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Authentic Adventures

Bespoke itineraries, boots-on-the-ground knowledge and immersive experiences— the travel game has upped its IQ.

SLIDESHOW

Japan’s cherry blossom season is of particular interest this year among Silicon Valley’s tech set, according to several luxury concierge services, including Quintessentially.

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On the other side of the globe, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon geothermal springs are a big draw, thanks to new hotels such as The Retreat - Blue Lagoon, which opened a year ago with five-star amenities for decompressing in a luxury way.

Photo: Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

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A guest enjoys yoga at The Retreat - Blue Lagoon.

Photo: Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

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Gorilla trekking in Africa is on the summer agenda for Stanford travelers (who are going to Rwanda), as well as those booking through Quintessentially, the luxury concierge service, which will arrange trips to Uganda.

Photo: Kelly Berry

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Cartagena, Colombia, was among the destinations on an around-the-world trip by Stanford Travel/Study several years ago that also had clients visit Burma, Senegal, Lebanon and Cuba, among other countries.

Photo: Ricardo Gomez Angel

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AFAR Experiences’ 2016 trip to Dubai included treks to the desert for falconry demonstrations and a dinner in a Bedouin-style camp.

Photo: Courtesy of AFAR Experiences

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A 2011 Cairo trip included visits to the pyramids at Giza.

Photo: Courtesy of AFAR Experiences

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The same 2011 trip to Cairo included a visit to the home of noted architect Tarek Labib. Other Cairo activities (not pictured) featured a visit to the Egyptian Museum, a walk through Tahrir Square and a chat with a young political leader at Café Riche.

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For many Bay Area locals, traveling with a purpose is key. Erudite travelers, who often want more from a vacation than sipping that delve deeply into the mysteries of a particular destination. It is the premier traveler who wants to connect the dots between exploration and understanding. It’s the journey—and the experiences found therein—that have the power to shape new views of the world. As Anthony Bourdain once said, “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly; you leave marks behind, however small. And, in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.” Here are three notable organizations that offer purposeful travel—and so much more.

 

For Bespoke Experiences: Quintessentially
London-based luxury lifestyle group Quintessentially has 60 offices around the world and a diverse team of concierge specialists who book sought-after destinations for the elite crowd. One such Los Angeles-based specialist, Jesse Wood, is a lifestyle manager for the company who supports members (including those in the Bay Area) on a highly personal level—from restaurant recommendations and bookings to organizing travel plans, assisting with tickets to special events and pretty much anything else a member might want. “I sustain a connected relationship with all my members, getting to know their likes and dislikes— from their weekend interests to their travel traits—so I can tailor the membership to their needs,” he says.

Formed by Aaron Simpson, Ben Elliot and Paul Drummond in 2000, Quintessentially Group came about after Simpson—who was then working for Elton John’s film production company—found a niche for a company that could provide luxury bespoke services and unparalleled access around the globe. “If a member is visiting a country or city for the first time, they can be sure of the very best connections and recommendations—like having a best friend with all the local knowledge on that city you may need,” Wood says. So whether travelers are looking for the hippest events and hottest restaurants, or, for those who do want to sip that mai tai while being pampered, Quintessentially ensure its members preferential treatment.

Recent popular trips have included Iceland (with stays at The Retreat - Blue Lagoon hotel, the first five-star luxury property in the area); gorilla trekking in Uganda; and trips to Japan during the cherry blossom season. “Crete is a new and emerging destination in Greece,” Wood says, “and the beautiful beaches and culture of Spain and its surrounding islands remain a huge repeat year after year.”

Working as tastemakers and connectors, the specialists at Quintessentially Group are always on the lookout for experiences that will intrigue members. And while many already have personal assistants or other concierge-type services, Wood says they turn to him for a genuinely global, connected service and a personal touch. “If Quintessentially can’t get something for you, you are not going to be able to get it anywhere else,” he says. $1,500 application fee, plus a membership fee based on each member’s specific needs

For The Intellectually-Minded: Stanford Travel/Study
Stanford University is known for its intellectual and academic inquiry, and Stanford Travel/ Study trips help alumni—and anyone else interested in these trips (known as affiliate members)—continue a lifelong passion for intellectual pursuit. Now in its 51st year, Stanford Travel/Study has offered travelers journeys to more than 60 countries annually, complete with faculty-led lectures and additional educational opportunities with regional experts and local guides.

