Meet one of the corner stones of Journeys Within Tour Company — our lovely Tour Consultant, April. In addition to being an amazing wife and mother of two, April is an intrepid traveler who finds that great food, life lessons and the quest for chocolate guides her …
Working out of our office in Truckee, California, April turns the hopes and dreams of our guests into customized tours of a lifetime. Over the last seven years with Journeys Within, she has traveled through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar in search of the kind of experiences that enrich and enlighten. Here she talks about what travel means to her, traveling with kids and how travel has helped her grow…
What does your position at JW entail?
I’ve worn a lot of hats in the years that I’ve been with JW, but right now my day to day is pretty focused on tour consulting. I work with our guests to design their itineraries. When someone calls and says that they want to go to Cambodia or Thailand or both, I talk with them to learn more about their interest, their personal travel style and budget. Then I use my knowledge of the region to put together a tour itinerary that really fits them. We then work together to fine tune the itinerary until its perfect. After the guest and I decide the tour is right I work with our teams in Southeast Asia to make the bookings.
Why do you choose to travel?
Not to get cheesy, but I choose to travel because it makes me a better person. Travel allows the opportunity to learn about the world and people on so many different levels, and I don’t feel you can really learn and grow with out going out and experiencing the world first hand.
What parts of SE Asia have you been to?
I’ve travelled to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Burma. Having travelled to Southeast Asia every year for the past seven years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to see so much of the region. Still it is remarkable how many places I still have on my wish list! I’ve been to the highlights and many off the beaten path locations within each country. I’m excited to continue exploring Southeast Asia as there are always wonderful surprises, as well as the comforts of returning to my favorite locations.
What has been your most challenging travel experience in SE Asia?
I’m really lucky that I always travel to Southeast Asia with Journeys Within. Because of that, travel has been relatively easy. I’m always picked up at the airport and always feel I have a friend and resource in country. So the logistics of the trip and the day to day exploring have never been challenging. What I’ve found the most challenging traveling experience in Southeast Asia has been finding chocolate. I really do get sad when I want a piece of dark chocolate and there is just none to be found anywhere! On the more serious side, taking the time to be less self involved while traveling and trying to really be aware of the local customs and culture can be hard. You have to put in the effort to conduct yourself in a way which reflects the local customs and culture though they aren’t what you are used to.
Favourite travel memory?
On a horseback ride through the countryside in Siem Reap. We went there with our JW Team, and our JW Jr. Team, which consists of all the children of the staff. My son was about 6 years old when we went on this tour together. He had never been horseback riding, so it was fun that he got to say that his first time riding a horse was in Cambodia. It was a beautiful afternoon and we were riding through a part of Siem Reap I had never been before, and just that would have been enough to make it a very special memory.
But when we stopped at the temple and all the kids got off their horses and started playing on and around the temple, my favorite travel memory was formed. Gavin and Cooper (Andrea’s son and Gavin’s best friend), were climbing the temple ruins and they were pretending the temple was Buddha’s last resting place. Then they started talking about the Khmer Rouge and how a battle took place there, but that Buddha had marked the temple as a safe structure. They ran around for about an hour hiding from the incoming troops, and trying to find relics of Buddha, while I sat back and enjoyed an ice cold soda and just watched how much fun they were having. While their sense of history was wildly incorrect, the fact that two 6 year old American boys were climbing on a temple in Cambodia, discussing Buddha and the Khmer Rouge, moved me. These are the things that only travel can give you. The things these boys are learning isn’t from books, it’s from exploring and it will always leave a very special memory in my heart.
Your favourite property in SE Asia?
I’m completely spoiled, I’ll be the first to admit it. Song Saa Private Island is my favorite property in SE Asia. Read my previous blog for more detail.
Favourite dining experience?
I have three favorite dining experiences which are all completely different so I’ll share each of them.
1- “The Bagan Feast”. When we were in Bagan our lovely guide Jo Jo asked us if we’d like to try some local food and of course our answer was a resounding yes! In the span of about an hour we were served 33 different dishes! He said that in the days of the king they would serve him 330 dishes nightly and the Bagan feast is a local way to honor the king’s tradition. But what I really loved was trying all of the local dishes and how much Jo Jo enjoyed explaining each dish and the history around the dish, and sharing his personal stories of the Bagan Feasts he’s had with his family.
2 – Song Saa in room movie experience. The first night we arrived at Song Saa Private Island they had made note that we were traveling with two young children and they asked if they could arrange something special for us that evening. When we came back into our villa after a day of exploring the island we arrived to an in villa movie theater arranged just for us. Along with a popcorn bar (which had about 5 different types of popcorn) and some kid friendly dinner plates with pasta and veggies. Throughout the showing of Kung Fu Panda, the servers brought in three courses of a beautiful five-star quality sea food meal, but it was served in the comfort of our lounge area while we snuggled with our kids and watched the movie. After our meals we each designed our own ice cream sundaes.
