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True confession: I was a late travel bloomer. Excluding a weeklong family trip to Aruba when I was in elementary school, I never journeyed internationally until after I graduated college. I was always a geography junkie though, always gazing at maps, learning countries and capitals, and decorating my school books with flags of the world. At my Baltimore elementary school, one teacher even had me create and grade the geography quizzes for my fourth grade class.
It wasn’t until a delayed honeymoon in 1989, though, that my wife and I took the plunge and spent five weeks visiting nine countries across Europe. At the time, I was a young manager at Rotary International – the world headquarters of all the Rotary clubs around the world. One of my Rotary contacts invited us to stay at his home south of Munich for the first week of our trip. After breakfast with the family, Meghan and I would embark on a daytrip to a different part of Bavaria and the Alps, usually returning home afterwards. Being able to see the sites during the day, but have a stress-free place to crash at night, made our first journey feel safe and comfortable. Above all, I remember the breakfasts we had with Ernst, Stephanie and their energetic weimaraner Whiskey. We talked and learned about their life in Germany, their passions, and their customs.
Ten years and another dozen countries later, I launched my first travel company in 1999 to share my passion for the world with friends and family. Through word of mouth, the company grew rapidly and I started specializing in international groups for prestigious business schools. By 2009, my TravelMBA brand had a rapidly growing staff and was the preferred group travel provider for business schools at Northwestern, University of Chicago, Duke, Yale and others. That year, we joined forces with WorldStrides to form the largest and most trusted name in educational travel for university groups.
Over the next decade, we continued to grow in size, scope and services, offering customized itineraries to more than 100 countries – more than half of which I have visited. In total, I have personally supported over 1,000 groups representing more than 20,000 travelers. In addition to destination knowledge, I bring risk management specialization to help you travel smartly and safely. After a four-year hiatus to run an international non-profit organization in the U.S., Israel and West Bank/Palestine, I felt the pull bringing me back to my first passion.
I launched Journey Softly to help you create travel programs the way you want. Just like a house you build from scratch or a kitchen where you can make your favorite dish with just the ideal mix of ingredients, my goal is to use my knowledge and my network to help craft your perfect journey – including hotels, guides, sightseeing and activities. I look forward to working with you!
When I was growing up, my family liked to get into a car and drive all over the United States. From the time I was little, I loved going on adventures. It wasn’t until senior year of college that I had the opportunity to travel internationally, though. I took a Theater Arts class in England where we watched 18 plays and musicals in the short 21 day program. There were many sightseeing adventures as well. One day we were standing outside the gates of Parliament. This guy struck up a conversation outside the building asking if we knew the name of the Prime Minister. Sheepishly, we all shook our heads. He informed us that it was Tony Blair, and he would give us a personal tour if we could tell him the Prime Minister’s name at the end. It turns out that Colin was a member of the British House of Commons. He took us on an impromptu, behind-the-scenes tour of Parliament. This magical encounter solidified my love of travel and convinced me of the value of personalized experiences.
After I graduated from college, I taught English at a local high school for a short time. One of the highlights was realizing I was opening teenager’s eyes to new thoughts and ideas. During that period, I had the opportunity to travel to Germany, New Zealand, and Australia through my husband’s work where I could sightsee at my own pace and take in personal experiences of different cultures.
In 2005 we moved to Chicago where I took a position at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management running their international business experience program. I spent two years organizing trips to 12-13 locations each year, sending hundreds of students to different countries around the world. My love of education and love of travel came together giving people a real-life immersion into other cultures. I’m a hands-on learner who truly believes that experience is the best way to understand; international travel gives such an insight into other places and cultures around the world. My time at Kellogg allowed me to accompany groups to South Africa, Turkey, and Dubai.
When we moved to St. Louis in 2007, I decided to continue my career in travel. Planning these eye opening adventures was fun, but so was hearing the stories and seeing the pictures after my groups returned from overseas adventures. I joined Rick at TravelMBA in 2007 working with several universities on their international immersion programs. I assisted in the planning of trips and accompanied many of the groups overseas. To date, I have traveled to 40 countries.
These international experiences have taught me more than I could ever gain from a textbook: deep appreciation for other cultures and how that may shape people as individuals as well as seeing beautiful and different landscapes and architecture that capture the essence of a place. The perspective you get on an international trip is parallel to none, and helping plan and implement that experience for others is exhilarating for me. I’m excited to work with you to create authentic itineraries for your perfect adventure.
Growing up in Brazil in a modest family, I never had the opportunity to travel internationally until I was 22. At that time, I was already working for a local travel agency near Sao Paulo and finishing my English coursework when I decided to dive deep into a cultural exchange program in the United States. One of my earliest and most memorable experiences was to simply experience snow for the first time. Later, I was asked at a job interview what makes travelling so important in a world where you can learn about countries and culture via the internet. My response was: “The first time that I saw snow was in Marion, Michigan. It was a sunny early morning and we stepped outside after a night of snowfall. The sun hit the top layer of the thick snow on the ground and it sparkled! Never anywhere had I ever been told that snow sparkled. Some things you will never read anywhere, and will not learn until you experience for yourself.”
I was the first in my immediate family to travel outside of South America and the only one to earn a college degree. After college, I joined WorldStrides where I met Rick who was the expert in risk assessment and travel management. It quickly became apparent to me that this was the perfect place to assist others in their quest for new and unique international experiences.
During my 8 years at WorldStrides, I assisted more than 100 groups with their educational travel programs to dozens of countries. I have helped with everything from assessing visa needs, to fine-tuning details of their day-to-day itineraries, to meeting group budgets, to addressing issues while travelling, all to ensure clients can maximize their experiences in their selected destination.
I have travelled with clients to China, England, Mexico, South Africa and the Philippines. I have witnessed first-hand those special moments when a new destination transforms a person. You see it in the smile on their face and the gleam in their eyes. You hear it in their voice when they share the respect and admiration for a different culture that they may not have understood before they arrived. I hope to provide you too with an international experience that you will never forget – one that will leave you looking forward to your next cultural immersion!
Photo: Altai Mountains, Siberia, Russia