When it comes to crisscrossing the globe on vacation, Susan Bender, a 20-year personal travel planner for Pavlus Travel, loves land tours that also have an educational or enrichment component. “Tours that include seeing wildlife in their natural habitats are the very best,” she believes. “My past Kenya and Costa Rica trips were incredible.”
In Kenya, “I found very friendly people and a very different culture,” she adds. “Also, heading out on game rides to see the exotic wildlife was absolutely amazing!” Yes, she viewed lions, zebras, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos and more.
Bender mentions other favorite past trips too including strolling through ancient Greek ruins in Olympia (Shown in the photo above. Photo by Susan Bender). She also enjoyed exploring the Greek isle of Santorini and Fira, its capital. That lovely town is perched on caldera cliffs high above the water. What a view!
As a 30-year travel industry veteran, Bender, who works from a home office in Parker, CO, certainly is highly experienced at planning clients’ vacations. But while crafting either a short getaway or that next big trip for her customers, she can’t help dreaming about the “bucket list” trips she’d personally love to take.
Interestingly, two of her top hopes for future trips aren’t land-focused. They’re seagoing! But they unfold on intimate expedition ships, offer a hefty wildlife focus and provide enrichment for guests. Read along as they might tweak your interest as well.
Next Big Trip: Exploring the White Continent
So, here’s what Bender yearns for in her next big trip…
First, she’d like to travel to Antarctica with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. She particularly likes that expedition line’s 14-day “Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent” itinerary. Three different small expedition ships operate this journey to adventure.
It’s available on 2024 departures in November, December, January and February. Guests will sail either on the 138-passenger National Geographic Endurance, the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer or the 138 passenger National Geographic Resolution.
What’s to see and do? Guests will gaze at the White Continent’s dramatic landscapes and seascapes. They’ll view tall snow-capped mountains ashore and craggy icebergs offshore (often with seals or penguins hitching a ride). They’ll have opportunities to walk on natural beaches, saunter up rolling meadows, climb hillsides or explore other eco-terrain.
Given that Antarctica has no residents (just a handful of research stations of various nations and their scientists don’t stay year-round), it’s essentially a continent without civilization. That’s totally unlike the other six continents on Earth.
So, cruise guests who go outside on deck or ashore will encounter a natural world that’s absolutely gorgeous in its eco-beauty. And it’s eerily silent much of the time, with only sounds of birds or other wildlife filling the air.
The Meandering Traveler took a luxury expedition cruise on Silversea Cruises’ Silver Endeavour in late 2022. After sailing away from King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, we saw no civilization during 95 percent of our voyage.
At one point, we saw one Hurtigruten Expeditions ship, another time a few red buildings in an unoccupied Argentinian research station. The rest of the week-long period was pure Mother Nature in all her glory.
“Antarctica would be an adventurous trip, as it’s about as far away as one can go,” acknowledges Bender. “I would love to see the penguins and whales in their natural habitats. In addition, National Geographic provides an educational experience.”
Travelers often spot huge humpback whales, sea lions, and large colonies of small waddling gentoo penguins and other species of penguins too. The most common birds on the continent are Antarctic snow petrels.
Activities and Outings
Travelers sailing on Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic voyages can count on expert enrichment talks by the ship’s expedition team. In this “Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent” itinerary, a National Geographic photographer will also provide tips for guests about how to capture the best, most dramatic Antarctica shots.
In addition, Lindblad’s guests — led by Lindblad’s expedition team — can head out for Zodiac rides, beach landings, hikes, and kayaking. All the Lindblad vessels carry their own Zodiacs and kayaks. Did you know that in November, you might have another option? How about a cross-country ski adventure?
Pricing for Bender’s dream trip — “Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent” — starts at $15,840 per person, double occupancy, and single rates are available, so call your Pavlus personal travel planner for more details.
Next Big Trip: Exploring the Galapagos
For another next big trip, Bender would opt for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic’s Galapagos Islands itineraries. “The Galapagos is a unique destination,” Bender emphasizes. “The ecosystem is extremely protected, and some of the wildlife cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. I have always wanted to go!”
