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 have used my WOW approach to ensure an extraordinary trip.
SELECTED FOR MAXIMIZED SAFETY AND EXPERIENCES
Throughout the pandemic I have been monitoring traveler feedback and revising The WOW List accordingly. Inclusion on this List is based primarily on reviews from travelers who are just back from countries that have reopened. These travelers report that they felt safe throughout, with Covid-related logistics and hassles minimized and the entire travel experience maximized. For countries listed below that have not yet reopened, there is no traveler feedback yet, so those recommendations are still based on pre-pandemic service levels (because pre-pandemic service levels have, so far, proven to be a very good predictor of current service levels).
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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.
British Columbia, Canadian Rockies, Northwest Territories, Yukon
Marc Telio, Entrée Canada
Marc helps travelers discover Canada’s wildest places, most jaw-dropping landscapes, and most thrilling activities. His favorite itineraries combine unusual outdoor excursions (think grizzly-bear sightings and heli-hiking) with character-rich accommodations (think luxury tented camps and sumptuous wilderness lodges). Based in Vancouver, he and his team are like special-ops agents—pros at logistics, taking into account weather patterns, tides, seaplane schedules, and dozens of other details to ensure a hassle-free backcountry experience. Their relationships with top outfitters, guides, and hotels translate to V.I.P. treatment for you.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Marc to start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.
British Columbia and Canadian Rockies
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 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Sheri to start at $650 per day for two travelers.
Note: Contact Sheri only for trips more than six weeks out.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island
Raised in a small fishing community in Newfoundland, Jill knows the secret spots that most people miss throughout the Atlantic Provinces—from the side road with a stunning view to the tiny fishing village where you can chat with the locals over tea. Her custom culinary itineraries might have you catching Shediac lobsters or digging clams and cooking them on the beach. Her wildlife adventures include hiking through moose and caribou country, kayaking past puffins and gannets, and spotting right whales in the Bay of Fundy. One of her specialties is a seaside picnic lunch sourced from local ingredients and prepared in the 130-year-old lighthouse where her grandmother was born.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jill to start at $2,000 per person for a six-day self-drive itinerary, including accommodations, car rental, and a variety of activities.
Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland
Gwen Kozlowski, Exeter International
Gwen has been masterminding custom-tailored trips to Central and Eastern Europe for more than a decade. She’s based in the U.S. but heads to the region frequently to suss out new hotels and restaurants, test driving and train routes, and add to her ever-growing list of local experts—from museum curators to pastry chefs to artisanal vodka makers—who provide access you could never get otherwise. She knows where to find the best food—and drink—in every town from Innsbruck to Budapest to Krakow, and her guests frequently receive preferential rates and VIP treatment at the most atmospheric four- and five-star hotels.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Gwen to start at $800 per day for two travelers. No hotel-only requests, please.
Benelux: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg
Everybody knows Amsterdam is a strong dose of fun and culture, but to experience the best of the Netherlands and neighboring Belgium and Luxembourg, you need to dig further: Rotterdam is a world leader in cutting-edge architecture and design, Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts has trained many of the top names in fashion design, Utrecht boasts an impressive collection of medieval art, and the Battle of Waterloo took place in modern-day Belgium. Plus there’s all that gorgeous countryside, with its acres of tulips, timeless fishing villages, miles of cycling paths, and storied beer breweries. To make the most of your time in Benelux, you need someone who can design a smart itinerary and arrange the local encounters that make a trip really special. How to find the right trip designer? Ask Wendy.
Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro
Ala Osmond, Exeter International
Thanks 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Ala to start at $900 per day for a self-drive trip for two travelers in Croatia ($750 in Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia). That price includes a top hotel, some meals, a rental car, pre-programmed GPS, and the savviest private guides. No villa rental.
Croatia, Italy, Slovenia
They have more in common than you might think: Croatia and Italy both have sparkling coastlines and Roman ruins; Slovenia and Italy share a delectable culinary heritage, as well as gorgeous Alpine landscapes; all three nations have a history of viniculture. But between Italy’s sky-high popularity, Croatia’s cruise-ship crowds, and Slovenia’s inscrutability to the lay traveler, you need a well-connected insider to strategize a smart trip around one, two, or all three of these countries. When you’re ready to explore this corner of Europe, we know the right fixers.
England, Ireland, Scotland
Jonathan Epstein, Celebrated Experiences
If you want to be filled with wanderlust—and jealousy—follow Jonathan’s Instagram feed. Between the picture-perfect Cotswold cottages and the Michelin-starred Scottish restaurants and the grand Irish castles, you’ll wish you could hide inside 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jonathan to start at $500 per day for two travelers for accommodations only, but can be higher in peak season.
