hours there.

Gwen suggested terrific restaurants, including two outstanding meals at Michelin-starred restaurants Field and La Degustation in Prague. It was a wonderful vacation—the days spent in each location were just right.” —Susan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Austria and Czechia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA AND CZECHIA

Portugal: “Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip…”

A winter sunny day with clear blue skies at Riberira beach in Ericeira, Portugal.

A winter day with clear blue skies at Praia de Ribeira, Ericeira. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and Sofia created an itinerary that was perfect for our family. And, they gave us a trip that we will always remember! Some highlights…

The hotels were AMAZING!! We typically stay at the same hotel chain when we travel and were so grateful for their suggestion of boutique hotels. Not only did they provide our family plenty of space, but they each felt warm and welcoming every time we walked into the room. My daughters LOVED the set-up and decor of The Lumiares hotel in Lisbon, stating they never wanted to leave. The Rebello’s views of Porto were breathtaking (unless the fog rolled in) and the access to an incredible running path along the water made it the perfect place for us to stay. Our final hotel stay at the Immerso was exactly what we needed after a very busy trip. Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip; we only wish we had a few days to explore the area. : )

The guides they found for us were exceptional!! The tours provided us with interesting historical and present-day content. They were all engaging and ready to shape the tours to match our family. Tiago, in particular, was amazing!! The tour of Sintra could have been a disaster due to the weather, and he made it one of the most fun with his depth of knowledge and witty humor! For a family who loves to travel, Goncalo could not have put together a more perfect trip for us.” —Shannon Jones

Read more reviews of Portugal. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Spain: “Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable…”

Placa Reial on a winter evening, not too crowded with people, Barcelona, Spain.

Placa Reial on a winter evening in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from an amazing winter vacation in Barcelona and Lisbon. We traveled with our 2 college-aged kids and wanted to make sure they were as excited about the itinerary as we were. Luis and Silvia did a terrific job balancing all of our needs and interests.

Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable. We were able to see all of the popular sites without lines or overcrowding. Our favorite parts, however, were more off-the-beaten-path excursions. Silvia arranged for Alex, our tour guide through the Catalan neighborhoods, to cook paella and drink vermouth with him and his mother Lourdes in a flat with a rooftop deck. This was a highlight of the trip.

In addition to sightseeing and immersing ourselves in the culture, we were interested in recommendations for restaurants, nightlife, and vintage stores. Silvia provided detailed recommendations for each and arranged nightly restaurant reservations. Our favorite meal, a 17-course tasting at the Michelin-star Loco in Lisbon, was a very special night!” —Lisa Powers

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

Ask Wendy

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

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 challenges that need to be addressed as a result of the post-pandemic combo of pent-up travel demand, inflation, understaffing, and ever-changing local rules.  For international trips in particular, you’d be wise to use an extremely well-connected, extremely knowledgeable, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer and optimize your every step.  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. After two qualifying trips, Wendy will email you a WOW Moment gift certificate, which you can then redeem on a future qualifying trip before the certificate’s expiration date.

I can’t monitor your trip if I don’t know about it. That’s why it’s necessary 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. Will I know what every element of my trip costs?
9. Why must I speak (rather than just email) with a WOW List trip planner?
10. How does a trip planner get onto The WOW List?
11. What is Wendy’s “trip support”?
12. What is The WOW List Pledge?
13. What if there’s no trip planner in my price range listed for where I want to travel?
14. How do you test new candidates for The WOW List?
15. Do we want readers to nominate trip planners for consideration and to help road-test WOW List candidates?
16. What are Wendy’s WOW Moments?
17. Is The WOW List pay-to-play?
18. So how do you fund this website and service?
19. 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?

It does not make financial sense for you to use a WOW List trip planner (you will not get enough value for the money) in these circumstances:

  1. When you’re looking for a budget 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 much 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. Read these FAQs for more details about trip costs and fees.

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. Will I know what every element of my trip costs?

