Career

Interview with Bespoke Travel Inc.’s owner and travel extraordinaire Barb Rowe

In the past I have had the pleasure of working with some truly amazing travel agents. They have more knowledge and talent than I could probably ever hope to have! One that I worked rather closely with, and have gotten to know rather well, and became terrific friends with is Barb Rowe. I cannot say enough good things about her. She is always so bubbly and positive, not to mention she’s like a walking travel encyclopedia! She can tell you about a destination, the history of it, fun facts, among other various talents. It is Barb that I turn to when I have questions about travel, because I trust her advice and her expertise.

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As of August Barb has followed her dream and started her own agency in Naples, FL which she has aptly named Bespoke Travel, Inc. Barb specializes in leisure travel, with an emphasis on the luxury market. But if you are in the market for a terrific agent, she has also done business travel as well as basically any other travel you can think of.

I took advantage of Barb’s expertise (and sense of humor) to interview her and get an inside look at the workings of a travel agents thoughts and feelings. If you have any questions that I didn’t list, I know Barb would be more than happy to answer them! You can reach out to her on Facebook or on her website.

1. How long have you been a travel agent?

11 years.

2. How did you get your start as a travel agent?

I had been working part time at our HOA office, spending a day or two per week helping my recently widowed Grandmother with her gardening and shopping. Then one day a homeowner came in for something and we started talking. She and her best friend had 20+ years in the travel business and were opening up their own agency. She asked if I would like to learn the business and the rest is history! They were too busy to take on many new clients and so for the 3 years I was with them and I doubled my income each year. After that we moved to Florida in January 2001. I went into a long standing agency in Naples for just under 2 years. After that I decided to take a break from the travel industry for 11 years. Missing the business, I went back to it January 2011 for a luxury agency in Naples.

3. You have recently started your own agency, Bespoke Travel Inc., why did you decide to go independent?

I had been working 50-60 hours a week and had no life outside of work to speak of. I was beginning to have health issues that I knew were directly related to a very busy office and high stress. However, leisure is my forte and I love booking luxury travel! I met an agent at an event who was an Independent agent and had been for several years. She was joyful and healthy, appeared to be making really good money while living a leisurely life. So the wheels started turning as I looked into this. It took an act of God to finally get me to take the leap of faith but it is going really well! I am determined to give more time to my clients and to handle business my way. I love treating clients as a good friend or family. Some of course, are all business and that is okay but not my personal style. The trips I book most are very long often a month or more and not always in one place. So there are lots of “I”s to dot and “T”s to cross! I wanted to be able to focus on the details without working 14 hours a day.

4. What is behind the name of your agency?

The word “bespoke” is used quite often, mostly in the luxury travel world. It comes from an old word not used much anywhere else but in the world of luxury goods and services. Websters definition: “Custom made” or “dealing in or producing custom made articles.” THAT is exactly what I want to do for my clients. And they do not have to have a huge budget to still have a custom made itinerary.

5. What is your hope/goal for your business?

“We are committed to finding that custom fit vacation to suit your personal needs and desires!”

Whether you desire a relaxing time island hopping on a luxurious ship, an excitement-filled land adventure, or tour the great historical cities of the world; Our goal is to tailor a vacation experience designed especially for you.

Here at Bespoke Travel, Inc. it is our pleasure to share our passion for travel with all who will allow us the privilege. Assisting you in designing family/multi-generation vacations or celebrations, cruises, honeymoons, weekend getaways, golf groups, safari, individual and escorted tours, arranging small group tours, private estate home or villa rentals to any destination you can imagine. We love to share in the excitement as you make your way through your “bucket list.” You will enjoy having one on one customer service with someone who will listen to your dreams and make them a reality!

Our passion for travel, love of people, and attention to detail allows our clients to experience the very best a destination has to offer within their taste and style of the journey. We enjoy planning vacation experiences for our clients, so they feel their time away has gone above and beyond their dreams. And we have the incredible privilege of being a part of this for you!

You DREAM. EXPLORE. DISCOVER. Leave the rest to us!