3. Nang Gin Kui. I had the pleasure of attending one of the weekly join dinners at Nang Gin Kui – the #1 Bangkok Restaurant on TripAdvisor and home of Florian Gypser. At first I was a bit hesitant as it would be a small group of 7 other diners at a restaurant set up in a local’s apartment. I had heard of the amazing food and atmosphere at the restaurant, but I wasn’t sure if that would still be as amazing if I felt shy around a bunch of strangers. The host of dinner, Florian, was great at starting conversation with the group and really had a magnificent way of knowing when to start up conversations and when to simply let people be. He also made sure your glass was always full. Each of the 12 courses were prepared and served perfectly, and I really enjoyed the “de ja vu” courses – a.k.a. a second helping of the best bites! The group was made up of ex-pats from America, Italy and travelers from Iran and Australia — there was a lot of interesting conversation and laughter. The dinner took place when there was a midnight curfew in Bangkok and although the dinner started early that night, 6pm, we were all rushing to taxis at about 5 minutes to midnight like Cinderella leaving the ball. It was a very unique and special experience and I highly recommend adding it to trip to Bangkok.
Do you have a memorable guest?
We’re really lucky here at JW as our guests are all pretty remarkable. I feel like there’s a type of person that chooses to travel with us and they tend to choose to travel with us because they’ve done a lot of research and they want to work with a company that supports the local communities and a company with a personal knowledge of the region. Guests who do that much research care about where they are going and how they are making an impact when they travel, and working with people like that is always a pleasure.
A few memorable guests are Edna and Steve Kornberg. They travelled with us in 2010 and they were so enthusiastic about their trip to Southeast Asia and when they returned home they said it was “the trip of a lifetime”. I’m now working on a second trip for them as they’re heading to another part of the region. They are so kind and really want to get to know the people and give back to the communities in these regions.
Have you ever traveled with your kids?
I have absolutely traveled to Southeast Asia with my kids. I’ve traveled with my son when he was 2, actually he turned 2 while we were in Thailand, and again when he was 6. I’ve also traveled with my daughter when she was just 18 months old. I’ve listed out some ups and downs of traveling with my kids below:
Kids like to take breaks and nap.
Kids like to take breaks and nap! It’s amazing to take the time to slow down and relax and take breaks while you’re traveling. What you discover in that down time, with the opportunity to reflect on what you’ve seen in the day. It’s also nice to take that down time for yourself every once in a while.
Traveling with a kid in diapers is messy!
At least you’re staying in hotels and eating in restaurants so you aren’t cleaning up diapers and a messy house!
It’s a 24 hour of traveling from the US to Southeast Asia.
You’re forced to get up and walk around the plane instead of binging on the entire Glee series with no break to even stand up. Also, you appreciate how well behaved your kids can be.
They won’t remember all the details of this incredible trip.
What they do remember, is the experiences with new friends, trying new things, learning something about other cultures, and the time that you spent with them.
Any tips for parents travelling SE Asia with kids?
The most important tip I can give for parents traveling with their kids is to go with the pace of your children, plan less and be open to changes. I find that you’re heading all the way to the other side of the world and you don’t know if you’ll be making this trip again so there’s a lot of pressure to fit everything in, but when you travel with your kids they move at a slower pace at times or things happen and you need to head back to your hotel, so you may miss that museum or temple you had on your list. Take extra time in each location to allow for flexibility, and don’t be upset if you have to skip something or head out early. Really take the time to enjoy exploring with your children, you’ll see and experience so much more viewing the world through their eyes than what any guide book could ever show you!!
Bring two sets of extra clothes and shoes in your carry on. Kids are messy, and it’s inevitable that if they make enough of a mess to have their clothes changed once — they’ll probably do it twice!
Allow your kids to do a part of the trip planning, give them a half a day that is something they planned. It gives them something to be excited for and gives them pride when the rest of the family enjoys that portion of the trip.
Pack a wet bag. This is my favorite kid product ever and every parent should travel with one. They are designed for diapers, but they are perfect for holding clothes that have gotten messy or wet swim suits.
Pack a first aide kit, with Tylenol and allergy meds. While you’re on tour if your kids get sick Journeys Within can get your kids to the doctor if needed or get you to a local pharmacy, but I find it reassuring to have the things for minor sickness or an allergic reaction easily accessible in my own first aide kit.
Bring snacks from home. While I think your kids should try local foods and experience the culture, sometimes it’s nice to have a quick snack on hand that is comforting. I find granola bars and fig newtons to be easy to travel with and a perfect little blood sugar booster for kids.
Andrea gave me this list when I was taking my first trip with my then 2 year old son and it’s still a great reference.
How has traveling changed you?
It’s opened my eyes to different cultures, giving me the desire to learn more and to be more respectful of the different ways of life and the different points of view individuals have. I’ve brought that back to my everyday life, really opening my eyes to how everyone approaches life a little differently, and seeing that as a really great thing. Travel reminds me a lot of school. Every time you travel you learn so much, and in learning more you realize how much more you have to learn. It’s a beautiful cycle really.
Travel has also helped me to slow down. You want to see and experience, and sometimes that means just sitting down and watching the boats slowly float down the Mekong river, or catching the sunrise at Angkor Wat, or playing a game of cards. It’s not about how many things you can get done in one day, it’s the quality of the experience. I do try to remember that and bring it home with me — although, the amount of coffee I consume makes it hard to slow down sometimes!
Travel has allowed me to appreciate all that I have. And I don’t just mean that about the roof over my head, and the ability to get clean drinking water from a faucet – but it has made me appreciate those things. The quality of my life is really high, in health, family, my job, and the opportunities I’m afforded. Real wealth has nothing to do with income and because I’ve traveled I feel I can see that easier and I realize just how much I have.