It is common for travel planners to quote a lump-sum price for your entire trip. Why? The local hotels and other businesses that provide the Trusted Travel Experts with exclusive reduced rates do so on the condition that the TTEs not reveal those rates. Sometimes a planner is able to provide a partial breakdown, either by day or by type of expense (e.g., accommodations, private guides, transportation). If you’re presented with a lump-sum price and need to cut costs, explain that you’d feel more comfortable investing X thousand dollars in this trip, and ask the planner how they would suggest that you reach that figure.

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9. 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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10. 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 #14).   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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11. 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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12. 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 #14) .  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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13. 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 #14).   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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. Is The WOW List pay-to-play?

Of course not. 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 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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18. 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 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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19. 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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Explore The WOW List

Where to Travel in 2021: What’s open, what’s worth it

Every week more countries are reopening to U.S. travelers, but which will deliver a Covid-era experience you’ll be happy with?  We asked our WOW Listers based around the world to share on-the-ground intelligence in a live conversation and Q&A on May 3, 2021. During this WOW Week talk, they shared smart options for travelers and weighed in on whether you’re better off going soon, or later this year, or next year instead.

The hour was packed with valuable trip-planning insights, which we’ve outlined here for quick reference.  Watch the video above for the full conversation (start at 3:25, which is when viewers had arrived and we got started in earnest.)  For a complete list of the countries that are open to U.S. travelers now, click here.  And for a list of the countries where vaccinated U.S. travelers can go with no pre-trip testing required, click here.

North America

The most popular U.S. national parks will be packed this summer. Forward the video to 10:40 to learn about lesser-known yet spectacular national parks.  Read reviews of superb national-park trips that our readers have taken during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to ensure your own national-parks trip is extraordinary.

To hear about Colorado ski resorts in summertime (where you’ll find 5-star hotels at 3-star prices) and Hawaii specials, skip to 13:10. Read reviews of exciting ski-resort and tropical-resort vacations during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a five-star mountain or beach vacation.

To learn how to visit Disney World safely, skipping the lines and enjoying private experiences, forward the video to 16:10.  Read reviews of Disney trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward Disney trip.

For Alaska by small expedition ship (think Glacier Bay all to yourself, with no large cruise ships and everyone on your ship vaccinated), skip to 17:45.  Use our questionnaire for a low-risk Alaska adventure.

To learn about safe travel to Mexico, with no pre-trip Covid testing required, skip to 20:47.  Read reviews of successful Mexico trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Tropical Islands

Think Belize for Caribbean beaches, coral reefs, and boating adventures, and forward the video to 25:00. Read reviews of Belize trips during the pandemic so you can understand why we’re recommending it so highly, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, low-hassle trip there.

If your dream is a private overwater bungalow in Tahiti or Bora Bora, skip to 28:30 to learn how French Polynesia has kept Covid cases low. Read reviews of these islands during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to get your own extraordinary experience of French Polynesia.

To learn about safe sailing in the Galapagos Islands, with few other boats around, skip to 32:00. Read reviews of Galapagos trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

Pre-Covid-style private-island idylls in the Maldives are addressed at 36:14. Read about Brook’s trip to the Maldives during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

“Outdoor Museums”: A Unique Moment for Iconic Sights Without the Crowds

Soak up Croatia‘s medieval walled towns and charming islands, minus the tour groups and cruise hordes that normally pack the streets in summertime.  Learn more at 48:06.  Read reviews of carefully planned Croatia trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Turkey‘s legendary archaeological sites are all but empty, no tour groups or cruise crowds in sight.  Watch the video at 50:42, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Turkey trip.

In Morocco,  you can stroll the winding alleyways in the medinas of Marrakech and Fez with few people around and enjoy private, plush, well-ventilated villas, with external entrances off charming courtyards, at a great value. Watch at 1:16:08, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Morocco trip.

Egypt has few visitors at its tombs and temples now, and you can spend most of your time outdoors, sailing in feluccas along the Nile and dining al fresco. Skip to 1:13:10 to learn more, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Egypt trip.