“Over the course of our history, we have taken more than 73,000 travelers on 2,000 trips to 140 countries on seven continents,” says Brett Thompson, director at Stanford Travel/Study. “We leverage Stanford connections and faculty contacts to deliver unique experiences that would be difficult, if not impossible, to create on one’s own.” Thompson, who graduated from Stanford University in 1983, joined Stanford Travel/Study in 1985. He became director in 2005 and, over the years, has developed the travel lineups. “We look for destinations and activities that are interesting, unusual, exciting and unique,” he says. “Wherever we go, we seek off-the-beaten-track educational experiences and craft memorable interactions with locals.”

A recent trip to Sudan had travelers impressed with archaeological sites, as well as the kindness and generosity of the local Sudanese. Most of the trips sell out quickly, and Thompson says that the most popular trips this year are those to Iran, Morocco, Israel, New Zealand, France’s Provence, Spain’s Andalusia and Portugal. This summer, a voyage to Africa features biological anthropologist Jamie Jones, who will lead travelers on safari in the famed Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, followed by a trek to view mountain gorillas and golden monkeys in Rwanda ($15,695 per person). In recent years, Stanford Travel/Study has started offering Private Edition series trips for those looking for an even more personalized experience. Palo Alto philanthropist Christine Suppes has taken two trips with Stanford Travel/Study, including an around-the-world jaunt (Tahiti, Burma, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Colombia, Cuba) in a private jet. “I lived on the Stanford campus for over 30 years, and they know how to do these things right,” she says. “They know their clients expect the best, which they deliver.” Lifetime alumni membership fee $695, lifetime affiliate membership fee $795, trip costs vary

For Total Immersion Travel: AFAR Experiences
Believing in the power of travel to enrich lives, Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz co-founded the popular San Francisco-based online magazine afar.com in 2009. At the same time, they launched Learning AFAR, a nonprofit scholarship program that sends high-school students from low-income households on life-changing international trips. Since then, they have offered nearly 10 Learning AFAR trips per year, with more than 1,300 students traveling around the world.

After Sullivan and Diaz took a trip to Cairo in early 2011, shortly after Hosni Mubarak resigned from power—a turbulent time in Egypt—they decided to launch AFAR Experiences. “We were among very few Westerners visiting Egypt during this time,” Sullivan says. “We met some of the most fascinating people in Egypt: a leader of the Revolution; a prominent film director; the female Supreme Court justice... .” AFAR Experiences was born out of their desire to introduce readers to Egypt, explore some of the most iconic venues in Cairo and meet some of these locals.

Typically hosting two trips per year (and 30 to 60 people per trip), AFAR Experiences offers intellectually minded travelers an opportunity to learn about the history, culture and sociopolitical factors affecting a destination. A series of events (some intimate, and some including the entire group) takes place over the course of two to four days in each destination, with a chance to connect with locals and celebrate a city’s distinct flavor. “The programming is highly curated, and travelers get private, often rare, access to a destination’s incredible spaces and fascinating locals—from community leaders, writers and historians to chefs, scholars and designers—that they wouldn’t typically have an opportunity to meet if traveling on their own,” Sullivan says.

One of the most memorable recent AFAR Experiences, according to Sullivan, was a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa. It included a street party in Soweto complete with gospel singers, street food and dancing in the streets with locals. “It was in a place where many [travelers] typically wouldn’t visit, due to relics of apartheid era misconceptions,” Sullivan says. Another trip, to Napa Valley in January, included an interactive lunch session at the CIA at Copia with speaker talks on terroir, and food and wine pairings from each of the 16 appellations in Napa Valley. Domestic trips $1,000-$2,000, international trips $2,000-$4,000

 

Originally published in the April/May issue of Silicon Valley

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