Read reviews of Jonathan. Read his Insider’s Guides to Killarney and County Kerry, Ireland, Scotland, and the Cotswolds. Then contact him to maximize your experience of England, Ireland, and Scotland.
England, Ireland, Scotland
Philip McCrum, Extraordinary Britain
Designing custom-tailored itineraries in the U.K. and Ireland is a McCrum family tradition: Philip’s mother, Jane, started the business decades ago. Philip has connections to private homes—from country estates in the Cotswolds to castles in Scotland to charming cottages in Cornwall—and he can arrange after-hours and behind-the-scenes access, such as a private viewing of the Crown Jewels before the Tower of London opens to the public or a visit to a royal palace that is normally off limits. He’s particularly adept at handling multigenerational journeys complete with movie-making experiences and treasure hunts by speedboat.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Philip to start at $800 per day for two travelers.
Note: Because of soaring spring/summer demand, Philip has no bandwidth to take on new trips right now. For a different travel recommendation, CLICK HERE.
Philip Haslett, Unique Provence
Philip 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Philip to have a 3-night minimum and start at $1,000 per day for two travelers. NOTE: France’s best hotels are almost booked solid through August. Philip is accepting trip requests only for September and beyond. For a different recommendation, CLICK HERE.
France and beyond (Benelux, Spain, Switzerland)
Michael Eloy and Alex Zglinski, Trufflepig
Michael 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Michael or Alex to have a 7-night minimum and range from $800 to $1,600 per day per couple or $1,000+ per day for families.
Note: Michael and Alex have limited bandwidth and cannot work on trips that depart before November.
France and beyond (England, Italy, Switzerland)
Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs
When you need something special for a trip to France, especially if it includes Italy and/or England, Jennifer waves her magic wand, et voilà. She used to live in Paris and currently splits her time (with her hotelier husband and young daughter) between London and Rome; in each place, she has pull with charming boutique hotels and hard-to-get-into restaurants, as well as a little black book of expert private guides. She is a private-jet broker, but most of her travelers fly commercially, and her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door (or the train car if you’re arriving in London or Paris on the Eurostar) and includes fast-track entry through immigration and customs to a waiting car.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jennifer—including accommodations, activities, and expert local guides with special access—to start at $1,500 per day for two travelers.
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. For trips of less than one week, ask Wendy.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Claudia to have a 7-night minimum and range from $800-1,600 per day per couple or $1000+ per day for families.
Note: Contact Claudia only for trips that start November 15 or later. If you want to travel before then and need a different recommendation, CLICK HERE.
Mina Agnos, Travelive
Childhood trips back to the homeland with her Greek-American family gave Mina a passion for Greece; now based in Athens, she regularly road-tests a dizzying array of islands, experiences, and places to stay. Given the soaring demand for Greece right now, Mina has had to rely more on office support staff—including her deputy Faye Mantzari, who was born in Canada but has lived in Greece since childhood and worked for a decade on Santorini as a hotel manager. This team is great for first-timers to Greece who want help seeing the country’s iconic sites and navigating its tricky logistics. Their 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 and Faye each have two kids (from teens to toddlers), so they are especially helpful to families. If you insist on combining Greece and Italy in the same trip (which is not recommended unless you have at least two weeks), Faye can help with logistics.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Mina to start at $600 per day for two travelers from October through mid-June, or $800 from mid-June through September.
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 that her pricing (see below) typically includes all hotels (or rental villa); regional flights and/or ferries; private drivers or rental car; activities, visits, and guided excursions; and some meals.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jacoline to have a 7-night minimum and, depending on the season and destination, start at $800 per day per couple or $1000+ per day for families.
Note: Jacoline has limited bandwidth and cannot work on trips that depart before 2023.
Chris Gordon, Icepedition
After his first trip to Iceland more than 20 years ago, Chris gave up a career as a creative director for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch and turned his artistic eye to designing one-of-a-kind trips to Iceland. Chris’ wide network of in-country contacts—from farmers to politicians to artists—show his travelers a side of Iceland that those on the standard Golden Circle itineraries miss. His trips combine jaw-dropping landscapes with the cushiest places to stay, from modern, high-design hotels to friendly guesthouses. He can arrange for you to spend your days kayaking among icebergs, listening to family sagas in small fishing villages, foraging with famous chefs, and soaking in secret hot springs. He can set you up with a 4WD rental car, although for those ready to splurge, a private driver/guide will take you places you literally couldn’t navigate to on your own.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Chris to start at $770 per day for two travelers for a self-drive itinerary; this includes 4-star accommodations, a rental car, breakfast every day, some experiences with a local private guide, and admission to hot-spring spas and the like.