African Safaris: If You’re Vaccinated, an Optimal Moment is Actually Right Now

A well-constructed Kenya safari can be safe from start to finish, with physical distancing, private vehicles, standalone accommodations, and abundant wildlife throughout.  Local infections are low in much of Africa, and in Victoria Falls, the gateway to Zimbabwe, the entire local population has been vaccinated.  Watch at 1:03:18 and read reviews of safe safaris during the pandemic. Then use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, extraordinary safari.

In Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, private and socially-distanced experiences are easily had now, and you will pay much less this year than next. (As we learned from professor of pathology Dr. Timothy Triche in our to-be-published-soon WOW Week Zoom talk on May 4, the situation in South Africa has improved dramatically, it looks like herd immunity has been reached there, and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the South Africa variant.)  Watch at 1:05:50, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward safari.

Western Europe: Summer and Fall Possibilities

Consider France in the fall, once the summer crowds from other European countries have dissipated.  Forward the video to 41:20, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to France.

Italy’s iconic museums and monuments, as well as transportation around the country, are all operating at reduced capacity, so book ahead to get the timing you want. A WOW trip should be feasible starting in July. Watch at 56:10, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to Italy.

Fall is a lovely time for Italy’s many outdoor delights, from ancient ruins to village-to-village hikes to cooking experiences on farms and in vineyards. Skip to 59:00 and use our questionnaire for safe itineraries in Italy’s countryside this fall.

Thanks to the success of the vaccination roll-outs in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, travel without quarantine could resume between the two countries as early as this summer. Watch at 1:01:17, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to the U.K.



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy

This Traveler Has Used The WOW List to Plan 15 Trips: How and Why

What sort of traveler uses The WOW List?  You might assume it’s travelers who can’t plan their own trips, but you’d be wrong. It’s people who have planned so many trips so well that they have an exhaustive grasp of just how much you miss out on when you don’t utilize the best local expertise and connections—and a deep appreciation of just how much time and effort such meticulous planning takes.

Jeff Bernfield, for instance. He’s a physician from the Chicago area who has used Wendy’s recommended Trusted Travel Experts (TTEs) more than anyone else—a whopping 15 times. With his wife, and sometimes with the rest of his family, he’s been all over the globe on trips arranged by these destination specialists, including Italy, Africa, England, Japan, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Norway, even Disney World. As you’d expect, he’s got a lot of tips to share when it comes to collaborating with travel specialists. So, in a phone call after a trip to Florence, Italy (where Wendy surprised him with a WOW Moment loyalty reward), we asked Dr. Bernfield to share his advice for how to get the best trip possible.

You’re more than capable of arranging your own travel. Why do you use The WOW List?

I could plan each trip myself—I’m a voracious researcher—but it’s so much easier to let one of these experts plan the whole thing for you and not worry about what could go wrong and what you’d do if something went wrong. I never ever have to worry because, even if something might go wrong, they fix it. They always fix it. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s like having an insurance policy.

How do you choose which travel specialist to use for each trip?

What I usually do, I email Wendy. Wendy knows me by now, so I tell her where we’re going, and she’ll recommend the right one for me.

Do you read the reviews posted about each travel specialist on WendyPerrin.com?

I read all of the TTE’s reviews on Wendy’s site before contacting that TTE. I want to find out what that travel expert has planned and whether they’ve done something special—like, say, getting a traveler into Downton Abbey. I’ve never been able to get that; my wife is an obsessed Downtown Abbey fan but I couldn’t pull it off. My point is: If I read something in a review, that might tip my hand.

What’s most important to you in a travel planner?

I’m pretty big on communication and being accessible. Some Trusted Travel Experts are just incredible and if you shoot them an email, you get a response in ten minutes.

Do you prefer email or phone?

I definitely like the phone call. I always like to talk to somebody and know who I’m dealing with before I do business with them. And I like to have a back-and-forth discussion. I’m not the kind of person who says give me an itinerary for Southeast Asia and then I just do that itinerary. That’s not my nature. I like to pick people’s brains. I ask them: Why are you recommending this over this? I do a lot of reading, so maybe I’m on somebody’s dartboard somewhere [Laughs], but I like to have discussions about the itinerary.