6. What has been your most memorable trip that you have taken?

Well, our most recent trip for sure. My husband and I spent 3 weeks this summer in Australia and the North Island of New Zealand. There are hardly words to describe the adventure we were on! We saw just about everything that we wanted to see, but then found out there was so much more than we wanted to see and do! It is definitely a destination that deserves more than one trip. Our trip over took extra long due to a strong headwind and the flight was about 19 hours. We kept going after arrival and got to bed about 9 or 10 pm, surprisingly we did not have any jet lag at all! We also had read a tip somewhere that was a lifesaver, a doctor said she wore support hose and was the only one of her group not to suffer from jet lag. So we did the same with success! I hope to have a full synopsis on the trip as it was way too amazing to write about here in detail.

I will say, that I am not one to let grass grow under my feet on a trip. I have taken a few trips here and there that are more about rest and relaxation, but most trips we want to explore! We love it all! I love to find the “not to miss”, special places, and make sure that I note them for the next client who wants to go to that spot.

7. What is the most memorable trip that you have ever planned for a client?

Wow. That is hard, as I have had the privilege of making many amazing dreams a reality!

There was a special occasion trip for a family of 10 plus over the holidays and the Mrs. had very specific ideas. She had wanted an estate home with a private chef, housekeeper, and in the islands. We looked at her first destinations and nothing was really cutting the grade for her. I asked if she would be open to looking at another destination that had several luxury properties that I had visited on vacation the summer before. One in particular was a “best of both worlds” scenario. A private island off Antigua called “Jumby Bay” it has a luxury 5-star villa resort on it managed by Rosewood. They also manage all the private estate homes on the island. They had access to all the resorts fine dining and activities PLUS a private chef and housekeeper. They decided to add a private jet charter for them all to go together. This trip totaled $350,000. This is memorable for a couple of reasons: I was able to sell them the perfect property, even though they did not know about this or have it on their radar. And making special memories for families is such a blessing to be a part of! This adventure had 2 very momentous occasions, over both Christmas/New Years, AND the entire family was together.

Another favorite was a honeymoon for a professional basketball player for 4 nights with a private car and driver to Napa Valley (including special dinners at all the best restaurants in Napa, private bicycle wine tour, and hot air balloon ride) and then on to Bali for a week in an over-water bungalow at the Four Seasons.

There was one couple who spent about 2-3 months away each year in Europe. Sometimes they incorporated a multi-generation trip for 10 days to 2 weeks in there as well! I have planned so many countries for them I can’t list them all now.

A new favorite of mine is Costa Rica so lush and beautiful, the landscapes, seashores, volcanoes, waterfalls, and the birds! Oh, and let’s not forget the great spa properties with geothermal springs! One is more amazing than the next! The people of Costa Rica are some of the best anywhere in the World. All of your guides in C.R. must have attended a 2 year tourism and guide school so your tours are exceptional in Costa Rica. But I think the Aussie and Kiwis rival them!

I had a client that hated to fly but wanted to go to Europe. They live in SW Florida. I arranged a cruise out of Florida to South Hampton with several stops on the way. Then a train from  London and Paris with touring in each, private drivers to meet them at each arrival and departure, and then sail back to NYC from England. They spent a few days in NYC and then took an Amtrak train back to Fort Lauderdale. It was a dream trip and their 40th wedding anniversary and 2 years later they still call me to tell me how much they have enjoyed reliving all the memories I helped them make.

Similarly I have done several other multi-generational journeys to some amazing places: South Africa, Paris with a private river cruise, Antarctica, Peru and Ecuador to see the Galapagos, Machu Picchu, Peruvian Amazon, an escorted Tauck tour to Cowboy Country, the list goes on and on. None of these trips were cookie cutter, but these are the types of trips that separate the good travel agents from the great travel agents! All were specifically designed for these families down to the smallest of details.

8. What lessons have you learned the hard way when traveling?

Planning ahead is best with a little leisure time to add something or switch something where possible. It is so much more enjoyable to have a private driver or small group tour guide picking you up at the airport and getting you settled into the city and your hotel. Rather than get into a strange place and wonder how am I going to find a cab will they rip me off or get me to my hotel. I find when we don’t plan ahead time is lost and we are don’t get to see as much than if we plan ahead. Plus often you are disappointment if you wait till you are in a destination and it is booked solid and has been for months.