Note: Hotels are nearly sold out in Iceland in September 2022; Chris is not accepting any requests for trips that month. If you want to travel then and need a different recommendation, CLICK HERE.
There are consequences to travelers’ love affair with Italy: High-profile tourist magnets such as the Amalfi Coast, Lake Como, and Tuscany are choked with visitors in high season, their roads clogged with traffic and prices sky-high. Why compete with all those bus tours and cruise-ship day-trippers when there are so many beautiful, charming, culturally rich pockets of Italy that are, blissfully, overlooked? Imagine exploring the unchanged coastal villages of Puglia, discovering ancient dwellings carved into the limestone in Matera, meandering through the peaceful hill towns of Umbria, making pesto beneath an ancient fresco in one of Genoa’s noble palaces, hiking among jagged peaks to a hearty meal at a rifugio in the Dolomites, or driving empty roads in Sardinia. If you need help figuring out where in Italy to go, or which trip planner will be the best fit, we can help.
Italy and Switzerland
Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers, CIU Travel
Opera singers who divide their time between Italy and the United States, this husband-and-wife team design imaginative itineraries throughout Italy that focus primarily on gastronomy, art, architecture, archaeology, and history, and they can tack on delightful side trips to Switzerland’s cultural capitals and charming mountainside villages. Maria Gabriella, who has a background in art history, is an ambassador of Italian culture for Perugia’s Università per Stranieri, and Brian is also an enthusiastic hiker and skier who’s tested out many slopes and trails in the Alps. Together with their team of terrifically knowledgeable and charismatic local guides and drivers, they deliver a charming and intimate trip every time.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Maria and Brian to start at $1,000 per day for two travelers in low season, with a three-night minimum. No self-drive trips or excursion-only requests, please.
Italy and France, England, Switzerland, Ibiza
Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs
When you need something special for a trip to Italy, Jennifer waves her magic wand, et voilà. She used to live in Paris and currently splits her time (with her hotelier husband and young daughter) between London and Rome; in each place she has pull with charming boutique hotels and hard-to-get-into restaurants, as well as a little black book of expert private guides. She is a private-jet broker too, but most of her travelers fly commercially, and her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door (or the train car if you’re arriving in London or Paris on the Eurostar) and includes fast-track entry through immigration and customs to a waiting car.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jennifer—including accommodations, activities, and expert local guides with special access—to start at $1,500 per day for two travelers. Jennifer can also arrange hotels only, excursions only, or events only.
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 clients.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Andrea to start at $2,000 per day per couple through October 2022, compared with $1,300 for November 2022—March 2023. Andrea charges a minimum planning fee of $300 in addition to the trip cost and usually a 30% advance deposit. In case of cancellation, the fee and deposit are non-refundable but may be credited toward a future trip.
NOTE: Availability in August and September is scarce. Andrea is accepting requests only for October 2022 and beyond.
Italy: Sicily and the Aeolian Islands only
Marcello Baglioni and Matteo Rota, Agave Travel Creative
While 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.
Expected WOW trips orchestrated by Marcello or Matteo to start at $900 per day for two travelers.
NOTE: Because of soaring summer demand, Marcello and Matteo have limited bandwidth and cannot work on trips that depart before October 10, 2022. If you want to travel before then and need a different recommendation, CLICK HERE.
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Caucasus
Greg Tepper, Exeter International
Soon after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Greg established himself as a leader in high-end, hassle-free travel to Eastern Europe, especially the former Soviet republics. He and his team troubleshoot everything for you. They pre-book all visits to museums, palaces, and other landmarks so that you can skip the lines, and they negotiate upgrades and other perks at the most charming and atmospheric hotels. Thanks to Greg’s extensive connections on the ground and friends in high places, he can also get you inside the most exclusive venues that are off-limits to the general public.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Greg to start at $1,000 per day for two travelers, which includes accommodations, breakfast, guide and vehicle services as necessary, and entrance fees to museums.
Jason and Damon Camilleri Allan, Exclusively Malta
From accessing the private quarters of the current resident Knight of Malta to shopping with a famed chef in the local markets, brothers Jason and Damon can unlock doors in Malta that you couldn’t find on your own and probably didn’t even realize exist. Both citizens of Malta (where their mother was born), Damon is based on the islands and Jason lives in Canada—so you can reach one or the other of them at just about any hour of the day or night. They’re equally skilled at making the most of a one-day shore excursion, adding a few nights in Malta onto a trip elsewhere in Europe, or custom-tailoring a week-long exploration of the islands’ deep history. And 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 (with private maid, butler, and chef service, if you like).
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jason or Damon to start at $450 for a shore excursion for two travelers, or $700 per day for a multi-day custom itinerary for two.