In that first phone call, what should a traveler tell the Trusted Travel Expert?

I’ll tell them from the start what I’m looking for, and I’ll ask what are some of the things you offer, and then I’ll listen. I also ask about private experiences, since we like to dig into the culture and history. I always tell the TTEs: Let’s do something different, something that other people won’t do, don’t know to do. When we planned our trip to Japan, the Trusted Travel Expert sent us a list of 20 private experiences and told me to pick from them. I picked them all. I’m not saying everyone can or should do that, but I think if you like doing things different, that’s one of the advantages of having these experts plan your itinerary. So you’re not just going to the Louvre, not just doing the things any travelers can do; you’re going to someone’s home, taking a cooking lesson, taking a samurai sword lesson, meeting a priest at a high temple. In Italy we got to go to a dairy farm and see how they make Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. If you like doing different cultural experiences, there are a lot of assets that people on Wendy’s list have that I would try to find out about.

What are some of the questions travelers should ask?

I start with: What do you offer that’s different from the average tourist things? What cultural experiences can you access? Example: My wife is a picky eater. It so happens that she loves pizza, but in northern Italy pizza is not as common as in southern Italy. I told our Italy travel specialist, Maria, that my wife loves pizza, and would it be possible to take a pizza-making lesson?  At first she said, “Huh, I don’t know, pizza’s not that popular in northern Italy.” But she called me back a couple hours later and she said, “I got it!” She had arranged for us to meet a chef who would give us a pizza lesson. I asked the question, I didn’t know what kind of answer I would get, but if you have something specific in mind, ask for it—because even if they don’t normally do it, unless you ask for something impossible, they’re going to try really hard to accommodate your request. That’s important.

What else is important to communicate to your Trusted Travel Expert?

You have to know what you are and what you want. We don’t like beaches. We don’t like to sit around and do nothing. Some travel specialists will schedule you starting at 11am, but we get up at 7am. So you need to know what you want and ask the questions. Then we can figure out if they can handle my needs. It’s like anything else: You talk to somebody. Some are easier to talk to, more communicative, have an easy-going personality—but you figure that out quickly. That’s why a phone call is so important.

Thinking about reaching out to a WOW List travel specialist? Wendy’s got key advice for you too: How To Get The Best Possible Trip.

The 2017 WOW List Is Here: The Best Travel Planners in the World

We’re thrilled to announce the 2017 WOW List of Wendy Perrin’s Trusted Travel Experts. This list of the world’s top trip designers, compiled annually by Wendy based on real travelers’ experiences and her own stringent review process, is the pinnacle—and the original. You may find similar designations in other magazines, but it was Wendy who created the first list of this kind 17 years ago, and it’s still used as the source of those other directories. The list is informed by Wendy’s long career as a travel journalist, and no one can schmooze or pay their way onto it—in fact, the running joke is that it’s easier to get into Harvard than onto Wendy’s WOW List.

More important, her roundup of the best travel agents, tour operators, and travel-planning firms is the first stop for thousands of sophisticated travelers. And based on reviews they submit after their trips, we know that they’re satisfied:

“Joe Yudin was excellent. He and his team tailor-made our itinerary going back and forth to meet our specific needs.”

“China is a fabulous destination on its own, but we have little doubt our trip was greatly enhanced by the detailed, personal service rendered by Mei and her team.”

“Cherri Briggs was fantastic. We would use her again in a heartbeat and highly recommend her to anyone (and we have, to our friends) considering such a trip.”

Not only does Wendy recommend these Trusted Travel Experts, she stands by her recommendations—through a unique Trip Support System. That means that when travelers contact one of her Trusted Travel Experts through WendyPerrin.com, she stays in touch with both the traveler and the TTE to make sure the process, and the results, live up to everyone’s expectations. She also organizes the annual Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit so that she can connect—face-to-face—with the Trusted Travel Experts on her WOW List, in order to reinforce the high standards of quality our readers expect from them.