What’s special? During their Galapagos voyage, travelers might spot giant Galapagos tortoises, marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies (yes, birds with very prominent blue feet!), sea lions and more. Travelers might also see Galapagos penguins — the Northern Hemisphere’s only penguin species. And many other unusual species also call the Galapagos home.
A 10-day “Galapagos aboard National Geographic Endeavor II“ itinerary operates roundtrip from Guayaquil, Ecuador. Click on the link for itinerary details. That expedition starts at $6,538 per person, double. Single rates are available so call your travel advisor for more information.
Bender cites an added benefit for any expedition voyage to either Antarctica or the Galapagos: “Once our clients board the ship, they only have to unpack once.”
For clients heading out on their next big trip or even a smaller one too, Bender says this: “As a travel planner at Pavlus, I do everything to assist in planning my clients’ trips. That includes everything from cruises to tours, air, hotels, cars and more.”
Other High-Quality Experiences
Every week, Bender books a lot of Tauck, Viking and Regent Seven Seas Cruises vacations for her clients. Why are these brands so popular? “Many of my clients are retirees and these travel vacation brands provide a high-quality, higher-end experience, plus they also offer many inclusions, she explains.
“In addition, my clients desire good service from the tour company or cruise line while on their vacation,” she says. “And typically, that’s exactly what they’ll get from these vacation suppliers.”
One far-flung, fully escorted trip she suggests to her clients is Tauck’s escorted “Grand Australia and New Zealand” itinerary. Click the link for full itinerary details. It’s priced from $14,490 per person, double occupancy, and $19,050 single occupancy.
She continues: “I believe this would be a very interesting and fun trip!” It’s a very diverse region with two very different, English-speaking countries. In addition, I’ve personally heard some exceptional reviews about this trip.”
Best of all, Pavlus Travel’s clients also receive an added benefit for booking this journey. So, give your personal travel planner a call to find out more.
Next Big Trip: Rivers or Resorts
If Bender’s clients instead are seeking a river cruise, though, she tells The Meandering Traveler that she often suggests AmaWaterways. Check out our blog this past summer about what’s new (including Colombia’s Magdalena River) for that upscale river line. It offers high-quality voyages in Europe, Egypt, Southeast Asia and soon South America.
For a resort stay, among the travel advisor’s favorite brands is Palace Resorts. But if you have a particular brand you love, just let your travel advisor know, she suggests: “Our goal is always to personalize and customize your vacation to match your style and personality. It’s different strokes for different folks. It’s whatever your dream trip is.”
Hiking and Volunteerism
So, what does Bender do during her free time? “I enjoy hiking when I have time,” she tells us.
Specifically, “Bryce Canyon National Park as well as The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monumenti in New Mexico are my favorite places to hike,” she adds. She loves some other active activities too including zip lining.
In her community, Bender also has done volunteer work for the local Humane Society and homeless shelters.
Next Big Trip: Travel Tips from Bender
Whether exploring ancient Greek ruins or getting up close with a monkey in Kenya, Bender loves experiencing the world. She also brings that passion and spirit to the vacation planning for her clients.
“And that means not just booking the land tour, resort stay or cruise, but being able to help someone get to a certain restaurant, museum, golf course or anything else that’s not included in the itinerary,” she explains.
Safety Net Tips
In addition, she provides her clients with “safety net” tips to help them navigate the global world of crowded airports and heavily booked flights. She provides tips to help ensure their cherished vacation will go off without a hitch.
That means taking actions that are within the traveler’s control. First, Bender says: “Always go in a day earlier than needed when flying overseas. That way, if there is any flight issue, you’ll have a bit of a cushion.”
Second, she stresses: “Never make any airline booking or have your advisor do that without being sure the precise name you give for the airline ticket will exactly match what’s on your passport. It’s critical, or the airline may deny boarding on the day you’re ready to leave for a fabulous vacation.”
From Bender’s perspective, “travel has been a fun industry to work in, as helping someone plan their vacation is very satisfying.” What does she find most special? That’s simple, she says: “Making someone’s dream vacation come true!”
Important Notes from Pavlus Travel
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