Norway and Scandinavia
Scandinavia has a larger-than-life draw: the dramatic scenery and gorgeous fjords of Norway, the headline-making cuisine and impossible-to-get-into restaurants of Denmark, the 30,000 otherworldly islands of the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden. But with all that big food and big scenery comes big prices. And surprisingly, that high price tag often doesn’t guarantee luxury. Five-star hotel standards in many areas are much lower than what you’d expect; traveling from one region to the next can be a complicated puzzle that requires many modes of transportation; and commonly expected amenities, such as air conditioning, simply don’t exist. That’s why you need a travel planner with the specialized expertise necessary to navigate Scandinavia’s distinct challenges—someone who knows the absolute best things to see and do, and how to customize them into an itinerary that works for you. Ask us for a recommendation.
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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jan to start at $1,600 per day for two travelers on a self-drive itinerary; that price includes accommodations, transportation, and some private guiding. Minimum booking requirement of $7,000.
Portugal and Spain
Gonçalo Correia, Tours for You
Gonçalo, 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 five-star palaces to rental villas and apartments. 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Goncalo to start at $850 per day for two travelers.
NOTE: Contact Goncalo only for trips that start more than 60 days from now. If you need a different travel recommendation, CLICK HERE.
Tom Baker, Cruise Center
From the Rhine and the Rhone to the Danube and the Seine, Tom has studied firsthand the vessels, cabins, and itineraries available to river cruisers all across Europe. He’s equally adept at guiding first-timers toward the right ship for their interests, or helping die-hards find another corner of the continent to explore via its waterways. Tom has a network of on-the-ground contacts in Europe, so he’s a one-stop shop for pre- and post-cruise extensions as well. Meanwhile, his relationships within the cruise industry spell excellent value for his travelers and a strong advocate on your side should anything go wrong.
River cruises start at $300 per person per day, based on double occupancy.
Raluca Spiac, Beyond Dracula
In 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Raluca to start at $800 per day for two travelers, including 4-star accommodations, private vehicles, and some private guiding.
Spain and Portugal
Pablo 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. He has explored all 17 regions of Spain and maintains a network of connections that 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 four-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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Pablo to start at $850 per day for two travelers, which includes 4-star boutique hotel accommodations, private guiding, and a tailor-made self-drive itinerary. No villa rental.
NOTE: Contact Pablo only for trips that start more than 60 days from now. If you need a different travel recommendation, CLICK HERE.
Spain and Portugal
Virginia Irurita, Made for Spain and Portugal
Born and raised in Spain, Virginia left a decade-long career in banking in London and Madrid to found her boutique trip-planning firm in 1999. She 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 particularly keen interest in wine and winemaking, and she is especially well-connected in the foodie world. So, if you’re planning a corporate retreat in the wine country or a cultural tour for museum benefactors, look no further. 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, or you’re seeking more limited arrangements, click to Ask Wendy for a different recommendation.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Virginia to have a 7-night minimum and start at $1,000 per day for two travelers. She has a planning fee of 500 euros that serves as a deposit toward the trip cost. No villa rentals or self-drive trips.
NOTE: Contact Virginia only for trips that start more than 60 days from now. If you need a different travel recommendation, CLICK HERE.
Switzerland and Road Trips Through the Alps
Nina Müller, Cosa Travel
This 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 five-star grande dames.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Nina to start at $1,000 per day for two travelers; this includes 4- or 5-star accommodations, breakfast, and some guided experiences.
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 can 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 would like to charter a gulet on the Turkish coast, she’s the expert.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Karen to start at $750 per day for two travelers in most of Turkey and $1,200 for two on the Aegean Coast.
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 firms don’t offer—say, a private cooking lesson in the home of a noted chef or access to a normally off-limits ancient ruin. Earl understands that a 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Earl to start at $600 per day for two travelers in Cappadocia and $800 for two in Istanbul.
Caribbean, Central America, Mexico
Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson, Absolute Belize
This Belize-based dream team designs custom-tailored itineraries that capture Belize’s natural and cultural wonders, with their travelers’ health and safety always a top priority. 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 socially distanced private-yacht charters to champagne picnics beside a waterfall to helicopter flyovers of the Great Blue Hole.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Patricia or Rachael to start at $700 per day for two travelers, which includes accommodations, private transportation, and some meals and activities.
Read reviews of Patricia and Rachael. Read their Belize Insider’s Guide: Azure Waters, Green Jungle. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Belize.
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 include 100 luxurious villas and condos suitable for families, couples, and Covid pods. Her Cabo-based concierge team is available 24/7 and gets tested for Covid regularly; they can arrange everything from fishing and yacht charters to Covid-tested private chefs and in-villa celebrations.
Hotel bookings start at $100/night in low season. Weekly rentals start at $350 per night in low season (July through September).
