Corkie Van Zak
Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent
My first trip to Europe was full of lessons for me. I was a student in New York and had planned to meet my Los Angeles-based sister and her friend in Paris at the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day and travel around Europe, staying at youth hostels. This was before the days of cell phones and needless to say, we did not find each other that day. Lesson 1: Have a basic itinerary with hotels and travel plans set in advance.
Our back-up plan was to meet two days later in Lausanne, Switzerland. I was there, but where were they? In Lucerne. They did not realize it was a different city. It took some time for them to figure that out. We finally did meet up but that was my first clue that I should be a travel agent. Lesson 2: Pay attention to geography.
I did not mind being on my own though. I found that I loved meeting people, dealing with different cultures. I was fascinated by how short the distances between countries are and enjoyed figuring out the logistics of getting the best exchange rates, getting from one place to another and learning to navigate each city. I also became an expert on reading train schedules. Lesson 3: Logistics are very important and not always intuitive.
Since that trip, I have traveled the world, and use my experiences to help my clients make the most of their travels. I find that one-on-one interactions with locals help bring a culture to life, so I often suggest private guides who share your interests so you can get a personal view of a place. For example, an art expert might guide you through the Louvre or take you to view private art collections.
One of my personal favorite activities is hot-air ballooning, and I often suggest it to clients. It is a fabulous feeling to be up above the land but still be close enough to see everything. Gliding over Cappadocia, Turkey, I saw the rock formations and caves from a totally different perspective. In Africa, flying over the Serengeti, I watched wildebeest jumping into the river and saw huge herds of elephants and antelopes. And ballooning over the Arizona desert around dusk, the colors changing on the landscape as the sun dropped on the horizon were gorgeous.
Wherever in the world that you want to go, I will look for special and unique experiences and activities that suit your interests, budget and travel style.