This year’s list is bigger and better than ever, featuring 86 trip designers whose areas of expertise range from safaris to sun-soaked islands, from expedition sailings to family cruises, and from once-in-a-lifetime splurges to affordable family vacations.

Before you start planning your next big trip, browse Wendy’s WOW List and reach out to the appropriate Trusted Travel Expert. If you can’t find the person you need on the list, contact Wendy directly at Ask Wendy. She’s continually testing new candidates for up-and-coming destinations as well as those who have niche insight on a classic. So stay tuned and stay in touch.

Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit

Wendy revealed travel trends and predictions, along with her WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts, at the first Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit, held at the Dream Downtown hotel in New York, in 2016. Photo: Tim Baker

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know. 

Big News From WendyPerrin.com and Town&Country

For Town&Country’s 170th anniversary, the magazine and WendyPerrin.com have teamed up to bring you another travel fantasy: a 170-day trip around the world! Wendy’s WOW List of trip-planning experts is the exclusive source behind Town&Country’s modern-day Grand Tour, the ultimate round-the-world itinerary.

If you don’t have 170 days to spare and need an itinerary custom-tailored to your specific goals, “contact travel expert Wendy Perrin,” advises T&C. “She monitors year-round all the specialists who helped us create this extravaganza, and her counseling services are invaluable.”

The next time you want an amazing trip at an unbeatable value, go to Wendy’s list and find your perfect destination, cruise, villa, or adventure specialist. Ensure you get VIP perks and avoid pitfalls by having Wendy monitor your trip. Find out how by clicking through to the WOW List and reading more from Wendy in her FAQ on how to get the best possible trip.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Introducing the 2016 WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts

I want to send a huge thank-you to all of you who have booked trips through the Trusted Travel Experts on my WOW List and then submitted a review of the Expert after your trip. My team and I pored over the hundreds of reviews you submitted in 2015, and the result is—drumroll, please—our shiny new 2016 WOW List. It represents those trip designers who received the best reviews from you in 2015.

Thanks to our trip-monitoring service, where we track every WP traveler’s trip and collect extensive feedback from you about each trip designer, The WOW List just keeps getting better every year. It won’t remain static throughout 2016: We’re currently testing a number of new candidates for the List; once we collect enough reviews about a candidate that we can promote him or her to the List with complete confidence, we will do so. Stay tuned.

Peruse The 2016 WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts now and start thinking about where your next extraordinary trip might take you!

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know. 

Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze—and Wendy in one of its zodiacs

How I Monitor the Travel Agents I Recommend

Throughout my career as a travel journalist and consumer advocate, I’ve been known for upholding the highest standard of honesty and transparency. Now that I have my own website, I want you to know how I work, how my Trusted Travel Experts work, and the steps I’m taking to ensure that all the recommendations you read here are the best possible. That’s why I’m hosting the first Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit next week in New York City.

At this two-day conference, I’ll be getting together with the Trusted Travel Experts from my WOW List to share information on what today’s sophisticated travelers want and how to give it to them. This summit is one of the ways I ensure that every TTE on my WOW List is living up to your standards.

Maybe you’ve seen The WOW List and wondered how I came up with it. Maybe you assume it’s just like any other “best of” list. Or that I am some kind of travel agent recommending my friends. Or maybe you figured that any travel agent could pay their way onto that list.

If you thought any of those things, you’re dead wrong.

My WOW List is unique and independent. I’m not a travel agent—I’m a journalist—and no one can pay to be included. The trip planners who make the cut each year have gone through rigorous testing—often by me, and always by hundreds of travelers who have sent me their feedback. (You can read reviews of every TTE on the website, and if you’ve traveled with one yourself, I encourage you to share your own review.) I have known—and monitored—most of the TTEs on my list for more than a decade: I know the kinds of trips they plan, their level of taste, what they do best, and their occasional foibles. I know everything about them from their business models to the names of their dogs. I also know that they appreciate what it means to have the Wendy Perrin stamp of approval, and they understand the expectations and trust they need to live up to in order to keep it.