Caribbean Islands and Dive Vacations
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 expert knowledge of how to handle various entry requirements and special treatment for her travelers.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Meg to have a 5-night minimum and start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.
Irene Edwards, GreenSpot
A native Costa Rican, Irene arranges trips to her homeland 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 and are ideally suited for social distancing. She is eager to arrange meaningful, one-on-one experiences with the locals, and does so as safely as possible.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Irene to start at $640 per day for two travelers.
Priscilla Jimenez, Costa Rica Expeditions
Costa 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 active 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Priscilla to start at $600 per day for two travelers.
Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica
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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Pierre to start at $400 per day for two travelers in Nicaragua, and $500 per day for two in Panama and Costa Rica.
Panama (and, in South America, Colombia and Ecuador)
Eric Sheets, Latin Excursions
Eric has lived in six Latin American countries, and today he’s based in the U.S. with an office in Ecuador, arranging everything from custom itineraries that highlight different local cultures to family reunions, exotic honeymoons, and even villa vacations, in Panama and beyond. Travelers have their own private guide and vehicle—to allow maximum spontaneity and flexibility, not to mention rare access to places most travelers don’t see—and stay in top-drawer hotels that share Eric’s commitment to sustainability.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Eric to start at $800 per day for two travelers.
Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico
An 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. The New York City native lives in Puerto Vallarta with his wife and two sons but travels regularly to cement his insider connections across the country’s wide array of coastlines, Colonial cities, wildlife reserves, beach resorts, historic haciendas, private rental 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Zach to start at $800 per day for two travelers in boutique 4-star accommodations with private daily excursions.
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 make for 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Maita to start at $500 per day for two travelers. (Maita is temporarily unable to accept credit cards because of the unusual currency situation in Argentina, but she has solutions that have worked for your fellow travelers.)
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—at 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Tom to start at $1,350 per day for two travelers in Patagonia and the Galapagos, and $900 per day for two travelers elsewhere in South America.
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 clients.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Paul to start at $800 per day for two travelers to Brazil, $600 for Argentina and Uruguay.
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 winter-holiday trip requests or requests less than 60 days before your travel date.
Marc Beale and Boris Seckovic, Amakuna
Based in Medellin, Marc and Boris are constantly traveling the length and breadth of Colombia to gauge Covid protocols and develop new opportunities for their travelers, from paragliding in coffee country to stargazing in the desert with an astronomy professor. They 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. They are well-connected at the country’s handful of boutique hotels and, for larger parties, have a portfolio of private homes and fincas.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Marc or Boris to start at $800 per day for two travelers, which includes boutique 4-star accommodations and private excursions with special access.
Colombia, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands
Eric Sheets, Latin Excursions
Eric has lived in six Latin American countries and today is based in both Miami and Ecuador. He arranges everything from custom itineraries that highlight different local cultures to family reunions, exotic honeymoons, villa vacations, and Galapagos explorations. These days, he can also help navigate entry requirements and Covid protocols from place to place. Travelers have their own private guide and vehicle—to allow maximum spontaneity and flexibility, not to mention rare access to places most travelers don’t see—and stay in top-drawer hotels that share Eric’s commitment to sustainability.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Eric to start at $800 per day for two travelers.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Peru
Allie Almario, Premier Tours
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’s also fluent in the measures being taken to minimize travelers’ health risks, from Covid testing to sharing kayaks. 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Allie to have a five-day minimum and start at $500 per person per day for Galapagos cruises, and $300 per person per day in mainland Ecuador (all based on double occupancy). No hotel-only requests, please.
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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Marisol to start at $1,200 per day for two travelers.
Read reviews of Marisol. Read her Insider’s Guides to Secrets of Peru, Bolivia: The Salt Flats Are Just the Beginning and Peru for Food Lovers. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Peru and Bolivia.
Africa and the Middle East
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. Most important, Jim and his team are meticulous about keeping their travelers socially distanced and out of harm’s way. If you want to combine your time in Egypt with a stop in Jordan or Israel, Jim can make it happen in the smartest possible way.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jim to have a 4-night minimum and start at $800 per day for two travelers.
Israel and Jordan
Joe Yudin and Jonathan Rose, Touring Israel
After 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 firm, 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Joe and Jonathan to start at $900 per day for up to five travelers.
Jonny Bealby and Dan Waters, Wild Frontiers
Jonny 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 craft 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 five-star properties. Whatever your preferred nightly accommodations, Jonny and Dan will ensure you spend your days authentically: In Oman, they’ll get you to the tallest dunes in the Empty Quarter at sunset. In Jordan, they’ll introduce you to semi-nomadic families of shepherds and their goats.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jonny and Dan to have a 5-night minimum and start at $600 per day for two travelers in Jordan, $700 per day in Egypt, and $800 per day in Oman and Israel.