9. What is the most exotic food you have ever eaten, and how was it/would you eat it again?

I am not too risky when it comes to foods. But I guess it would have to be Kangaroo sliders on one of our favorite tours in Sydney. Oh, and in New Zealand we tried Whitebait which were truly like a tiny bait fish and a favorite of Kiwis. They have to be done just right and I understand that commonly they are made into fritters. We did not have them the traditional way but did order them for appetizers in two places one which was awesome in Wellington called “WhiteBait.” The other was like eating overcooked clams and a huge plate of them… If that had been my first taste it would have been my last! Kudos to “WhiteBait” it was an all around best for us for an independent dining experience on our trip. The food overall in New Zealand and Australia was outstanding even at McDonalds! No mystery meat here at McDs it is more like a pastry cafe and a Starbucks! Both countries like eggs and beets on their burgers but they make them traditionally as well. Eggs are so fresh and from well fed hens, they are bright orange yokes! Food never tasted so good and fresh! We visited Byron Bay Australia, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Kangagroo Island. In New Zealand we self drove between places but let someone else do the tour driving except in Rotorua, we visited; Auckland, a stop at the Glowworm caves, Rotorua, Hawkes Bay (The Lodge at Cape Kidnappers), and Wellington. The people are lovely in both countries!

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Whitebait. Photo courtesy eatingcoventgarden.wordpress.com

10. What is next on your bucket list (or your dream trip) and why?

The world has so much to offer and we have places we want to go back to, to see what we missed. But the top one in the running is Vietnam. We have never been to any of the Asian countries and we have heard such great things about it from others we have sent. And we met a young lady on one of our tours that was living there from another country. She could not say enough good things about it and told us all the places not to miss on the ride back from the Phillip Island tour we took from Melbourne. We had talked about it being our next big trip and then she sealed the deal! We want to do an escorted land/cruise tour with AmaWaterways or Uniworld.

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Travel in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of http://www.mattwhittingham.com

11. What destination is really “hot” right now? 

It is hard to pick just one! Things are ever evolving, and as far as international destinations go frankly travel is still up in Europe despite terrorist issues. Top destinations in Europe are: Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Dalmatian Coast (Croatia), English countrysides, French wine country, Ireland, and Scotland.

River cruises are quite in high demand selling out 18 months in advance quite often. Iceland is another up and coming destination and a great stop over on the way to Europe with Icelandair.

Many South American countries are great this year, Galapagos, Machu Picchu, Peruvian Amazon, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Then don’t forget the African hot spots; South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Kenya.

As for U.S. destinations, this year is the 100th birthday of the National Parks so make a point to go visit a new one or more! Hawaii is always wildly popular and the Big Island is producing some once in a lifetime opportunities. Like visiting Volcano National Park and tracking the making of new land with fresh hot lava flowing into the sea. This island needs about 7-10 days to do it justice. You can do the highlights in about 5 nights.

California is a beautiful state to visit from one end to the other, inland mountains to the seashores. Home to Yosemite National Park, and the lesser known little sister Hetch Hetchy which is threatened by the Corp of Engineers to break the dam and flood this amazing sight. The amazing redwood forests, Monterey Bay, Carmel and Big Sur, San Francisco, Wine Country, Coastal State Reserves all along Highway 1. Two favorites of mine are Point Lobos in Carmel area and Point Reyes just North of San Francisco. There are so many I have not seen yet.

12. Why do you think travel is important? 

I think personally it broadens horizons, literally, and figuratively. Relaxation, discovering new things, people, and places. And this fave quote we have used on our website sums it up well. By Author Pat Conroy,

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”

13. What advice would you give to someone who has never traveled before? 

Plan ahead for the best experience. Using a travel agent is your best decision. You are saving time, money, and will maximize your experience for doing so. We have tons of experience between our own and all the travel partners we have across the world to make your dreams a reality!

The world is your oyster! The places, faces, foods, history, landscapes, adventures are what it is all about. They are all awaiting you whether in a new state, city, or country! It has been said that, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”  -Anonymous.

This makes it all worthwhile.

A big thank you to Barb for taking time out of her very busy life to answer some questions for a friend! I know I appreciate it, and I hope my readers enjoyed it. As always comments and questions are encouraged, either here or on Facebook. Until next time fellow seekers, maluhia hele (safe travels)!

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Categories: Adventure, Becoming a Travel Agent, Career, Interview, Learning, Naples, Tips, Travel, Tricks | Leave a comment

When is the best time to book _____?

