June 21, 2024


Inspired By Travel

For Those Once-in-a-Lifetime Trips, You Need a Travel Specialist


Whether you’re visiting a destination for the first time or the 15th, in a family of 10 or going it solo, looking to lounge on a beach or preparing to summit Kilimanjaro, there’s a travel specialist for you. Here, we show you the extraordinary experiences and logistical feats these industry superstars can pull off. 

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. For the full list of Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialists, please visit cntraveler.com/travel-specialists. 

You’re a planning pro who has put together monthlong trips, shuns guidebooks, and can navigate any terrain you find yourself in. You don’t need a specialist… or do you?

“People don’t know what they don’t know and often don’t even realize the experiences or highlights they might be missing in a destination,” says Ariane Henry of Vision Travel. “Just like most of us use a real estate agent to buy a home or a financial adviser to assist with investment decisions, a good travel adviser can help you so much in planning and organizing your next vacation.” When working with well-traveled clients with a “been there, done that” outlook, especially with locations they’ve visited before, she may need to do some extra legwork—but, she claims, she can add value to any vacation by uncovering something her clients didn’t think of, or didn’t even realize was possible. “Even those who know Paris and have been to Versailles probably don’t know that the hotel Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, exists inside the grounds and offers guests exclusive access and private tours of Versailles and its gardens,” Henry notes. 

Even a trip to well-trodden Italy can be a minefield for someone with celiac, and a travel specialist can help you navigate the culinary terrain. According to Donna Flanigan of Donna Flanigan’s Travel by TPI, it’s even more important to involve avid travelers, who generally aren’t comfortable with someone else totally taking the reins, in the planning process. “I typically put together printable tentative itineraries and then will have the clients come into my office so we can go over every little detail—from restaurant reservations to travel-insurance options—and answer any questions they have.”

An artisan drying incense in Quang Phu Cao, Vietnam

Khánh Phan

Exploring Lake Como in a classic Riva Aquarama

Oliver Pilcher

You want a trip that pushes you…but aren’t exactly sure how far you want to be pushed

Often, the biggest hurdle in adventure-travel planning is dispelling assumptions. To address the preconceived notion that the polar regions will be way too cold to be enjoyable, Thomas Lennartz of Quark Expeditions asks clients if they like skiing. “Frequently they do, and I compare a day in Antarctica to one on the slopes: You need to be bundled up, but then when the sun is shining and there’s no wind, you can sit outside the lodge in your T-shirt. It quickly reframes temperature expectations.” Many feel that adventure travel is only for “the young, the fit, and the outdoorsy,” Lennartz adds. “Or one traveler is interested in going, but the partner doesn’t want to, so the challenge becomes getting the less enthusiastic to go outside of their comfort zone.” 

According to Denis Page of Longitude 80, whether a specialist can successfully pull off an adventure always comes down to on-the-ground experience. “There’s an expression in New Zealand that goes, ‘She’ll be right,’ meaning ‘It should be fine,’ ” says Page. “But not in this business, not at this level.” Which is why he has a steadfast rule: “Never operate an adventure unless you have been there—unless you’ve met the experts and know how the trip will flow.” There’s too much at stake, and things have to be perfect. Like the time he took a couple on a helicopter flight over New Zealand’s remote Southern Alps. “The husband was quite sick, and I suspected this was going to be his last trip. We landed on a mountaintop in time for an epic sunset. I cracked a bottle of Perrier-Jouët, handed him two flutes, and said that the pilot and I would be back in an hour.”


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