Michael Diamond, Cobblestone Private Travel
Thanks 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—whether it’s leather goods, hand-woven textiles, or traditional tiles—and when it comes to foodie experiences, he can arrange anything from casual cooking workshops to multi-day dives into the culinary history of Fez.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Michael to have a 4-night minimum and start at $840 per day for two travelers, including accommodations, breakfasts, guiding, entrance fees, transportation, and VIP airport service.
Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui and Radia Tehitahe, Experience Morocco
After 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. Hicham’s and Radia’s English-speaking drivers will stay with you throughout your journey, ready to change up your itinerary on the fly (and saving you the hassle of negotiating with Moroccan cabbies). Their private guides, whose specialties range from shopping to Jewish heritage, are all trained to ensure that same-sex couples feel comfortable in their country.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Hicham and Radia to have a 3-night minimum and start at $700 per day for two travelers in low season; that includes 4-star accommodations, some meals and private guiding, and a car and driver for your entire trip.
United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai)
Justin Parkinson, Linara Travel
Justin visits the U.A.E. regularly, checking out both over-the-top resorts and five-star hotels that won’t break the bank. He can arrange entry into Dubai’s exclusive clubs, unusual desert adventures and safaris, and private access to the Louvre Abu Dhabi before it opens to the public. Justin is on The WOW List for Indian Ocean islands as well, including the Maldives and the Seychelles. When he’s not exploring these exotic locales, you’ll find him at home in either Australia or L.A.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Justin to have a 3-night minimum and start at $500 per day for two travelers.
Safaris: East Africa and Rwanda
Linda Friedman, Custom Safaris
Based in Maryland and with an office in Kenya, Linda has been in the safari business for over 30 years and been on more than 100 safaris. Whether you choose to track gorillas in Rwanda or follow the annual Great Migration in the Masai Mara or the Serengeti, Linda will make sure that you optimize your time and resources. She knows which over-the-top camps have antiques and rainfall showers, which tents have the best views, and which lodges are perfect for families. Linda’s particular passion is the nomadic traditions of the Maasai; she has been interviewing Maasai elders for years and can arrange authentic cultural interactions for her travelers.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Linda to start at $1,800 per day for two travelers in Tanzania and $2,000 in Kenya and Rwanda (not including the gorilla permit in Rwanda, which costs $1,500 per person).
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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Dan to start at $1,400 per day for two travelers in East Africa and $1,600 in South Africa.
Safaris: Southern and Central Africa, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius
Cherri Briggs, Explore, Inc.
Cherri—who splits her time between homes in Mauritius, 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 and her trusted deputy, Katie McDonough, ensure 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Cherri to start at $1,200 per day for two travelers in low season and $1,600 in high season.
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 rain forest (“The Jungle Book come to life,” as he calls it).
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Julian to start at $800 per day for two travelers in South Africa and $1,800 per day in Botswana.
Bali and Indonesia
Diane Embree, Michael’s Travel Centre/Bali Barong Tours
Diane’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. For travel in Malaysia or Malaysian Borneo, click to Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Diane to start at $500 per day for two travelers.
Borneo, Indonesia, Malaysia
Largely neglected by U.S. travelers—beyond the occasional yoga retreat in Bali or airline stopover in Kuala Lumpur—Indonesia and Malaysia offer far-out wildlife (we all know about Borneo’s famous orangutans, but have you ever heard of a pygmy elephant?), lush rainforest, rarely visited islands, and the kind of cuisine that professional chefs cross oceans for. Try to plan a trip yourself, though, and you could easily waste half your vacation in transit, confuse arrival dates when corresponding with hotels writing in the local dialect, and find yourself snorkeling amid a tour bus’ worth of foreigners instead of all alone on a pristine reef (the latter being exactly what the local experts we know can arrange). Curious about the possibilities in Indonesia and Malaysia? Ask us, and we’ll match you with the right fixer to create just the trip for you.
Bhutan, India, Nepal, Myanmar
Antonia Neubauer, Myths and Mountains
Antonia “Toni” Neubauer has spent the past 30-plus years exploring Nepal, Bhutan, India, and beyond, focusing on the people, culture, crafts, religions, and natural environments of the small communities she visits. Her renowned nonprofit, READ Global, has built about 150 library/community centers in rural villages in Nepal, Bhutan, and India, and she is the winner of Nepal’s highest award, the Dilli Raman Regmi International Peace Award. Toni has garnered tremendous goodwill and close relationships among the local people, which is why those villages are extra welcoming and hospitable to her travelers. She and colleague Shalmali Rao Paterson, who grew up in the Indian Himalayan region—from which was born her lifelong love of wildlife and the mountains—have developed a vast network of loyal friends and experts who can deliver unique experiences far from where other tourists go.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Toni to start at $500 per day for two travelers.