Travel agents get this question constantly. Whether it’s a flight, hotel, or cruise, people want to know! I can’t say I blame them, I know exactly how much research and planning goes into a vacation and we all want good value for our money. The honest answer will always be,  it depends. There are so many factors that go into these different rates: time of year, availability, holidays, etc. 

However keeping in mind that in general there are some better times than others to book different pieces of travel. The main peak season for travel for Americans would be summer. The weather is nice, kids are out of school, and prices can be steep. Conversely the slow season would then be winter, with better prices.

Cruise


If you are looking into a cruise, the mentioned slow season really applies. Winter, especially July- November, is hurricane season in the Caribbean. This could mean rougher water and rain during your voyage. But this is typically the best time to book a Carribbean cruise for lower prices. And according to wanderingearl.com’s “Travel Tips: How to Find Cheap Cruise Fares” booking at the last minute is the most expensive time while 90-120 days prior to the sail date is best, after that you must keep an eye out for any lower fares/special promotions since all major cruiselines will have a price guarantee. This means if the price does go down, you get it!

Hotel

Hotel rooms can be tricky too. Keeping in mind our peak and slow times, hotels can be further split into business and leisure. Business hotels cater to those professionals that travel for work, mainly throughout the weekdays. This means that the hotel prices will probably be higher through the week and lower on the weekend. The hotel might also focus on different amenities such as free Wi-Fi, a fitness center, and an airport shuttle over more leisurely amenities. The opposite would be true for a leisure hotel. Their prices would be higher on the weekends and lower through the week with things like a pool and themepark shuttles/discounts as amenities. 

With these important differences in mind, a good average according to “How to Find the Best Hotel Deals in 2016” by mylittlenomads.com would be to book 2-6 months in advance for a leisure hotel and 1-2 weeks in advance for a business hotel, with holiday and peak exceptions.

Flight

This is probably the biggest purchase of almost any trip! It is also one of the most important. When to depart/arrive, non-stop or connecting, which airline, all of which play into the price. There are many things that can be done to save money while flying: going through a discount airline like JetBlue or Spirit, being flexible with your dates (you’d be surprised how often leaving a few days earlier or later can save hundreds), choosing a connecting flight over a non-stop. But with these money saving options in mind, sometimes we still see the value in spending a bit more on flights. I know I would spend extra for a non-stop! One of THE best ways to see prices for flights and to track prices is with Google flights. It doesn’t show many airlines like Southwest or Spirit so you do have to check their sites individually.

We all know that there are domestic flights and international flights. But there can be some major differences in these when booking. Not just in prices, but in regulations too, especially for luggage! The same is true for the best time to book. Domestic flights are a little easier to come by than international ones, with more airlines and airports. This means that you don’t necessarily have to book as far in advance (with the exception of holidays and peak seasons). Huffington Post’s article “The Best Time to Book a Plane Ticket, According to a New Study” breaks it down quite nicely. The average is 30-90 days with the study narrowing it down to precisely 54 days prior.

After a very long connecting flight to Ireland!

As I have mentioned international flights can be very tricky. Only large, international airports like Atlanta or New York will offer international flights. This means, if you are like me, that you will have to fly to one if these places first, adding to the cost. Farecompare.com’s post “Cheapest Days to Fly and Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets” cover pretty much what all travel agents should know. Flying during lunch and dinner times, as well as red-eye or overnight flights will offer the best bang for your buck. The site also claims that Tuesday at 3 pm is the best day of the week and time for domestic or international flight purchases, with Friday and Saturday being the most expensive. The site also recommends booking international travel 45 days to 5.5 months in advance, adding 2+ months for peak/holidays. In my own experience and my usual recommendation for purchasing international flights would be 4-6 weeks in advance.

I hope this gives a little more insight into the travel world and sheds some light. This is by no means comprehensive or set in stone, merely a sampling. Every trip, no matter how routine is unique and should be treated as such. If you have more specific questions, as always I will do my best to answer them. Feel free to leave a comment either here or on my Facebook page. Until next time my fellow adventurers, (safe travels!) يسافر آمنة!

Categories: Activities, Adventure, Career, frugal, Haggling, How To, Learning, Ocean cruises, river cruises, Royal Carribbean, saving money, Tips, Travel, Tricks, vacation | 1 Comment

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