The WP Global Travel Summit is integral to safeguarding that trust. So on January 11 and 12 I’ll gather with my select group of expert travel planners and we will swap ideas, innovations, and best practices about how we can improve your travel experiences in 2016. My team and I will come away with insider destination tips, travel solutions, and trip-planning ideas that we’ll be sharing directly with you. What’s more, the conference is being held at the Dream Downtown hotel in New York City, right across from the beautiful High Line park and historic Chelsea Market, so we’ll be posting insider tips about NYC and one of its coolest hotels too. Stay tuned here at WendyPerrin.com and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to hear more about what we learn at the WP Global Travel Summit. We can’t wait to find new ways to make your next trips extraordinary!

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Pool at the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Peru

How To Book The World’s Best Hotels

TripAdvisor recently announced its 2015 list of the best hotels in the world, and #1 is Gili Lankanfushi, the Maldives resort with the “No News No Shoes” philosophy. A tiny coral island with 45 overwater villas, it’s apparently the ultimate barefoot paradise. I’d love to go. So I reached out to Lindsey Wallace, my Trusted Travel Expert for the Maldives, who—like other Trusted Travel Experts on The WOW List—negotiates special pricing and perks. Lindsey’s rates at Gili Lankanfushi save travelers up to 38% off the best rates on the hotel’s website. Say you went to the hotel’s website and booked an 8-night stay from May 16-24. A Villa Suite would cost you $8,528. Lindsey’s rate is $6,000 and includes round-trip speedboat transfers from the airport and daily breakfast and dinner. Lindsey has blocked off villas in the best locations for his guests, of course. And you get even more VIP perks ($100 dining credit, free spa treatment, free upgrade on arrival, and early check-in/late check-out) if Lindsey knows you’re a WendyPerrin.com traveler (which he’ll know if you use my trip-request form).

The best way to book a five-star or four-star hotel depends on the type of trip you’re taking. If what you want above all is the lowest rate, book it online. You can now even book hotels on TripAdvisor, which compares prices across hundreds of sites to find you the lowest rate. But if you’re staying three nights or more and what you care most about is the best overall experience, from room selection to VIP amenities to enhancements such as private car transportation and an introduction to the location’s hidden gems via an English-speaking local insider, that’s when it makes sense to reach out to a Trusted Travel Expert. I’ll give you an example:

Say you’re headed to Budapest. The Four Seasons Gresham Palace is #4 on TripAdvisor’s list of the world’s top hotels. If all you need is a room, book it online. But say you’re planning to stay three nights. My Trusted Travel Expert for Hungary, Gwen Kozlowski of Exeter International, can get you three nights (including the hotel’s 22% tax), gourmet hotel breakfast daily, roundtrip private car transfers from/to the airport, and—if you use my trip-request form so she knows you’re a WendyPerrin.com traveler—an expert private guide for a three-hour overview walking tour of Budapest, starting at $516 per night (the price depends on your month of travel). If you were to book those components separately through separate sources, the quality would be inconsistent and probably inferior. (I say that because I have personally road-tested Gwen and her Budapest arrangements twice within the past year, and they are superlative.)

Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco, Peru

Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco, Peru. Photo courtesy Belmond Hotels.

Here’s another example: Say you’re headed to Peru. The Belmond Palacio Nazarenas in Cusco is #5 on TripAdvisor’s list of the world’s top hotels. My Trusted Travel Expert for Peru, Tom Damon of Southwind Adventures, has negotiated a 10% discount for his travelers who stay there two nights and a 15% discount for those who stay three nights. If all you want is the hotel, book it on your own. If you want the hotel combined with additional arrangements that will add up to a transformative experience of Machu Picchu, reach out to Tom. (To indicate to Tom that you’re a WendyPerrin.com traveler, contact him here.)

If you’ve got a trip in mind that uses five- or four-star hotels and you’re not sure the best way of booking them, just ask. And I’d love to ask you: What’s your favorite way to book hotels online, and why?