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 clients, and the encounters that she orchestrates with artisans and businesspeople help bring alive aspects of the culture both ancient and contemporary.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Zulya to start at $500 per day for two travelers. NOTE: Zulya is currently not accepting credit cards. If you want a different recommendation, CLICK HERE.
Mei Zhang, WildChina
Sharing her homeland’s hidden gems has been Mei Zhang’s lifelong passion, interrupted only by the years she spent earning her Harvard MBA and working for McKinsey. No matter the occasion—family trip 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 clients 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Mei to start at $800 per day for two travelers.
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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Sanjay to start at $600 per day for two travelers, utilizing 4-star hotels, a private car and driver, and local guides.
Bertie and Victoria Dyer, India Beat
While 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Bertie and Victoria to start at $750 per day for two travelers, utilizing 4-star hotels, a private car and driver, and a private guide.
Who isn’t curious about the land that gave us sushi, samurai swords, and Hello Kitty handbags? Japan is cherry blossoms, ancient temples, high design, square watermelons, white-gloved bus drivers, shockproof high-rises, and tea ceremonies in which nearly every hand movement is prescribed. It is also otherworldly in the extreme. Japanese society relies heavily on personal connections to unlock doors. Without them, your experience of Japan is guaranteed to skim the surface. 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.
Scott Gilman, JapanQuest Journeys
After 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.
Trips start at $2,000 per day for two travelers for unique experiences with one of Japan’s best English-speaking guides. The cost of accommodations and transportation is additional, and Scott uses only five-star hotels.
The Maldives and the Seychelles
Justin Parkinson, Linara Travel
Justin’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. When he’s not exploring these exotic locales, you’ll find Justin at home in either Australia or L.A.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Justin to have a 3-night minimum and start at $500 per day for two travelers.
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—including historians, scientists, artists, and 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jalsa to start at $800 per day for two travelers.
Miguel Cunat, Sri Lanka in Style
Miguel, who has been living with his wife and three kids in Sri Lanka for 17 years, founded his company to provide travelers with insightful, engaging experiences in his adopted homeland—an enchanting but logistically very tricky place. He and his delightful deputy, Andrea Goonesekera, who was born and raised in Sri Lanka but has lived in Canada twice, plan tailor-made itineraries that get you off the beaten path without sacrificing comfort or charm and introduce you to colorful local characters who provide a real sense of place (authors, architects, even the Leopard Man).
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Miguel to start at $500 per day for two travelers.
Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos
Sandy Ferguson, Asia Desk
Sandy grew up in Southeast Asia, graduating from the International School of Bangkok in 1969. Eventually he formed his own tour company, with offices in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Sandy now splits his time between Atlanta and Saigon; he and deputy Ethan Crowley (who was raised in Cambodia, is fluent in Khmer, and now lives in South Carolina) craft tailor-made itineraries that cater to individual tastes and make the most of your precious time. Sandy knows what works best for travelers, and what doesn’t. He has a vast network of powerful contacts in the hotel industry, which translates into status for you, and he maintains complete control of every detail of a trip, right down to handpicking every guide—all charismatic locals whom Sandy considers family (some of them really are!).
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Sandy to start at $800 per day for two travelers, including accommodations, transportation, private guiding, and some meals; minimum booking requirement of $5,000.
Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
Daniel Fraser, Smiling Albino
A 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 celebrity 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 and entry to famous landmarks before they are open to the public, or visiting artisans’ workshops that are accessible only by boat. He has offices in Cambodia and Vietnam and can deliver authentic local experiences there too.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Dan to start at $600 per day for two travelers, which includes accommodations, transport, and custom-tailored experiences. Daniel also arranges single-day tours starting at $300.
Australia and Pacific
Stuart Rigg, Southern Crossings
Stuart 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Stuart to start at $750 per day for two travelers.
Fiji and Papua New Guinea
Lynette Wilson, Destination World
Lynette has been traveling to Fiji for more than 35 years. She even moved there ten years ago and now carries Fijian citizenship. As a resident, she knows how to add all sorts of local color to your trip, as well as which resorts, small-ship cruises, or private villas will best suit your wishes—and she loves to pair old-fashioned beachside R&R with scuba diving and snorkeling, river rafting, mountain biking, surfing, and other adventures. She also arranges trips to her native Australia, plus New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga.
Trips start at $700 per day for two travelers in Fiji and $1,000 per day for two in Papua New Guinea.
