Preamble: I created Travel With Chardoul, Inc. to develop a love for travel for a growing group that I call my “Traveling Friends.” I want these Traveling Friends to experience with me, as much as we can do in a limited time each year, different vistas and varying foodways and customs, things that cannot be done by viewing a travelogue or reading a book. As Andre Gide said: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
I have attempted to expand the horizons of those who want to grow with me. As a former college professor and a Naval officer, I see informed travel as a means to do this. I endeavor to accomplish this by exposing my fellow travelers to my thoughts as well as the itineraries that I craft.
My first goal is that I attempt to provide my guests and fellow travelers a moderate amount of immersion; that is, living a bit like a local with some element of experiential travel.
This includes having hands-on food demonstrations, craft works, and visiting homes of individuals to get a better understanding how they live.
I fully understand that not all home owners in countries we visit like to have strangers tramping through their homes and those that do probably are well compensated by the travel company (which might change some of the things that they do) but my traveling friends are at least removed from their insulated bubble for a short time.
The key is to be observant. Look not only at the home you are visiting, but if you are walking to that home through a neighborhood, subtly look at other homes nearby and see if there are any differences. Look for means of transportation that this particular neighborhood has, see if the home exteriors are greatly different, how are neighborhood kids dressed?, are there schools nearby?, the conditions of the roads, look for electric power lines and if all homes have access, condition of pets, and use your sense of smell.
If you have a chance to visit markets, look at the quality and variety of produce, how meat is displayed (flies?), sanitary conditions, display counters, dress of those who are selling, lighting, and other things that would make the groceries more desirable. If you have been in this area previously, do you notice a difference in price? Think why the price has increased or decreased.
On the streets, look at the condition and age of cars, public transportation, road conditions, the way electrical power lines are connected, storm drains.
A second goal is to enlighten my fellow travelers. I have several ways to do this:
- I do extensive research on the places we visit on the upcoming itinerary. I then share this research with those who are traveling with me.
- I attempt to select the best possible guides who are both extremely knowledgeable and also very approachable. This allows you a chance to ask further questions once we are on the trip.
- I encourage you to further travel: “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”
A third goal is not to wear you out. One of the best ways that I can do this is to reduce the number of hotel check-ins on the trip. Imagine packing up everything every night, having your checked bag outside your hotel door at 7AM, making sure that your bag is picked up and loaded on the motor coach, then when we arrive at our next city, reversing the process: producing your passport at the check-in desk, being given your room key, finding your room, unpacking essentials. This inefficient process can easily eat up several hours a day. Besides, in the new city, you now have to orient yourself to find that great restaurant for dinner.
My way is to stay in the same hotel for several days and after a city orientation to give you a general impression of what is there, we do day trips to nearby interesting places. I try to design the day trips so that our route is a loop and the return is not the exact reverse of the trip out. I give enough free time in the afternoon so that you can venture out of the hotel when it is still light and seek out interesting places to eat and/or shop. Find a café or a friendly bar and just enjoy an aperitif and talk to locals. Or you can just put your feet up in your room and think about what you saw that day.
Bad weather can be a real downer, so I attempt to schedule my trips to get the best possible weather: not too hot or wet. Also, I want facilities to be open as many places decrease their activities certain months of the year.
My fourth goal is to give you lasting memories. Sure, you will have taken about 1100 digital photos and some of you actually will jot down where each photo was taken. Within a few weeks after the end of the trip, I put together a journal of what we have seen including the significance of each location/site.
Would it help if you learned a few select phrases in the language of the country we are visiting?
My fifth goal is to imbed in you a love of travel and the adventure that goes with it. Think of the stories that you will be able to share with your grandchildren! St. Augustine said it best: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”