French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea) and the Cook Islands
Kleon Howe, The Art of Travel
When Kleon first sailed to French Polynesia more than thirty years ago, 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Kleon to start at $650 per couple per day in the Cook Islands and $940 per couple per day in French Polynesia.
Jean-Michel Jefferson, Ahipara
Jean-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 conditions 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!
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Jean-Michel to start at $1,000 per day for two travelers and generally include accommodations, special-access guides, private vehicles, special meals, and unique experiences.
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 to be able to lose your eyes in the country’s countless glorious vistas and navigate to its most charming hidden corners without having to keep your eyes on the road, 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Sarah to start at $750 per day for two travelers in low season (June-August) and $1,000 per day in high season (December-February).
Cruises and Yacht Charters
European Canal Barge Trips
Ellen Sack, Barge Lady Cruises
Barge cruising is slow travel at its best: luxurious boats plying centuries-old canals through the bucolic European countryside, covering just a few miles a day between excursions to villages, chateaux, markets, and local artisans’ studios. With many dozens of such trips between them, Ellen and daughter Caroline Klein will level with you about the pros and cons of each itinerary—most of which are in France, with a few options in England, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and Italy—as well as the crew, cuisine, and sightseeing possibilities on offer for each vessel. The warm welcome their travelers receive on board is testament to Ellen and Caroline’s close personal relationships with all the vessels’ owners. For multigenerational families and other groups of up to 12, they can arrange a private barge charter, with activities customized to individual interests.
Trips start at $700 per person per day (based on double occupancy).
Expedition Small-Ship Cruises
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.
Trips start at $650 per person per day (based on double occupancy).
Larger Ships and European River Cruises
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, Crystal River Cruises, Uniworld, and Viking, and with ocean lines Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Windstar.
Ocean cruises start at $150 per person per day; river cruises start at $300 per person per day (both based on double occupancy).
Smaller Luxury Ships
Mary Jean Tully, Cruise Professionals by Tully Luxury Travel
Mary 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.
Trips start at $300 per person per day (based on double occupancy).
Picture this: sparkling seas, the waves lapping at your boat, a captain and crew who know every hidden cove along your route, 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 do you choose? And how do you know its crew can make the magic happen? That’s where the right travel specialist comes in. We know yacht-charter experts who spend a good portion of every year inspecting boats and their crews to find the very best. Let us know what you have in mind, and we can match you to the right travel specialist for your specific needs.
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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Judith to start at $1,000 per day for two travelers in shoulder season.
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 five-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.
Trips have a 5-night minimum and start at $1,000 per day for two travelers in low season (triple that for summer 2022 and winter holidays 2022-23), with an additional $500 fee for trips planned less than 60 days ahead.
NOTE: Due to very limited summer availability, contact Dani only for trips in September 2022 and beyond.
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 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 slurped the oysters she recommends for you. Her preferred rates at top properties can save travelers a bundle.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Sheri to start at $650 per day for two travelers.
Note: Contact Sheri only for trips more than six weeks out.
Read reviews of Sheri. Read her Insider’s Guides to Seattle, the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula, and the Perfect California Coast Road Trip. Then contact her to maximize your experience of the Pacific Northwest.
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 Disney’s in-house agents are focused on selling (and upselling) quickly. Michelle, by contrast, designs the perfect Disney vacation by learning the details of your family (which characters you want to meet, how scary a ride your kids can handle), sorting through the banquet of choices that are currently open to visitors, and helping you decide what to put on your plate. She maximizes your time at the parks and minimizes hassle by arranging all expedited passes as soon as they’re available (which Disney’s agents won’t do). Whether your plans involve Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Adventures by Disney, Universal Orlando, Aulani (the Disney resort in Hawaii), or Disney Cruise Line, she’s the ticket.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Michelle to start at $400 per day for two travelers. To get the most from your Disney experience, plan to spend at least four nights.
A national-parks trip can seem straightforward enough—until you realize that every hotel in the parks you want to visit was sold out six months ago, driving distances are vast, and your Internet research turns up the same handful of crowded trails and overrated lookout points that every tour group is headed to. What you need is a national-parks trip-planning specialist who will put you at the iconic sites when the tour buses aren’t there, ensure you drive the most scenic roads, get you into accommodations you didn’t even know exist, match you with the savviest park guides who have special access, and plot out your itinerary so that you can go smoothly from a horseback ride in the morning to a float trip that same afternoon. Who to turn to?
Ski Vacations in the U.S. Rockies
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 and Covid protocols in place. Flustered by your family’s mix of ability levels and interests? Her private guides can help you avoid the lines (which are socially distanced this year) 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.
Expect WOW trips orchestrated by Meg to have a 4-night minimum and start at $1,000 per day for two travelers, which includes stylish, well-located 4-star accommodations and lift tickets.
* 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.